CULTIVATING LEADERSHIP - PROGRAM PREPARES FARMING'S FUTURE LEADERS
"Montgomery, Ala." They say leaders aren't born; they're made. If that's the case, one might argue that no program has done more to cultivate leadership in Alabama's farming community than the Alabama Agriculture and Forestry Leadership Development Program (LEADERS).
|Baldwin County farmer Tim Mullek talks with a farm manager in Sadillo, Argentina.|
Founded in 1984, LEADERS is designed to prepare young men and women for influential roles in agriculture through training, peer networking and exposure to diverse segments of the industry at the state, national and international levels.
"It's a program that helps polish young people and make them more articulate leaders for the industry," said LEADERS Director Dr. Dennis Evans. "It can take you to another level and make you understand the world beyond the farm gate."
Class VIII of the Agriculture & Forestry LEADERS Program is scheduled to begin in July. Applications will be accepted until April 15.
The program is administered by the Alabama Cooperative Extension System & Auburn University's College of Agriculture and School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences. It involves 50 days of training consisting of seven multi-day sessions held all around the state, an out-of-region study tour, and an international study tour.
LEADERS is targeted for up-and-coming young adults in the state's agricultural and related industries who are at least 25 and not yet 40 years of age. A tuition fee applies, but Evans said most participants in LEADERS get help in paying tuition from county agricultural organizations and/or other business interests which want to nurture leadership development.
Since the program's inception, more than 190 people have completed the course including a current Alabama Farmers Federation state board member, several county Federation presidents and a host of other agriculture and forestry professionals.
"Alfa and other groups are seeing more and more graduates of LEADERS rise in their organizations because they are well trained and well aware of the issues of today," Evans said.
Escambia County Farmers Federation President Sammy Gibbs said LEADERS exposed him to public policy discussions in Montgomery and Washington and broadened his understanding of agriculture's role in the global economy through an international study tour to Argentina and Brazil.
"It was an absolute eye-opening experience to see our national agriculture situation and then see our frightening international situation (in terms of competition)," Gibbs said. "With the low prices we are seeing, it's important to have leaders who can influence farm policy and help find cheaper ways to produce crops."
Gibbs said the class also is a disciplining experience because it requires participants to budget their time to accommodate the seven multi-day sessions that comprise the course. In addition, he said it helped hone his communications skills through public speaking exercises and discussions with people with opposing views.
Elmore County pork producer Russell Miller said the class not only helped him develop leadership skills, it also made him a better farm manager.
"Personally, in my business, I would not be where I am today without having gone through the class," Miller said. "I have developed a marketing plan for my pigs that now involves the cooperation of seven producers in five states. The class helped me develop the confidence I needed to get this accomplished."
Perhaps one of the most valuable aspects of LEADERS, however, is the opportunity it provides for participants to network with other up-and-coming agricultural professionals.
Former Federation Young Farmers Chairman Andy Wendland was a member of the sixth LEADERS class.
"Having gone through LEADERS, I certainly have a better idea of what it takes to be a leader," he said. "I know now that you can't be a leader and never leave the farm. The vast network of friends and contacts in various places that LEADERS offered will prove to be invaluable."
In addition to producers of traditional farm commodities, LEADERS classes also have included farm lenders, U.S. Department of Agriculture employees and foresters.
Mark Key, a Demopolis forester, was quick to recommend the program to young adults in the timber industry.
"I'm not afraid to speak out now--not afraid to personally contact my legislator and give him my opinion," Key said. "This program was everything and more that I hoped it would be. It was well worth the effort to attend all of the sessions and participate. This program has shown me that, in a global market, a small town in Alabama is just as important as any other place on earth and that who I am and what I do is very important in the overall scheme of things."
Tami Kelly, a veterinarian from Boaz, said she would encourage any young ag professional to apply.
"This is an excellent opportunity for any young agriculturally oriented person," she said. "It opens your eyes to today's challenges. This program is definitely strengthening the future for the agriculture industry and grooming key individuals to help lead the way."
For additional information including complete eligibility requirements and application packets, contact Dr. Dennis Evans, who directs the program. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org and phone number is (334) 844-5552.