Overcast skies didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of nearly 400 young farmers who crisscrossed central and east Alabama on tours during the Alabama Farmers Federation’s 2019 Young Farmers Conference March 1-3.
The tours showcased some of the state’s most impressive operations, lending invaluable insight to agriculture’s up-and-coming generation.
“For me, this is a reunion. A lot of Young Farmers went to school together, built relationships there, and we only see them once a year — at Young Farmers Conference. You also build connections with other people,” said State Young Farmers Committee Chair Garrett Dixon of Lee County. “By going on farm tours, you can apply that to your farm. We grow cotton, but we didn’t see a row crop operation all day long. Even by visiting operations like nurseries and tree orchards, you learn things to apply to your farm.”
Tour A visited Chilton County’s Parnell Land & Timber and agritourism operation Penton Farms, in addition to Hickory Hill Farm & 3E Cattle Co. in Billingsley.
Tour B went east to Lee County, with tours at Auburn University’s JT Vaughn Large Animal Teaching Hospital, the Southeastern Raptor Center and Golden State Foods Meat Processing Plant.
Shelby Thompson, an ag teacher in Dale County, went on Tour C, which stopped at Selma-based Bush Hog, seed orchard ArborGen and Dennis Nursery & Greenhouse.
“We attend every year to learn more about agriculture operations in the state and take home new ideas to our family farm,” Thompson said.
Tour D journeyed to Tallapoosa County Girls Ranch, Blue Ribbon Dairy and Whippoorwill Vineyards.
Federation President Jimmy Parnell welcomed Young Farmers, who are 18-35 years old, to the Capital City during the conference’s opening banquet.
The Chilton County farmer encouraged the crowd, which packed the Renaissance Hotel in Montgomery.
“I have lifelong friends I made years ago in a room just like this,” said Parnell, a former State Young Farmers Committee chairman.
A live auction featuring handmade goods, Young Farmers gear, tools and agriculture-themed toys raised $7,530 for the Alabama Farmers Agriculture Foundation, which benefits ag and forestry scholarships.
The closing banquet featured entertainment by River Dan Band.
Also during the conference, contestants competed in interviews to be Alabama’s 2019 Outstanding Young Farm Family (OYFF).
Top 3 finalists were Lindsey and Jamie Roberts of DeKalb County, Luke Smelley of Hale County, and Ben and Bethany Johnson of Randolph County.
All finalists received an iPad. They will compete during on-farm judging this summer before the winner is named at the Federation’s Commodity Producers Conference Aug. 4 in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Alabama’s OYFF will receive more than $70,000 in prizes and will represent the state at the American Farm Bureau Federation annual meeting in January.
OYFF division finalists were also named. They were Luke Smelley of Hale County, Beef; Ben and Tamera Brown of Etowah County, Dairy; Ben and Jessica Johnson of DeKalb County, Soybean; Jonathan and Sara Sanders of Coffee County, Peanuts; and Jamie and Lindsey Roberts of DeKalb County, Wheat & Feed Grain.