Agriculture faces numerous challenges; from production methods to prices, conservation practices and the science behind it all. These challenges require strong leaders from diverse backgrounds and create a need to cultivate and engage people with fresh perspectives to take on critical roles in the industry.
A few years ago, the Ohio Soybean Association (OSA) Board of Trustees noticed the need for increased diversity and additional highly qualified leaders in their organization. That discussion led to the formation of a unique leadership program; coined as “Soy Select.” With several successful agricultural leadership programs already in place, Soy Select strives to be unique with less scheduled group programming and more assistance or coaching for participants to map out their own leadership path.
“We engage each person and try to identify their goals and tailor the program to help them achieve success. It has been well-received; we’re still in our first year, but we have a good number of participants and are continuing to identify a few more,” said Todd Hesterman, OSA president and soybean farmer from Henry County.
Staff members will be working with participants over the course of a year or more to curate training and opportunities to advance current skill levels and help them thrive as industry leaders.
“There are already some great leadership programs out there, for example Ohio Farm Bureau’s AgriPOWER and DuPont Young Leaders, that have set curriculum and goals for participants,” said Melanie Wilt with Wilt PR in Springfield, Ohio. “What we want is to inventory the leadership experiences individuals have been part of and work up from there with a focus on the goals of each individual.”
Participant goals may include sitting on a state or national board, becoming a visible thought leader or spokesperson in the industry, attending an international trade tour or developing better relationships in the world of politics. To help participants focus their goals, the first group session centered on finding individual strengths and determining which areas they are already at a high level with and what areas need developed.
The second program was a “State House Experience” with a line-up of speakers that offered something for all participants. Those who have previously worked with their legislators were able to develop more meaningful connections, while those who may have been at the Capitol for the first time were able to learn more about how they can make an impact and be an effective influence while representing agriculture.
“The politically driven session had a great set of speakers, I learned quite a bit that day. If all our sessions are as good as that, it’s going to be a great program,” said Trish Levering, a Soy Select participant from Fredericktown, Ohio. “I chose to take advantage of the program because of how it is approached. I will be able to build on skills from leadership programs I’ve already been involved in and delve deeper into new opportunities as I move forward.”
Trish works as a Pioneer sales rep and licensed crop insurance agent in addition to working on the farm with her husband where they grow soybeans and corn and operate a cow calf operation. She is a long-time member of Farm Bureau, OSA, Ohio Corn & Wheat Growers and Ohio Cattleman’s. In Soy Select, she is a more advanced participant having completed the AgriPOWER program and serving in various roles with her county Farm Bureau – including four years as president – as well as serving as co-chair of the Ohio Beef Expo’s Junior Show Committee and participating in the DuPont Young Leaders program.
Crediting part of her commitment to involvement to her parents example, Trish says she was always told “If you’re not the one showing up and being involved in the organizations that impact your operation someone else is making those decisions.”
That sentiment is likely shared by all participants and is exactly why programs like Soy Select are critical to the future strength of the agriculture industry. With many of today’s leaders preparing for retirement or handing the reigns over to the next generation, it is important that the next generation finds their passion and realizes the importance of stepping into leadership roles in these organizations that work at the state and national level to promote the industry and protect the rights of farmers every day.