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Young farmers hear of ‘amazing opportunity’

Issue Date: February 27, 2019
By Christine Souza
Led by Novavine quality assurance specialist David Bowman, right, California Young Farmers and Ranchers members tour the Sonoma-based nursery, which produces more than 6 million grapevines annually. Novavine was one of a series of farm-tour stops in Sonoma County during the annual YF&R Leadership Conference.
Photo/Christine Souza
Brie Hunt of Lodi, with State YF&R Committee Chair Daniel Bays, won the Star YF&R Award.
Photo/Christine Souza
Fresno State student Samuel Looper, with State YF&R Committee Chair Daniel Bays, won the Collegiate Discussion Meet.
Photo/Christine Souza
The Kern County Young Farmers and Ranchers Committee, poses after winning the Committee of the Year Award at the YF&R Leadership Conference.
Photo/Christine Souza

Young farmers and ranchers heard the critical importance of being engaged in agricultural issues—and gained information on how to do so effectively—during the 2019 California Young Farmers and Ranchers Leadership Conference in Sonoma County.

California YF&R members—farmers, ranchers and agricultural professionals ages 18 to 35—took part in farm tours, heard from speakers and participated in sessions on topics including agricultural advocacy, farm succession planning and the importance of Farm Bureau membership, during the event last week.

"What is ahead of you is an amazing opportunity for agriculture," California Farm Bureau Federation President Jamie Johansson told the conference. "What is available for your role in agriculture will far surpass what was available for me as an agriculturalist, because of the world we live in."

Johansson, who grows olives and citrus in Oroville and operates an olive oil company, told the group the state's agriculture sector needs involvement from people who are passionate and want to make a difference. He encouraged the young farmers and ranchers to be involved, stay involved and advocate for agriculture, including in their local communities.

"Let me challenge you to get engaged: Raise your hand, participate in the Discussion Meet, speak about agriculture or write a letter," Johansson said. "The opportunity is going to come, so raise your hand and give it a shot. Stretch yourselves beyond your roots and make a difference for agriculture."

Agricultural advocacy was central to the YF&R conference theme, "Reach Beyond Your Roots."

It was also central to a message by fifth-generation rancher Kevin Kester of Parkfield, past president of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. He suggested to YF&Rs that they take part in policy and trade-association work.

"Follow your passion, but no matter what, stay engaged—it's critically important for all of us," Kester said. "Whether it's at the local or regional level, or state level in California or, if you like to do policy work, it can lead you to Washington, D.C., or across the world. It's important to stay engaged because as you know, there's not many of us in agriculture in the United States and we're getting fewer and fewer in numbers."

Jenny Holtermann of Wasco, immediate past chair of the State YF&R Committee, told her fellow young farmers and ranchers that it's important to "remember your roots, how they were planted and where they came from," but added, "It's absolutely OK to change the way things have always been done."

Holtermann, who now represents Kern and Kings counties on the CFBF Board of Directors, spoke of her experience as the YF&R representative on the board, calling it a "crash course in politics."

With a focus on social media during her year chairing the State YF&R Committee, Holtermann called YF&R members "the generation of communication, media and digital everything." She said expanding the YF&R program's social media presence has helped it broaden its reach and gain more interest.

As part of the event, the group toured agricultural businesses in Petaluma, Sebastopol and Sonoma.

Sonoma-Marin YF&R Chair Taylor Serres called Sonoma County an excellent location for young farmers and ranchers to visit because of its diversity in types of agriculture and in challenges that affect farming and ranching.

"We have a buffalo dairy to wineries to a poultry-processing facility, which we saw on some of the tours," said Serres, company officer at Serres Ranch in Sonoma. "We do have big urban sprawl, which does affect us."

Other challenges include employee shortages, water issues and wildfire impacts.

YF&Rs were also invited to take part in eight different sessions on topics including understanding the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, organic certification, and community involvement.

At an awards banquet that closed the conference, the YF&R program presented its Star YF&R Award to Brie Hunt of Lodi for her involvement with her local YF&R committee, county Farm Bureau and agricultural community.

The Kern County YF&R Committee was honored as state Committee of the Year.

The conference also hosted the Collegiate Discussion Meet, won this year by Fresno State University student Samuel Looper of Apple Valley, who earned a $1,250 prize and a trip to the 2020 national YF&R conference.

As first runner-up, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo student Armando Nevarez of Holtville received $750. Two other Fresno State students were finalists in the contest; Jasmine Flores of Atwater and Steven Pozzi of Petaluma each earned $500.

Fresno State won the team competition and a $250 prize. Prizes for the contest were sponsored by Rabobank.

Yuba-Sutter YF&R member Harry Sidhu, a commercial lending manager whose family farms walnuts and kiwifruit in Sutter County, said the conference provided him with "a lot of intel," and said he plans to increase his Farm Bureau involvement.

"I've seen a lot of the younger generations getting out of farming. I think YF&R is a great leadership tool and something for them to join and see the importance of being in agriculture," Sidhu said.

(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.

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