Dakota Farmer

Young Farmers and Ranchers conferences build connections in agriculture.

Sarah McNaughton, Editor, Dakota Farmer

February 16, 2024

3 Min Read
Brandi Buzzard addressing conference attendees
SPEAK OUT: The South Dakota Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers delegation listens to Kansas rancher Brandi Buzzard share her experience advocating for the industry during its annual conference in Box Elder, S.D.Sarah McNaughton

The average age of U.S. farmers has risen to 57 years old, according to USDA’s latest data. To help the next generation of agriculturalists, state Farm Bureaus are organizing Young Farmers and Ranchers programs.

In North and South Dakota, the YF&R programs are for Farm Bureau members between age 18 and 35, who are enthusiastic about agriculture and want to grow into leadership roles within their state organizations. Part of each state program is the annual conference, where members come together and build camaraderie.

Both conferences were held in late January, with South Dakota’s in Box Elder and North Dakota’s in Fargo.

“During lunch, I told everyone, ‘You are the future of the industry and our organization,’” said Krystil Smit, executive director of South Dakota Farm Bureau. “That peer group is really powerful, and they share ideas, make connections and friends, and they talk to each other throughout the year about what’s going on at their farms and ranches.”

“We have always focused on our young farmers and ranchers,” said Joey Bailey, director of organizational development for the North Dakota Farm Bureau. “We’re still filling our delegates seats and county boards with young farmers and ranchers, so they have a vote.”

Focus on next-gen

The YF&R conferences for both states are hailed as a time to learn, connect, grow and serve in the agriculture industry. “We have a ton of collegiate members that attend this conference, so it’s fun for them to get to visit with members in their early 30s to hear about their successes on their farms and ranches,” Bailey said.

Conference sessions are tailored to the younger generation and what they need to do as they continue in the industry, including a motivational presentation by Brandi Buzzard, an industry advocate.

“We have combined a lot of on-farm learning,” Smit said. “We talked about rural mental health, which is a huge topic here and gives people a different comfort level to open the door to talking about hard things. … I’m hoping the result of the conference is that people will go out and talk about their farms and ranches and be advocate for agriculture.”

During North Dakota’s conference, Bailey said they also focus on connections and fun, mixed with important education. “We were at a new venue in Fargo this year, which was an amazing space,” she said. “We also went over to Suite Shots on Friday night, which gave people a new experience.”

Educational sessions included zone soil testing, managing farm stress, goal planning on the farm and livestock integration.

State membership

“Our membership has continued to grow over the last couple years, which is really exciting for us,” Smit said. “That is a great testament of people wanting to be engaged and wanting input on what happens with policy and regulatory things on the farm. Again, I think we’re seeing a great turnout at this conference because people are wanting to be get more involved and be aligned with an organization that really speaks for them.”

Bailey said that in North Dakota, they have seen consistent membership and participation in YF&R and other Farm Bureau events. “The quality of our attendees is as strong as ever,” she said. “It’s super exciting to see with our young people.”

Smit said many in the next generation of agriculture want to be involved in the industry, after being involved during their college days. “Not only does this generation have a great farm or ranch background, but that’s paired with their education and maybe spending time at a college or tech school,” she said. “They’re used to being involved in things, and they crave that interaction with their peers, the leadership development and the opportunity to network.”

About the Author(s)

Sarah McNaughton

Editor, Dakota Farmer, Farm Progress

Sarah McNaughton of Bismarck, N.D., has been editor of Dakota Farmer since 2021. Before working at Farm Progress, she was an NDSU 4-H Extension agent in Cass County, N.D. Prior to that, she was a farm and ranch reporter at KFGO Radio in Fargo.

McNaughton is a graduate of North Dakota State University, with a bachelor’s degree in ag communications and a master’s in Extension education and youth development.

She is involved in agriculture in both her professional and personal life, as a member of North Dakota Agri-Women, Agriculture Communicators Network Sigma Alpha Professional Agriculture Sorority Alumni and Professional Women in Agri-business. As a life-long 4-H’er, she is a regular volunteer for North Dakota 4-H programs and events.

In her free time, she is an avid backpacker and hiker, and can be found most summer weekends at rodeos around the Midwest.

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