WISCONSIN DELLS - Looking out at hundreds of young farmers and agriculturists during the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation (WFBF) Young Farmer and Agriculturist Conference and Annual Meeting on Dec. 2, President Jim Holte told them, "You are our future."

"With less than 2 percent of the population engaged in production agriculture, we are needing more and more resources to inform our neighbors of what we do," Holte said. 

Two of those voices for agriculture, Jamie Propson and Alison Wedig, were selected on Dec. 3 as the winners of the Discussion Meet and Collegiate Discussion meet contests.

Propson, of Manitowoc County, was selected winner of the 2017 WFBF Young Farmer and Agriculturist Discussion Meet contest and Wedig was selected the winner of the WFBF Collegiate Discussion Meet.

Discussion winner

The Discussion Meet contest is a panel discussion in which Farm Bureau members between the ages of 18 and 35 are judged on their ability to express their ideas and opinions and reach a solution on current issues affecting agriculture. 

Propson was surprised at winning the contest. 

"After walking away from the competition, I saw areas where I could improve, and hope to improve before national competition," Propson said. 

Propson will represent Wisconsin at the American Farm Bureau Annual Convention in Nashville, Tennessee, in January.

She grew up in Denmark on her family farm and earned a bachelor’s degree in agriculture education from UW-River Falls before returning to northeastern Wisconsin.

Propson is an agriscience teacher at Mishicot High School and a strong agricultural advocate who enjoys sharing the passion of Wisconsin’s diverse agriculture industry through the classroom and FFA Chapter.

Propson is a former Brown County YFA chair, graduate of the WFBF Leadership Institute and former learning and leading chair.

To prepare for the Discussion Meet, Propson talked to as many people as she could to gain different perspectives. Living in Mishicot provided a wide range of agriculturists to talk with, from dairy farms to mink ranches to produce farms.

During the meet, contestants discussed how to encourage first generation farmers and how to help them get started, the consolidation of agriculture companies and how to combat that, legal issues and a wide range of issues affecting ag moving forward. 

Contestants have to discuss the issues bringing their personal perspective in what they see going on in their county and in agriculture and come up with strategies of how the Farm Bureau can move forward. 

Being a teacher and guiding young adults to career choices, the topic of assistance for young farmers is "near and dear" to her heart. 

"It's a great opportunity to showcase the grassroots movement of the Farm Bureau, where we can take local ideas and turn them into state and national action," Propson said. "Farm Bureau is a voice for agriculture ... I'm happy to be one of those voices."

Propson and her husband, David, have a two-year-old son, Reed and a small hobby farm.

Other state finalists in the Discussion Meet were: Jenny Leahy from Fond du Lac County, Julie Sweney of Dodge County and Kelly Wilfert of Manitowoc County.

Collegiate Discussion winner

Wedig is a senior at UW-Madison where she is majoring in life sciences communications. She grew up in Darlington and got involved in agriculture through her dad’s landscaping business and FFA.

Wedig is passionate about helping consumers understand where their food comes from and looks forward to being an active member of Lafayette County Farm Bureau.

"I really think it's one of the biggest things we see in college now. Those questions are being asked by young consumers," Wedig said. "Helping people understand where their food comes from and what labels actually mean is super important. It's something that really ties back to the farmers and sharing their stories and why agriculture is important."

The Collegiate Discussion Meet is a panel discussion in which collegiate members are judged on their ability to lead a committee discussion on current issues affecting agriculture and to develop consensus on an action plan to effectively address issues.

By participating, members build basic discussion skills, develop a keen understanding of important agricultural issues and explore how groups can pool knowledge to reach consensus and solve problems.

Wedig competed against two fellow FFA members and "it was one of the most fun discussion meets" because the issues were "really relevant to us."

They discussed how to help first generation farmers get started in agriculture and how the Farm Bureau can play an important role in that. 

To prepare for the contest, Wedig talked to farm industry short course instructors and people in different organizations that could help first generation farmers. 

Wedig receives a $1,500 scholarship courtesy of GROWMARK, Inc., and will represent Wisconsin in the national Collegiate Discussion Meet held in conjunction with the American Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers Conference in Reno, Nevada, in February.

Runners-up included Kati Kindschuh from UW-River Falls and Brenna Bays from UW-Platteville who each received a $500 scholarship courtesy of Waukesha County Farm Bureau.

Other finalists included Connor Willems from UW-Madison, Ashley Bergsbaken from UW-River Falls and Heidi Smith from UW-Platteville.

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