SHERIDAN — Sheridan College sophomore Madison Anderson only had about 48 hours to prepare, but the relatively short notice served her well.
Anderson’s agriculture instructor Charles Holloway had asked her to participate in the Wyoming Farm Bureau Young Farmer & Rancher Collegiate Discussion meet. She agreed and began researching Farm Bureau and the different questions that could be discussed.
Despite not much advance warning, Anderson performed well and took home first place Nov. 7. With the victory, Anderson won a $300 cash prize and a trip to Milwaukee next March to compete in the American Farm Bureau Federation Collegiate Discussion Meet.
“I tend to perform a lot better when it’s last-second,” Anderson said. “…I’m a big-time overthinker, so for this sort of stuff, if I can go in where I don’t have time to [think too much], I do a lot better.”
In addition to Anderson, Sheridan College had the top three finishers in the statewide competition that was held in the Mars Agriculture Center on the Sheridan campus. Students Galen Kretschman and Gillian Petsch took second and third, respectively, receiving awards of $150 and $25.
Holloway encouraged students to compete in the meet because of its real-world applicability.
“It is an opportunity for these young people to develop their public-speaking skills, their critical-thinking skills,” Holloway said. “It’s a time for us as ag faculty at Sheridan College to kind of showcase the type of students that are coming to our programs … Learning takes place in the classroom every day, and when you can expand that learning environment into a competitive realm and showcase your students, I think it just adds to our program.”
The competition entailed three rounds of discussion with about 15 minutes to prepare once the questions were given. Students were split into groups of four and gave brief opening statements on the topic, discussed it for 20 minutes and offered short closing statements.
Anderson said the format was unique because competitors were scored on how well they worked with, rather than against, one another.
“You genuinely are just sitting there and discussing,” Anderson said. “You lose points if you debate, so I’ve never really been in a competition like that.”
Holloway said he appreciated the collaborative nature of the contest.
“The concept is wonderful because instead of being adversarial, it is to try to come up with a group consensus,” Holloway said. “You’re not trying to dominate the conversation. On the other hand, you can’t be a wallflower and score points, so there are a lot of real-world applications.”
Petsch said she enjoyed the real-life simulation.
“The whole point of it is to replicate an actual business meeting,” Petsch said. “…You can get your points across but still be respectful to others.”
Beforehand, Petsch didn’t know how she would perform in the contest, but it went better than expected. Petsch is a freshman studying agriculture business and communications. She grew up on a cattle ranch near Meriden, a small town about 50 miles northeast of Cheyenne. Petsch plans to graduate from Sheridan College and then attend the University of Wyoming to study communications and likely work for an agriculture business.
The final round of the meet was a discussion between the top four competitors. The topic was: “In our modern world, the rapid dissemination of information and opinion about agriculture and food technologies can make it difficult to distinguish fact from fiction. Given these challenges, how can Farm Bureau best protect farmers’ and ranchers’ access to production technology options?”
The contestants responded to the final question by noting the need to make agriculture more open to the public so different people can understand its importance.
“It’s so easy for people to be falsely informed, and if Farm Bureau is willing to reach out and start posting more and making it more available to the public as a whole, rather than as just agriculturalists, it would help with that,” Anderson said. “…I think the agriculture industry gets pretty closed-off from the rest of the world in a lot of senses, just because it is such a tight-knit community. I don’t think we can expect people to understand what we do and why we do it, the practices that we implement, unless we’re willing to open up to them and pull them in and let them be a part of it.”
Anderson was excited but also surprised when she won. She grew up on a sheep and cattle ranch in Ten Sleep, participated in the National FFA Organization for many years and was a state officer from April 2017 to April 2018. Anderson plans to attend the University of Wyoming and study international agriculture business. After that, she will probably pursue something in ag policy law or sales.
Anderson said her agriculture background helped answer the questions.
“I didn’t honestly feel like I knew what I was doing,” Anderson said. “…I was able to pull things from my economics classes and my marketing classes, so that helped prepare me a lot.”
Holloway watched the meet and felt elated when his students took home the top three places.
“I’m not real expressive, but I told them I was super proud of all of them,” Holloway said.
Over the next few months, Holloway and others will work with Anderson on Farm Bureau legislation, policy, national and international ag trends to help her prepare for the national meet, which features representatives from every state.
“We’ll have her sharp as a tack when March comes around,” Holloway said.
Despite not having a ton of prep time, Anderson took home the title, giving her the opportunity to represent Wyoming in a national competition.