As a senior at Ferrum College in Virginia, I have been a member of the school’s Agriculture Club and the Collegiate Young Farmers program for the past four years. While the Agriculture Club is a group specific to the college, the Collegiate Young Farmers part of the club is a branch of the nationwide Young Farmers & Ranchers, created and run by the American Farm Bureau Federation.
By being in these organizations, I have had the opportunity to go to many networking and development events across the country, and I have no doubt it has helped me and given me opportunities that I would have never been able to achieve on my own. They have also given me a broader view of agriculture and enhanced my own education and interests through personal experiences.
For those of you that have never been to an agricultural networking event or conference, I would like to tell you about the most recent conference some of my friends and I had the pleasure of attending. In early February, myself and three other students from Ferrum made the trek from Virginia up to Pittsburgh for the Young Farmers & Ranchers National Convention. Upon arrival it was very clear that a convention for farmers was going on — Wranglers, plaid shirts, and camouflage hats did not tend to be the style of dress for the locals. But amid the sea of Steelers jerseys, pea coats, and professional attire, the strong turnout of people for the event proved it was going to be a wonderful weekend.
Throughout the weekend, there were several speaking events and workshops held along with networking luncheons, banquets, and fun downtime activities, such as like a casino night, where we played blackjack, poker, and other gambling games with fake money (which could ultimately be turned in for prizes). The workshops were excellent and covered topics ranging from specific innovations in the agricultural industry to money and business-management skills.
Also this year there was a copious amount of sessions based on how we, as farmers and agriculturalists, can help to share our story to the public, and better inform consumers and others who are not familiar with agriculture about what we do. The best workshops I attended this year had to do with risk management, which is an important thing to understand from a production viewpoint, and the other workshop was about 4-H and FFA and keeping children involved in agriculture. The best part about these workshops, however, is having a large group of people, both from similar and different agricultural backgrounds, all talking about a subject that affects each and every one of us on some level. The things you learn from these discussions could help your own operation — and you might gain that one bit of information that allows you to be more successful on your farm or at your agricultural business.
Aside from the opportunities for valuable information, the best thing that these events have to offer is the networking and fellowship opportunities. From attending these events at both a state and national levels, the amount of people I have met is innumerable. Each time you go to an event like this it is almost impossible not to strike up a new friendship, and this time in Pittsburgh was no different. I have had the opportunity to meet people from all around this great nation, and I have developed lifelong friendships. For example, I met some people from Tennessee at the national conference last year in Kansas City, and we had some great conversations about ag and became friends on Facebook so we could more easily keep up with one another. This year in Pittsburgh, I saw them again and caught up with them about how their operations and life in general were going. While we may not see each other that often or carry on too many conversations, it is still great to be able to see them and know that they have been doing well.
Another great thing about being able to meet all these different people is the interindustry networking that can take place. You never know when you may meet someone who could offer you your dream career or internship, or just help you to get better connected with others in the industry. The most important thing I have learned about meeting people from such a wide variety of backgrounds and places is that no matter if you’re from the North, South, East, or West, we are all really the same, we just talk differently (especially us from the South). We all face the problems and tribulations that come along with a lifestyle in agriculture, but we all possess the same toughness and drive that help us live the life that we love.
Overall I hope this writing has shown you some of the reasons why attending agricultural events and conferences is immensely important beneficiary to anyone in the agricultural industry. It gives you a chance to get different points of view about your industry and to learn new information on how to better your own operations and careers, as well as better yourself personally. On both state and national level events, it gives you the opportunity to travel, see new things, and to be able to see more of the diversity of this great country that we are so blessed to be able to live in.
If any of these things interest you I would strongly advise looking up your state’s Farm Bureau Young Farmers & Ranchers program, or look around locally for agricultural organizations that do similar things. Use these resources as an advantage to help better yourself as an agriculturalist and to make a few new friends along the way.
Spencer Irby is a tobacco farmer from Moriah, North Carolina, and attends Ferrum College, where he is getting a degree in Agriculture. He will graduate in 2017.