Cora Okkema of Mecosta County took the top spot at Michigan Farm Bureau's 2019 Young Farmer Discussion Meet on Dec. 4 at MFB's 100th annual meeting in Grand Rapids.
The contest tests young farmers ages 18 to 35 in a unique public speaking challenge. Participants are rewarded for their knowledge of agricultural issues, their cooperative demeanor, and the tact and civility of their delivery. As the contest moderators explain in their opening remarks, these are discussions, not debates.
After 11 regional contests across the state, nearly 35 participants competed in two opening rounds. Round 3 saw the field cut to 16 semifinalists, then four finalists faced off to determine the statewide winner.
The other three finalists were Bradley Love of Branch County, Elizabeth Wernette of Hillsdale County and Kyle McCarty of St. Clair County.
Okkema received her Bachelor of Science degree in agriculture from Dordt University in Iowa and is studying livestock behavior and welfare at Colorado State University's graduate school.
Okkema’s roots are in Blanchard, Mich., where her family runs a 675-head Holstein dairy farm.
While this is her first year competing, Okkema has been involved in county Farm Bureau activities such as Breakfast on the Farm, Young Farmer events, and being a liaison between her research at school and sharing it with farmers to utilize on their operations.
“I had such an amazing time working with my colleagues during this discussion meet and going through topics that are really current in this industry,” Okkema said. “In my opinion, the most interesting subject we tackled was the consumer-based question where we talked about consumer values and their changing needs. I thought it was interesting because we competitors come from different ag sectors and have our own issues with the subject. But we were able to come together in unity, address the issue and evolve as an industry to work with consumers and their newfound values, while at the same time realize our values are truly the same.”
As the state-level winner, Okkema received a $2,000 cash prize from AIS Equipment and a paid trip to compete in the national Young Farmer and Rancher Discussion Meet at the American Farm Bureau Federation 101st Convention and Annual Meeting from Jan. 17-22 in Austin, Texas.
All four finalists also receive a suitcase, courtesy of Michigan Farm Bureau Health Services, and a Yeti cooler, sponsored by the Michigan Foundation for Agriculture.
This year's discussion topics addressed four current issues of concern among the agricultural community:
Preliminary Round 1. The customer is always right. How do farmers and ranchers think and respond, through the lens of consumer priorities and marketing trends, to build common values and confidence in modern production methods to build consumer acceptance?
Preliminary Round 2. The 21st-century agricultural economy is threatened by labor shortages. Without a clear solution for accessing foreign guest workers as a component of immigration reform coming from Congress, what are some creative and legal ways for agriculture to address the labor needs of a modern production system?
Sweet 16 Round. With abundant productivity, farmers are in need of new markets, including outside traditional food and feed channels. How do we develop, invest and commercialize to innovate new uses of agricultural products and byproducts to benefit all of agriculture?
Final Round. Products such as cell-based food products have demonstrated the food system is rapidly changing. How can future food technologies and related products be beneficially integrated into modern agriculture production without hampering the success of traditional products and the farmers and ranchers who grow them?
The American Farm Bureau Federation program helps young Farm Bureau members shape their future and American agriculture through leadership development and personal growth opportunities. Competitions enable members to showcase their leadership experience, communication skills and successful business plans as they compete against the best of the best from each state Farm Bureau.