Derrick Surrette wants to see more policies and programs put into place to aid in bringing young farmers back to the farm. He's not alone in those ideas. He was joined recently by three other young agricultural professionals to verbalize the issues of state and national agriculture and reach a consensus toward some first steps to address those problems.

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

“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 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 was provided an all-expense paid trip to represent Mississippi at the national discussion meet 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, Miss., 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 Sunday 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… we as young farmers will continue to come together to work to solve our common problems,” said Surrette.


Eva Ann Dorris is an ag journalist and from Pontotoc, Miss.