By Megan Shaw
NOBLESVILLE, Ind. — Energy, enthusiasm, camaraderie, and hospitality—these are the adjectives I would use to describe the feelings I received when I attended my first farm conference, The INFB Young Farmer’s and Ag Professionals Conference on Feb. 8.
Since I began my position as Editorial Assistant for Farm World I have learned a lot more about farming than I even thought possible. I was raised in a farming community and spent time on farms my whole life, but when I decided to make farming part of my profession, much like any other profession, I began to see things in a new light.
When I arrived at my very first conference as an editor, alone, unsure of where I was or how to even begin, I was greeted by kind faces and enthusiasm. I entered a giant conference room where hundreds of young farmers sat around tables to listen to the keynote speaker Paul Long. No one made me feel awkward, or alone. I marched straight up to the front table with my notepad and camera to begin taking notes on this event.
Paul Long was an incredible speaker. His enthusiasm rippled through the room. He joked with the audience, addressed people by name that he had met the night before, and even made me feel excited about life and farming. His messages to the audience were inspiring. Young farmers have a lot on their plates in modern society, and the goal of this conference was reiterated through Long’s message; mental health, motivation, and leadership for the future with a new generation of farmers. Long told young farmers to, “get out of their own head.” Focusing on positivity and creating positive interactions is important. He also challenged young farmers to force themselves out of a mundane routine. Skip to the barn, be goofy, brush your teeth with the opposite hand; do something to challenge your mind and your inner child; put a new spin on the normal life.
After Long’s presentation was finished, I was approached by an INFB worker, Brady Hagerty, who assisted me with figuring out the layout of the conference and was kind enough to pull aside INFB president Randy Kron for an interview with me.
I cannot express how much I appreciated Kron taking the time to talk to me. He was very excited about the future of Young Farmers, especially with the roll out of the new health care program. Kron expressed how this year’s conference was especially important to boost the morale of young farmers due to, what he called, “the worst farming season in 36 years.” He expressed how this last year, although a really bad one, taught farmers a lot of lessons, and hopefully the tides will turn this year, and farms will see a better season.
I was curious what Kron, a lifelong farmer, thought about the decline of young farmers and the high average age of current farmers (58). His response to this was there are a lot of contributing factors, health care being one. When a young person wants to start a family, it is hard to decide to dedicate as much time and money as a farm takes with the repercussions of the lack of benefits that a lot of modern jobs offer. Kron expressed how he farmed and raised his family, but took a city job so he could have health insurance. It was not easy.
When I asked Kron what his overreaching goal for the conference was he stated, “To bring some young farmers and ag professionals together for new opportunities and new friends, as well as teach them about themselves and allow them to tell their story and be heard.”
After I talked to Kron, I was feeling really good about what INFB was doing for young farmers. The encouragement could be felt. In the hallway between conference rooms there were videos playing about young farmers and ag professionals leading the way to the future. Even children were in on the action. There was a room for children to play in color in when they needed a break.
When I attended my first breakout session, I was again taken aback. I went to a session about DOT and Indiana transportation regulations. It was here I had my biggest wake up call. The presenter, Fred Whitford from Purdue University began by telling these young farmers, “If you’re hauling commercial you don’t have insurance.” He handed them booklets with regulations listed inside it. He discussed rules that I never even knew existed for farmers just to be able to move their grain, animals, and machinery— more red tape for young farmers to have to cut through to be able to operate their farms. The young farmers in the room did not allow this information to overwhelm them or discourage them. They asked questions. They listened. They interacted with Whitford as he gave them different scenarios for hauling and if they were doing it legally or not.
As the day continued, I only gained more respect for young farmers. The positive energy at this conference was contagious. I am hopeful for the future of the farming industry, and so are these young farmers and ag professionals. I look forward to attending more conferences in the future and to continue to learn about the farming industry, which is of extreme importance to our society.