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Young Ag Couples Conference provides advice for success in agriculture

By Rebecca Colnar for Tri-State Livestock News

As more of the population becomes further removed from farm life, giving young people the tools they need to be leaders in the agriculture industry is essential. The Montana Department of Agriculture started the annual Young Ag Couples Conference in 1981 to provide an excellent opportunity for young farm and ranch couples to learn about leadership and network with their peers. The conference, sponsored by the Montana Department of Agriculture in cooperation with Montana agriculture organizations, focuses on leadership skills, estate planning, and successful ranch business strategies. Participants, who make their primary living from farming, ranching or agribusiness, are nominated by agricultural organizations based on their leadership qualities.

The 2022 Young Ag Couples Conference held January 19-22, at the Delta Colonial Inn in Helena, saw 26 young couples learning about everything from estate planning and water rights to the state’s agricultural organizations and developing leadership skills.

Brittani and Greg Brence, young ranchers from Ekalaka, attended the event in 2020 and were selected to serve on the steering committee for 2022. (The 2021 conference was canceled due to the pandemic.)



Brittani explained the steering committee examined participant evaluations from the 2020 event to see what interested the attendees.

“After reviewing those responses, we gave Walt Anseth and Dani Jones at the Department of Agriculture our recommendations,” explained Brittani. “The steering committee is also responsible for door prizes for everyone, usually donated by the local community. In addition, we make sure people network and ensure speakers are asked good questions.”



Brittani and Greg agreed that Montana State University’s Marsha Goetting did an excellent presentation regarding estate planning. “She’s passionate about estate planning and points out different scenarios we haven’t thought about and makes us aware how important it is to plan for our future,” said Brittani.

Greg and Brittani Brence. Montana Department of Agriculture
Courtesy photo

Another “estate planning speaker,” Dr. Ron Hanson from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, began his presentation talking about how his family lost their farm due to a lack of communication and planning.

“He urges everyone to have communications with their families now. Don’t wait until later, because there might not be a later. He’s seen families torn apart because they didn’t have those hard conversations and make decisions before someone died. He also stresses that family is the most important thing. Without family, you don’t have anything,” Brittani shared.

Although Brittani grew up in Billings, the couple lives on Greg’s fourth-generation family’s ranch. “I knew what horses and cows were, but the ins and outs of it weren’t part of my daily life. Now they are. We live on the ranch, run cows, and do a little farming.”

They strongly recommend the convention to other young couples. It provides an excellent opportunity to visit with bankers, industry leaders, and other experts who are pivotal in the agricultural community.

“In addition, you meet people in your age group who are in the same boat in different communities raising different commodities,” said Brittani. “You make great contacts and friends, and I can pick up the phone and ask the advice of anyone I’ve met here. Although this conference is invitation-only, I’m sure anyone interested can certainly call Walt, and he’ll make sure you get invited for next year’s event.”

Kallie Nerlin, who attended the conference with her husband, Tom, grew up in Dillon on a small farm. The couple currently resides in Three Forks, where they help Tom’s father on his farm in Logan, where they run their own cows and help with growing sweet corn, field corn, and pumpkin patch pumpkins. They found out about the conference from friends.

Tom and Kallie Nerlin. Courtesy photos

“I’m not sure who nominated us, but we heard about it for a couple of years, and everyone said it was a great experience,” Kallie said. “They told us they had learned a lot and said they’d recommend it to anybody in the young people’s agriculture community.”

They enjoyed hearing Aaron Oxarart with Montana Livestock Ag Credit, who covered what to expect when visiting a banker. “He discussed the importance of talking to the banker and what is needed to bring to your meeting. I thought that was very good for us because we haven’t had to take out a loan yet. He said that before you go to the bank, always have everything in order and approach the banker in a way that tells him you’re prepared. Have all your assets in line, have information about any other loans you may have, any deductions; really, all those things that are on a balance sheet.”

Although former Carrol College football coach Mike Van Diest’s, talk didn’t directly pertain to agriculture, he covered building relationships skills. “What we got from his presentation is that family needs to come first. My husband and I were talking after his presentation, and it hit home how we need to ensure our family comes first and always to make time for our family.”

The couple agreed with the Branches that Marsha Goetting provided excellent advice on making wills and contracts. “She was so interactive and fun and kept us connected. She explained how a will works, the different scenarios when family people pass away, and the problems if you don’t have a beneficiary. If you don’t have a will, the state decides who gets the inheritance. That opened our eyes, as did Dr. Hanson’s comment, ‘If you guys died on your way home, what would happen to your kids?’ We learned that we need to get something set up for our children.”

Kallie added that the panel from agricultural organizations proved interesting, as well. Jay Bodner, Montana Stockgrowers Association, along with Christy Clark, acting Montana Department of Ag Director, and John Youngberg, Montana Farm Bureau, talked about the importance of joining an agricultural organization, even when you’re young. The speakers made the young people realize that being with a group gives you a strong voice in the legislature.

“It’s important to become involved on the local level first,” said Kallie. “By belonging to an organization, even if you can’t make it to meetings, there are board members to help represent you. Start by going to the local meetings, and then it will just keep building up. We learned from the Department of Agriculture that there are people in Bozeman who can help us. We were just so happy to go to this and meet new people in the agricultural community.’

Montana Governor Greg Gianforte joined the attendees at lunch on Thursday. He spoke of the importance of agriculture in Montana’s economy. He touched on the mission of adding value to Montana’s raw commodities. Specifically the importance of keeping Montana’s ag dollar in our producer’s hands.

Couples interested in the 2023 conference, please reach out to the Montana Department of Ag at 406-444-2402 or agr@mt.gov.

The YACC included couples from all across the state. Courtesy photo

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