Competitive comꞏpetꞏiꞏtive (adjective)
1. Having a strong desire to win
Agriculture is competitive. From the highest corn yield to the most pounds of milk produced each year, as farmers and agriculturists, we push each other to be individually more productive, more efficient and more sustainable in our fields and barns each year.
However, with increasing laws and regulations, to be ‘better’ in our fields each year, we also must continue to be ‘better’ at speaking up in our boardrooms, courtrooms and government representatives’ offices. Farm Bureau’s Discussion Meet pushes our members to do just that. The Discussion Meet simulates a committee meeting with all participants working together to develop a solution and actionable steps to a current issue facing agriculture and Farm Bureau.
I’ve always loved both agricultural policy and a good challenge, so the Discussion Meet seemed like a perfect fit. I quickly realized the Discussion Meet was more than just a competition. Since first competing in a mock version of the contest in 2015, my skills have grown dramatically.
Anyone who knows me, knows I love to talk. Interjections, rambling stories, and a few tangents – I struggled in committee and board meetings. I couldn’t stay on topic or make a concise point, so my ideas and involvement weren’t always welcome. I wasn’t a productive participant. Discussion Meet changed all of that.
This year, I was thrilled to see my hard work pay off as I advanced to the Final Four round of the American Farm Bureau’s Young Farmer and Rancher Discussion Meet in New Orleans, Louisiana.
As I walked onto the final stage, I expected to be overwhelmed by the thousands of people watching our discussion about how farmers can implement market trends and responsive business plans to generate farm profits. Instead, within minutes, I settled into a conversation about how my farm adapted to difficult farm cycles over time, examples of other operations who’ve diversified and programs that help farmers adapt. What may have seemed like an intense competition was truly just four farm girls, hanging out on stage, talking about agriculture.
The only difference from sitting in a machine shop or a local bar? We had a time limit and a goal: find concrete solutions for farmers facing a difficult agriculture economy.
With that limited timeframe and many important views to consider, Discussion Meet teaches participants to identify relevant issues, facts, and stories to first define the issue behind a current agricultural problem. From there, the contest asks competitors to focus on solving the problem. What can Farm Bureau members do? Who can we partner with? What stakeholders do we need to engage and how can we do that?
With a laser-focused approach to the conversation, we competitors attempted to develop well thought out solutions to the question poised. While the competition itself initially appealed to me, it’s the solutions, conversation and connections that held my interest. Each competitor brings a unique background – some farm, others teach, and many support agriculture through agronomy, sales, banking or other avenues. Participating in this contest brings together those unique perspectives to find a solution that actually works for agriculture.
In New Orleans, we brought together a cooperative marketing manager/adjunct instructor, a seed sales manager/cow-calf farmer, a precision agriculture sales manager and a law student/vegetable farmer. Talk about covering a lot of ground!
We thought up numerous solutions and ultimately walked away with neat prizes (like a Ford truck, Case IH tractor, Stanley Black and Decker tools and Case IH toolboxes), but the skills gained – confidence in speaking, concision in stories and identification of relevant facts – go beyond the competition. When speaking to a government representative, it’s important to quickly and clearly ask for the law or regulation you need changed and explain why. When working in a boardroom or on a committee, the same skills allow for effective resolutions and shorter meetings. Competing in Discussion Meet gave me an opportunity to learn about other perspectives in agriculture and to gain vital analysis and communication skills that have paid dividends in my young career as an up-and-coming agricultural attorney.
Throughout my experience in this contest, I was blessed with advice from many Farm Bureau members and staff. I could not have made it as far as I did without their support and am forever grateful.
If you’re interested in participating in Discussion Meet, don’t hesitate to reach out to folks in your county, district, and from around the state. We all want each other to succeed. Better competitors mean better agricultural representatives, which means better conversations in our committees, boardrooms and government representatives’ offices.
Your voice and your experiences matter. Let them be heard and help us discuss how Farm Bureau can help your operation be better by participating in next year’s Discussion Meet. At the end of the day, it’s just a couple of farm kids, sitting around a table, talking about agriculture and doing it well. That is how we truly all win.
Kelly Wilfert is a member of the Manitowoc County Farm Bureau. Her family’s farm raises fresh fruits and vegetables, cash grain and processing vegetables. Kelly is currently a student at the University of Wisconsin Law School in Madison.