Whether the discussion was about trade, big data or climate and weather risks, Choteau rancher Karli Johnson provided knowledgeable insight and showed collaborative skills during the Young Farmers and Ranchers Discussion Meet. As winner of the Montana Farm Bureau Discussion Meet in November, the young rancher qualified to compete in the national event being held during the American Farm Bureau Virtual Annual Convention January 10-13. Due to the pandemic, the convention, which would have been held in San Diego, CA, was completely online.  However, that did not stop the Discussion Meet from being exciting and challenging.
“Participating in a virtual discussion meet was a little weird, because you’d get a lot of excitement and energy during the competition, and then it was over. There was no networking with each other in the hallway afterwards,” noted Johnson. The Discussion Meet, which is open to Farm Bureau members age 18-35, is meant to simulate a committee meeting with ideas discussed and solutions developed.

Johnson was not only in the first two rounds of the discussion meet, but advanced to the Sweet Sixteen round. “When I competed in the Montana Farm Bureau Discussion Meet, we had some great competitors, so my first two rounds at the national level weren’t that different, but the semi-final round was a different ball game. The competition was elevated to another level. That question was regarding big data, and one of the competitors was from Florida with 125,000 Farm Bureau members. He was talking about how they could have their Farm Bureau store the data for their members.”

What the sixth-generation rancher gleaned was the contacts she made in her home state. “Because this was a virtual competition, we really didn’t get to visit with the other competitors before or after. While I didn’t get to network with people outside of the state, knowing the specific questions for each round ahead of time spurred me to initiate my own networking with experts on the topics inside of our state. There were a lot of people I have been wanting to talk with to get their expertise on various ag issues, but I never took time to call them. Having the time research the questions made me do that.”

Another benefit from competing was the ability to learn during the discussion. Johnson said that even with extensive preparation, during the event you get to hear from people who think about the questions differently.

“The Discussion Meet gives you an amazing opportunity to learn and bring back new ideas to your state. As young person, one of the takeaways is we can’t farm and ranch like everyone else, so getting new ideas is really valuable,” Johnson noted. “My goal was to represent Montana well, be able to have good conversations, and learn from my perspective how each question really affects Montana agriculture.”

You can listen to Karli's recap of her Discussion Meet participation in an interview with KMON's Randy Bogden by clicking this link.