Young Farmers Honored At Leadership Conference
By Jeff Helms
Outstanding Young Farm Families (OYFF) were recognized in 12 commodity divisions as the Alabama Farmers Federation concluded its Young Farmers Leadership Conference Feb. 19 in Huntsville.
The awards banquet was held in the shadow of a 426-foot-long Saturn V rocket, which is housed at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center's Davidson Center for Space Exploration.
|Outstanding Young Farm Family division winners are, from left, Allie Corcoran of Barbour County, horticulture; John Eberhart Jr. of DeKalb County, hay and forages; Jason and Leslie Cleckler of Chilton County, wildlife; Jon and Amy Hegeman of Calhoun County, greenhouse, nursery and sod; Jamie and Amy Griffin of Shelby County, beef and equine; Kevin and Ashlee Stephens of Pike County with their daughter, Mary Holland, peanuts; Benjamin and Miranda Looney of Limestone County with their sons, Colby and Clay, wheat and feed grains; Stan and Kayla Usery of Limestone County with their daughter, Jessa, cotton; Mike and Teresa Dole of St. Clair County with their children, Henry and Katie Sue, meat goats and sheep; Jeremy and Lindsey Brown of Montgomery County with their daughter, Ansley, poultry; and Isaac Jones of Cherokee County, dairy.|
Federation Young Farmers Director Brandon Moore said the high-tech setting was perfect for this year's conference.
"With Huntsville's rich history as a leader in technology, it offered a great backdrop to underscore the important role technology plays in modern agricultural production," Moore said. "The satellites developed here in Huntsville, first used for defense, are now being used to help our farmers maintain a healthy food supply for our families, while producing fiber and fuel with much less impact on the environment. Farmers are now able to use only the specific crop nutrients that a particular area in the field needs rather than broadly applying treatments to a large area, and space technology developed here in Huntsville plays a major role in that every day."
More than 350 young farmers participated in the three-day conference, which included educational seminars and the OYFF contest.
The OYFF program, now entering its 54th year, seeks to recognize young farm families and farmers between the ages of 18 and 35 who are doing an outstanding job in their farm, home and community activities, and promoting a better understanding of agriculture with the urban populace.
Commodity division winners were: Jamie and Amy Griffin of Shelby County, beef and equine; Isaac Jones of Cherokee County, dairy; Jon and Amy Hegeman of Calhoun County, greenhouse, nursery and sod; John Eberhart Jr. of Dekalb County, hay and forages; Allie Corcoran of Barbour County, horticulture; Mike and Teresa Dole of St. Clair County, meat goats and sheep; Jeremy and Lindsey Brown of Montgomery County, poultry; Benjamin and Miranda Looney of Limestone County, wheat and feed grains; Jason and Leslie Cleckler of Chilton County, wildlife; Stan and Kayla Usery of Limestone County, cotton; and Kevin and Ashlee Stephens of Pike County, peanuts.
Each commodity winner receives a plaque and $200 cash award. From the commodity winners, six finalists were chosen to compete for the title of overall Outstanding Young Farm Family for 2011.
The finalists were: the Hegemans, Corcoran, the Browns, the Looneys, the Userys and the Stephenses.
The overall winner will be named at the Federation's 90th Annual Meeting in Mobile, Dec. 4-6 and will receive a John Deere Gator courtesy of Alabama Ag Credit and Alabama Farm Credit; the use of a new vehicle and a computer package sponsored by Valcom/CCS Wireless.
The state winner also receives an expense-paid trip to the 2012 American Farm Bureau Federation Annual Meeting in Hawaii where he/she will compete for the American Farm Bureau Young Farmer and Rancher Achievement Award.
The keynote speaker for the Young Farmers Leadership Conference was Chad Hymas, a Utah rancher who was paralyzed in a farm accident at the age of 27. A decade later, Hymas is president of his own communications company and travels 150,000 miles a year sharing his motivational message.
Alabama Young Farmers Chairman Ben Haynes of Cullman County said Hymas and other presenters at the conference emphasized the importance of nurturing relationships both professionally and personally.
"A common theme among all our speakers and all of our events so far has been our relationships with those around us and how we can be not only better farmers and better producers, but also better managers and better sons, fathers, daughters and wives as we interact with those around us," Haynes said. "I hope we go back (to our farms) and have better farming skills, but also have better people skills -- not only people skills on our own farms as we deal with family members and employees, but also as we deal with the public in sharing our message."
Haynes said the conference gave the participants a chance to network with other young farmers who share the same challenges and opportunities. It also provided motivation for the young farmers to carry on their families' agricultural legacies.
Haynes, whose son Jack is the sixth generation on their family farm, said his parents attended their first Young Farmers Conference in Huntsville many years ago. Today, Haynes is following in their footsteps as he works to preserve the farming heritage for Jack.
"If there's going to be a farm, not just for Jack, but for any of this next generation, it's imperative that we do what we can do to protect it."