Alabama's agricultural future was in Birmingham this weekend learning about financial planning, agricultural lending, farm technology and public relations at the Alabama Farmers Federation Young Farmers Conference.
Nearly 300 young Alabama farm families attended the annual conference where six of the state's promising producers were named finalists in Alabama's Outstanding Young Farm Family Contest.
"I know you all have important things on your farm you need to be doing," Federation President Jimmy Parnell told the group at the opening banquet Friday night. "But the contacts you make here, the friends you'll make here are extremely important. You are the future of agriculture, and as the world population increases, the value of what we do as farmers will increase. There are a lot of opportunities ahead for farmers, and we need to be ready. We need young people who want to farm."
The six OYFF finalists are: John and Jennifer Bitto of Elberta in Baldwin County; Paul and Vicki Morrison of Ariton in Dale County; Colin Wilson of Hollywood in Jackson County; James and Rosa Walker of Florence in Lauderdale County; Garrett and Emily Henry of Hope Hull in Montgomery County; and Greg and Michele Edwards of Pittsview in Russell County.
The finalists will be judged on their farms in July, and the winner will be announced at the Federation's annual meeting in December. The winner will receive a prize package valued at more than $60,000, including a new GM pickup truck, 825I John Deere Gator and use of a John Deere tractor. The winner will represent Alabama in the American Farm Bureau Federation Young Farmers and Ranchers Achievement Award contest January 2015 in San Diego, Calf.
Andrew McCrea, a farmer and rancher from Missouri, was the keynote speaker at Saturday morning's opening session. He encouraged farmers to create value in their work, life and the lives of those they impact. He also challenged them to embrace change.
"Change is disturbing when it is done to us," he said quoting Rosabeth Kanter of Harvard Business School. "Change is exhilarating when it is done by us."
Young farmers also learned about the value of making good financial decisions when borrowing money and planning for retirement.
"It's easy to be impatient when you look at a farm where the owner is 50 or 60 years old," said Keith McCurdy of First South Farm Credit. "But it's important to remember that farmer didn't start out with everything either. He had to work for it. Be patient and plan."
Farmers need short- and long-term goals, he added. "Those plans, in writing, are some of the best tools a farmer can have," he said.
Other conference activities included a private concert Friday night by the band "Trotline" and a live auction that raised money for the Alabama Farmers Agricultural Foundation, which funds scholarships in all 67 counties for students seeking agriculture and forestry degrees at Alabama colleges.