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Luke and Erin Norman

Erin and Luke Norman, who ranch north or Crawford, competed in the Young Farmers and Ranchers Discussion Meet in Omaha in January. Sponsored by Farm Bureau, the contest asks contestants to come up with solutions to a chosen problem in the ag industry. Erin will compete in the state finals in December for a chance to go to the national competition. Luke was named as second alternate to the state competition.

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A Crawford woman and Chadron State College instructor has earned the right to compete in the final round of Nebraska Farm Bureau’s Young Farmers and Ranchers Discussion Meet at the organization’s annual convention in December.

Erin Norman, who ranches with her husband, Luke, north of Crawford and works as an instructor of applied sciences at CSC, finished in the top four at the Young Farmers and Ranchers Conference competition in January in Omaha. The Discussion Meet challenges competitors to work as a group to develop a solution to the problem being discussed, building on each other’s contributions.

Norman, Chris Niemann of Dwight, Jason Perdue of York and Brady Revels of Omaha secured the top four spots to advance to the finals round. The top competitor in December will advance to the national competition in New Orleans, La., in January 2019. Norman’s husband, Luke, was named second alternate for the state competition.

“It’s supposed to be a group meeting, not a debate,” Erin Norman said. Anyone under the age of 35 and associated with agriculture can take part in the contest, which is designed to encourage young farmers and ranchers to take a more active role in developing policy and as leaders in the industry.

Competitors must be prepared to speak on any number of agriculture-related topics; the selected question is announced a short time prior to the contest round.

“It is intense,” Norman said, adding that contestants cannot use notes on stage. “You walk up there with what’s in your mind. It’s really a great way to learn about agriculture.”

She and Luke have attended the Young Farmers and Ranchers Conference for about eight years, and after five conferences she decided to try her hand at the Discussion Meet. The contest is comprised of three rounds, with scores from the first two consolidated. The top six advance to the third round, and the top four clinch spots at the state convention, with two alternates.

Topics range from everything from genetically modified organisms to the Waters of the U.S. regulations or generational transfer of agricultural operations. At January’s competition, the group had to discuss public skepticism of foreign trade and trade agreements, ways farmers and ranchers can maintain buying power as suppliers and providers continue to consolidate and how Farm Bureau can assist members in navigating legal and regulatory obstacles.

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Everyone in the contest had varied agricultural backgrounds, Norman said, but they found common ground in education and determined that supporting educational opportunities for both producers and consumers of all ages should be a primary goal.

Personally, Norman, in her work as a dietician and classroom instructor, sees a lack of desire for education about where the nation’s food supply comes from. Farm Bureau has a foundation devoted to providing tools to classroom teachers, and support for that, as well as encouraging producers to volunteer as classroom speakers or to blog about their operations were all suggested as important activities to continue.

The competition is truly a discussion, Norman said, with contestants providing a brief individual introduction and conclusion, while the remainder focuses the group on brainstorming about the topic at hand. In addition to knowledge about agriculture, judges like to see the group encourage all contestants to speak and make suggestions on what Farm Bureau can do better.

The Normans are both members of the Dawes County Farm Bureau board and recently joined the Young Farmers and Ranchers Board and will help coordinate the next YFR conference. Their work with Farm Bureau is a great way to stay abreast of policy making and perhaps have some input, since so many of the decisions are made in Lincoln and Omaha, Norman said. The YFR convention is one more networking opportunity, with the added benefit of being able to talk to producers across the state “who are in the same boat as us,” she said.

“Farm Bureau is a lot more than insurance,” she continued, saying she would like to see more young couples in Dawes County get involved with the organization. Anyone interested in Farm Bureau membership can visit with Amy Halverson; purchasing insurance from the company is not a requirement for membership.

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