One of Wayne Townsend's beliefs is that it's important for college students to learn how to communicate if they're going to be effective spokespersons for agriculture and leaders in both their industry and the state. That's why the farmer, former gubernatorial candidate and Indiana Prairie Farmer/Purdue College of Agriculture Master Farmer sets aside funds for what's known as the Townsend Outstanding Communicator in Agricultural Debate competition at Purdue University. Townsend still resides in Blackford County. His son, Mark, was named a master Farmer in '06.
The concept began three years ago as a speaking presentation, where ag students prepared and delivered individual speeches on agricultural topics. Then beginning in 2005, the competition was transformed into a debate format. Four teams of ag students, with two to three members per team, competed in the third annual competition this year. This year's topic was whether the future of Indiana's rural economy depends upon agriculture. It's become a renewed topic of interest since Governor Daniels and Lt. Governor Skillman began placing such emphasis upon agriculture in their plans for an economic revival in Indiana.
The challenge of this event is that a coin flip determines whether a team argues for or against the premise. So teams must research and be ready to present both side of the argument. Team Penner, winner of the 2007 event, argued against it twice in preliminary competition, but argued for agriculture's ability to help revitalize Indiana's rural economy in the championship round, held before alive audience in the Dean's Conference Room in Pfendler Hall, formerly Entomology Hall.
Winning team members included Christy Penney, North Manchester, a freshman, Ashley Bechman, Franklin, a freshman, and David Mohler, Lebanon, a sophomore. The winning team split $750. Mohler pocketed an additional $100 after being named top speaker for the event. The JCD team, consisting of Jessica Cummins, Connersville, and Cullen Deady, Downers Grove, Ill., took home $500 for second place.
"All debate teams did a wonderful job and I was very impressed with their research and arguments," says Natalie Federer, ag communication academic adviser and the debate coordinator.
Judges included Sam Cordes, co-director for the Center for Regional Development and assistant director and program leader for Economic and Community Development for Purdue Extension; Matt Harrod, assistant director of policy and research for the Indiana State Department of Agriculture, Mike Baise, director of issues management for Indiana Farm Bureau, Inc., and Dave Blower, editor of Farm World, Knightstown.