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Caddo Parish rancher wins 2005 Discussion Meet contest

Marty Woolridge, a Caddo parish cattle producer, won the Louisiana Farm Bureau Discussiaon Meet recently with his contention that public perception of agriculture will shape the profession in years to come.

Woolridge, 27, was one of four finalists in the competition exploring the question “Do Educational Programs Improve the Public Perception of Agriculture?” The subject has been a leading influence in the Farm Bureau's public relations and community outreach efforts over the past year.

“Ag programs can sway public perception,” Woolridge said. “However, it's up to young producers like ourselves to further these changes in perception, to make the difference between hearing about it and seeing the truth about today's agriculture.”

Throughout the discussion, Woolridge and the other three contestants displayed a media savvy far beyond that of previous generations of producers.

“Agriculture must develop a range of programs to get the word out about what we're doing. Programs to target the media, legislators, educators and others.” Woolridge continued by saying school programs such as FFA, 4-H and the LSU AgCenter's Agricultural Leadership Development program are vital players in changing or broadening the public's perception of agriculture.

While some contestants argued that as young producers they were “honestly too busy” to effectively promote agriculture among their neighbors, Woolridge contended that, while using the media to further discussion is fine, “education starts with us, at home. It starts with your next door neighbor.”

The Discussion Meet is a round-table forum designed to challenge young producers on current topics influencing their industry. Competing in the final round with Woolridge were Cindy Perret of St. John Parish, Michael Fontenot of Evangeline Parish and Craig Naquin of Assumption Parish.

Wooldridge raises 350 head of black Brangus cattle near his home in Oil City, La. A graduate of Texas A&M University and a member of the LSU Ag Leadership program, Woolridge also is chair of the Caddo Parish Young Farmers and Ranchers committee.

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