The Youth Discussion Meet series provides briefs designed to give Farm Bureau Discussion Meet participants insight regarding the challenges, potential solutions and current events of contest topics.
Topic: Progress in agriculture is often driven by organizations which contribute to the industry. In 2019, Michigan Farm Bureau is celebrating its 100th anniversary. Discuss the progress that has been made in agriculture via organizations such as Farm Bureau. How will Michigan Farm Bureau remain relevant into the next century and what role will FFA and 4-H play?
Challenge: As an organization which represents farmers, the continued decline in the farming population naturally affects membership numbers. Additionally, state Farm Bureau leadership positions can only be obtained by full-time farmers, provoking a challenge to retain top-quality leadership talent as numbers dwindle.
Potential Solution: Considering the expansion of membership and leadership opportunities to agribusiness and other non-farm individuals can help. Agriculture, food and natural resources career and technical education programs are convenient avenues to funnel leadership talent and begin involvement at the county level. Lastly, Michigan Farm Bureau (MFB) can promote an inclusive culture by connecting with niche producers and urban agricultural efforts.
Solution in Action: Programs such as Youth Discussion Meet, AFNR Careers Conference and job shadowing opportunities provide engagement with 4-H and FFA members. These create exposure opportunities to Farm Bureau and potential for Junior Farm Bureau members. Collegiate Farm Bureau illustrates such opportunities, where there is current consideration to expand Farm Bureau membership to collegiate members. MFB-supported Farmers Market Directory and member-developed urban agriculture policy are concrete steps towards inclusivity.
Challenge: Volunteers of today have more time demands than ever, making it hard to contribute time to their chosen cause. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports only 24.9 percent of people volunteered in 2015. Individuals who had kids were 10 percent more likely to volunteer than those who did not, typically for organizations connected to their children’s involvement. Student sport involvement, extracurriculars and time focused on studies increases. Meanwhile, in 61 percent of families, both parents are employed.
Additionally, organizations such as Farm Bureau have been viewed as a social opportunity in the past. However, social interactions continue to change in the 21st century, and social organizations seem less necessary.
Potential Solutions: Micro-volunteering appeals to today’s volunteer as it requires a short period of time and less commitment. Utilizing technology conveniences, volunteers’ skillsets and family-structured activities can help Farm Bureau thrive in the coming century. MFB policy supports rural broadband development, promoting access to the conveniences of technology that will propel the industry and organization.
Solution in Action: Committees with specialized volunteer focus areas, such as Promotion and Education, can attract member volunteers to contribute time to Farm Bureau. Virtual conference calls, meetings and webinars are increasingly effective in Farm Bureau member and leadership communication, reflecting a need for flexible and convenient information dispersal.
Challenge: Michigan agriculture is not only diverse in commodities, but has many sectors with specialized interests, including organic, non-GMO, grass fed and fair trade, just to name a few. How can MFB continue to represent all sectors as a general farm organization, while meeting Michigan’s diverse agriculture needs?
Potential Solution: MFB can continue to impact the broad issues which affect all areas of agriculture, including water use, land use, energy, labor, safety and trade. The organization can aid in building coalitions such as Michigan Ag Council, bringing major players in the food chain to the same table. MFB lobbying subcontracts, in addition to building bridges with other organizations, will help.
Lastly, issue-based value-added services, such as Great Lakes Agricultural Labor Services (GLALS) and safety programs will meet many needs of MFB’s diverse membership.
Solution in Action: MFB members are in D.C. lobbying for immigration, labor, tax reform, trade and industry challenges on an annual basis. The Washington Legislative Seminar updates members on national issues and provides advocacy training. GLALS Farm Employment Seminars address today’s labor force challenges, and programs like Agriculture Safety Awareness Program Week promotes safety on the farm.