November 17, 2006
Three top young agricultural leaders from across the Lone Star Stateone from the Rio Grande Valley, one from the Gulf Coast and one from Central Texashave made their mark with Texas farmers and ranchers as finalists in the 2006 Excellence in Agriculture Award contest.
The Texas Farm Bureau Excellence in Agriculture Award recognizes young people who are involved in agriculture but do not currently own their own operation. Still, they are actively contributing and growing through their involvement with the state's largest farm organization and their agricultural venture.
The winner will be named at the Texas Farm Bureau State convention in Arlington, Dec. 2-4.
Participants are judged on their involvement in agriculture or agribusiness. Leadership involvement with Farm Bureau and other civic and service organizations also plays a major factor in determining the winner.
All candidates must be under age 36 as of Jan. 1, 2006, and they may not derive their primary income from being an owner/operator of an agricultural operation.
The state winner will receive one year's use of a 2007 3/4-ton Dodge 4X4 Quad Cab pickup and $500 cash, courtesy of Dodge; and an expenses paid trip to the American Farm Bureau Federation's convention in Salt Lake City, Utah, to compete nationally.
Runners-up receive a new pair of Justin boots, compliments of Justin Brands Inc.; and a $200 gift certificate to Grainger Industrial Supply, courtesy of Granger. All three finalists also receive an expenses paid trip to the state convention in Arlington, as well as a $50 gift certificate for any Tire Pros product, courtesy of Tire Pros.
Candidates must choose between entering the Outstanding Young Farm and Rancher Contest or the Excellence in Agriculture Contest. They cannot compete in both contests.
The three candidates for the 2006 Outstanding Young Farmer and Rancher Contest were featured in the Nov. 3, 2006 edition of Texas Agriculture.
To learn more about any of Texas Farm Bureau's leadership and awards programs, as well as the upcoming state convention, visit www.txfb.org.
Growing up on a fourth generation family farm operation in New Mexico, Manda Cattaneo learned one sure fact about farming.
"Producers face challenges every day," she says, and that fact helped tremendously in her choice of career paths.
As Manda describes it, a big part of her job today is helping farmers deal with those challenges by eliminating some of the decision making process they face each day.
The 27-year-old works in Integrated Pest Management (IPM) with the Texas Cooperative Extension service center in Weslaco, helping farmers test new plant varieties and control insect populations along the Lower Rio Grande Valley.
Her primary service area covers Cameron, Hidalgo and Willacy counties, scouting some 30-40 fields and overseeing variety trials and working with producer groups to better enhance efficiency and profitability for farmers in her area.
"I have a lot of respect for growers," she says. "My grandfather was a cotton and alfalfa grower when I was growing up, and I knew I wanted to do something to help other producers."
Primarily in her area, farmers rotate cotton and sorghum crops. But growing success is highly dependent on weather and successful pest management, she says.
And that's where the largest part of her IPM role is put to practice.
IPM works to manage insect populations so that harmful bugs are kept to a minimum, while beneficial bugs are maximized.
"So many times people think about insects as being all bad to agriculture," Manda says. "And that's where I really get the chance to educate people about the fact they're not all bad. In fact, many are quite beneficial to farmers."
By keeping close watch on the balance of these bugs in area fields, Manda and her colleagues can offer suggestions to farmers on best defenses, and ultimately, save a few bucks and the environment by using fewer chemicals.
Manda said she hopes to increase her ag leadership one day by serving on her county Farm Bureau board, perhaps even becoming more active in local youth education programs.
But until then, she says she intends to keep offering that helping hand. "Farmers will see a lot of changes in how crops are produced in the future," she says.
And it's work like hers that will help guide them.
Will and Becky Coward have one big personality trait in commonneither can wait until the workday's done so they can pull on their boots and get out to their ranch.
Not that either's office space falls far from the farm.
Will, 31, is senior vice president for the National Bank of Central Texas, working primarily with farm and ranch accounts. Becky, 30, is a middle school counselor in their rural hometown of Gatesville, doubling as a 4-H leader who takes great pride in the fact her kids just claimed a first place win at the Texas State Fair in Dallas for range and pasture identification.
Will says his ties to the bank go back to his high school days when he met the men who run the place. "Even back then I knew this would be the ideal job for me," he says.
And Becky says she truly enjoys her time with the children. "Working with kids is so rewarding, especially at this age," she says. "You can reach them at this age and have an important role in helping them develop a strong foundation. Plus, they really like you and want to please you."
But both are quick to say it's their farm roots they still love most.
Will and Becky run about 70 head of cattle on some 600 acres of leased land near the Coryell County property his family has called home since 1924.
While times have been tough this year with the drought, both are confident agriculture will remain strong, both in their own family and for the industry as a whole.
Land used in farming continues to shrink as cities sprawl and inherited properties are shattered by costly estate taxes.
But, Will says, the future still looks bright.
"Global demand is only growing," he says. "It's not far from coming all together when the people with those skills will be in high demand."
Already involved in county Farm Bureau leadership, Will says he hopes to serve in some role statewide, perhaps on the Young Farmer and Rancher committee.
But Will and Becky both relish passing along their shared personality trait to their children, 4-year-old Kyle and 3-year-old Jenna.
"I really hope they grow up to be farmers and ranchers some day," Jenna says. "We're just happy we can instill values our parents instilled in us working on a farm."
Jerry Reynolds may not have grown up on a farm, but that surely didn't steer him away from the business of agriculture.
In fact, the 32-year-old general manager for Beasley Farmers Gin says education of young peopleboth rural and urban alikewill be key in the future of agriculture.
Jerry grew up around oilfields in Midland, planning to enter that workforce as an environmental engineer. But he changed career paths at Texas A&M, choosing instead a degree in agriculture systems management that ultimately landed him a stone's throw from one of the largest cities in the nation.
"We're just 40 miles from downtown Houston," Jerry says. "And that does make it hard when it comes to farming in this area.
"We're losing acreage every year," he says. "Concrete is one of our major products around here nowadays."
Yet despite urban sprawl, Jerry serves some 40 producers in his area with the ginning, marketing and shipping services he provides. In his seventh season as general manager, Jerry says he had one of his longest ginning seasons ever.
Although working with only a 7,000-acre base, he says he manned ginning operations for 24-hour shifts from the first week of August to Oct. 20. "Most of the fields were bringing 2 1/2 to 3 bales an acre," he says. "It kept us busy."
But busier times still are needed to educate the public about the foods and fibers farmers produce.
"Most people think that clothes come from Wal-Mart or Dillards and food comes from H-E-B," Jerry says. "We need to work hard to teach kids and their parents about where those products come from and what value they hold.
"Someday those kids will be representing us," he adds. "The more they know about agriculture, the better their decisions will be that affect us."
Jerry, a member of the Fort Bend County Farm Bureau board of directors, says he works actively with the county's mobile ag education trailer to increase awareness of agriculture among the area's school children.
More younger people will need to step up to the plate for agriculture, he adds.
"We're looking at a whole generation of aging producers who aren't that far away from retirement," Jerry says. "If there's no one there to take over for them, we'll all be in one heck of a bind."