Olympic gold medalist Rulon Gardner, who did the seemingly impossible during the 2000 Olympics, was a keynote speaker during Idaho Farm Bureau Federation’s 84th annual meeting.
“There are no better people in this world than farmers,” Gardner said during the convention, which attracted 450 Farm Bureau members from around the state. “This is probably the best time I’ve ever had speaking at a convention.”
Gardner, who grew up on a Wyoming dairy farm, achieved instant fame when he defeated Greco-Roman wrestling legend Aleksandr Karelin in the gold medal match during the Sydney Olympics.
Karelin, known as the Russian Bear, was a living legend, having already won three Olympic and nine world championship gold medals.
Before the match, Karelin had not lost in 13 years and no one had even scored a point on him in the past seven years of international competition. He was considered a lock for the gold medal in 2000 and Gardner’s win is considered one of the greatest upsets in Olympic history.
During the Farm Bureau convention, Gardner gave a spellbinding and oftentimes humorous recount of his life and the events leading up to his match with Karelin.
Gardner credited his time spent on the family farm for his determination and work ethic – “I didn’t fear hard work. My life was spend working hard on the farm” – and he encouraged people to continue to persevere and never give up.
Following his Olympic victory, Gardner later survived two potentially fatal incidents, one involving a snowmobile and the other a plane crash.
“Never give up. Never stop pushing,” Gardner told Idaho Farm Bureau members. “Sometimes in life, things happen. You have to prepare for them and do your best.”
His advice fit well into the overall theme of the Farm Bureau convention, which was held Dec. 4-7 in Boise and focused a lot on encouraging people to keep pushing, even when times are tough and obstacles seem insurmountable.
Bingham County farmer Ray Searle, chairman of IFBF’s Young Farmers and Ranchers organization, recounted the time his vehicle was t-boned at an intersection by another vehicle and he was transported by helicopter to a hospital and then given no chance to live.
After 20 surgeries and a lot of rehab, he did recover and he credited his turnaround to the family and friends who stood by him and supported him.
“I had a lot of support. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been able to do it,” Searle said.
Fighting back emotions, IFBF President Bryan Searle, Ray’s father, said, “Moral of the story is, you can do hard things. I don’t care who you are. You can do hard things. It’s a story about a miracle.”
Bryan Searle also told convention participants that Farm Bureau is a strong organization with a lot of tools that can help agricultural producers prepare for tough times and succeed in their professional and personal lives.
Experienced farmers and ranchers are one of those tools and can act as mentors for younger agricultural producers, he said.
“Pick out mentors you can learn from, talk to them, ask them questions, learn from their experience,” Bryan Searle said.
For the first time, a Young Farmers and Ranchers convention was held in conjunction with the IFBF annual meeting.
That event included young producers from the ages of 18-35 and they were encouraged to take full advantage of the educational and networking opportunities offered by Idaho Farm Bureau Federation, the state’s largest general farm organization, which represents about 11,000 farmers and ranchers around Idaho.
“Take advantage of the opportunities YF&R provides you to be a leader because you can be a good leader,” Bryan Searle told YF&R conference participants.
Nathan Ogden, who was the keynote speaker during the YF&R part of the convention, told participants they can do the seemingly improbable if they dig in and commit to achieving it.
Ogden, a paraplegic who broke his neck during a skiing accident, said people need to first figure out what their purpose is and then surround themselves with a support system, quit making excuses and push themselves to achieve their goals.
Supporting others and in turn being supported by them is the key, he said.
“That’s what the whole point of this Farm Bureau community is, to help each other,” Ogden said. “I feel sorry for the ones that aren’t part of this Farm Bureau organization because they don’t have this kind of support.”
American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall visited Idaho to attend the IFBF conference and told members he is happiest when he’s out amongst the Farm Bureau family.
“The thing I enjoy the most is getting out to the states and meeting the grassroots,” he said. “It is humbling, it’s an honor and privilege to be with you.”
Duvall also said that while many challenges face the nation’s farmers and ranchers, “American agriculture is in a really good position … to move into the future and take on the new frontiers. The rest of the world is in a lot worse shape in agriculture.”
The main purpose of the annual IFBF meeting is to pass policy that supports the state’s agricultural industry. Voting delegates from all of Idaho’s county Farm Bureau organizations voted on proposed policies during the convention’s House of Delegates session.
Delegates, who are all farmers or ranchers, discussed, debated and voted on a wide array of proposed policies, everything from water to wolves to grizzly bears, dams, crop and livestock issues, education, the state’s open range law and taxes.
The policies are initiated at the county Farm Bureau level, discussed and vetted there, and then discussed, debated and voted on during the House of Delegates session.
Policies that pass muster are included in IFBF’s policy book, which contains the organization’s marching orders throughout the year.
“This is your harvest,” IFBF Chief Executive Officer Zak Miller said in reference to the policy portion of the conference.
He also reminded meeting participants that Idaho Farm Bureau exists to empower agriculture. “That is our mandate. That is our job.”
Several awards were presented during the annual convention:
Robert and Linda Rider of Coeur d’Alene were presented with the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation President’s Cup Award, the organization’s highest honor, which goes to a person or individuals who have committed themselves to promoting agriculture.
The Riders’ operation centers around agritourism and providing the public a little taste of the ranching lifestyle.
“It’s fun to be able to share that with them,” Linda Rider told fellow Farm Bureau members. “I have a passion that people should know where their food comes from and Farm Bureau has been a great avenue to do that.”
For the first time, IFBF presented Defender of Agriculture awards, to Sen. Jim Guthrie, R-McCammon, and Rep. Jason Monks, R-Meridian.
“We are so grateful to them,” said IFBF Vice President of Governmental Affairs Russ Hendricks. “When the chips were down, they did not shrink. They really stood up and defended agriculture.”
Braxton and Jamie Crapo, who farm in Parker, were presented with IFBF’s Achiever Award, which recognizes young farmers or ranchers who have excelled in their farming or ranching operation and honed their leadership abilities.
Achiever award contestants are evaluated on a combination of their farming operation’s grown and financial progress and their leadership both within Farm Bureau and outside of the organization.
Contestants give a presentation to a panel of judges, who ask them questions.
Kevin and Shelby Andrus, who ranch in Lava Hot Springs, received IFBF’s Excellence in Agriculture Award, which spotlights young Farm Bureau members who are agricultural enthusiasts but have not earned a majority of their income from an owned production agriculture enterprise in the past three years.
Competitors for the Excellence award are judged based on their understanding of ag issues as well as their leadership experiences and achievements.
The Achiever and Excellence awards are both part of IFBF’s Young Farmers and Ranchers program, which is open to Farm Bureau members between the ages of 18 and 35.
Cole Lickley, who ranches in Wapello, won IFBF’s annual Discussion Meet, which helps young producers hone their public speaking and problem-solving skills during a competition that is meant to simulate a committee meeting rather than a debate.
The winners of the Achiever and Excellence awards and the Discussion Meet will compete during the American Farm Bureau Federation annual conference in Salt Lake City in January.
A special Collegiate Discussion Meet, which featured students from University of Idaho, College of Southern Idaho and BYU-Idaho, was won by Rachel Wandell, a student at U of I.