By Jeff Helms
Up-and-coming agriculturalists were encouraged to embrace leadership opportunities in their businesses, communities and farm organization during the Alabama Farmers Federation Young Farmers Conference March 4-6 in Gulf Shores.
Federation President Jimmy Parnell drew on personal experiences in encouraging the crowd of 375 current and future leaders during the event’s kickoff dinner at the Lodge at Gulf State Park.
“I started in a room similar to this, just like each of you,” said Parnell, who was inspired to seek the presidency as a former State Young Farmers Committee chair and Outstanding Young Farm Family (OYFF) winner. “I’m very proud of this program, and I’m proud to have each of you involved. If you want to make a difference in agriculture, you are doing it in this room. This is where it starts.”
Educational workshops focused on preparing young farmers for public service, business success and Federation involvement. The organization’s endorsed candidate for U.S. Senate, Katie Britt, visited with farm families before the opening banquet, where she praised their personal character and hard work.
“I’ve had an opportunity to see the Federation from many different angles,” she said. “There is no other association or group in this state that is the caliber of the Federation or that has the respect of so many. Your values mean so much to people across this state.”
Britt promised her service as U.S. senator would be based on faith and freedom, rather than fear and control, which she said has dominated the past year.
“We’ve got to get government out of your way so you can continue to do what you do each and every day,” she said.
The Enterprise native challenged young farmers to embrace their leadership potential, paraphrasing her grandfather’s words of wisdom.
“It doesn’t matter what your ZIP code is; it doesn’t matter what’s in your bank account; it doesn’t matter what somebody’s dad did. What matters is your character, your integrity, your work ethic and the way you treat people,” she recalled him saying. “Those will determine the success of your farm and small business. I’m excited to see what this group accomplishes.”
During the conference, 13 families competed for 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 Justin and Kimberly Garrett of Pike County, peanuts; Mitchell and Rebecca Henry of Lawrence County, beef; Daniel and Carla Trantham of Calhoun County, wheat and feed grain; Kaleb and Karah Skinner of Cleburne County, pork; Drew and Lauren Wendland of Autauga County, soybeans; Joe and Ashley McCraney of Barbour County, poultry; Brady and Anna Peek of Limestone County, cotton; and Evan Nelson of Jefferson County, hay and forage.
Finalists for the OYFF title are the Henrys, Tranthams and Peeks. They each received a Blackstone griddle package and will compete for over $70,000 in prizes during on-farm judging this summer. The winner will be announced Aug. 6 at the Alabama Farm & Land Expo in Birmingham and will compete in the American Farm Bureau Federation Achievement Award contest at the January 2023 annual convention in Puerto Rico.
This Young Farmers Conference was the first for Jacob and Misty Porter of Clay County, who competed in the OYFF contest’s beef and poultry divisions.
“We’ve enjoyed every minute of it,” Jacob said. “Competing in OYFF is a challenge, but we’re glad we did it. We wouldn’t have the opportunity to meet people with similar interests and challenges without the conference. It’s great to be around people who do what we do.”
Misty said filling out the OYFF application helped them take a closer look at their farming operation and talk about future plans.
“I feel like we got to explore and really write down the things that we do,” Misty said. “It’s just a great opportunity. We’re glad people thought highly enough of us to encourage us to apply.”
Federation Young Farmers Division Director Hunter McBrayer said the Porters’ experience is what the program is all about.
“Part of the mission of Young Farmers is to provide networking, leadership and growth opportunities for young farmers across Alabama,” he said. “We have focused this conference on helping our young farmers be agents of change — on their farms, in their communities and in our state.
“The speakers our young farmers heard from — on topics ranging from improving their operations with new technologies to estate planning to state laws that impact farmers — will push them to grow, to evaluate themselves and make a difference far outside of their fence rows.”