|Mark Seely tries out his new ATV.|
On Nov. 15-17 the Utah Farm Bureau held their state convention at the Marriott Hotel in downtown Salt Lake City. Many farmers and ranchers from all over Utah left their work clothes at home to gather in unifying their voices in favor of agriculture.
One of the main reasons for the convention is to bring county delegates together in the capacity of voting on issues important to all of Utah's farms and ranches. But for Mark Seely of Castle Dale the state convention has been a time to challenge his memory and demonstrate his ability to discuss farm-related subjects. Each year the "Young Farmers and Ranchers," one branch of the Farm Bureau organization for young people ages 18 to 35, sponsors what they call the Discussion Meet contest as part of the State and National Conventions.
Several months in advance the contestants are given a list of the subjects that will be discussed, such as: finding new uses for traditional agricultural products; influencing lawmakers; and the effect of land prices on production agriculture.
During the first two rounds of competition all participants have a chance to share and receive information in a roundtable setting with three or four other competitors. Based on the scores of the first two rounds, the judges select 16 semi-finalists, which are referred to as the sweet 16, and from these they select the final four.Seely said he was honored to even advance to the final four. However, his experiences of competing in the meet over the past two years have definitely helped to prepare him for the challenge. "In the final four, there were some tough competitors who tried to dominate the discussion," said Seely. But, by jumping into the conversation at opportune moments to share thoughts and ideas which would move the discussion effectively along, he was able to score a few more points with the two judges in the audience. He also received points for effective cooperation, his memorized 30-second opening statement, and his thorough one-minute concluding statement.
"I think the scoring was really close," Seely explained. Then in the awards ceremony on Thursday night he was pleasantly surprised when the announcer called his name as the winner of the Discussion Meet. On stage he was awarded a cash prize from the State Farm Bureau; a shiny new Polaris 4-wheeler, donated by IFA Country Stores and Polaris; a one-year insurance policy from Farm Bureau Financial Services; a new helmet from the Farm Safety representative; and a trip to the National Farm Bureau Convention in Salt Lake City in January, to compete in the national finals. Mark and his wife Brenda, along with their daughter Hannah, and sons Jon, Matt, and Luke, live in Castle Dale.
"This discussion meet is an important activity that helps young farmers and ranchers learn to explain important agricultural issues based on their merits, not by using inflammatory language that is often found in current political debates," said Jay Mark Humphrey, President of the Emery County Farm Bureau. "We're very proud of Mark and the way he put into plain words the important issues facing agriculture in Utah."
Other topics that were discussed included increasing market opportunities for agriculture, urban sprawl and land values, and a potential national animal identification system. "With more and more Utahns not having direct contact with agriculture, it's nice to have a young farmer that can intelligently debate issues, explaining to other Utahns why agriculture is so important here," Humphrey said.
Discussion Meet winners from each state Farm Bureau will compete at the national level in the American Farm Bureau Convention in January. The convention will be hosted by Salt Lake City this year, for the first time ever. Winners of the national award will receive a 2007 Dodge Truck.