Sarah Rudolph of Wythe County took top honors Dec. 4 in Virginia Farm Bureau Federation’s annual Young Farmers Discussion Meet, held at the organization’s 2019 Annual Meeting in Norfolk.
First runner-up was Jonathan Grimes of Wythe County. Other finalists were Thomas French of Shenandoah County and Brandy Puckett of Carroll County.
The Discussion Meet competition is designed to simulate a committee meeting in which discussion and active participation is expected from each contestant. Competitors are judged on their discussion skills, understanding of important agricultural issues and ability to build consensus. This year’s topic was “How can Farm Bureau build upon collaborative relationships such as Farm Town Strong to combat nationwide crises such as opioid dependence and addiction and mental health issues?” It references a campaign by the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Farmers Union to address opioid concerns in rural America.
Rudolph said Virginia Farm Bureau should work to support expanded resources for those in rural communities struggling with opioid dependence and mental health issues.
One-third of participants in a Farm Town Strong survey said they couldn’t get help if they were addicted. “That’s a huge problem,” she said. “At the end of the day, we are a grassroots organization, and we need boots on the ground trying to make a difference.”
Rudolph also noted that, because of the risk for farming accidents, farmers need to be educated on the addictive nature of opioids if they have been prescribed after an injury. She also added that creating informal opportunities for farmers to talk about stress on the farm could foster further conversation down the road.
In her closing statement, Rudolph noted, “There is no doubt that this crisis affects every single one of us in the room in one way, shape or form.” She added that she would be raising three points from the Discussion Meet within her community: the need to train mental health professionals on points of stress for agriculture professionals; the need to seek funding for programs that address the opioid and mental health crises in rural areas; and the need for continuing education and awareness of those issues in farming communities.
Rudolph won a John Deere Gator utility vehicle, courtesy of Southern Farm Bureau Life Insurance Co. She will receive an upgraded model thanks to James River Equipment in Buchanan, as well as a $1,000 cash award from Virginia Farm Bureau Health Care Consultants. She will compete on the national level in January at the 2020 AFBF Annual Convention in Austin, Texas.
All four Discussion Meet finalists won $500 from VFBF. Rudolph and Grimes will receive travel packages to the AFBF convention.
Rudolph is a livestock representative for pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim and works with her husband, Charlie, on their family beef operation. She also serves on the Wythe County Farm Bureau Women’s Committee and was runner-up in last year’s VFBF Discussion Meet.