Young farmers and ranchers in Florida can take advantage of a unique two-year program designed to train and motivate them to be future leaders of the state’s agriculture industry.
The State Federation Young Farmers & Ranchers Leadership Group, created more than 40 years ago by Florida Farm Bureau Federation (FFBF) as part of a national Young Farmers & Ranchers program, is now accepting applications for its 2014-16 class.
“The program develops leaders to be able to take over Farm Bureau positions and other leadership roles in the agriculture industry in the future,” said FFBF’s program coordinator Michael Rogalsky. “By doing that, it helps make sure that agriculture remains vibrant and that the future of the industry remains strong.”
Current FFBF president John Hoblick is a graduate of the leadership group, as is first-term Florida House member Jake Raburn, who now represents Hillsborough County as a strong advocate for agriculture. The 2012-14 class includes 17 participants.
The program, primarily funded by Florida Farm Bureau Insurance Co. and Southern Farm Bureau Insurance Co., allows for up to two individuals or couples from each of eight FFBF field staff districts. It includes 45 days of education that takes place over two years in seminars and field trips.
Specific areas of training include personal growth, public speaking, media training, legislative awareness, issue advocacy, business development, networking and service leadership.
“The reason we have such a comprehensive agenda is that we want to develop well-rounded
leaders that have all the skills necessary to become leaders in the industry,” Rogalsky said.
Among the program’s top priorities is service leadership.
“For example, we’re very much involved with the America’s Second Harvest food banks through the Harvest for All program with Feeding America,” Rogalsky said. “We do a lot in the fight against hunger. In fact, we recently won a national award for the most pounds of food donated, with over 11.2 million pounds over the last year going to the America’s Second Harvest food banks here in Florida. And a lot of that was done by the Farmers Feeding Florida program and led by our current leadership group.”
Business development training is also a key part of the program because farming and ranching have become more complex and challenging as enterprises. “For example, we send participants to the Florida Council of Cooperatives conference during both years of the program so they can learn about how cooperative businesses work,” Rogalsky said. The program also focuses on developing marketing and general business skills.
Tamara Wood, a Polk County resident who is now a consultant to Florida Citrus Mutual but who wants to launch a production agriculture career with her husband in the future, is a member of the 2012-14 class. Involvement in the program, after a decade of active participation in Florida Farm Bureau activities, has significantly enhanced her chances of farming success, she said.
“The most important thing about the leadership group is that in Florida, we produce hundreds of commodities,” Wood said. “Most states don’t produce anywhere near that. So it’s easy for someone in our ag industry to become very ‘commodity-specific,’ to focus on their own crop or crops. But when you’re involved in the YF&R leadership program, you learn about all kinds of crops and the larger issues that affect the entire industry. And you also learn that there is just so much more to the industry than your individual crops.”
Of the program’s individual training components, Wood has found special value in learning about legislative awareness and issue advocacy, even though those were already part of her work on behalf of Florida Citrus Mutual.
“I had been exposed to those things,” she said. “But in the communications department at Florida Citrus Mutual, I’m not actively involved in things like lobbying. So in this program, being able to travel already to Tallahassee and going to Washington, D.C., in May, I am able to actually be actively engaged in that kind of process and that is a great learning experience.”
Being involved in the program has enhanced Wood’s skills and confidence that she can have a solid future as a farmer, she said.
“It has taught me that there are so many things involved in agriculture other than just the aspects that are directly related to it, like planting seeds or raising livestock,” she said. “I’ve learned about all the aspects of business and politics that go into being successful.”
Young people interested in joining the leadership group must submit an online application by August 1. Selected applicants will be notified by September 1.
For more information or to apply for the program, visit
www.floridafarmbureau.org/programs/young_farmers_ranchers/leadership or call Michael Rogalsky at (352) 384-2668.