Ag News

GFB Young Farmers and Ranchers cultivate growth at conference

The 2019 Georgia Farm Bureau (GFB) Young Farmers & Ranchers (YF&R) Leadership Conference gave members a chance to spend a few days at the beach and reconnect with peers from across the state.

They also heard ways to communicate with consumers and tackle the stress that seems ever-present in farming.

Opening session speaker Paige Pratt discussed varying marketing approaches for different generations of people. For example, the Baby Boomers (those ages 56-73) talk to people face-to-face, they trust paper ads and they’re on Facebook to keep up with their grandchildren. By contrast, Millennials (ages 24-41) trust their friends’ and family’s recommendations on where to go and what to do but are largely unresponsive to traditional marketing practices.

Pratt, a motivational speaker who raises cattle in Virginia, suggested that marketing efforts focus on customers’ reason for action.

In a workshop with UGA Communications Professors Dr. Barry Croom, participants engaged in group juggling (tossing around a tennis ball) as metaphor for the communications process. Croom provided methods for navigating through difficult conversations.

UGA’s Dr. Ashley Yopp led a workshop on community engagement, noting that taking a hard line approach – i.e., “no farms, no food” – might not be as effective as searching for common ground with consumers.

“We have to tell our story,” Yopp said. “Tell the good and the bad in an authentic way. Invite people into your experiences. Create experiences that make them a part of your world.”

Closing session speaker Marshal Sewell shared his experiences in farming and coping with the loss of his father, who committed suicide during Sewell’s senior year in high school. Sewell, an area sales manager in Florida with Seminis Seeds, encouraged young farmers and ranchers to be self-aware and to look out for the emotional well-being of those around them.

“It has to do with being willing to open up and communicate,” Sewell said. “Always remember that someone cares.”

Wiley Bailey, an area director with the Alabama Farmers Federation, performed on the banjo and laced humor through his stories about people he has encountered who needed help, all while urging the GFB group to “be the third man,” a reference to the Good Samaritan parable in the Bible. Wiley noted that farmers are five times more likely to commit suicide than other Americans.

“We all know when someone is struggling,” Bailey said. “Become the third man. Maybe you can save a life.”

Former Army Ranger Jon Jackson, who started Comfort Farms in Baldwin County after leaving the Army, talked about his experience with depression, his farm work and his efforts to offer crisis support for veterans through agriculture.

Farmers, Jackson said, have always been closely connected to soldiers. Both occupations come with risks, but he said the risks are worth it.

“Growth in our lives happens outside of our comfort zone. We have to take risks. Risks are important,” Jackson said, suggesting that the changing nature of farming will require ongoing risk-taking.

Also at the conference, the YF&R Committee the results from its Calf’s Weight in Change campaign, which ran from May 1 to July 1, raised $2,924.74 for the Georgia Food Bank Association. The results were announced during the conference. The total weight of all the money donated was 721 pounds. With 47 counties participating, Laurens County turned in the greatest weight (141 pounds) and the largest amount ($683.50). GFB District 6 submitted the largest amount ($783.68) among the organization’s 10 districts. District 9 turned in the greatest weight at 178 pounds.

For the first time, the conference offered a trade show, with 21 exhibitors sharing information – not to mention free stuff – with members.

Nicole Duvall of Greene County won the GFB Picture Agriculture in Georgia Photo Contest, claiming the $150 prize and the cover spot on the 2020 GFB YF&F Calendar with her photo titled “Farmer’s Daughter." The 11 runners-up will be featured in the calendar and receive $75 each. The contest drew more than 200 entries. The top 12 photos will also be featured in the August/September of Georgia Farm Bureau News.