Over the weekend I had a unique opportunity to be a part of a group of more than 700 young ag professionals like myself during the 2016 Young Ag Professionals Conference in Columbus, Jan. 29-30. It was also the largest young adult ag conference of its kind in the country — now that’s impressive (go Ohio!)
We were welcomed Friday evening with a concert by The Henningsens, a family band from central Illinois. Not many people recognize them right away after only having one big hit on the radio, American Beautiful, in December, 2012, and then kind of fading into the background.
It turns out, all this time they were still writing away, but their most recent music had been picked up by popular country group, The Band Perry (You Lie and All Your Life) and artist, Dierks Bentley (Drinkin’ Town with a Football Problem). The group shared a few of their songs they had written recently with the promise of an upcoming album (release date is TBA).
They concluded their concert with a song that defines not only their family, but many of the young ag professionals sitting in that room watching. Why I Farm was written by The Henningsens to complement the Beck’s Hybrids Why I Farm campaign. It’s an emotional song that really captures heart and soul of the American farmer.
I know there are a lot of country music stars who had their start in “small town USA,” off the dirt roads of rural America, and some even grew up on a family farm, but what I like most about The Henningsens is their continued commitment to their own family farm. I truly hope Brian (father), Clara and Aaron, continue to write more music that reflects the farm life and can be used as a tool for “agvocacy.”
A morning with Monsanto
And agvocacy is part of what brought all 700 of us together for the weekend conference. Saturday morning kicked off with a keynote presentation from Monsanto Executive Vice President Dr. Robert Fraley. Did you know the very first GMO product in the U.S. was insulin? I definitely didn’t.
With so many concerns over GMOs and food safety, Fraley set the record straight on some of the myths surrounding GMOs, “We’ve been modifying our food since the beginning of time and it’s really a good thing,” he said. We’ve been hearing it over and over again, how are we going to feed a growing population expected to double by 2050?
According to Fraley, GMOs are the most thoroughly studied foods in our food system and “there has never been single a food or feed safety issue ever associated with the technology.” So why the negative image? It’s been put into our hands, as young professionals, to share the knowledge of ag that we hold. We can’t hold back, even if we feel we are not the experts; we still know more about agriculture than nonfarm folks do.
Following Dr. Fraley’s speech, it was time to dive right into the meat of the day. Four rounds of breakout sessions were scheduled with everything from knowing the markets to brewing your own beer at home. There truly was something for everyone, in fact I found myself wanting to sit in on more than one session per round.
One of the most interesting sessions I sat in on was a session on farming the climate of the future. The smooth broadcast voice of Climatologist Elwynn Taylor, from Iowa State University, really pulled me into a subject I’ve always known about, but never really pursued an interest in learning more. Who knew weather patterns could be so interesting?
Taylor’s presentation was full of one liners and inspiring quotes, but one of my favorites was “Agriculture is the only industry where the people are happy to sell their produce for the cost of growing it… Why? Because we are nice people.” Ain’t that the truth. But living through a less-than-favorable market economy and having seemingly volatile weather patterns can make it hard to be optimistic about the future of farming.
Yes, the weather seems crazy and unpredictable right now, but is it really that unpredictable? Taylor showed us weather patterns that trace back to the early 1900s and, following the trends, we really should have known this was coming. Yes, climate change may have made the patterns slightly more extreme than before, but the concept is still there. If the weather continues its trend, we can expect somewhere around the year 2025 to be the harshest year of the century. (Farmers, you have been warned.)
30 seconds or less to agvocate
Probably the most entertaining session I sat in on was Perfecting Your 30 second Elevator Speech. This one was lead by Mark Ankerman of Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business. He made us laugh, he made us giggle and he even made some of us uncomfortable at times (in a step-out-of-your-comfort-zone kind of way). The key message here: know Yourself and your Audience so you can deliver a clear Message — YAM.
You only have 30 seconds to make an impression, — most of the time it’s less than 10 — what can you say that will make you stand out in that person’s mind? How can we use this to our advantage when talking about agriculture? What if you were giving 30 seconds with that animal rights activist from PETA who slammed FFA? Now there’s a challenge! There is definitely more than 30 seconds of material going through my mind.
But it is one that we should think about for any topic, whether it’s animal rights or GMOs. If someone walked up to you today and challenged you to convince them GMOs are safe in 30 seconds or less, could you do it? I don’t know if I can, but it makes me want to try.
I would like to give a huge shout-out to the Ohio Farm Bureau staff and volunteer committee members who worked their butts off to put together this conference. This was my first YAP conference and I have to say, it was one of the best leadership experiences I have ever been to. All of the presenters I listened to were excellent and did a great job conveying their topics in an entertaining and informative way.
They had a record attendance this year with 700 and they are looking to break 1,000 next year. I highly encourage any Young Ag Professionals to check it out!
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