Conference helps young farmers prepare

Issue Date: March 2, 2016
By Christine Souza
Kara Wood, owner of Bloom Microgreens in Los Osos, describes her microgreen-growing operation to members of the California Farm Bureau Federation Young Farmers and Ranchers, as part of a farm tour during the annual YF&R conference in San Luis Obispo.
Photo/Christine Souza
Ben Higgins, center, director of agricultural operations at Hearst Ranch Beef in San Simeon, talks to Young Farmers and Ranchers members about the Hearst family’s grass-fed beef operation during a tour of the ranch as part of the annual YF&R conference.
Photo/Christine Souza

Today's young farmers and ranchers are constantly challenged by political, regulatory and business curveballs that are thrown their way. To improve their game as they embark on careers in agriculture, about 200 young agriculturalists met in San Luis Obispo last week for the 2016 Young Farmers and Ranchers Conference.

California Farm Bureau Federation Young Farmers and Ranchers members—farmers, ranchers and agricultural professionals ages 18 to 35—attended the conference to take part in farm tours, hear from speakers and participate in sessions on topics including water issues, political engagement, and the power of social media.

Fifth-generation cow-calf rancher Kelly Fogarty of Oakdale said the best first step a young farmer can take "is being here, being involved with Young Farmers and Ranchers."

"You are with your peers; you are interacting with folks across the state," said Fogarty, who previously served as an agricultural advocate in Washington, D.C., before returning to her family ranch. "Everyone does things a little bit differently, so to have that connection and camaraderie to lean on each other when you are all going through the same pitfalls, it is really nice."

CFBF President Paul Wenger discussed the hard work young farmers and ranchers encounter.

"Many times, people just think that you go and buy 20 acres, you go to the nursery, buy some trees and they plant themselves, they grow themselves and at the end of the day, you make a lot of money," Wenger said. "When I came home and started farming, it was a great way of life, but it wasn't necessarily a great way to make a living."

Wenger said everyone with a connection to agriculture should be politically active.

"We have got to work together. It is not just those of us on the farm, but it is those we depend upon and who rely on us to buy their goods and services: the equipment and fertilizer dealers, banks, insurance companies and fuel suppliers, to name a few. It also includes those folks who rely on the crops we grow for their living, as they slice, dice and create numerous consumer goods with the raw products we grow," Wenger said. "We've got to work together, and your generation is very important to help us do that.""

In one conference session, Chelsea Molina, CFBF federal policy legislative analyst, discussed Farm Bureau's role as a grassroots advocacy organization and explained its policy-development process. Molina said Farm Bureau policies guide staff at the state and national levels to advocate on behalf of members. She suggested that YF&R members become more engaged in the process, join the FARM TEAM advocacy network and participate in social media.

CFBF Associate Counsel Jack Rice led a session on the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, describing its requirements and exploring how farmers and ranchers can engage in implementation of the new law.

Fogarty, based on her Washington experience, said it is important for farmers and ranchers to be aware of new regulations that directly impact their operations.

"It is about knowing that we will continually have to face these (regulations), whether it is water and monitoring, stock ponds, irrigated pastureland and erosion control," said Fogarty, who attended the groundwater session. "The biggest part is just staying informed and knowing what is coming down, so that you can be ready and so you can talk to Farm Bureau and say, 'How can we address this on our property?'''

As a young walnut and cherry grower in San Joaquin County, Nick Ferrari said he remains concerned about having enough employees to make it through cherry season. He said that concern affects his decision about a block of walnuts he needs to replace.

"I could plant cherries, but I'm scared with the labor situation that I will not have the crews to pick them," said Ferrari, a member of the San Joaquin Farm Bureau YF&R chapter.

Ferrari said it helps to share his concerns about the day-to-day aspects of farming with his fellow YF&R members, adding, "My advice to young farmers and ranchers is to stay engaged and join YF&R, because these are people in the same boat as you."

Garrett Driver of Yolo County, the 2015 chair of the YF&R State Committee, discussed what many young agriculturalists face once they return to the farm or ranch after college graduation.

"Folks coming out of school are having the challenge of settling in on the farm and they are not sure where they fit in to that sphere," Driver said, noting that when he graduated, his family asked him to first establish his own career path.

"I've worked for a seed company, but I've always kept in the back of my mind that someday I hope to take over the family farm. I also know I'm not the only one that shares that desire," he said. "So I'm getting involved in Farm Bureau and getting involved in organizations that support the agricultural industry."

Guest speakers J. Scott Vernon, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo communications professor, and Steve Malanca, who co-founded the social media effort My Job Depends on Ag, each talked to YF&R members about reaching out to those outside of agriculture, while also building the next generation of agricultural leaders.

For more information about YF&R in California, see or the group's Facebook page at

(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.