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Mentors help collegiates explore beef careers

Collegiates attending CattleCon and NCBA Trade Show were offered a free opportunity to visit with beef industry mentors and explore the wide variety of careers within the industry.

Shelley E. Huguley, Editor

April 5, 2024

8 Slides

In speed-dating style, collegiates attending the American National CattleWomen’s Association (ANCW) Emerging Leaders Luncheon gathered at round tables with professionals from various segments of the beef industry.

At the sound of the cow’s bell, beef cattle mentors rotated between tables, introducing themselves and their profession, and then inviting the aspiring agriculturists to ask questions.


The luncheon, held during the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Trade Show in Orlando, Fla., not only provided a setting for students to network and discover the various career paths within the industry but also for professionals to connect with the industry’s future workforce.

“I love this because we're talking with youth who have a vision of what they want to do,” said David Baker, a luncheon mentor and general manager of Powder River, a cattle and livestock handling equipment manufacturer.

“We love the opportunity to sit down and talk with young, smart, energetic young people who have a clear path of what they want to do in the future. They value education, they have a strong desire to learn, and they love the ag industry. It’s great to see their eyes light up when you talk about the other opportunities within the industry such as manufacturing, R&D, sales and marketing. Their enthusiasm gives us great hope for the future in the industry.”

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Matt Johson, also with Powder River, said the luncheon gives students “an opportunity to find a vision of what's possible in the market. If they’re not suited for production, maybe production adjacent. They can go find markets and industry that would make sense for them and take their skill sets and knowledge and really benefit companies that they're going to go work for.”


In 2022, 22.1 million full- and part-time jobs were related to the agricultural and food sectors—10.4% of total U.S. employment, according to the USDA.

As a cattle equipment manufacturer, Johnson says Powder River is looking for individuals with either a production or agricultural background, “who can find their way into manufacturing.

“That may be someone who may not be a classically trained engineer or salesperson, but we need to find people who have cattle knowledge who can perform in that industry. So, we’re always hunting for talent.”

ANCW luncheon

ANCW hosts the free collegiate luncheon each year during the NCBA Trade Show. This year, to create more visibility, the luncheon was held on the NCBA Trade Show floor, according to Ruth Coffey, ANCW president.


“I don’t know what part of the beef industry each student is studying at their colleges, but I’m hoping they’ll take this back and encourage others to come and be a part of the beef industry,” she said as she watched the students engage over lunch.

Related:CattleCon24: NCBA Orlando roundup

ANCW is built on three pillars: beef promotion, education, and legislative issues. “The Emerging Leaders Luncheon is what ANCW is all about,” said Nikki Weston, ANCW vice president. “It’s why we’re here and why we do what we do, to help future generations come into the ag industry.”

Collegiate beef advocate

Brittley Bowers, one of ANCW’s two collegiate beef advocates for 2024, who also attended the luncheon, noted the various occupations of the mentors, from cow/calf operations to pharmaceutical sales, to “one lady worked for 44 Farms, and another lady who started her own company auditing ranches.”

Bowers and her peers were able to learn, listen and ask questions, she said. “One thing that stood out is that everyone has their own story, and everyone has their own way of life,” Bowers told Farm Progress. “But everyone said whatever you need, I want to help you. These are amazing men and women who are going out and doing great things, but they want to see us succeed as well.”

(Refresh this page to view Bowers' interview)

Related:U.S. beef cattle exports slow, quality high

The mentors distributed business cards and company swag at their tables. Bowers, a Texas A&M University junior animal science major from Fredericksburg, said one of the mentors even offered to help a student get an internship. “It’s so inspiring. It makes me want to go out in the industry and then come back and give back as well, continue to pass it on to future generations. The youth are the future of this industry, and we have to continue to empower and push forward.”

The power of a mentor

Samantha Werth, NCBA sustainability senior director and U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef executive director, was a first-time luncheon mentor. Werth, who did not grow up in agriculture, said she wished she’d had a mentor at their age.

“I grew up in San Diego, but have always loved cattle,” Werth said, confessing she’s not sure where her love for cows originated. “So, my only thought was, how do I get involved in the cattle industry? I’ve got to go to vet school. That must be it.”


She attended UC Davis as pre-vet, working on her bachelor’s in animal science. While there, she attended a sustainability lecture by Frank Mitloehner, a professor and air quality specialist in cooperative Extension in the Department of Animal Science. What he said that day redirected the trajectory of Werth’s passion and laid the foundation for a mentorship that lasted throughout her academic career.

“In one of his undergraduate courses he gave a lecture on his research, and it lit me up. I thought, this is what I want to do. How do I get involved? I went and talked to him and interned with him my junior year. I stayed in his lab through my master’s and Ph.D.”

Werth credits Mitloehner for teaching her to think through key livestock production elements that can help the industry have a sustainable future. “That took hold of me, that this could be impactful, working to support the beef industry and helping to improve and advance their sustainability, so that beef can always be a part of our future.”

Mentoring the next generation is also a part of that. As Werth shared her academic journey, she assured the luncheon collegiates that beef industry success doesn’t always require as much “schooling” as she’s had. “You don’t have to have a Ph.D. While I did, it’s not completely necessary. And there’s a lot of opportunities out there if that doesn’t appeal.”


Werth also reminded the students that passions change. “A lot were surprised to find out I was vet-school bound and then changed my mind. I think they like to hear that it’s ok to change your mind. When you start out, you have an idea of what you think you’re going to love and that can change.”

Werth also enjoyed hearing from the collegiates. “I love to learn from students. They always have great insights. They’re our future leaders, so it’s great to have the opportunity to share my story and help in any way that I can.”

More than 125 students and 45 business professional mentors participated in the 2024 Emerging Leaders Luncheon. No matter the field, Baker and Johnson told the students, “Whatever you do. Whatever you go into. Make sure you have passion, integrity, teamwork, and excellence and you will go far in your career.”

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About the Author(s)

Shelley E. Huguley

Editor, Southwest Farm Press

Shelley Huguley has been involved in agriculture for the last 25 years. She began her career in agricultural communications at the Texas Forest Service West Texas Nursery in Lubbock, where she developed and produced the Windbreak Quarterly, a newspaper about windbreak trees and their benefit to wildlife, production agriculture and livestock operations. While with the Forest Service she also served as an information officer and team leader on fires during the 1998 fire season and later produced the Firebrands newsletter that was distributed quarterly throughout Texas to Volunteer Fire Departments. Her most personal involvement in agriculture also came in 1998, when she married the love of her life and cotton farmer Preston Huguley of Olton, Texas. As a farmwife, she knows first-hand the ups and downs of farming, the endless decisions made each season based on “if” it rains, “if” the drought continues, “if” the market holds. She is the bookkeeper for their family farming operation and cherishes moments on the farm such as taking harvest meals to the field or starting a sprinkler in the summer with the whole family lending a hand. Shelley has also freelanced for agricultural companies such as Olton CO-OP Gin, producing the newsletter Cotton Connections while also designing marketing materials to promote the gin. She has published articles in agricultural publications such as Southwest Farm Press while also volunteering her marketing and writing skills to non-profit organizations such as Refuge Services, an equine-assisted therapy group in Lubbock. She and her husband reside in Olton with their three children Breely, Brennon and HalleeKate.

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