Fairmont Hot Springs, Montana -- A gathering of sixty young farmers and ranchers braved snowy roads and sub-zero temperatures to attend the Montana Farm Bureau Young Farmers &  Ranchers Leadership Conference January 27-29 at Fairmont Hot Springs. Advocacy topped the list of topics with keynote speaker Courtenay DeHoff. Workshops included a community coalition panel, taxes, economic impact forecasts, and value-added agriculture.

YF&R Chair Nick Courville congratulated the YF&R Committee for an excellent job and noted that the speakers were spot-on. “The networking opportunities are great,” said the young rancher from Charlo. "At our Friday evening social, everyone stayed with their group, but I challenged them that meeting new people is a value-added opportunity to come to the conference and that they should sit and talk about the workshops with different people Saturday evening. Everyone did, and it was great to watch that happen."

Brendan Beatty, Montana Department of Revenue director, was incredibly well received regarding what is needed to improve regarding taxes. “I thought the speakers in the Community Coalitions workshop were very informative. Pedro Marques from the Big Hole Watershed Coalition and Chris King from Winnett ACES explained how to bring ranchers and the community together for the common good and how to start a program like that in your community, along with what worked and what didn't. It allows you to come together and share your struggles and successes,” said Courville.

Bronya Willmore, a committee member from District 3 who ranches north of Roy, gave kudos to Headframe Distillery Tour in downtown Butte. “It was astounding to hear from John McKee, who owns the business, and learn the amount of money they give back to their community and other communities. They track the sales in each county every month of a cinnamon whisky called Dispatch, then total the profits and write a check to the first responders in that county. In addition, their grain comes from within 100 miles of Butte, and a local feedlot gets the byproduct, so it goes full circle in supporting the ag community.”

Willmore, a Mountain West Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company sales associate in Fergus County, enjoyed DeHoff’s speech about being open-minded. “It’s a good reminder that people may think differently, but to be respectful and open to having a conversation,” said Willmore. The young rancher noted that Center of Food Integrity’s Donna Moenning was thought-provoking regarding her perspective on what is important to Gen Z. 

“They have a holistic approach to food, and it means more to them than just having a meal. They want to know about their food and that it’s produced sustainably," Willmore said. "Farmers and ranchers are making changes to be more sustainable, but it’s interesting to hear what these young consumers think.”

Willmore appreciated the speakers' interaction with the group, whether arriving pre-presentation or staying around after. “That’s an opportunity you don’t get all the time,” she said.

Lieutenant Governor Kristen Juras wrapped up the convention with a closing speech on Sunday discussing the Governor’s Red Tape Initiative and how a number of those clean-up bills are dropping in the Legislature during this Session. She also talked to the group about the importance of leadership and the great need for leaders in agriculture. She commended everyone for attending the conference.

Andee Baker, a senior at Montana State University, won the Collegiate Discussion Meet. The Discussion Meet is a panel discussion in which Farm Bureau members are judged on their ability to express their ideas and opinions and reach a solution on current issues affecting agriculture.

Baker said that one of the most significant components of Discussion Meet is understanding the collaboration, communication, and small nuances of the contest. “To see good examples of these traits I watched prior videos of competitors and pulled on my previous experiences from competing in this previously. Furthermore, I brainstormed ideas to add substantive solutions to the conversation,” she said.

By winning the Collegiate Discussion Meet, Baker will represent MFBF/MSU at the national Discussion Meet held March 4-5 during the FUSION Conference in Jacksonville, Fla.

“I am excited about the national level competition, yet I definitely have a lot of preparation to do,” said the student. “With the unique perspectives in Montana, I know each person across the country will also have many different perspectives. I am excited to represent Montana, and I look forward to getting to know the other competitors.”