By Craig W. Anderson

Brie Hunt, representing San Joaquin County Farm Bureau was a finalist in the Young Farmers and Ranchers Discussion Meet, held at the 100th CFBF annual meeting in San Diego.

Hunt is no stranger to the Discussion Meet and continues to be one of the major competitors in the annual event. It was once a nerve-wracking experience for her, but not so much, now.

"This was my fifth discussion competition and while I still get nervous, I’m better now about not getting worked up too much," Hunt said of her experience. She said her network of contacts with expertise in ag issues has grown over the years and that she "has people to talk to and learn from. This has definitely broadened my perspective across the board regarding agriculture and maintained my confidence."

Winners and rewards
Garrett Driver of Knights Landing won the competition with his comments on how the agriculture sector can attract the best and brightest minds from science, technology, engineering and math into agricultural careers. Driver and the other contestants – Alysha Stehly of San Diego County was the first runner-up and the other finalists were Hunt and Tony Lopes of Merced County – received some well-deserved recognition – a plaque – along with material awards: Driver received $5,000 as the first place finisher, Stehly pocketed $1,000 and Hunt and Lopes each received $500.

The competition required the group to discuss how agriculture can increase its use of technology to solve challenges, and Hunt, along with the others, suggested reaching out to companies, students and others to help with identifying STEM-based technological solutions.

Hunt pointed out that "this isn’t a debate. It’s a solution-based conversation on issues, including current events, ‘fluffier’ topics like STEM and, of course, water’s always a hot issue, especially in California." "We also discussed technology’s effect on agriculture," Hunt said, adding, "areas of ag that need high-tech solutions, mechanization and how inputs could be reduced."

Why participate in the meet?
The competitors move through the rounds of the event having prepared in five areas and discussing four as the contest moves along in a process. Hunt said it was "definitely challenging. Why do I continue to do this?" She said the reasons were many, including the fact that "it’s good to challenge yourself and I’ve grown from the opportunity to engage in these discussions. I’ve gotten better at it and have learned how to control a conversation, keep it on track and deliberate on issues using my knowledge, logic and reason."

California: Unique
A particular challenge she said is that California’s agricultural production is so huge and diversified that it affects the topics discussed in the meet. "Keeping the discussion on track differs when California’s on the table. Sometimes, we [California] can become kind of a stigma but I see that angle as beneficial, a challenge that can be met."

Discussion Meet benefits
Hunt answered the question she gets - "Why should YF&R members, or anyone, participate in the Discussion Meet?" by noting that "initially, it’s fun and as you go through the process you’ll experience personal and professional growth and how to meet challenges. The meets provide the opportunity to dig into issues, discuss them and keep tabs on them over time."

She continued, "I can see how I’ve matured as a San Joaquin Farm Bureau board and committee member, open to ideas, working in groups, on boards and with committees. I feel it’s made me a better Farm Bureau Board and Foundation board member. And Leadership Farm Bureau encourages participation in the Discussion Meet."

Tyler Blagg was, and is, a strong advocate for the event and encouraged her to do it, Hunt said. "It seemed a logical road to follow because I was brought up through 4-H and FFA and I’ve always been a communicator."

Hunt said an important aspect of the Discussion Meet process is that it develops an image that makes communication more effective with the non-ag community. "All of us in agriculture represent the industry in some way to the general, non-ag public and programs like the Discussion Meet and Leadership Farm Bureau educate their participants about how to represent ag in the best possible way," she said. "Overall, though, the Discussion Meet is a fun thing to do and I recommend it as a very positive and memorable experience."