Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The role of youth organizations in developing the future of agriculture

Every day at work is different. This can be said about the farm, but also about many industry jobs as well. This morning we had the opportunity to listen to two Indiana FFA members who are preparing for speaking competitions at the national contest and provide feedback on how they can improve. My high school never had FFA, but I do love public speaking!! So, needless to say I was excited to participate in this.

There are many types of public speaking competitions and contestants tackle a lot of the tough questions and issues facing agriculture. This is no small task for those involved who have been in the industry for 30 years. Keep in mind these students are teenagers and very impressive ones at that.

Competitions like these and other activities and programs provided through organizations like FFA and 4-H build confidence, develop knowledge and assist youth in developing a network that will be with them for their entire life. A network of friends, advisors and industry contacts that they can call on for years to come. This is invaluable. Networking is important, and it's never too early to start.

While the event this morning involved FFA and not 4-H, 4-H provides similar skills. Most people who know me now laugh when I tell them I used to be shy and would actually run away if I had to do any type of public speaking. I was that girl in kindergarten who wouldn't even talk to the teacher. Even in sixth grade I still wouldn't talk.

My 4-H club was about more than just showing cows. We did demonstrations - essentially public speaking about a dairy topic - in front of the entire club/parents and answered questions afterward. One year, my brother, who was probably 14 at the time, did his demonstration on fatty liver in dairy cows. I still remember one of the 4-H dads who has a dairy across the road from us focusing so intently on the presentation. That was because he recently had a cow with fatty liver. The topic was probably a little advanced for my brother, but he did a great job and learned a lot about it. In addition to demonstrations, we also created an educational display for the fairs to help teach fairgoers more about dairy farming.

So, in addition to learning about showmanship, judging and animal care, we learned about public speaking, public outreach and expanded our dairy knowledge.

My brother and I with our show calves at the 2005 Puyallup Fair (Washington State Fair)

I can't speak for everyone who is and has been involved in 4-H or FFA, but joining 4-H was the best decision I've ever made. I developed a pros and cons list  to decide whether to join 4-H or learn to snowboard. Obviously, those two decisions are not mutually exclusive and I could have technically done both. I made the right decision. Sometimes I wonder what my life might be like if I hadn't chosen 4-H and hadn't followed this dairy path through everything I've done since the age of 12. However, I wouldn't trade a second. The dairy industry (and all of agriculture) opens so many doors for everyone involved and is so rewarding.

We've all heard the stats. Less than two percent of Americans are involved in farming and that number is shrinking by the day. The average age of the American farmer is about 57. We NEED more young people to be interested in farming. This isn't just an ag issue; it's a national issue.

Without these future agriculturalists to grow crops, care for livestock and lead American agriculture, we are all in trouble. That's why youth organizations that foster a sense of belonging, teach life skills and develop participants' passion for agriculture are and will continue to be so important.

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