BILLINGS—Advocacy, finance, technology, cow nutrition and mental health were on tap for participants at the Montana Farm Bureau Young Farmers & Ranchers Leadership Conference February 9-11 in Billings. More than 100 young farmers and ranchers networked, played bingo as an icebreaker, attended educational tours and expanded their horizons.

“Our conference saw the greatest attendance yet since Montana Farm Bureau began exclusively handling it,” said MFBF YF&R Chair Nick Courville. “Our workshop committee put together breakout sessions that were enticing and relevant. We wanted to empower the attendees to gain knowledge about new technologies, such as carbon credits. A few people said even though their ranch isn’t large enough to implement things like carbon credits, it was very interesting to gain insight into what is available.”

The young cattle producer from Charlo believes the highlight of the conference is networking and connections. “Whether it’s a new friend you make or business cards you gather at the trade show, there are a lot of excellent ideas exchanged. In fact, I have a couple of the presenters coming to an event in Missoula in April because of the contacts I made with them at this conference.”

Bronya Willmore who ranches in Roy with her husband and three children is a graduate of the MFBF Advocate. Communicate. Educate. (ACE) Leadership Program and is also a member of the MFBF YF&R Committee.

“I have enjoyed getting involved in the Montana Farm Bureau Federation and look forward to any opportunity I get to go to a Farm Bureau event,” said Willmore. “I was particularly excited to hear from Bruce Vincent again.”

Vincent, who shares his path to advocacy for the natural resources industry and finds shared values with others, has spoken each January to the ACE class and was a keynote at the YF&R Conference. 

The young mother who works at Mountain West Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company in Lewistown, added, “I went to the mental health workshop by Courtney Brown-Kibblewhite. My greatest take away from that was that it's all right to be vulnerable; being vulnerable encourages other people to be vulnerable in return.”

Although Willmore was unable to attend the tours because she had her children with her, she noted, “Our committee had great feedback on the family room. It was close to the workshops and was a fun place for kids to play with the coloring books and enjoy the provided goodie bags. We are starting the next generation of Farm Bureau members off strong.”

Cody Johannes serves as president of the Montana State University Collegiate Young Farmers & Ranchers. He found keynote speaker Bruce Vincent to have a powerful message. “He starts with his story of having a logging business in Libby, and the mistakes that the loggers made in presenting their story. He stressed that farmers and ranchers need to be strong activists for agriculture if they want to continue what they are doing.”

“One of the workshops I attended was Courtney Kibblewhite’s Beyond the Weather which showed the topic of mental health has a lot of room to grow. However, it is a topic young farmers and ranchers don’t shy away from,” Johannes noted. “The other workshop I attended was Real Colors. That involved a test developed by people who developed research color choices. Their booklet relates to four colors and the color you select shows your personality. Learning this helps you determine who you work best with and how to work with someone who may be difficult.”

Afternoon tours included a training with stockmanship handling clinician Curt Pate or a visit to Swanky Roots and the Yellowstone Valley Food Hub. During the cattle handling talk at PAYS, Pate covered everything from chute and alley placement to proper body placement when moving cattle. Attendees on the Swanky Roots tour learned about the complete aquaponics system growing year-round fresh vegetables and how the Yellowstone Valley Food Hub is your one-stop shop for quality, local food from over 35 local farmers, ranchers, bakers and makers in the Yellowstone Valley. Following dinner, the group trouped down to the Pub Station where they danced to Stolen Roan.

Johannes is a proponent for engaging with an agricultural organization like Farm Bureau when you’re in college and getting exposed to an educational event like the YF&R Conference.

“You meet people who are influential in the industry and you can get a foot in the door,” he said. “The YF&R Conference is perfect for that. It makes you realize you need to take the initiative and get involved.”