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Young farmers urged to get involved

Simon Itle, 26, is a fourth-generation family member at Vale Wood Farms, Loretto, where he is the milk processing plant manager. He is also vice chairman of Pennsylvania Young Ag Professionals as well as a representative of District 12. / Mirror photo by Walt Frank

Pennsylvania Young Ag Professionals is working to get more people involved in agriculture.

YAP, part of Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, has regional chapters throughout the state and is open to Farm Bureau members ages 18-35. They’re involved in networking, getting younger farmers engaged in advocacy, hosting regional and statewide events and contests, said Liam Migdail, bureau spokesman.

“Just like we need to grow the next generation of farmers to ensure the continuation of our food supply, we need to train and develop the next generation of agriculture advocates,” Migdail said.

PFB President Rick Ebert said, “The program helped me to develop my leadership skills and instilled in me a passion for serving Pennsylvania’s agriculture community that inspired me to become a Farm Bureau leader, first at the county level and now at the state and national levels as Pennsylvania Farm Bureau president and a member of American Farm Bureau Federation’s Executive Committee. The future of Pennsylvania agriculture depends on the next generation stepping up to be advocacy leaders. It’s exciting to see the new ideas and enthusiasm that the young men and women in the Young Ag Professionals program are bringing to our organization and industry,” Ebert said.

Simon Itle, 26, a fourth-generation family member at Vale Wood Farms, Loretto, is vice chairman of the organization as well as representative of District 12, which includes Cambria, Clearfield and Indiana counties. There are 16 districts in the state.

Itle, plant manager at Vale Wood Farms, became involved with Farm Bureau while attending Penn State, where he graduated with a degree in food science in 2017.

“I’ve always had an interest in politics. I got involved with the Collegiate Farm Bureau, which is associated with PFB,” Itle said.

Itle said YAP helped him with networking and developing leadership skills.

“Sometimes I aspire to be a leader. I try to step up and provide leadership for more members coming into the committee, I try to stay humble,” Itle said.

The program, previously known as Young Farmers and Ranchers, was revamped in 2019 to include the broader range of young people (ages 18 to 35) involved in agriculture. In addition to farmers, the program also includes other professionals who work in agriculture such as agronomists, insurance agents, veterinarians, agriculture educators and more.

Today there are about 1,900 members in Pennsylvania.

Itle is involved in many local and state events. One was called Land As Your Legacy.

“It was geared toward young members on how to discuss things with older members of the family, one of the biggest challenges is the continuity of family operations,” Itle said.

Agriculture is so capital intensive. The cost of land and equipment is so expensive. It is hard to transition the farm. Medium-sized operators can’t transition. The older generation needs income and the younger generation can’t make it work, Itle said.

“Large operations keep consolidating; middle class farms are going out of business. They can’t transition. Equipment is like buying a car, it gets bigger and is not economical for medium operations. They are stuck in a hard place.”

Itle said smaller operations are becoming more diversified and are finding a niche.

“We will see this for the future. COVID was a turning point. There is more interest in where food is coming from. Interest in local food will continue, now there is more interest, it allows more operations to be competitive. It is the turning of the tide … there is room for more operations to start,” Itle said.

Itle said young people should become involved with Farm Bureau.

“It has a lot of opportunities to develop your operations and be a leader in agriculture. Now is the best time to get involved in agriculture. We will need so much more food within the next 20 to 30 years,” Itle said. “Less than 2 percent of people are involved in agriculture; we have to feed more people with less,” he added.

“Why don’t we take an optimistic approach and grow that number? People want to be outdoors. There are a lot of opportunities for young people to provide something people rely on for three meals a day,” Itle said.

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 814-946-7467.

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