Walking into the young ag professionals conference is like walking into a big reunion. As widespread as agriculture is across the state, you truly realize what a small industry it is when you’re catching up with a college classmate, someone you did an interview with, or just met at the conference last year.
I’ll admit that I’m a little introverted when it comes to entering a large room of people and meeting someone new, but one of the great things about this room full of people is that we all have something in common — agriculture.
This was my second year joining the hundreds of young farmers and young ag professionals like me at the Ohio Farm Bureau’s (OFBF) Young Ag Professionals (YAP) Winter Leadership Conference, Cultivating Connections, Feb. 3-4. Last year they drew a record attendance of 700 to the Hyatt Regency in Columbus and attracted over 600 this year.
Growth of the conference
Talking with a friend who has been attending the conference for the past several years, I found that it hadn’t always been that large, so I wanted to find out why the recent interest.
Melinda Witten, OFBF director of leadership programming, said when she first started working for OFBF six years ago, attendance was just over 120 people. “We sat down after the meeting and asked, ‘What do we need to do to attract more members?’ What problems are they facing? What do they want to learn about?” she said.
They asked these questions to a few of their members — farmers and ag professionals — to get a feel for what it was they wanted to learn about. The next year, 225 people came, and then 300 and then 575 and then 700, said Witten. This year, 645 members attended.
So why the spike in attendance?
“Entertainment seems to be a big draw,” said Eric Prysi, YAP State Committee Co-Chair. In fact, two years ago, when attendance spiked to over 500, the Peterson Farm Brothers were the Friday night entertainment — no doubt a huge pull for parody-loving members.
Last year we enjoyed the vocals of country music stars the Henningsens, who shared songs about farm life and how they continue to work on the family farm. I loved their fresh approach to country music by telling a real story in their song Why I Farm, and I just couldn’t get over the powerful vocals of Clara Henningsen.
This year, the banquet hall was filled with laughter, as two comedians took the stage for Friday night’s entertainment. “We had a great success with the comedians this year,” said Prysi.
Adam Garman, a young farmer from Ross County, Ohio, joked about his life with a speech impediment and the mischief he and his twin brother would get into on the family farm.
Garman opened for Tim, the Dairy Farmer, a third generation dairy farmer from Florida, who performs each of his acts in his signature Carhartt, jeans and work boots. As an agricultural comedian, each of his jokes reflected farm life today and were very relatable. I especially enjoyed Tim’s series of one-liners — those simple, corny jokes are my favorite.
Something for everyone
A lot of good content — sessions and topics — are another reason Witten believes attendance has grown. “We put together an evaluation and really listen to our members and what they want to hear about,” she said.
Several sessions that were popular with young farmers were farm financing and leasing, as the next generation hopes to take over the farm or start their own businesses. Along those same lines, the direct marketing session and panel discussion on starting a CSA provided useful information to young farmers looking to find a niche market in farming.
There was even a series of sessions geared toward college attendees, on personal finances, job interviews and building a personal brand. “In the last couple of years, we’ve really touched on the college (students) — even collegiate 4-H and FFA groups,” said Prysi, hoping to help them transition into the workforce or whatever their next step may be.
In the two years I have attended the conference, I have been impressed with the variety of topics, and the number of topics, the conference is able to cover in a day — from understanding the grain markets, to making your own wine and cheese.
As a farm and agriculture reporter, I also find the variety in content valuable. It always amazes me how many different facets and avenues in agriculture there are and I often feel the challenge of keeping up and understanding it all. I appreciate the opportunity to be among other young ag professionals like me, trying to wade through it all and make sense of it.
Keynote speakers like Tyne Morgan, national reporter for AgDay on RFD-TV, and Sen. Bob Peterson told the room full of young ag professionals that we have to be united on agriculture issues and be a voice for agriculture. I realize that I play a pretty important role in that too.
As a reporter, I have direct access to a medium to let my voice be heard that many others may not. I also realize that I have an opportunity to help those farmers and young ag professionals tell their stories that might otherwise not be heard.
I was inspired, to continue to serve farmers by keeping them up to date on what is going on in our not-so-little agricultural world and to continue to find ways to help them tell their stories.