From Capitol Hill to the rolling hills of Spain, the two-year Agricultural Leaders For Alabama (A.L.F.A. Leaders) program amplified the influence and invested in the future of 17 agricultural enthusiasts.
The A.L.F.A. Leaders Class IV graduated Aug. 2 during the Alabama Farmers Federation’s 46th Commodity Producers Conference in Montgomery. Farmers, agricultural lenders, Extension agents and industry members ages 25-45 represented 15 counties over the course, which stressed personal development, communication, political involvement and an in-depth understanding of the Federation.
“Participants took time away from family, farms and work in order to become better leaders,” said Federation President Jimmy Parnell. “It’s a sacrifice that will positively affect each member and the Federation, as A.L.F.A. Leaders become county presidents, board members and serve on the state level.”
The investment is paying dividends for members like Shelby County’s John DeLoach.
“My experience made me want to take on leadership roles in the Federation and introduced me to a network of friends that covers every aspect of agriculture,” said DeLoach, 42, a row crop farmer.
His DeLoach Farms is Alabama’s 2018 Farm of Distinction, a title Leaders encouraged him to pursue. He now also serves on several statewide Federation committees.
“Leaders has given me a tremendous amount of confidence,” he said. “When I came back from each institute, I felt like a better, different person and was able to communicate more effectively.”
Two classes zeroed in on the state and national legislative process. In Washington, the class discussed timely topics like the farm bill and electronic logging devices with Alabama’s nine members of Congress.
“I felt my voice was important and really did matter,” said Leaders class member Wendy Yeager, 39, of Dallas County. “Going to the Hill and meeting our leaders was refreshing. It’s an awesome opportunity to get a deeper view of how government works.”
Another session detailed Federation history, goals and operations, and leadership skills were fine-tuned in Dothan and Guntersville. During these sessions, Regional Extension Agent Hunter McBrayer worked on a weakness he previously admitted to the selection committee — asking for help.
“Now I can rely on and work with others better,” said Marshall County’s McBrayer, 29. “I can work with someone’s qualities and bring out their best to do the most excellent job possible.”
At the Commodity Producers Conference, the Leaders presented on the viability and value of an Alabama branding program for food and products made in state. The group studied, surveyed and compiled findings over the two-year span as part of its capstone project.
Members also took an agricultural education tour to Spain. Although Spain’s soil and environment differs from sweet home Alabama, Yeager said she learned things to help her on her farm.
“At one stop, we visited a seventh-generation olive oil farm. Seeing how fully integrated they were — they plant, harvest, bottle and market goods — made me look at how we market our crops,” said Yeager, 39.
McBrayer said he enjoyed Spain, but most appreciated connecting with peers across the state.
“When you have 17 strong personalities come together, you learn how to work as a team,” McBrayer said. “I signed up to gain leadership skills and better myself professionally and personally. I came out with that and a group of friends.”