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The Wyoming L.E.A.D. Experience

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

I’m proud to be a member of Wyoming L.E.A.D. Class 13. The most recent highlight of this experience was our trip to Washington, D.C. for a week. It was the fifth seminar in a 14-month journey where the 15 members of our group will learn leadership skills and gain knowledge, so we can effectively advocate for the agriculture industry.  

While in Washington, D.C. we met with our Congressional delegation on Capitol Hill, heard the planting intentions report firsthand in the National Agriculture Statistics Service lockup and met with representatives of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and Farm Bureau to discuss various ag issues. We also had free time to meet with an organization or individual that we wanted to learn more about. I attended a meeting with the Animal Agriculture Alliance, along with some other members of the group. The meeting motivated me to attend their stakeholder’s summit next week to learn what millennials think about the industry.

The highlight of the program so far is certainly our trip to Washington D.C., but we also meet regularly and learn about important ag topics. In December, we toured several agriculture operations in Park County and learned what made each of them successful. In February, we met for a week in Cheyenne during the legislative session to learn about state government. The seminars have certainly been educational, and the people we have met have been inspiring.

While each of us is certainly fortunate to be part of the Class 13, the seven months have taught me that each member of our class also carries a great weight to ensure we effectively lead the agriculture industry forward. 

There will be no shortage of challenges ahead that we will be asked to handle. First and foremost, it’s obvious we need to educate the public about the benefits of eating beef – while simultaneously correcting all the misinformation out there. Second, it’s not going to be easy to fight off environmental claims and explain that ranchers are, and have been, incredible stewards of the land. Third, an aging population is going to make it harder to ensure we keep farms and ranches in the family for generations to come. Finally, it certainly won’t be easy to rein in burdensome government regulations. 

These certainly are not all of the challenges that the industry faces. I’m sure every other member of our class could easily name five different issues. The Wyoming L.E.A.D. program has already taught us ways we can solve some of these challenges. For example, we each received media training from NCBA’s Joe Hansen. We also learned about the details of the Farm Bill, so we can talk intelligently about those issues. 

Being effective leaders for the agriculture industry will undoubtedly take countless hours of our time in the future. I’m confident that the L.E.A.D. program will prepare us for what’s ahead. 

The program also gives us a great network to turn to when a challenge presents itself. Personally, I have enjoyed the friendships I have made more than anything. I’m certainly the odd-man-out in the group. While I grew up on a farm and ranch in western Nebraska, I came to Wyoming for law school and to develop an agricultural law practice. Therefore, unlike most of the others in our group, that means I sit behind a desk most of the day, while they are out on the ranch. 

Each member of our class brings something a little different to the table. Getting to know each other has been fun, and it will help us in the future when we need to work together to solve an issue. There will be problems that none of us can solve individually. As a group, however, we can work together, and work with alumni of the program and others in the industry, to move forward and solve these challenges.

As I look back now, it’s surprising to think that we are half way through the program. I look forward to each of the upcoming seminars, and I know our group is excited to visit India in November to learn about agriculture in a different part of the world. We will graduate in January 2015 from the program, but I think that’s when our journey will truly begin. 

Justin Newell Hesser is a fellow in Wyoming L.E.A.D. Class 13. He is an associate at Dray, Dyekman, Reed and Healey, P.C. in Cheyenne focusing on agricultural law.

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