Not just another conference

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By Katharine Nye

As a six-year FFA member and the daughter of dairy farmers, I’ve been to my fair share of conferences. It might just be that I’m a conference junkie and love to learn about new things in agriculture, but when I started hearing about the New Century Farmer conference, I thought “Yep, I’m definitely applying for that.” New Century Farmer is a five-day, all-expenses-paid…I repeat: ALL-EXPENSES-PAID…conference for young people intending to return to a life in production agriculture. Each year, 50 students are selected through an application process to attend the conference at Pioneer Headquarters in Des Moines, Iowa.

From talking with a few older collegiate friends and previous attendees, it quickly became clear that this conference ranked pretty high on people’s favorite lists. However, what I got throughout those five days in the Midwest was far more than I ever expected.

Take big dreams and a true passion for production agriculture, mix in some tough times amid a record-setting drought and soaring production costs, and add in incredible speakers and engaging industry tours, and you start to get an idea of what New Century Farmer is like. The presentations, the breakout sessions, and most of all, the genuine conversations I had with other conference participants are like none I’ve been a part of. Here, in one room, for one entire week, are 50 young farmers who want nothing more than to continue their family’s legacy.

During intense discussions with my fellow conference-goers, I discovered the number one thing that New Century Farmer promises: a network of people my own age who are facing the same challenges as me. It’s a place to share successes and failures on our operations. I met people who challenged the way I think and helped me to become a better agriculturist not only for my own business but for agriculture.

Then there were the speakers. Falling asleep during their presentations? Not even an option. From professional agricultural advocates and industry representatives tailored to each of our specific operations to world-renowned economists and business leaders, they had me on the edge of my seat, with one hand scribbling notes and the other in the air to ask questions, which were always answered in full.

This conference has brought about a huge change in my perspective as I’m preparing for my career in agriculture. It made me think about big decisions in my life, from how I’m going to grow my operation to be more productive and profitable to how to help my family transition into the next managing generation. New Century Farmer asks tough questions, and then helps you develop a plan to face those challenges. With help from small group leaders, industry advocates and Collegiate FFA staff, my vision for the future of my farm has become more focused. My college career has also benefited from this opportunity. While my current major, dairy science, is by no means dull, I discovered at the conference that changing my major to agribusiness would be beneficial not only in my own education but also to what assets I can bring home to my family’s business.

To say that this conference changed the way I think would be an understatement. I use information I received at New Century Farmer daily, and talk with friends I made regularly. I’m still in touch with a few of the presenters, who are always willing to share knowledge and advice when asked. This is not just another conference: If production agriculture is where you want to be, New Century Farmer will change your life.

Katharine Nye is a sophomore at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Her family owns and operates a 3,000-cow herd of Holsteins in Delta, Utah. Upon graduation from Cal Poly, she intends to pursue a career in shaping dairy policy for several years before returning to her family’s dairy to farm with her parents and two older brothers.