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Inaugural MFA conference gives young producers an opportunity to learn new business skills, gain co-op education

Some 75 young farmers participated in the first-ever Emerging Leaders in Agriculture conference, hosted by MFA Incorporated and MFA Oil Jan. 11-13 in Osage Beach, Mo.

The program was designed to help professional pro­ducers between the ages of 21 and 45 to better manage and grow their agricultural businesses while offering peer networking opportunities. Attendees from Missouri, Arkansas and Kansas heard from a stellar slate of agri­business experts and discussed issues and challenges facing agriculture, cooperatives and rural America.

“The biggest reason we wanted to come to this conference was to meet other farmers and see what they’re doing in their operations,” said Mylie Schupback, who attended the event with her fiancé, Luke Farrell of Clarence, Mo. “I think we can get pretty close-minded in our own farms, so it’s good to take home ideas on how we can grow and expand our operation. We’re both 22 years old, so we’ve got a lot to learn.”

“We came out of college knowing that our intentions were to come back to the farm and take over some years down the road,” Farrell added. “We want to get all the knowledge that we can before that day comes.”

The conference kicked off with a session led by Donnell Brown, a fifth-generation rancher who owns and manages the R.A. Brown Ranch in Throckmorton, Texas. Brown encouraged the young producers in the audience to run their farms like businesses, strategically planning to man­age risk and future challenges.

Natasha Cox, regional vice president of ag lending for Farm Credit Mid-America, spoke about what lenders expect from farmers and what farmers should expect of their lenders, while Dr. Keri Jacobs, who holds the MFA Chair in Agribusiness at the University of Missouri, explained the cooperative business model and outlined benefits of co-op membership.

Sara Wyant, founder and president of Agri-Pulse Com­munications, Inc., examined “hot topics in our nation’s capital.” She provided an outlook on important legislative actions, including talks on the Farm Bill, which expires in 2023. She encouraged attendees to educate themselves on the issues affecting their operations and engage with their local, state and federal government officials to keep them aware of how their decisions impact agriculture.

Attorney Connie Haden, a partner at the law firm of Haden & Colbert in Columbia, Mo., discussed the importance of farm succession planning and the pitfalls for families who aren’t proactive in having this often-uncomfortable conversation. She also discussed how farm businesses could be structured for simplicity, lia­bility protection and tax advantages.

David Parker, an agribusiness consultant who moderated the entire conference, led strategic planning exercises for attendees on the second day. He urged participants to develop a business plan for their farm’s future and include what they would need to do to make their dream a reality.

The meeting wrapped up with a panel discussion by the conference hosts, featuring MFA Incorporated President Ernie Verslues and Board Chairman Wayne Nichols along with MFA Oil President and CEO Jon Ihler and Board Chairman Glen Cope. The presidents each gave an overview of their respective cooperatives, while the chairmen shared their experiences of serving on the board of directors.

Each panelist thanked the young farmers and ranchers for attending the event and encouraged them to get involved with their co-ops.

“You are the emerging leaders of our industry, and we need individuals such as you to be active in our organiza­tions,” Verslues said. “Whether it’s running for the board of directors and helping to make important decisions or simply having conversations about where we’re going in the future, I’d ask that you get involved and help do your part to promote your cooperative.”

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