Editor's note: The following is the conclusion of a two-part article featuring Lynn Leahy. She's a research agronomist at Heartland Farms, which specializes in producing potatoes for the potato-chip market. The first part was published in the Feb. 11 issue of Agri-View.
When and why did you join the Farm Bureau?
Leahy: I joined Farm Bureau in 2012 to meet other young people involved in agriculture. It’s important to me to be involved in my community, county and state affairs. Farm Bureau is a grassroots organization that helped me connect with my elected officials. It also helped me connect with other farmers and industry professionals who have similar goals and life passions. I met my husband when he was chairperson of the Fond du Lac County Young Farmer and Agriculturist program.
When and why did you take on a leadership position with the Farm Bureau?
Leahy: My first leadership position was serving as chairperson of the Waushara County Young Farmer and Agriculturist program, a position I’ve held since 2013. I took the position because I’m interested in helping expose other young people to learning and leadership opportunities. I'm also interested in continuing to further my leadership skills.
I completed Farm Bureau’s Leadership Institute in 2014. In 2016 I was appointed to the state promotion and education committee for District 5. I recently was elected chairperson of the committee, which also involves serving on the board of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau.
I’m excited for the opportunity to become more involved with other county farm bureaus and connect with individuals from different backgrounds. As the board member with the most knowledge of vegetable crops, I’m ready to share my expertise as needed.
How does the organization most help you? How do you think it most helps women members?
Leahy: I’m exposed to issues affecting agriculture across our state, country and world. I have opportunities to learn about many different subjects.
I believe the organization helps connect women who have similar interests. I believe women can help other women gain confidence, and realize they can farm and be a part of the agricultural industry -- thriving and succeeding.
What would you like others to know about the organization?
Leahy: There are many opportunities to learn, meet new people, and become involved in government relations and policy development. There are opportunities to take on leadership roles and promote agriculture.
What do you think are the biggest challenges today’s farmers face?
Leahy: One of the biggest struggles is adopting new technology tools. Integrating them into one's operation can be costly but can pay off in the end. We have more data than ever before but we don’t know how to use it all quite yet.
Farmers also continue to struggle with depressed prices. But younger consumers have more interest in where their food comes from and understand they need to be willing to pay more for a local product. That will be a great opportunity for farmers to market products locally again.
Beginning farmers continue to face expensive land that can be prohibitive to starting a farm. Input prices continue to increase. But farmers will continue to evolve and adapt to challenges. They'll continue to produce more with less, and keep innovating to produce a safe, sustainable food source for the world.
What do you see for your farm and farming in general 20 years from now?
Leahy: I see Heartland Farms continuing to innovate – pushing the envelope in growing more potatoes with less water and fewer inputs. We’ll continue to research, to find and develop new varieties that will fit what our customers want in their potato-chip bags.
I see the overall system reducing waste. There’s so much technology being developed now. In the future we’ll be able to track the specific spot where potatoes were harvested in a field to the specific spot they are in the storage bin.
I also see larger farms continuing to grow or maintain size. But I’m also optimistic there will be a resurgence of small farm-to-table farms. I'm optimistic about farmers markets continuing to grow.
I foresee that farmers will experience more market volatility with changing fads. Almond "milk" is an example. Many people are starting to understand that it’s not as sustainable as they originally thought. And now oat "milk" is increasing along with other beverage alternatives.
Farmers need to be prepared to think about the many markets to which they can sell. Markets might change even more quickly than they have in the past. And to keep supply more in check, I believe more crops will be in contract when they're planted. Fewer crops will be on the open market.
The Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation represents farms of different sizes, commodities and management styles. The organization is comprised of voting members and associate members. Members belong to one of 61 county Farm Bureaus, which are run by a board of directors comprised of people working in production agriculture. Farm Bureau is a grassroots organization. Each year county voting members set the policy that guides the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation on local, state and national affairs. Visit wfbf.com for more information.
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Lynn Grooms writes about the diversity of agriculture, including the industry’s newest ideas, research and technologies as a staff reporter for Agri-View based in Wisconsin.