Cora Okkema of Mecosta County took the top spot at Michigan Farm Bureau's (MFB) 2019 Young Farmer Discussion Meet Dec. 4 at MFB's 100th Annual Meeting in Grand Rapids.
Cora received her bachelor's degree in agriculture from Dordt University in Iowa and is currently studying livestock behavior and welfare at Colorado State University graduate school.
Okkema’s roots are in Blanchard, where she raises 675 Holsteins. While this is her first year competing, Okkema has been involved in county Farm Bureau activities such as Breakfast on the Farm and Young Farmer events, as well as implementing her academic research on working farms.
“I had such an amazing time working with my colleagues during this discussion meet and going through topics that are really current in this industry,” Okkema said. “In my opinion, the most interesting subject we tackled was the consumer-based question where we talked about consumer values and their changing needs. I thought it was interesting because we competitors come from different ag sectors and have our own issues with the subject. But we were able to come together in unity, address the issue and evolve as an industry to work with consumers and their new-found values, while at the same time realize our values are truly the same.”
Discussion meets test young farmers in a unique public speaking challenge. Participants are rewarded for their knowledge of current agricultural issues, their cooperative demeanor and the tact and civility of their delivery. As the contest moderators explain in their opening remarks, these are discussions, not debates.
After 11 regional contests across the state, nearly 35 participants competed in two opening rounds. Round three saw the field cut to 16 semifinalists, then four finalists faced off to determine the statewide winner.
The other three finalists were Bradley Love of Branch County, Elizabeth Wernette of Hillsdale County, and Kyle McCarty of St. Clair County.
This year's discussion topics addressed four current issues of concern among the agricultural community:
As the state-level winner, Okkema received a $2,000 cash prize from AIS Equipment and a paid trip to compete in the national-level Young Farmer and Rancher Discussion Meet at the American Farm Bureau Federation 101st Convention and Annual Meeting in Austin, Texas, Jan. 17-22, 2020. All four finalists also receive a suitcase courtesy of Michigan Farm Bureau Health Services and a Yeti cooler sponsored by the Michigan Foundation for Agriculture.
The AFBF YF&R program helps young Farm Bureau members shape their future and American agriculture through leadership development and personal growth opportunities. Three competitions enable members to showcase their leadership experience, communication skills and successful business plans as they compete against the best of the best from each state Farm Bureau.
As part of the YF&R competitions, the top four competitors in the Achievement Award, Discussion Meet and Excellence in Ag areas receive: