The annual YF&R Discussion Meet is fast approaching. This November at the MFBF Annual Convention, many young farmers and ranchers will leave their livestock and tractors behind to descend upon Billings and compete for a 2016 Polaris Ranger. If you are considering joining the competition, but perhaps are little uncertain of what to expect, here are a few tips to get you going in the right direction.

  • Know the Questions. Although you will not be asked to discuss every question at the Discussion meet, you won’t know which of the 5 possible questions you will be discussing until an hour or so before the round. So it pays to know and study all the questions. You can find this year’s questions here.

  • Prepare. Being competitive in the YF&R Discussion Meet does not mean you need to become a bona fide expert in all Ag related policy. However, it is important to develop at least a basic understanding of the issues being discussed. A great place to start when researching topics is the American Farm Bureau website AFBF is a tremendous resource with lots of information on pertinent issues in agriculture and many more great links to other sources. Also, never underestimate the power of a Google search.

  • Develop Some Nuance. Knowing the questions and understanding the issues will get you a long way, but if you really want to win that Ranger, having some nuance in your arguments can help you stand out in the crowd. Begin developing your arguments and ideas for the discussion meet while you are researching the questions. If something strikes you as a unique angle or view on a topic, remember it. Write it down. Keep in mind that as with most things in life, ag issues are not black and white. Be sure when studying topics to also read articles with opposing views. To develop strong positions it is important to understand the other side. This will help set you apart!

  • Speak up! Preparing, studying and knowing what you want to say is great, but sometimes the hardest part of a discussion meet is actually saying it! In the heat of the moment it can be intimidating to speak up, but you can’t win that Polaris Ranger unless you talk. Don’t let other competitors monopolize the talking space. Have confidence in yourself, take a deep breath, and let your voice be heard.

  • But Be Nice. There is a reason it is called a discussion meet and not a debate. The grand purpose of a discussion meet is to foster communication and cooperation between individuals in an effort to solve complex issues. Therefore, excessive arguing, monopolizing talking time, or attempting to stump other competitors by putting them on the spot is counterproductive and discouraged. The judges will notice. This is not to say that you can’t disagree with your fellow competitors. Disagreements and differing views are essential to facilitating meaningful discussions and solutions.  So disagree, but be nice about it.

  • Keep An Open Mind. Come into a discussion meet round with a good idea of what you want to say, but be flexible. Listen to and consider what others are saying as well. A competitor that can incorporate other’s ideas into their position as well as having strong points of their own are generally the strongest.

Do not let the questions or the format discourage you. With a little preparation (hosting a local discussion meet is a great start!) this year’s discussion meet is anyone’s game. Good luck!

— Jennie Anderson, Sweet Grass County Farm Bureau member & 2015 Montana Discussion Meet winner