From greenhouses to golf greens, row crops to research stations and cattle to kiwi, nearly 400 young farmers were in Montgomery March 3-4 learning lessons from lucrative farmers.
With representatives from 55 counties, the 2017 Young Farmers Conference was the largest in Alabama Farmers Federation recent history. The State Young Farmers Committee varied the conference format this year by replacing workshops with farm tours.
“While workshops can be very beneficial, there's nothing like visiting with other farmers on a beautiful March day and seeing how they make a living,” said State Young Farmers Committee Chairman Jerry Allen Newby of Limestone County. “I learned a lot during this conference that I can take back home to north Alabama, and I think other young farmers did, too.”
The conference began March 3 evening with dinner and a performance by country and Southern rock band Trotline.
March 4 at breakfast, conference attendees received a legislative update and were encouraged to attend the Federation’s skeet shoot fundraiser in November. The shoot benefits the Alabama Farmers Agriculture Foundation (AFAF), which funds college scholarships and Alabama Ag in the Classroom
Participants then hit the road for farm tours across central Alabama.
Tour A included stops at Parnell Inc., a cattle and timber operation; Wright’s Nursery and Greenhouse; and Autauga Farming Co., a row crop and cattle farm.
A former member of the State Young Farmers Committee, Dallas County’s Heather Wright owns Wright’s Nursery and Greenhouse with her husband, Davy.
“I think the relationships we build and the things we learn during conferences are vital to our survival as a farm, business and family,” Wright said. “It's important we stay educated, keep gaining knowledge, participate in agriculture organizations and keep up with what's going on in the political world.”
Tour B headed to east Alabama and made stops at Hornsby Farms, a fruit and vegetable operation; Southeast Kiwi Farming Cooperative; and Auburn University’s E.V. Smith Research Station.
Jefferson County’s Will Dodd, 25, said he enjoyed meeting new friends and learning how the Federation can work with Alabama’s young farmers to continue a thriving agricultural tradition in the state.
“Given the labor-intensive schedules of Alabama's farms, it's nice for Young Farmers to take a weekend and socialize with other young people in the profession,” said Dodd, who runs the nonprofit Heirloom Harvest, which helps Alabama produce farmers expand their markets. “The opportunity to tour farm operations and share experiences and advice on most effective practices only leads to a more productive agriculture economy for our state.”
Tour C visited Talladega County’s Pursell Farms’ golf course and resort destination and Coosa County’s Pinthlocco Plantation, a quail preserve.
Attendees captured favorite tour moments by participating in an Instagram contest. Winners were Ali Grace Eiland of Pike County, Jordyn Upchurch of Clay County and Dodd.
Saturday evening, young farmers bid on Yeti coolers, jewelry, picnic tables, tools and more to raise $10,765 during a live auction benefiting the AFAF.
Preliminaries for the 2017 Outstanding Young Farm Family (OYFF) contest were held during the conference. Finalists and their respective commodities were announced at the closing banquet. They are Ben and Jessica Johnson of Fyffe in DeKalb County, Soybean Division winner; Beth Hornsby of Auburn in Lee County, Horticulture Division winner; and Eric and Carrly Lovvorn of Heflin in Cleburne County, Poultry Division winner. Finalists will compete later this year for over $60,000 in prizes. The overall winner will be announced at the Federation’s Commodity Producers Conference in Birmingham Aug. 5.
Other commodity division winners who competed in the OYFF contest were Justin Hill of Eastaboga in Calhoun County, Bee & Honey; Josh and Amanda Slaughter of Harpersville in Shelby County, Beef; Jonathan and Sara Sanders of Roeton in Coffee County, Peanut; and Barret Stephenson of Eufaula in Barbour County, Meat Goat & Sheep.