First ag leadership class graduates

By BY NATHAN GREGORY MSU EXTENSION SERVICE,

STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Noble Guedon’s last act as a participant in the Thad Cochran Agricultural Leadership Program was to challenge members of the incoming class.

“You need to view this as a development opportunity to make yourselves better leaders in your communities and in your industry,” he said. “Make sure when you go to all these seminars, make sure you build a network and get to know the people you visit.”

Guedon and eight other members of the program’s inaugural class graduated in a ceremony at The Mill Conference Center at Mississippi State University in Starkville Oct. 17, during which they welcomed a new group of participants. The event was the culmination of two years of rigorous seminars on public policy, emerging technologies, leadership fundamentals and economic development.

Established in 2017 by the MSU Extension Service in partnership with the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation, the Thad Cochran Agricultural Leadership Program is geared toward emerging leaders in Mississippi’s agricultural industry. The program is designed to enhance participants’ professionalism and communication abilities and to develop team-building skills, including collaboration and conflict management.

In addition to the seminars, the group toured agricultural and industrial facilities in the Mississippi Delta and the Gulf Coast before touring facilities in Arizona and Germany to learn about agricultural production in other regions, as well as international policy and global markets.

Guedon, a Natchez native and corporate manager for Louisiana-based agricultural equipment dealership Goldman Equipment, also visited agricultural policymakers in Washington, D.C., along with the rest of the class.

“We were able to meet with some of the staffers who wrote some of the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill and got to learn about policies and procedures,” he said. “Farm bill legislation affects my operation heavily, and we got to see how that was developed.”

The group toured southern Arizona, which has an arid climate that receives an average rainfall of 1 to 5 inches.

“In our part of the world, farmers are trying to get water off of their farms. In Arizona, they’re trying to get water on theirs,” Guedon explained. “They take what they call their dirty water, filter it, fix it and pump it back in the ground cleaner than how it came out. They are very efficient with their water out of necessity.”

He observed that Germany has approaches to agriculture and environmental practices that are different from those commonly seen in the U.S.

“We toured sheep, pork and beef facilities, and they were all in confined areas,” he said. “They took all the waste that came off those farms, put it in a biogas plant and heated the neighboring towns and communities.”

MSU Extension Director Gary Jackson said the leadership program originated through conversations with leaders of several state organizations, including Farm Bureau, the Mississippi Forestry Association, the Mississippi Poultry Association, the Mississippi Association of Supervisors and the Delta Council.

“All five leaders immediately bought into the idea, and we at Extension saw it as our responsibility to lead that effort from the beginning in terms of the curriculum, content, planning and hosting the classes,” Jackson said. “We knew that we would need the help of these stakeholder organizations as well as others in the state, and certainly from our upper administration at Mississippi State.”

Mike McCormick, president of the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation, initiated the idea of having an advisory board with agricultural professionals across the state to advise Extension on the program curricula and establish an endowment to help jumpstart the program.

“Before I was elected, it was my goal to make sure Farm Bureau was infused with some new leadership,” McCormick said. “We had to grow our Young Farmers and Ranchers program, but we needed something outside of Farm Bureau for us to be successful as well. Agriculture doesn’t win in Mississippi if we don’t have all of our organizations pulling together as one. This program needs to be something the whole state is proud of and can buy into no matter what organization you’re a member of or passionate for.”