AUSTIN, Texas — Anyone wanting to see what the future looks like for Illinois agriculture need look no further than the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) Annual Convention in Austin. Four Illinoisans competed in the national showcase against peers from across the country.
Brett and Krista Swanson, of Knox County, finished fourth in the competition for AFBF’s Excellence in Agriculture Award. Grundy County’s Sara Mitchell advanced to the Sweet 16 in the AFBF national Discussion Meet. And Mason County farmer Scott Garlisch competed as Illinois’ representative for the AFBF Achievement Award.
Each award celebrates young farmers and ranchers who demonstrate knowledge, achievement and a commitment to promoting agriculture.
“We have so much talent in the next generation of Farm Bureau leadership, and Illinois showed up as well as any other state here at the national level,” said Illinois Farm Bureau President Richard Guebert Jr. “With future leaders like these, there’s a lot to be excited about for Illinois farmers.”
The Excellence in Agriculture Award recognizes young farmers who do not make the majority of their income from an agricultural operation. The Swansons, a husband-and-wife duo from Oneida, operate a seed dealership and custom soybean-treatment business. Krista serves as a research specialist in the Gardner Agricultural Policy Program at the University of Illinois. They’re also fifth-generation farmers.
“It’s definitely been an eye-opening experience traveling down here to Texas,” Brett said. “We’re pretty excited and honored to represent Illinois in the Excellence Award and represent ourselves, our family and our county for the state of Illinois.”
The fourth-place finish earned the Swansons a prize package from Case IH. Ford Motor Company and Stanley Black & Decker also sponsored the awards.
Mitchell shined by talking about various topics likely to be relevant to ag in the future. In the Sweet 16 round, she discussed possible solutions for the mental health and opioid crises in rural America with three other competitors. In previous rounds, Mitchell tackled topics involving technology and immigration. Simulating committee meetings, the Discussion Meet is designed to produce ideas beneficial to the agriculture industry.
“There was a lot of work that came before I came here today,” Mitchell said. “So, I feel accomplished to be able to at least get to this point. There were very good contestants that I saw today and a lot of very talented young farmers across the country that have a lot of great solutions to some pretty big issues we’re facing in ag right now.”
In total, 38 young leaders from state Farm Bureaus across the country competed in the Discussion Meet.
Garlisch competed for the Achievement Award, which recognizes young farmers and ranchers who have excelled in their farming operation and exhibited superior leadership abilities. He returned to the family farm five years ago and grows corn, soybeans, hay, popcorn, sweet corn and green beans and raises cattle and hogs near Forest City.
“We just got out of a session where I got to talk to some other finalists, and it was great networking,” Garlisch said. “We’re all competing against each other, and we left that at the door. Everybody’s got the same problems, in every different state in agriculture, and it was just kind of nice to get to work through those together as a group.”
The Swansons and Garlisch advanced to the national stage by winning state competitions at the 2019 Illinois State Fair. Mitchell won the state Discussion Meet at last month’s Illinois Farm Bureau Annual Meeting.
“We are extremely proud of the hard work that our competitors put into not only this competition, but for all they have done throughout their years in Young Leaders,” said Illinois Farm Bureau Young Leader Committee Chairman Drew DeSutter. “Congratulations to Sara, Scott and the Swansons on their success at the AFBF Annual Convention and thank you for representing Illinois so well.”
The Illinois Farm Bureau is a member of the American Farm Bureau Federation, a national organization of farmers and ranchers. Founded in 1916, IFB is a non-profit, membership organization directed by farmers who join through their county Farm Bureau. IFB has a total membership of more than 386,291 and a voting membership of 79,159. IFB represents three out of four Illinois farmers.
— Illinois Farm Bureau
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