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Brewing young farmers and ranchers

The American Farm Bureau Fusion conference was held March 15-18 in Milwaukee and brought together leaders from Promotion & Education, Women’s Leadership and Young Farmers & Ranchers programs. The event provided educational tracks, networking opportunities and energized participants with new ideas and strategies to take back to their home state. This year, Ohio had 34 Young Ag Professionals members in attendance.

Personally, I was one of the 10 Ohio Farm Bureau scholarship recipients, which covered both my registration and travel. Being gifted the amazing experience of this conference has become one of my greatest memories with Ohio Farm Bureau thus far.

Ryan Matthews limboThe conference kicked off on Saturday morning with all of Ohio cheering on our very own Collegiate Discussion Meet participant, Aryn Copeland. Then our first session included a limbo competition that I was so gracefully nominated to compete in and gave me an early push out of my comfort zone both socially and physically. Afterward, we heard from our first keynote speaker, Jim Morris, former MLB player and the reason behind the beloved Disney movie, “The Rookie.” Jim shared his personal story and expressed some of his most important life lessons: “The most important person is the person standing right in front of you,” and “If you set your sights too low, you don’t know where you can go.”

Throughout the weekend we also heard from Redmond Ramos, a veteran, motivational speaker and a past Team USA Invictus Games athlete. Ramos spoke on the idea that sometimes our lives can be changed in a moment and that every obstacle in our way can be an opportunity to grow.  We also heard from AFBF Vice President Scott VanderWal about current events and what was the horizon for American Farm Bureau.

During the afternoons, we had our educational tracks or breakout sessions. Being passionate about ag policy, I attended most of the advocacy sessions. The first one was AFBF’s strategic action plan where we heard how American Farm Bureau will be tackling priority issues like FDA labeling or the ratification of the USMCA (United States, Mexico, Canada Agreement). The second session was aimed at the 116th Congress, its mission statement and the best methods of advocating to our member of congress. I learned that face-to-face interactions with legislators have a 34 percent better success rate and the more we speak and share with them, the more they will seek us for accurate information and personal opinions. We should focus on relationship building and impact instead of just throwing stats and issues.

Some of the other sessions I attended throughout the conference were focused on personal branding and hearing all the opportunities other state Farm Bureaus collegiate and young agriculturist programs have to offer. This allowed me to gather great insight and new ideas to bring back to Ohio.

Wisconsin agricultureAdditionally, we had the chance of experiencing Wisconsin agriculture first-hand, taking most of the day Monday either touring farm operations or agricultural related companies. For me, the day included a visit to PortFish, an aquaponics company and then to a local grain and dairy farm. At PortFish, we were exposed to the full cycle of aquaponics, from the seeds, the fish, the water system and even the harvest. At the farm, we saw the workings of a 21st century family farm, producing food and educating their local community. Even though these are two completely different components of agriculture they went together perfectly. The tour showed the diversity of agriculture even in just one state and that we must all begin to focus on including our community and consumers if we truly want to build a better tomorrow.

Networking was a huge element of the conference. Many of the meals were designed with this intention dividing us by background, career interests or even by items designated on our conference lanyards. We had discussion tables, coffee hours and not to mention the amazing evening festivities. The first night we visited the Harley-Davidson Museum that had both karaoke and dueling pianos. We took some really cool motorcycle pictures and learned that singing the Ohio classic, “Hang on Sloopy” in front of 300 people not from Ohio may not always be the best idea. There was also a grand finale the last night with dancing, buffets and life-sized board games resulting in some much-needed reconnections and building my network of both new friends and colleagues.

2019 Fusion ConferenceReflecting back, the Fusion conference has been one of the greatest experiences I’ve had in the agricultural industry and I would truly recommend it to any college student or young professional looking to one day work in agriculture. As a student, I made connections to potential employers. As an advocate, I learned new strategies and what AFBF is doing on the frontlines of our industry. As an individual, I learned that “obstacles can be opportunities” and as a young ag professional, I learned that together American agriculture is “brewing up” an amazing future.

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