Lexington hosts ag leadership conference for first time

Handshake with grain in background
Handshake with grain in background

PHOTO: Thinkstock.com
LEXINGTON, Ky., -

From as far away as Australia, directors of agricultural leadership programs gathered in Lexington recently to “steal ideas,” as one participant described it.

Members of the International Association of Programs for Agricultural Leadership—there are leadership programs in 40 states and seven countries—meet annually to network on fundraising, programming, speakers and travel. Members from Canadian, Scottish and Australian programs attended this year’s event.

“The goal of the conference is to maintain and strengthen the network we have,” said Steve Isaacs, co-director of the Kentucky Agricultural Leadership Program in the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. “This is a very well networked group of people, and the purpose of the annual meeting is to have a face-to-face opportunity to exchange ideas.”

A loose confederation, the association has been meeting annually since 1987. Agricultural leadership programs focus on training people to take the reins when it comes to policy, government and agricultural associations.

“As Benjamin Franklin said, ‘If we don’t all hang together, we’re going to hang separately,’ so this conference is a good way for these programs to hang together and learn about agriculture in other states,” said Joe Waldrum, the association’s executive secretary and interim assistant director of community and economic development in the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture. “The value with helping all the ag programs is there are so few people involved in production agriculture these days. The people who are making the decisions about agriculture, a lot of them don’t know anything about agriculture.”

Since this was the first time Kentucky hosted the conference, Isaacs and Kentucky Agricultural Leadership Program co-director Will Snell planned a busy three days.

Speakers and tours introduced conference participants to Kentucky’s signature agricultural industries, horses, bourbon and tobacco. Kristin Meadors of the Kentucky Distillers Association spoke, and the group also had a bourbon education seminar one evening and the opportunity to tour Buffalo Trace Distillery. Tours of Three Chimneys Horse Farm and Waverly Farm in Woodford County, where owner Hoppy Henton, a graduate of the Kentucky Agricultural Leadership Program, raises tobacco, corn and soybeans, brought the visitors their own view of the Bluegrass. The group met for an awards lunch one day with Gov. Steve Beshear at the Governor’s Mansion in Frankfort. In between were business sessions, such as teaching leadership skills and creating leadership programming.

“It was exciting to be able for us to showcase the beauty and impressive leadership of our state,” Snell said.

Their efforts paid off, if the enthusiasm of participants like J.D. Dunbar, Rob Black and Hannah Carter are any indication.

Dunbar, CEO of The Pennsylvania Rural Leadership Program at Penn State University was impressed.

“This has elevated Kentucky and the people of Kentucky and the leadership of Kentucky to me,” she said. “From a personal perspective, to see your state’s governor acknowledge your leadership program and its staff was astounding.”

Carter is the director of Wedgworth Leadership Institute for Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Florida. She comes to this conference every year to learn from her colleagues.

“I see some really amazing things that these other programs are doing that I can take back to my program in Florida,” she said.

That is why Rob Black never misses a conference, either. Black is the CEO of the Rural Ontario Institute in Guelph, Canada.

“I don’t miss this, because it’s a recharge for me,” he said. “It’s a chance to engage and know where you can turn next week, next month, in three months time if you have a question.”

The UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, Farm Credit and the American Seed Trade Association sponsored the conference.

Contact: 

Steve Isaacs, 859-257-7255; Will Snell, 859-257-7288

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