Tomorrow’s Top Hands Summit helps youth make connections, identify beef industry opportunities
December 2, 2016
Twenty-eight students from across North Dakota gathered in Bismarck, N.D., Oct. 20-22 for a high-energy, beef-industry career exploration and leadership development conference hosted by the North Dakota Stockmen's Association (NDSA). The 14- to 20-year-olds comprised the 2016 Tomorrow's Top Hands Beef Leadership Summit Class and represent a bright future for the state's beef industry.
"The Tomorrow's Top Hands Summit once again attracted agriculture's cream of the crop," said NDSA Executive Vice President Julie Ellingson. "The beef industry faces incredible challenges and incredible opportunities, and it's encouraging to see all the bright, talented and motivated young people who are ready to take them on."
Ellingson kicked off the Tomorrow's Top Hands Summit with a welcome and a brief history of the 87-year-old NDSA on Thursday. That day, the group also heard from Dr. Gary Sides, a beef cattle nutritionist from Sterling, Colo., who presented students with facts and resources to help them debunk commonly held myths about beef and beef production, and South Dakota cattlewoman Holly Hoffman, the last remaining member of the Espada Tribe and the last woman standing on Season 21 of CBS' "Survivor Nicaragua," who detailed her journey competing on the hit reality show and equated her experience to survival in the real world.
Top Hands alum Caleb Mehlhoff of Wing, N.D., moderated a panel discussion of young beef industry career professionals Kaitlyn Kline of Minot, N.D., Matt Kline of Hurdsfield, N.D., and David Spickler of Bismarck, N.D. The trio shared stories of their respective journeys in the fields of ag policy, cow-calf and seedstock production and commodity brokerage and offered advice to the youth. Among the advice: become involved in many activities to expose yourself to a wide variety of people and opportunities, seize internships as ways to "try a job on for size" and don't be afraid to find mentors and ask them questions.
U.S. Army Sergeant First Class Jonathan Hoefer concluded the day, reinforcing the value of communication and teamwork in achieving goals through interactive team-building games.
On Friday, Carmel Miller, Bismarck State College's Department of Agriculture, Technology and Natural Resources chairman, highlighted the array of jobs available for those interested in agriculture and industry entrepreneur Bill Price of Price, N.D., told students about his family's global beef initiatives and encouraged them to not be afraid to think creatively and shatter paradigms. "Just because it hasn't been done before, doesn't mean it cannot be done," Price said.
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Top Hands spent the rest of the day getting an inside look at various beef industry segments and government affairs activities through a series of tours, including 40 Steak and Seafood restaurant, Dan's Supermarket, Heim Cattle Company feedlot and the North Dakota Department of Agriculture and Governor's Office.
Governor Jack Dalrymple spent time with the students and shared how his experiences on his family's Casselton, N.D., farm prepared him for his job as governor. Dalrymple encouraged the youth to consider some type of public service in their life – whether it is serving on a church council or in the legislature.
North Dakota Beef Commission Executive Director Nancy Jo Bateman was the final informational host of the day. She described how the beef checkoff works and showcased some of the program's work through a cooking demonstration and hands-on activities.
That evening, Top Hands put their teamwork and problem-solving skills to the test in a part-scavenger-hunt, part-puzzle game at Trapped in Bismarck. Both teams proved successful in outwitting the puzzles and breaking out of their escape rooms before time had expired. An ice cream social at the NDSA headquarters closed out the evening.
Saturday brought more education and inspiration. Val Wagner, Monango, N.D., cattle rancher and "Wag'n Tales" industry blogger, offered advice about advocating for agriculture, encouraging the youth to do more than "tell their story" – but to listen to what others outside the industry are saying first to gain understanding and better connect with them on a personal level.
Newly elected NDSA President Warren Zenker, a cow-calf producer and feeder from Gackle, N.D., continued that message in his address, urging the Top Hands to get involved in community and industry organizations.
Speaker, author and trainer Bob Upgren concluded the Top Hands event, explaining seven habits of highly successful youth leaders. Upgren reminded the Top Hands to "choose discipline over regret" by "deciding between what you want now and what you want most" and artistically underscored his message by creating an on-site chalk masterpiece.
The 2016 event was the NDSA's second-ever Tomorrow's Top Hands Beef Leadership Summit. The organization is planning its next Top Hands Summit for October 2018. For more information about it or NDSA student membership, call (701) 223-2522.
–North Dakota Stockmen's Association