Jacob Gilley of Orange County took top honors Oct. 21 in Virginia Farm Bureau Federation’s Young Farmers Discussion Meet, a virtual event this year.
First runner-up was William “Bear” Lloyd of Washington County. Other finalists were Rachel Henley of Powhatan County and Brandy Puckett of Carroll County. First alternate was Mackenah Roberts of Louisa County.
The Discussion Meet competition is designed to simulate a committee meeting in which discussion and active participation are expected from each contestant. Competitors are judged on their discussion skills, understanding of important agricultural issues and ability to build consensus.
This year’s competition explored timely topics important to Virginia’s agricultural community. In one round of the contest, participants were asked what tools and production practices could be used by farmers to reduce climate and weather risks that cause detrimental natural disasters.
“With ever-increasing natural disasters and unpredictable climate, action must be taken now to preserve whatever optimism is left in our agricultural industry,” Gilley said in his opening statement. “Unfortunately, the whole conversation around climate has been heavily politicized.’”
Gilley said agriculturalists are not trying to determine whether climate change is real, or decide what causes it.
“But I think all farmers know that we’ve been seeing these unpredictable weather patterns. So, what we can do at a local level for our own operations is adopt more best management practices.”
Gilley said Chesapeake Bay Watershed protections and policy development through Farm Bureau has secured funding for farmers to implement those BMPs, like enhanced carbon sequestration and topsoil retention. He added there is financial risk associated with a changing climate, and suggested a tax policy that reserves funds for inevitable hard years to help farmers sustain themselves.
“As producers and Farm Bureau members, we have to put politics aside,” Gilley said in closing. “There is a social science when adopting any new practice, and when we tie economics back to these practices, that’s where producers accept change.”
Gilley won a John Deere Gator utility vehicle, courtesy of Southern Farm Bureau Life Insurance Co., and a $1,000 cash award from Virginia Farm Bureau Health Care Consultants. He will compete on the national level in January during the 2021 American Farm Bureau Federation Virtual Convention. Lloyd also won a $1,000 cash award from Virginia Farm Bureau Young Farmers. Other Discussion Meet finalists won $500 from VFBF.
Gilley, his wife, Jennifer, and their three children currently own and operate JG Livestock, which includes a commercial flock of hair sheep, feeder pigs, pastured broilers and brood cows, and they background cattle. In addition, they sell meat locally through the Heaven’s Hollow Farm brand. Gilley is vice president of the Orange County Farm Bureau, and he and his wife serve on the VFBF state Young Farmers Committee. He coordinates American Farmland Trust’s Sustainable Grazing Project, working with producers in central Virginia to increase awareness of responsible grazing and livestock production.
Gilley also serves on the Virginia Forage and Grassland Council Board, Virginia Cattlemen’s Association Policy and Industry Advocacy Board, the Virginia Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coalition, and the steering committee for the Mountains-to-Bay Grazing Alliance.