Young farmers and ranchers from Oklahoma, South Dakota and North Dakota gathered in Deadwood, S.D., Jan. 20-21 for professional and personal skills building and cross-state networking. The inaugural Tri-State Producers Conference celebrated a successful first event and participants went home with skills that will help them grow their operations.
AFR Cooperative joined South Dakota Farmers Union (SDFU) and North Dakota Farmers Union (NDFU) in the development of the new conference, which was created to fill a need in each organizations’ adult education program. The new conference is designed to bring young farmers and ranchers from each organization together in a collaborative group atmosphere where they can learn from the speaker and each other.
“We wanted this conference to be different from most,” said AFR Cooperative Press Secretary Laici Neumann, who was part of the working group that developed the new event. “Rather than an audience just listening to a speaker, the Tri-State Producers Conference is designed to be interactive. The number of participants is kept at a level where everyone in the room has an opportunity to get involved in activities.”
The conference kicked off with a welcome from the presidents of each organization—AFR Cooperative President Scott Blubaugh, NDFU President Mark Watne and SDFU President Doug Sombke. Also unique for a conference, those in leadership roles stuck around and participated in some of the workshops.
“It was so encouraging to see our young people, 20 of our young AFR members, learning with each other as a group,” said AFR President Scott Blubaugh. “It’s not often those of us in leadership get to spend time interacting with just our young farmers and ranchers. It was great to be amongst them for a couple of days.”
The conference programming was specifically tailored to young farmers and ranchers on a growing operation—skills attendees could employ as soon as they got home, such as hedging strategy and communicating with spouses and other family members involved in their farming operations.
“We’re proud to have created an event that provides tangible, ready-to-use skills,” said Neumann. “The young farmers and ranchers at this year’s conference can put their new skills to work immediately.”
Even the legislative aspects of the conference were designed for interaction. Attendees tackled resolution and policy writing as a group, giving them a jump start in their policy work within their state organizations and with National Farmers Union (NFU).
The market concentration panelists—U.S. Cattlemen’s Association President Justin Tupper, NFU Vice President of Advocacy Mike Stranz, and NFU Vice President Jeff Kippley—shared a meal with conference attendees and stuck around afterward to answer every last question.
“There wasn’t a stage for the panelists,” said Blubaugh. “They were on the same level with the young farmers and ranchers. It was just like a big group of friends hanging out—talking about cattle markets and learning about each other’s operations.”
Several of Oklahoma’s attendees voiced appreciation for the opportunity to network with their counterparts in other states. Conference attendee and AFR member Dillon Travis especially appreciated discusses common challenges.
“We are all in this together. This becomes obvious when you meet with producers from other states,” said Travis, who has a cattle and hay operation in Pawnee County and an agricultural inputs business that serves much of the state. He attended with his wife, Kaylee, who farms alongside him.
The Tri-State Producers Conference is part of the new AFR Strive adult education program. AFR Strive is intended for 25-40-year-old farmers, ranchers and agribusiness owners. The program focuses on business and personal development, industry involvement and networking.
Funding for AFR Strive is provided by the AFR Cooperative, the AFR Foundation, and educational grants.