Tom VanderWal of Brookings, S.D., has won the Discussion Meet contest for young farmers and ranchers, held recently during the South Dakota Farm Bureau (SDFB) annual meeting. VanderWal will go on to compete against the winners from other states nationwide during the national contest in January.

The Discussion Meet is one of three contests hosted as part of Farm Bureau’s Young Farmers & Ranchers (YF&R) activities for those in agriculture ages 18 to 35. The Discussion Meet is a public speaking contest, but it is not a prepared speech and it is not a debate. Instead, it is set in a panel discussion format where participants thoroughly assess the topic at hand, exchange ideas and offer constructive solutions. Judges are looking for communication skills, a cooperative attitude and the ability to analyze problems and develop solutions. Contestants must be prepared for any of the five pre-determined questions, one of which is drawn at random before each round of the contest.

“Tom did an outstanding job during the state Discussion Meet, and all of us at Farm Bureau wish him all the best during the national contest. The Discussion Meet challenges you to think on your feet and be poised under pressure, all while discussing complex agricultural issues. It is an excellent learning experience,” commented SDFB President Scott VanderWal of Volga, S.D.

Tom is shown here, center, receiving his award from 2015 YF&R chairs Ida and Eric Sander of Prairie City.

The five questions developed for this year’s YF&R Discussion Meet are as follows:

-- How should Farm Bureau protect and encourage producers’ ability to use new technology? How can Farm Bureau work with government and the public to ensure public acceptance while encouraging innovation?

-- Should we draft policy to protect livestock producers from false accusations regarding animal welfare? What could it look like?

-- How do we balance agriculture’s water needs with maintaining vibrant communities? How do historical water rights influence this discussion?

-- How do we get the public to support right-to-farm laws? Should these laws be determined on the state or the federal level?

-- How can we influence state and local policy that more effectively balances the social and economic interests of farmers and ranchers versus burdensome federal regulation?

Tom and his wife, Katy, farm and raise cattle north of Brookings. They are actively involved in the Brookings / Kingsbury County Farm Bureau and serve on the Farm Bureau YF&R Committee for South Dakota. The national Discussion Meet contest will be held during the American Farm Bureau Federal annual meeting, set for Jan. 10-13 in Orlando.