Montana State University

MSU student, alumna, attend prestigious national conference for future farmers

August 29, 2017 -- By Jenny Lavey for MSU News service

Kyle Mitchell, a senior from Malta majoring in animal science, and Gwynn Simeniuk, a recent MSU graduate with dual degrees in animal science and agricultural education, participated in the prestigious 2017 New Century Farmer conference held in Johnston, Iowa in July. Photo courtesy of Kyle Mitchell.

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Tel: (406) 994-4571
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BOZEMAN – A Montana State University student and a recent MSU alumna were both selected to attend a prestigious national conference focused on helping future farmers develop their careers in production agriculture.

Kyle Mitchell, a senior from Malta majoring in animal science in MSU’s College of Agriculture, and Gwynn Simeniuk, an MSU alumna from Glasgow who earned dual degrees in agricultural education and animal science this spring, participated in the 2017 New Century Farmer conference held in Johnston, Iowa in July.

The New Century Farmer conference is an exclusive, highly competitive program designed to provide participants with valuable skills and knowledge applicable to their own farming operation and help them build a network of colleagues that will benefit them throughout their careers.

During the five-day conference, Mitchell and Simeniuk learned more about the global marketplace, farm financing, operational vision, demographic trends and risk management, all topics that emerging farmers need to know well, said Simeniuk, who is currently employed as the program and events manager for the Montana FFA Foundation and one day hopes to own and operate her own ranching operation.

“For someone who plans on creating a business in production agriculture, one of the biggest challenges that a young person can face is identifying and securing the tools you need to get started, especially if you don’t have a strong vision of what you want your operation to look like,” Simeniuk said. “By sitting down with industry experts, discussing roadblocks with my peers, and reflecting on what I want to accomplish in agriculture, I was able to create a clear vision for the future of my business and recognized what I now need to do to make it a reality.”

Simeniuk and Mitchell represented two of 50 young people representing 21 states who participated in the program. Conference attendees heard from keynote speakers addressing the risks and rewards involved with production agriculture. They also experienced the latest developments in agricultural technology.

Mitchell said that attending the conference helped him to connect real-world production agricultural challenges with his university curriculum.

“One of the most noticeable things about the conference was that no matter where each participant was from, we all have similar challenges that we face as young producers,” Mitchell said. “Through the networking and lessons learned from the conference, as well as the agricultural curriculum at MSU, I know I am much more prepared for real-world agriculture.”

After graduation, Mitchell said he plans to return to his family’s 105-year-old cattle ranch near Landusky and work with his family to improve the operation, while maintaining traditions.

MSU Vice President of Agriculture Charles Boyer said that as production agriculture becomes more challenging for young people, the more they need to develop a network of peers.

“Production agriculture is layered and complicated and with the emergence of new policy and technology, it’s imperative the next generation of young farmers seek out opportunities to garner new knowledge and support from peers,” Boyer said. “I’m pleased to see Gwynn and Kyle grow from this valuable FFA experience and I hope the exposure to national agriculture conversations will benefit their careers.”

In 2012, more than 31 percent of the nation’s farmers were 65 or older and the average farmer’s age has been over 50 since the 1974 Census of Agriculture, according to the United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Office. That same year, 17.2 percent of family farms met the definition of a beginning farm, according to the USDA.

“There’s a critical change happening in American food production, and that’s the aging of today’s farmer population,” Boyer said. “The next generation needs all the support, training, tools and technology we can offer because they are the ones who will manage American food production.”

Sponsors of the New Century Farmer conference were: DuPont Pioneer, Case IH, CSX Corporation and Farm Credit and media partner, Successful Farming. 

The National FFA Organization provides leadership, personal growth and career success training through agricultural education to 649,355 student members who belong to one of 7,859 local FFA chapters throughout the U.S., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, according to the FFA. The organization is also supported by 225,891 alumni members in 1,934 alumni chapters throughout the U.S.

Jenny Lavey, Jennifer.lavey@montana.edu, 994-7866