Ag Industry Tour an eye-opener for Young Leaders

Trip gives Illinois farmers a look at diverse array of crop production as well new perspective on the border wall.

A security agent discusses border security with participants of the Illinois Farm Bureau Young Leader Ag Industry Tour during this stop at the Anapra Fence located on the border of Sunland Park, New Mexico and Mexico. (Photos by Jenny Webb, YL program manager)

By Dan Grant

Many Midwest farmers currently face an issue of excess soil moisture heading into the upcoming planting season.

But that’s not the case everywhere in the U.S., as evidenced by this year’s Illinois Farm Bureau Young Leader Ag Industry Tour.

A total of 35 participants from around the state saw dryland farming operations and desert in west Texas and New Mexico on the tour Feb. 25 to March 1.

“The goal of the tour every year is to get us out of our comfort zone (and see other parts of the ag industry),” said Jenny Webb, IFB Member Services and Public Relations program manager. “Texas and New Mexico have even more diversification that we realize.”

Jay Hill, wearing cowboy hat, provides Illinois Farm Bureau Young Leaders with a tour and information about a vineyard on his diversified farming operation in Dell City, Texas, during the YL Ag Industry Tour.

Tour participants toured farms that grow everything from chile peppers, pecans, lettuce, onions, and wine grapes to cotton.

Jay Hill, wearing cowboy hat, left, provided Illinois Farm Bureau Young Leaders with a tour and information about a vineyard on his diversified farming operation in Dell City, Texas.

They also visited a cotton gin, chile pepper processing plant and cattle crossing/stockyards on the U.S./Mexico border.

“It was an amazing experience,” said Katrina Schreiner, a Young Leader from Cass/Morgan counties and grain location manager/crop insurance salesperson for Sunrise FS, who attended her first Ag Industry Tour. “It’s crazy how much salt their water has (and how much southwest farmers rely on irrigation).”

Stephen Prather, a Young Leader from Sangamon County and customer service representative for Archer Daniels Midland, also made his debut on the Ag Industry Tour.

“It was a wonderful tour. They (in the southwest) talk about the lack of water and when they asked us (how Illinois farmers grow crops), we said, ‘we get rain.’” Prather said. “They said, ‘what’s that?’

“But, really, a lot of it is about not giving up in a hard situation and finding ways to improve what you’re currently doing and add niches to your area.”

Patrick Henry, Young Leader chairman in Washington County, attended his third Ag Industry Tour. He previously traveled with Young Leaders to Canada and Washington state.

“I like getting out of my comfort zone, going places like this and experiencing different sectors of ag,” Henry said.

Tour participants also met with U.S. border security agents at the Anapra Fence between Sunland Park, New Mexico, and Mexico.

“What the border patrol told us is the wall is a tool that makes their job easier,” Prather said. “It lowers the number of crossings.”

Other Young Leaders were also impressed with the visit with border security at the wall in Sunland Park.

“They said before the wall, it was a scary place,” Schreiner said. “Now, it’s a safe community.

“You just don’t hear about these kinds of things in the media,” she noted. “Talking to (border security agents) and understanding their side was incredible.”

Young Leaders also toured New Mexico State University, the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum, the Brackish Groundwater National Desalination Research Facility and White Sands National Monument.

“I’d definitely recommend this tour,” Prather added. “It was an opportunity to see things outside our bubble and develop lifelong friendships with other Young Leaders.”

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