The American Farm Bureau FUSION Conference is a combination of three committees: Young Farmers & Ranchers, Women’s Leadership and Promotion & Education. The conference, held March 15-18 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, provided opportunities for networking and workshops that provided insight into how to be more impactful and make a difference in advocacy at the local, state and national levels. Forty-five Montana Farm Bureau members attended the event.

Cody Boyce, president of the Montana State University Collegiate Farm Bureau, competed in the national YF&R Discussion Meet. “I had a lot of fun competing against young ag leaders from across the country,” Boyce said. “I was amazed by their skill and knowledge. It was a great networking opportunity, and I know that I will keep in touch with many of the individuals I met. It can be difficult to state your opinions in such a competitive environment, but it is also a lot of fun to get a good conversation going.”

A variety of workshops with different “tracks” provided excellent opportunities for enhancing knowledge. One workshop that stood out in Boyce’s mind was GMO: A Made-Up Word with Big Consequences.  “The workshop focused on using the right terminology and what was the most effective ways to explain the science when visiting with consumers or concerned individuals. The presenters provided resources to study from and to use in classrooms. Other interesting workshops focused on professional development for young leaders, policy updates, and the impact that the increased popularity of Amazon and online shopping will have on the agriculture industry. In addition, the conference featured multiple motivational speakers including former MLB player, Jim Morris.”

Boyce’s tour visited a small-scale dairy and an alpaca farm. The dairy was fully automated with automatic milking machines, feed pushers and manure removal systems. “The automation of their milking process has increased their milking efficiency by 30 percent since 2011,” Boyce noted. “The alpaca farm was different from anything I had ever experienced. The 160 alpacas are shorn annually and their fiber is used to make various items that are sold at an onsite farm store. The family we visited is very successful with their small-scale agritourism.”

Bonnie Jones, a rancher from East Helena, was one of the WLC members at the conference. She thought the conference was amazing. “I highly recommend that anyone who is given the chance should attend. I was able to connect and spend time with many WLC and YF&R members from Montana and many other states.”

One workshop that stood out in her mind was Talk Saves Lives/Suicide Prevention. “It was very informative with the main idea being, as the title suggests, that sometimes just starting a conversation can save a life,’ Jones said. “Smile at people, ask them how they’re doing and be willing to listen. It’s important to look for mood changes; sometimes even sudden happiness can be a sign of suicidal plans.  If someone you know seems different, ask questions. We live in such a hurried, mostly self-centered world so it’s very important make yourself available.”

Jones opted attend the dairy genetics tour which included ABS Global and Blue Star Dairy Farms. “Last spring, I attended an A.I. school and subsequently helped my husband A.I. some of our herd.  The DeForest, WI ABS site we visited dealt mainly with Holstein genetics.  I’m a beef girl, but still found the tour to be very enlightening.  I had never seen a dairy prior to this tour and was very intrigued by it. I had more questions than we had time to get them answered; I’d love to go back.”

Jim Sargent, Cascade County Farm Bureau member and ag broadcaster, attended for the P&E Committee. “With my background in ag production and reporting on concerns that our ag folks deal with on a regular basis, I found the message from keynote speaker Redmond Ramos inspiring,” said Sargent “Redmond presented an amazing outlook on his life. As a corpsman in the United States Marines, Redmond lost his leg while defending and protecting you and me.  He brought a message of hope that we all should hear loud and clear in ag production. He said to stop whining, stop feeling sorry for yourself; go out and get it done. Through his story, he encouraged those in agriculture to seek help, accept what you can control and what you cannot, and always continue to recognize your worth. We can all take away a valuable lesson learned and his inspirational message to share.”