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February 11, 2006   Email to Friend 

Jeff Helms
(334) 613-4212
February 11, 2006

Former American Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers Chairman Ben Boyd, second from right, visits with participants at the Alabama Farmers Federation's Young Farmers Leadership Conference. From left are, Grant Lassiter of the Auburn University Young Farmers chapter, Barret Stephenson of Barbour County, Boyd and Jessie Hobbs of Limestone County.
BIRMINGHAM, Ala., Feb 11-- Young farmers must share their stories with elected officials if U.S. farm policy is to provide opportunities for the next generation of agricultural producers. That's the message former American Farm Bureau Federation Young Farmers and Ranchers Chairman Ben Boyd shared with participants of the Alabama Farmers Federation's Young Farmers Leadership Conference Feb. 10-12 in Birmingham.

Boyd, a diversified farmer from southeast Georgia, struck a chord with the 400 young farmers attending the conference when he spoke of the radical environmental groups trying to undermine the farming way of life.

"A lot of people will go up there (Washington, D.C.) and tell your story," Boyd said. "The only problem is they won't tell it like you would. I'm not telling you that you have to stop farming and start lobbying, but you've got to communicate your personal story to (lawmakers)."

Boyd, 28, admitted that, as a young farmer, he is an "endangered species." That's why meetings like the Young Farmers Leadership conference are important, said Federation Young Farmers Director Brandon Moore.

"Past generations began their farming careers asking the question, 'Will our family farm be around for our children and grandchildren?' As our economy becomes more dependent on worldwide markets, today's crop of young farmers ask the question 'Will my farm be around five years from now?'" Moore said.

The Young Farmers Leadership Conference, Moore explained, focuses on practical ways young farmers can remain competitive in the global economy and still maintain the integrity of the family farm and way of life they cherish.

The conference kicked off with a keynote address by Idaho farmer and management consultant Dick Wittman. He emphasized that farmers must approach their family operations as businesses if they are to survive in the global marketplace.

"I firmly believe that the stewardship of the agricultural industry will be preserved by family farm businesses, but we've got to put both of those words (farm and business) into the equation," Wittman said. "We are seeking excellence in the way we approach our families, the way we approach our farms and the way we approach our farms as businesses.

"Farms are not exempt from business practices," Wittman added. "In fact, it's the violation of those business practices that keep us from reaching our goals. We can't have the way of life (we love) without running it as a business."

Wittman challenged the young farmers at the conference to evaluate their business plans and to work in small groups to identify potential pitfalls and opportunities. Of particular importance, he said, is that farm families identify the responsibilities each member of the family has in the operation and how the business is organized to ensure a profitable transition of ownership from one generation to the next.

Also on hand for the conference was Nancy Walker, a missionary who has traveled to Bosnia and Afghanistan to teach women how to care for their gardens and landscape. She presented a workshop geared toward young farm women. Meanwhile, the Federation's Outstanding Young Farm Family (OYFF) for 2005, Mike and Denise Henry of Montgomery County, shared their successes and challenges with their peers from across the state.

During the conference, young farmers from throughout Alabama competed in the OYFF program. On Sunday night, 11 commodity division winners will be named, and six of those will be selected as finalists to compete for the overall title of OYFF for 2006.

A list of the winners will be posted to www.alfafarmers.org following the conference.

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