Farmers these days need to think on their feet. Not only out in the field, but producers serving on boards and organizations at all levels also need to be prepared to speak on topics important to agriculture. The Nebraska Farm Bureau Discussion Meet is one forum that helps growers prepare for those situations.
Lance Atwater, a farmer from Ayr, Neb., and an Adams-Webster County Farm Bureau member, won the 2021 NEFB Young Farmers and Ranchers Discussion Meet. He will now compete at the national American Farm Bureau Federation Discussion Meet because he could identify problems quickly and build solutions through discussion.
Atwater serves on the NEFB board of directors as the youth at-large representative. He grows yellow corn, popcorn, soybeans and non-GMO white corn on the family farm with his wife, Krystal, and son, Ryker.
He received the top score of the contestants who advanced to the final round of the NEFB Discussion Meet. The discussion meet is a special contest for Farm Bureau members between ages 18 and 35.
Rather than debating, contestants work to develop a solution to a problem being discussed, building on each other’s contributions. Competitors in the annual contest must be prepared to speak on several agricultural-related topics, as the selected question is announced only a short time before the contest round.
The topic for Atwater’s winning final round of the contest was about meeting the increasing demand of renewable resources as the world population grows, and how the Farm Bureau can help farmers and ranchers increase their efficiency in valuable resources and transition to green energy practices.
“It was a tougher topic,” Atwater says. “We found out the topic right after our earlier morning round, so we had little time to prepare, but there are several different routes you can take depending on how you interpret that topic.”
The discussion meet in many ways prepares participants for real-world situations, where farmers serve on ag organization boards or other local and civic groups. Balancing the ideas a contestant presents, identifying positives and negatives, and then building solutions that work as a group are part of what make the meet so unique in its format.
“I went into the final round thinking I was prepared,” Atwater recalls, “and thinking it would go the way of the carbon markets, green practices and conservation on the farm.” But other contestants saw the topic differently, talking more about other renewable energy sources such as wind.
“Farmers are the first conservationists,” Atwater says. “We want to realize how farmers can be part of the solution and can be in that carbon-neutral role going forward. There is a lot of opportunity, because farmers are already doing conservation practices, using renewable fuels like biodiesel and ethanol.” The discussion meet dug into how to take those practices to the next level.
Atwater knew about the potential topics ahead of time, but he wasn’t sure which topics would be chosen. “I did my research on the issues and Farm Bureau policy,” he says. “Realizing that I wouldn’t be an expert, I tried to remember five key things like a story or statistics on each topic that were most important to add to the discussion. I also prepared my opening and closing statements.”
He notes that the discussion meet is much different than debate. In a debate, you are defending your position and pointing out faults in positions others take using key facts on an issue, but in a discussion meet, you are identifying the problem and working as a group to come to a solution. “You can use some of those facts people are sharing to come to the solution,” Atwater says.
Going into the national competition, he prepared somewhat the same way as for the state discussion meet, going over the potential topics that were given ahead of time, and trying to prepare discussion points for each one — using personal experiences on the farm and relying on a background serving Farm Bureau members and the agriculture community in different ways throughout his life.
Atwater was a youth ambassador for the Adams County Farm Bureau in high school. “I learned about county-level, grassroots policy efforts,” he says. “I was a Nebraska State FFA officer from Blue Hill FFA in 2009 through 2010, and I learned more about the work of NEFB through that experience.”
In college at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Atwater majored in agriculture economics, with a minor in international agriculture. He dug into how public policy affected farmers and ranchers through regulations.
“I learned how laws and regulations can be developed that are positive for farm and ranch families,” he says. “After college, I was asked by the county Farm Bureau if I was interested in serving on the local FB board. I went on to be county FB president and eventually ran for an NEFB board of directors position.”
Other contestants in NEFB Discussion Meet included Sean Krebs, Clearwater; Erin Norman, Crawford; and Clay Patton, Lexington. As a Nebraska winner, Atwater receives $500 and an all-expenses paid trip to the 103rd American Farm Bureau annual convention Jan. 7-12 in Atlanta to compete at the national level. Learn more at nefb.org.