Jon Hegeman is a first-generation farmer who understands the importance of sharing the story of agriculture with people who have never plowed a field or planted a seed. As American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) Young Farmers & Ranchers (YF&R) chairman, he hopes to develop young farmers into confident leaders who can effectively teach others about agriculture.
“I want to attract, engage and educate members of the Alabama Farmers Federation and AFBF to be advocates for what we do,” said Hegeman, who owns and manages greenhouses in Calhoun and Cherokee counties. “One way to do that is by working with other YF&R committee members to improve our national contests and surface new competitors from our organizations.”
YF&R committee members elected Hegeman as chair in January at the AFBF annual convention in San Diego. His one-year term, which includes presiding over four meetings, began in February at the end of the group’s annual leadership conference.
“The YF&R program is extremely important because it helps members develop and improve leadership skills and gives young farmers a platform to promote the voice of agriculture,” he said. “If we don’t stand up and educate the public and lawmakers about what we do, then someone else will. Often, those other voices misrepresent the reality, views and needs of the agriculture community, which can lead to laws and regulations that negatively impact farms.”
Hegeman has set lofty goals to increase involvement with the Alabama Farmers Federation during his year as national chairman. Calhoun County Farmers Federation President Wendell Wilson said Hegeman’s work ethic and experience make him well qualified for the job.
“He’s been a part of everything, starting as a county Young Farmers member and moving up to State Young Farmers chairman in 2013,” Wilson said. “We’re proud of Jon and all he’s accomplished.”
Hegeman said he plans to use his time as chairman to encourage participation in state and national Young Farmers competitions, including the Outstanding Young Farm Family (OYFF), Excellence in Agriculture and Discussion Meet.
He said he knows from experience the lessons young farmers learn from taking part in Federation contests. In 2012, he won runner-up in the state Discussion Meet, and he, his wife Amy, and their daughter, Ella Kate, 3, won the Alabama OYFF competition.
“We are non-traditional agriculture, and we had to figure out early on how to tell our story to make us comparable to other commodities,” he said. “These contests are not about the size of a farm operation — they’re about involvement and making progress on goals. Competitions teach young farmers how to be better advocates.”
Hegeman also said being a member in the second class of Agricultural Leaders For Alabama (A.L.F.A.) prepared him for his new role.
“That two-year course with A.L.F.A. Leaders was one of the best things I’ve done,” he said. “Taking this leadership role is not something I’m doing for myself. I’m doing it for others and to continue the mission of the Federation. Being a leader secures the future for agriculture.”
Hegeman is the third Alabama farmer to lead the YF&R Committee since the Federation re-affiliated with AFBF in December 2005. Townsend Kyser of Hale County led the group in 2008, and Will Gilmer of Lamar County was chair in 2010.
The AFBF YF&R programs include men and women from ages 18 to 35. It provides leadership and builds a more effective Farm Bureau to preserve farmers’ individual freedoms and expand opportunities. For more information, visit fb.org.