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Idaho Farm Bureau holds first-ever Fusion Conference

By Sean Ellis

Idaho Farm Bureau Federation

BOISE – About 175 farmers and ranchers from across the state attended Idaho Farm Bureau Federation’s inaugural Fusion Conference March 22-24.

The conference brought together members of IFBF’s Young Farmers and Ranchers program, which is open to producers 18 to 35 years of age, with members of the organization’s Promotion and Education Committee, which is tasked with sharing agriculture’s story with consumers.

Just like the name suggests, the goal of the first-ever conference was to bring the two programs together to learn from each other, said IFBF leaders.

“This convention is an opportunity for both of those programs to team up and get a hybrid that will allow them to learn from each other, as well as create bonds and friendships that will last throughout the years,” said Ott Clark, who manages both programs for Idaho Farm Bureau Federation.

Young producers bring a lot of excitement and energy to the table, while members of the P&E Committee bring seasoned leadership and sharpened advocacy skills, said IFBF CEO Zak Miller.

“One of the main goals of the conference is to get these young producers excited about going out to promote agriculture,” he said. “It’s the maiden voyage of the Fusion event and I’m really excited to see what comes of this conference.”

An additional goal of the conference, Miller said, is to introduce young producers to the Promotion and Education Committee so they can join that program if they choose to when they age out of the YF&R program.

“That’s exactly what the goal is – we teach them how to be leaders in YF&R and then we give them something to lead toward, which is the P&E so they can go and advocate for agriculture,” he said.

The conference included multiple breakout sessions and presentations all centered around helping sharpen Farm Bureau members’ speaking and leadership skills and giving them the confidence to advocate on behalf of their industry.

“It’s so important that we share our stories,” said Alan Clark, chairman of IFBF’s Promotion and Education Committee. “Each individual farm is so different and they all have that unique story that can touch consumers. We need to share those stories and one of the main goals of this conference is to show them that they can do that; it’s possible.”

Participants spent half a day at the state’s Capitol building during Idaho’s legislative session. They attended House and Senate meetings and met with legislators.

“We want to provide them the tools and confidence to share their stories and promote agriculture,” said Ray Searle, chairman of IFBF’s Young Farmers and Ranchers program. “We want them to have the confidence to be able to stand up in front of legislators or members of Congress and be able to say, Hey, this is my story.”

One challenge Farm Bureau sees with many of its volunteer members is that they don’t feel like they have the ability to effectively share their stories, said Brody Miller, vice president of member relations for IFBF.

“When we’re out in the counties visiting with Farm Bureau members, their biggest hesitation when we ask them to go and talk with somebody is, I’m not sure I’m the one to do that,” he said. “These programs and this conference is about giving them the skills to have that confidence and find their voice.”

During the three-day event, several speakers encouraged participants to remain engaged in Farm Bureau and tell the public the true story of agriculture.

The Fusion Conference included a lot of new faces at a major Idaho Farm Bureau Federation event and IFBF President Bryan Searle gave them a Farm Bureau 101 introduction and invited them to become more involved in the organization.

He said the “Farm Bureau family are hard-working, genuine, honest people” and said the organization is “recognized in the state and nation as the voice of agriculture. We have gained that reputation because we are a grassroots organization.”

He told participants the organization has lots of ways for people to participate and encouraged them to get involved in their county Farm Bureau organization.

“We have to preserve our livelihoods and in order to do that, you need to be involved and take part in Farm Bureau,” said Searle, a potato farmer from Shelley. “Why be involved? Because you’ll make a difference.”

Arizona rancher Chris Dalley, a former IFBF board member, said one common thing everyone at the conference shares is that “we all have a love for agriculture … We are the future of agriculture and we are the future of Farm Bureau. We are the ones who will make a difference.”

Arizona Farm Bureau President and rancher Stefanie Smallhouse, a keynote speaker, pointed out Idaho has been the fastest-growing state in the nation over the past several years and warned that will bring new challenges to the state’s agricultural industry.

She cautioned Fusion participants not to assume the newcomers, or even long-time Idaho residents, understand the important role farming and ranching play in the state’s economy and way of life.

“Never assume the people in your state understand what you do; never take that for granted,” she said. “Get out in front of (the growth). Do everything you can to promote your industry. Use all the tools Farm Bureau has provided you to get in the game.”

“Idaho Farm Bureau has basically set the table for you,” she said. “You just have to show up … and protect what you have here that you love so much.”