January 30, 2002 | By: Laura Skillman

Since the late 1980s, county agents with the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service have held leadership programs in the Green River area aimed at young adults.

"The goal of the Green River Area Agricultural Leadership Program is to cultivate emerging leaders, to help them feel comfortable in leadership roles," said Annette Heisdorffer, Daviess County Extension agent for horticulture and coordinator of this year's program. "With this program, we want to give them confidence in working together, in networking as well as with their speaking abilities."

Donna Grossman, of Henderson County, is attending school with plans to return to her family's farming operation upon completing her studies. She said the leadership institute appealed to her as another means of gaining knowledge.

"I felt like it would broaden my areas of information in terms of leadership roles I could pursue in the future," Grossman said. "And I thought the trip to Frankfort would be very beneficial in terms of knowing how things work. You never know your future. You may end up being in politics, a magistrate or something."

Grossman said the information provided by Keith Rogers, legislative aid for U.S. Rep. Ron Lewis, on the farm bill and other issues was informative.

"I knew some things he was talking about, but some things I was totally clueless on," she said.

Heisdorffer said in addition to the leadership skills and knowledge gained from the program, another plus is that participants get a chance to network with others from their area.

"We've found that this is probably one of the most valuable pieces to it," she said. "We have farmers who have been in past classes working together today in the beef initiative, the West Kentucky Growers Cooperative and many different projects. Those people that participated in previous programs are the leaders now, and this is to help start these individuals off in their careers as leaders whether that is in agriculture or in the community, so it benefits everyone."

Bryan Ebelhar of Daviess County said he wanted to participate in the program because he felt it was time to become involved and his wife had encouraged him to do it. Ebelhar, 26, returned to join his family's farming operation after college graduation.

"I feel like I'm maturing, and maturing in my role on the farm. I felt like it was time for me to get involved in the community and make my opinions known and maybe help get something started," he said. "It's definitely been beneficial, I'm making new contacts and it's like someone said, I may be working with some of these people on down the road."

The program has been held in 1988, 1990, 1992 and 1996. This year's program ran for three days. The first day was Jan. 23, with a full day of discussions on why leadership in agriculture is important, how to become involved in the political process and what issues are currently before the Kentucky General Assembly and U.S. Congress. There was also a discussion on transitioning the family farm to the next generation.

On Feb. 7 the 28 participants will travel to Frankfort to attend legislative committee meetings, meet with area legislators and observe the House and Senate. Twelve days later, the participants will meet for the final session which will include discussions on partnering and communicating in today's agriculture, a panel discussion on working together and review of their Frankfort trip. Scott Smith, dean of the UK College of Agriculture, will wrap up the program with a discussion on the challenges of change in agriculture.

"We are all facing change in agriculture, so this program too is aimed at how can we face this change head on and move through the change and not feel like we want to stay on our farm and do nothing," Heisdorffer said.

Participants were selected because they were starting to become involved or had expressed an interest in becoming involved in leadership roles in their community. The target age of the program is 18 to 30.

This year's participants come from Daviess, Henderson, McLean, Union and Webster counties and are a mix of men and women who are in production agriculture or work in an agricultural field.

"This gives them a chance to see both sides and see that both have a role to play in the community," Heisdorffer said.


Annette Heisdorffer, (270) 685-8480