AgriLeadership 20/20 program prepares farmers to be leaders

Tennessee Tech University’s School of Agriculture prepares its students to be leaders of tomorrow, and with its involvement in the AgriLeadership 20/20 organization, it also encourages today’s farmers toward greater leadership roles.

“AgriLeadership 20/20 is an organization that helps farmers develop the leadership skills they need to advance the agricultural industry and improve the quality of rural life,” said Pat Bagley, dean of TTU’s College of Agricultural and Human Sciences.

It consists of a series of six sessions, presented by various experts at different locations, about critical local, national and even global issues of which farmers need an understanding in order to succeed as a leader in agriculture.

TTU hosted this year’s initial session on Jan. 10. State Rep. John Mark Windle and Tennessee Commissioner of Agriculture Ken Givens were among the leaders who attended.

“Hosting the opening session not only gave us an opportunity to welcome these participants and agricultural leaders to our campus and show them the kinds of facilities we have here, but it gave us a chance to inform them about the kinds of services we can help to provide as well,” Bagley said.

The general topics in a typical AgriLeadership 20/20 program include agricultural entrepreneurship, laws and regulations that apply to agriculture or forestry industries, communications and media relations for farmers and legislative requests and visits.

A total of 18 farmers are participating this year. Participants on even years such as this come from Cannon, Clay, DeKalb, Jackson, Macon, Putnam, Smith, Trousdale and White counties. On odd years, participants come from Cumberland, Fentress, Morgan, Overton, Pickett and Scott counties.

“The critical thing that agricultural leaders need to know is the impact that farming has on the entire economy. Every dollar made in the agricultural industry adds $6 to the economy as a whole,” Bagley said.

Because of the improving worldwide economy, he continued, the need for animal protein from beef, chicken and pork sources is expected to double in 20 years, which will provide an even greater demand for agricultural production.

“Agriculture is an investment that pays off handsomely to the entire economy, so being able to communicate those benefits to local and state political leaders and other officials is an important skill for farmers to have,” he continued.

Participants in the AgriLeadership 20/20 program also get a closer look at just how their activities help their local economies.

This year, for instance, there has been much discussion about a bio-fuel manufacturing facility that is soon to open in McMinnville. The plant will turn soybeans into a sustainable, cleaner burning fuel for vehicles.

“Agricultural investments like this will help lead to a resurgence in the economy like we’ve never seen before. Not only will such a manufacturing facility lower our county’s dependence on foreign oil, but it will significantly increase Tennessee’s soybean market too,” Bagley said.

What’s more, he added, soy-based bio-fuel creates no by-products like the manufacture of petroleum-based fuel. While only the soy oils are used in fuel manufacture, the hulls and proteins that remain can be utilized in the production of cattle and chicken feeds.

“I’ve heard it said that there are only two ways to add new money to the economy,” Bagley said. “One way is to grow it from the soil, and the other is to mine it from the earth — but those are non-renewable natural resources in danger of being depleted; only agriculture can provide a completely sustainable product.”

The final session of this year’s AgriLeadership 20/20 will take participants on a legislative visit to Nashville, where they will have the opportunity to discuss critical agricultural issues with their legislators.

In addition to TTU, partners of the AgriLeadership 20/20 program include the University of Tennessee Agricultural Extension Service, Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Tennessee Department of Agriculture’s Forestry Division, Tennessee Farmers Cooperative, and USDA’s Farm Service Agency and Rural Development.

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