MFA Oil Hosts Inaugural Young Farmers Conference
May 12, 2017
Written By Adam Buckallew
Developing the next generation of leaders in agriculture grows more important every year as the average age of principal farm operators climbs higher. Data from the 2012 Census of Agriculture, the most recent, revealed farmers older than 65 years of age outnumber those under 35 by a ratio of six-to-one.
Though they may make up a small percentage of the current farming population, cultivating relationships with young farmers will be crucial to the future of cooperatives such as MFA Oil.
This is one of the reasons why the company hosted its inaugural Young Farmers Conference at the beginning of March. The two-day event brought together young leaders in agriculture with industry experts to discuss important farm issues, provide leadership training and offer peer networking opportunities.
“We want to make sure we are serving the needs of all of our cooperative members, and this was a great opportunity to connect with many of our young farmers and learn about their needs and expectations,” said Jon Ihler, vice president of sales and marketing.
The conference began with a look at how farmers and cooperatives can work together to create more value, opportunity and impact for each other. Jeff Schindele, a cooperative consultant, discussed the advantages of the cooperative model, patronage and equities, and why it pays to be a member.
“Patronage is a great benefit which allows a cooperative to share its profits with its farmer-owners and the rural communities where it does business,” Schindele said. “MFA Oil has done an outstanding job of this by returning 80 percent of its profits in recent years to its farmers in cash while putting the remainder into equity.”
David Parker, an executive with agricultural consultancy FLM+, was the conference facilitator and also a presenter. Parker outlined important trends he has observed in agriculture and shared the seven key traits he believes highly successful farmers share.
He said these farmers:
- Adopt new and useful technology.
- Create and follow a business plan.
- Set goals.
- Protect their investment for the legacy generation.
- Build business relationships.
- Keep learning.
- Value industry stewardship.
“It can be difficult to take the lead and set a plan for your farming operation if you are working with an older generation,” Parker said. “You need to make sure you are talking about important decisions, like how to improve your commodity marketing plan and whether you are prepared to acquire more land. This will help you take advantage of windows of opportunity when they arise.”
Chris Chinn, the newly appointed Missouri director of agriculture, spoke to attendees about the importance of sharing agriculture’s story with the public.
“We need you to be an advocate for agriculture by having impactful conversations about farming with your neighbors and people in your community,” Chinn said. “Only you can tell the story of your family farm.”
Chinn is considered to be a trailblazer in ag advocacy who is known for her work bridging the gap between farmers and consumers through public speaking and online conversations with her more than 10,000 combined followers on social media and her blog. Chinn said she looks for common ground when speaking to people to help them better understand how she and her family operate their farm in Clarence, Mo.
Corporate comedian Mark Mayfield provided conference attendees with entertainment and challenged the young farmers to look at issues they face from new perspectives and with humor to find insights they may otherwise miss.
“Sometimes you need to be able to find the humor in life,” Mayfield said. “Humor is strongly linked with creativity, and young farmers will certainly need to be creative to be successful as times change and agriculture evolves.”
Day two kicked off with a roundtable discussion between attendees and members of the MFA Oil management team.
“We opened it up to the crowd and told them any question was fair game,” Fenner said. “We received a lot of great feedback, and it gave us an opportunity to ask some questions of our own. We also talked about what we can do better to serve young farmers and how they can become more involved in the cooperative.”
The conference concluded with a presentation by Tony Richards of Clear Vision Development Group. Richards, who was named one of the Top 100 Leadership Speakers by Inc. Magazine, discussed ways the attendees could better lead themselves, others and their businesses.
“Leadership starts with you,” Richards told the group. “Everyone has the capacity to be a leader, but not everyone is willing to put forth the effort and the work to become one. You have to commit to growing yourself before others will allow you to lead them.”
MFA Oil is already working on plans to host another Young Farmers Conference in 2018. If you are interested in participating or if you would like to nominate a young farmer to attend the conference, please visit youngfarmers.mfaoil.com and fill out the form. MFA Oil will share more details about the 2018 conference in the coming months.