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Volunteering advice

Panelists provide helpful suggestions to students attending ag event at UT-Knoxville
Story and photos by: Chris Villines 3/22/2019


Capping off a busy afternoon of activities at Feb. 19’s Agriculture Day on the University of Tennessee-Knoxville campus was the men’s basketball game pitting the Vols against in-state rival Vanderbilt. Here, Vandy’s Aaron Nesmith looks for an open teammate as UT’s Jordan Bone applies defensive pressure. The Vols came out on top 58-46.
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Get out of middle or high school classes early. Check.

Travel to the University of Tennessee-Knoxville campus and tour Neyland Stadium. Check.

Hear timely advice from respected professionals in agriculture, academia, and media. Check.

Watch the nationally ranked UT men’s basketball team take on Vanderbilt at Thompson-Boling Arena. Check.

All the boxes were “checked” for a fun, educational afternoon and evening on Feb. 19 as Tennessee Farmers Cooperative, Farm Bureau Insurance of Tennessee, and the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation once again teamed up to sponsor UT Basketball Agriculture Day.

Nearly 500 students — more than double that of last year’s inaugural event — made the trek to Volunteer Country along with several teachers and FFA advisors. Dr. Tim Cross, chancellor of UT’s Institute of Agriculture, welcomed the large contingent as they gathered inside the university’s sparkling new Student Union building for a panel discussion moderated by Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation Associate Communications Director and Editor Melissa Bratton.

Panelists included Dr. Caula Beyl, dean of UT’s Herbert College of Agriculture; Glenn Thackston, executive director of the Vol Network; Lee Maddox, Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation director of communications; and TFC Chief Marketing Officer Phillip Farmer. These senior-level speakers shared recommendations for the skills needed to pursue agriculture as a career path.

“Be a lifelong learner,” said Dr. Beyl. “Once you get out of school, you’re not done learning. We have a saying in the college that only dead fish go with the flow. You always have to be swimming upstream; you always have to be learning. That is vital, whether you’re pursuing a career in agriculture or any other field.”

With the continued emergence of social media as a means of instantaneously delivering information, the panelists addressed how sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have impacted the way they do business on a daily basis.

“The revolution that has occurred in the last five years on social media in the agriculture sector now dominates our business,” Farmer said. “It’s a highly effective tool in our toolbox at a time where you have so many eyeballs looking at social media on a daily basis. That’s an opportunity to get in front of farmers and consumers. Utilizing technology and not being afraid to use it is going to be important because it’s going to be coming at us quicker and quicker every day.”

Maddox noted that Tennessee Farm Bureau hired a full-time position dedicated to increasing the organization’s social media presence.

“That’s how important social media is today,” he said. “We still have our newspaper, magazine, and radio program, but we want to do everything possible to keep our farmers and the general public up to date on the story of our state’s No. 1 industry, agriculture.”

Another question that elicited thoughtful responses from the panel was, “If you could give yourself one piece of advice when you were the students’ age, what would that be?”

“Don’t be in a hurry to grow up,” said Thackston, who was active in both 4-H and FFA during his youth in Cumberland County. “Enjoy this stage of life and try to experience as many opportunities as you can. Your dreams may change a little as you go, but eventually you’ll find out where you want to go in life.”

Dr. Beyl urged the students to “be brave” in their future career endeavors:

“If you’re interested in something, don’t wait around. Try it out, learn about it, experience it. Keep on trying things until you find what you really, really like because you’re going to spend one-third of your life working. If you have fun and enjoy what you do, it’s not really work.”

Before enjoying pizza and heading to the arena for the game, students were given the chance to ask questions of their own to the panel. One student inquired, “What will technology be like in 10 years?”

“As far as the ag sector,” replied Farmer, “I would expect there will be fewer and fewer farmers driving tractors in 10 years. With labor becoming a big issue, you’ll see more driverless tractors just like there will be driverless cars. Satellite imagery will continue to advance. And I’m sure there will be a new widget that will rival Facebook and other social media channels.”

It was Farmer’s first exposure to the event, and he came away “extremely impressed.”

“The sheer number of students who expressed an interest in looking at careers in agriculture was encouraging,” he said. “Ag Day was a tremendous opportunity to network with young people throughout the state, showcase agriculture, and help them connect the dots for their future beyond just high school or college.”

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