Conference preps young farmers for challenges

By Corene Brisendine

Amy Nickelson is a self-described “adrenaline junkie.” She said she loves to travel and explore new places. Basically, she’s a thrill seeker.

But the 24-year-old from Hill City, a fourth-generation farmer and rancher, hopes someday get a job, buy some cattle and land and start her own operation.

Though it sounds pretty tame for someone who craves excitement, she said farming and ranching appeal to her because of the prospect of reaping big rewards.

“High risk, high reward,” she said. “I like the aspect of giving it all you’ve got and getting back more than what you put back into it.”

However, she said that path is not set in stone.

“I’m young,” Nickelson said. “So, I kind of want to explore and travel a little bit before settling down.”

Nickelson was one of more than 500 young adults who attended the Kansas Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers Leaders Conference this weekend in Manhattan.

The event is intended to educate and support people 18-35 who are looking to go into those industries. Though many were born into farming and ranching, they face different problems than their parents and grandparents. They must deal with new technology and different environmental concerns. And farm families today are more likely than previous generations to have at least one spouse working outside the home.

Session topics included unmanned aircraft in agriculture, farm safety, and planning for current and future water needs.

In a profession that is often inherently isolated and on the decline, such gatherings are especially important.

Nickelson, who grew up on a 2,000 acre farm and ranch in northwestern Kansas, said she has found that the more people you know, the more likely it is that you will be able to find help when you need it most.

She said that last fall she got a flat tire on her car, but all of her friends were in class. So she searched through her list of phone numbers and found a contact who worked at a local equipment rental store.

“I called him, and he was not only able to come help me, but he also took my tire to get it fixed,” she said. “If it wasn’t for networking with him, I don’t know what I would have done.”

Nickelson said she was also looking forward to a session on balancing the responsibilities of being a wife and mother with those of work and the farm.

“One of the sessions is how to be a farmer’s wife, and I know that’s really hard,” she said.

Though she’s not married, Nickelson said all the women in her family are farmers’ wives work in town as well as help their husbands.

As she looks to the future, Nickelson said she knows the challenges facing people in rural professions. She has seen her own family struggle at times.

“It’s really hard because of the drought,” Nickelson said. “We can’t find any water to water our crops, and we can’t find any water to grow the grass for our cattle.”

A senior in agricultural business at Fort Hays State University, Nickelson said she hopes to find a job in banking, insurance, or managing a farm or ranch.

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