Forging Valuable Connections
February 27, 2023
Written By Adam Buckallew
Nearly 80 young farmers from Missouri, Arkansas and Kansas participated in the second Emerging Leaders in Agriculture Conference hosted by MFA Oil and MFA Incorporated on Jan. 11-13. The event, held at Camden on the Lake Resort in Lake Ozark, Mo., is designed to help producers better manage and grow their agribusiness operations while offering valuable networking opportunities with fellow young farmers.
The two-and-a-half-day gathering featured speakers and conversations about sustainability, farm transition planning, leadership, farming in the age of consumer preference, and cooperative benefits.
Participants like Ryan Pohlman appreciated the invitation to attend the conference and connect with peers. Pohlman, who raises registered Angus cattle on a diversified farm in Oak Ridge, Mo., with his wife, Lindsey, said he picked up new ideas from both the speakers and attendees.
“It was a great opportunity for us to learn from one another, see things from different perspectives and meet people who face similar challenges,” Pohlman said. “It was all very informative and got the wheels spinning in my brain. We’ve picked up some ideas to consider for the future of our farm.”
Kyle Croy said it’s comforting to hear the challenges he and his wife, Taylor, face on their row-cropping operation in Gallatin, Mo., are not unique to them. The Croys raise corn and soybeans and have a small herd of Simmental-Angus cattle.
“There are many challenges that young farmers face,” Croy said. “It was nice to talk to people going through many of the same situations. We traded ideas and best management practices to learn from one another. We met several people we plan to work with in the future.”
For Katey Freeman, the conference prompted a reexamination of her role on her family’s diversified farm in Columbus, Kan.
“I’ve realized that I need to step up and take on more of a leadership role,” Freeman said. “I need to work alongside my dad, not just for him.”
The Freemans raise wheat, soybeans, corn and sorghum and operate a commercial cattle operation. For years the family farm has been run by Katey’s father and grandfather. When her grandfather suffered a stroke in July 2022, Katey took on more responsibility to lessen the load on her dad.
After the conference, Freeman said she was excited to talk with her parents about things she had learned.
“It can be hard talking to your parents and grandparents about farm transitions and shifting responsibilities, but I think it will help us strengthen our relationships in the long run and improve our farm management.”
Discussions of leadership and farm transference also resonated with Margaret Cleveland, whose family owns and operates Ozark Fisheries, a fourth-generation fish farm. The Clevelands have sold ornamental goldfish and koi throughout North America for 96 years and also operate Circle F Cattle Company.
“We are a family farm, so succession planning is essential,” Cleveland said. “I enjoyed hearing about the best ways to pass ownership down to future generations.”
Cleveland was impressed by the openness of the young farmers in attendance and the diversity of farming operations represented.
“I was blown away by how willing everyone was to share about their experiences and learn from each other, regardless of the type of farm they are running,” she says. “Hearing about other farmers’ successes and challenges is always informative.”
Cleveland believes other farmers are often the best resource for young farmers. Though she didn’t know any other participants before the event, Cleveland said she made connections with whom she plans to stay in touch.
“I’m already planning to host someone I met on the last day of the conference at my farm and schedule a visit to her farm,” Cleveland said. “It will be a great chance to share more ideas and could open up opportunities for future collaboration.”
A Sustainable Future
Levi Henry admitted he wasn’t sure what to expect from the meeting but was pleasantly surprised with his participation.
“It was an eye-opening experience for me,” said Henry, who raises turkeys for Butterball and operates Turkey Creek Farms LLC, a poultry litter service. “There’s been something for everyone, no matter what type of producer you might be. I particularly enjoyed the session on sustainability. We need a sustainable plan to keep the farm going for future generations. There were lots of great ideas that were exchanged that we can take home and evaluate.”
MFA Oil and MFA Incorporated plan to continue hosting the Emerging Leaders in Agriculture conference annually.
“We will continue to support our up-and-coming farmers and ranchers because they represent not only the future of agriculture but also the future of our cooperatives,” said Jon Ihler, MFA Oil president and CEO. “We’ve had great participation in these conferences, and we look forward to hosting another crop of emerging leaders next year.”