Resilient agriculture starts with resilient people

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Article #2 in our Summer Wrap Up Series focuses on the resilience our people bring to the land

Once a decade, give or take a few years, Colorado has the opportunity to host the annual Western Association of State Departments of Agriculture (WASDA) conference.

Held in Denver this year, WASDA 2023 offered the opportunity to try something a little different as the Colorado Department of Agriculture works towards our long term departmental goal of supporting the next generation of agriculture. 

Five panelists are seated in front of a projection screen with their names while a moderator introduces the NextGen panel

Commissioner Greenberg recognized that WASDA leadership would benefit from expanding the conference to include young and upcoming agricultural leaders who could contribute to the discussions of topics critical to the future of ag. With the support of Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Sciences (MANRRS), Commissioner Greenberg and her staff launched the 2023 WASDA NextGen Scholarship Fund, to sponsor six qualified applicants to attend the conference and minimize the barriers that stand between young people and policy makers. 

The NextGen scholarship was designed specifically for students with a demonstrated interest in agriculture, food systems, conservation, or related fields, and who exhibit excellent leadership qualities. The scholarship recipients not only gained a unique front row seat to these discussions, but also met and engaged with current leaders throughout the conference to learn more about their day-to-day work. 

Director Troy Joshua speaks at a lectern during the WASDA 2023 conference

The panel of young leaders that kicked off the conference included both WASDA 2023 NextGen Scholars as well as other young people, including from Routt County FFA and the Fort Lewis Old Fort farm program. During the discussion, panelists shared their journeys and discussed the challenges facing their generation in ag. Their experiences set the tone for the rest of the meeting, as leadership continually referred back to the struggles defined by youth leaders.  

In addition to the youth panel, other panels brought together scientists, producers and other subject matter experts to discuss timely and relevant topics ranging from international relationships and power and water trends in the West, to ag workforce development and family farm transition.  

Conference attendees shared their stories about individual journeys in agriculture and their ideas about how to tackle the challenges facing agriculture today with a focus on resiliency and building unity. 

“The experience I gained during the conference was quite remarkable for me. Outside the opportunity of meeting and having in-depth discussions with important stakeholders on international agricultural policy, I was also thrilled by the on-going innovation in agriculture research during the tour on CSU Spur. This indeed spurred my desire to engage in more creative and collaborative research efforts,” said Etinosa Igunbor, a 2023 WASDA NextGen Scholar and a first-year graduate in the Master's of Environmental Management (MEM) program at Western Colorado University (WCU). 

Farmer Robert Sakata speaks into a microphone at the WASDA 2023 conference.

While pursuing a career in agriculture can seem daunting, the farm-to-table dinner keynote speaker Robert Sakata of Sakata Farms in Brighton reminded the group that remaining radically optimistic about the future is key to understanding that we must all work together, letting our experiences and expertise guide us in a world where problem solving will fortify resilience and responsiveness. 

As the mix of generations continued to engage on issues that affect everyone now and into the future, it became apparent that the resilience of people is our most valuable asset. This comes not only from labor on farm and ranch operations, but is shaped by people who are dedicated, driven and committed to agriculture every day. 

The enthusiasm of the young scholarship recipients to not only acknowledge but then collaboratively work across generations to solve challenges, was enthusiastically matched by other conference attendees who were eager to connect with and ultimately help students to understand the immense support they can count on well into their careers and adventures in agriculture.

WASDA NextGen scholars with Commissioner Greenberg and Congresswoman Yadira Caraveo.

WASDA members include the Commissioners, Secretaries, and Directors of Agriculture from Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Samoa, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming). WASDA is a part of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA). 

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