Each year the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation hosts a discussion meet and invites young Farm Bureau members from throughout the state to compete for the state title and the opportunity to represent Mississippi at the National Farm Bureau Discussion Meet. The former takes place during the MFBF’s annual meeting.

The finalists in this year's contest were Surrette, a 27-year old cow-calf producer and banker from Water Valley, who was named the state winner at the conclusion of the meet; Crystal Palmer, a 19-year old para-legal major hoping for a career in agricultural and environmental law from Ripley; Lindy Atkins, a 27-year-old kindergarten teacher from Hamilton, who with her husband, Alan, farms about 2,000 acres of cotton, soybeans and corn; and Matthew Rex Burnham from Collins, a 29-year-old professor at Jones Junior College married to Dana.

"This is a real honor. I've been in the competition for several years, but the winning part isn't what brought me back," said Surrette. "I told my wife (Sherry) on the way down. I haven't won it. I've been to the finals two or three years in a row, but the winning part wasn't bringing me back; it was the experience, the meeting the people and developing strong relationships, and I learned a lot about agriculture each year.

"I'm a part-time farmer with a pretty good sized cow/calf operation, and I work in a bank, I do a lot of ag lending. Agriculture is what I love, and each year this brings me back to it."

The discussion meet questions are provided by the National Farm Bureau Federation and generally relate to current issues, trends and policies faced by the agriculture industry.

As the state winner, Surrette will be provided an all-expense paid trip to represent Mississippi at the national discussion meet in January in Hawaii as well as other prizes from the Southern Farm Bureau Life Insurance Co., Federal Land Bank Associations and Dodge.

Doug Rogers of Collins was the 2002 winner of the state event and served as moderator of this year's event.

"Farm Bureau's strengths depend on its members' ability to analyze agriculture profits and decide on a solution that best fits its needs," said Rogers. "The discussion meet is designed to simulate a committee meeting where discussion and active participation are expected from each committee member. By participating, members build basic discussion skills, develop a keen understanding for important agriculture issues and explore how groups can pool knowledge and research and reach a consensus and solve problems; this is not a debate," said Rogers.

"It's a process to raise awareness of current events and issues and offer our young farmers the opportunity to advance their problem-solving techniques," said Greg Shows, director of MFBF's Young Farmer and Rancher Program. The four finalists took part in a 25-minute open discussion and then were allowed a one-minute closing statement. The discussion was held in front of hundreds of Farm Bureau members attending the Dec. 7 evening general session.

The final question in this year's debate was "how should Farm Bureau plan for their future with a diminishing farm population?'

"We expressed our views as young farmers in Mississippi as to how we can plan for the future of farming in Mississippi through Farm Bureau considering the diminishing farm population," said Surrette.

"I think as a group we all agree that education, maintaining profitability and improving our ability to affect agriculture policy and protect U.S. producers and U.S.-produced goods will be very important in the future. I believe agriculture and Farm Bureau have a bright future, and I also think as we go forward in the future Farm Bureau will face many challenges, but we as young farmers will continue to come together to work to solve our common problems," said Surrette.

"I believe tonight we exemplified what the answer to this question is. How can Farm Bureau plan for the future in a diminishing farm population? Simply put we ought to ally with corporations, other youth organizations and other agencies," said Palmer. "Use the technology we have instead of trying to find another solution to our problems. Use what we have in our technology. We need to base all of the education that we put forth in the ag industry through our Ag in the Classroom program and Farm Bureau all the way though the land grant universities."

The winter meeting of the MFBF took Dec. 6-8 in Jackson. Membership in the state's largest agricultural-based organization topped 224,000 at this 82nd annual meeting. For more information click on www.mdfb.com.

Eva Ann Dorris is a free lance writer who wrote this article for the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation.

e-mail: eadorris@aol.com