By Maggie Edwards
Four hundred Young Farmers from across the state gathered in Birmingham with eagerness and excitement as they heard from American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) President Zippy Duvall, toured farms and fellowshipped during Young Farmers Conference Feb. 24-26.
“For your business, your future and your community, you have to budget time to be part of something bigger than yourself,” said Duvall, a Georgia farmer. “It is important to give back to what makes it possible for you to farm every day. The Alabama Farmers Federation and AFBF are the best places to do that.”
Duvall, who came up through his state’s Young Farmers program, quoted Colossians 3:23, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” He encouraged the crowd to do everything with their whole hearts — whether they are Federation presidents, committee members, parents or businessmen.
“If we do that, God will reward the people in this country, industry and community,” Duvall said.
Duvall’s opening banquet address set the tone for the conference. Earlier that day, he visited local farms and met with county Young Farmers chairmen.
“You are the future of our organization,” Duvall said. “We are building a Farm Bureau for you as Young Farmers.”
Federation Young Farmers Division Director Hunter McBrayer said Duvall’s attendance boosted members’ morale.
“It was great to hear encouraging words from such a respected leader in the agriculture industry,” McBrayer said. “AFBF President Duvall touched lives of our Young Farmers by encouraging them to step up and serve the organization. Our people responded very positively to Duvall’s keynote speech.”
On Day 2 of the conference, attendees loaded buses and hit the road to learn from industry experts as they toured local farms.
Young Farmers like Brittany Gulledge of Dale County said northeast Alabama farm tours were her favorite part of the conference.
“I love getting to tour local farms and see how they run their operations,” said Gulledge, who lives on a poultry, cattle and row crop farm with husband Blake. “It gives all of us an opportunity to gather new ideas, go back home and incorporate those into our own operations.”
The tours spanned multiple counties and included row crop, greenhouse, nursery and cattle operations.
“Farm tours are also a great opportunity to make connections,” Gulledge said. “We learn from each other in this industry, and that makes us better farmers.”
During tours, farmers submitted photos on social media for the annual photo contest. Winners were Kelsey Hopper, Baldwin County; Sarah Temple, Houston County; Josie Williams, Talladega County; and Matthew Brady, Perry County.
During the conference, applicants competed for Outstanding Young Farm Family (OYFF) commodity division titles and three finalist slots. Commodity winners will serve one-year, ex-officio terms on their respective state commodity committees or affiliated organizations’ boards of directors.
They are Drew and Lauren Wendland of Autauga County, cotton; Jacob and Misty Porter of Clay County, poultry; Ben and Jessica Johnson of DeKalb County, soybean; Garrett and Robin Dixon of Lee County, peanut; Seth and Kaylee Hubert of Madison County, fruit & vegetable; Mitchell and Rebecca Henry of Lawrence County, beef; Brady and Anna Peek of Limestone County, wheat & feed grain; and Whit and Amanda Lovelady of Talladega County, hay & forage.
2023 OYFF finalists are the Henrys, Peeks and Loveladys. As finalists, they each received a Solo Stove fire pit from the Federation. They’ll compete for nearly $80,000 in prizes during on-farm judging this summer, and the state winner will be announced during the organization’s Farm & Land Expo in August. The winner will represent Alabama during AFBF convention in January.
This year, a live auction to benefit the Alabama Farmers Agriculture Foundation (AFAF) was back by popular demand. Auctioneer Clint McElmoyl and Federation Young Farmers helped raise $22,000 to benefit agricultural literacy projects, scholarships, livestock show projects and more.
Federation State Young Farmers Committee Chairman Jonathan Edgar said he was in awe of the conference and live auction’s outstanding results.
“I was amazed at how generous the Young Farmers were at the auction,” said Edgar, an Elmore County farmer. “These are tough times for all farmers, beginning farmers in particular, yet they all gave above and beyond any of our expectations.”
McBrayer and Edgar commended county Young Farmers programs for excellent involvement and a willingness to serve, calling back to Duvall’s inspiring remarks about servant leadership.
“Patience builds character, and character builds leaders, and that is what we need in this organization,” Duvall said. “We, the American farmers, need you to step up and take your spot and make a difference in our future.”