Oklahoma youth agriculture programs

Oklahoma Youth Expo; Photo courtesy of Legacy Livestock Imaging

Two prestigious leadership programs enhance the knowledge and skills of the state’s top agriculturalists for the betterment of themselves and Oklahoma agriculture.

The Oklahoma Agricultural Leadership Program (OALP) for agricultural professionals and the Oklahoma Agricultural Leadership Encounter (OALE) program for students at Oklahoma State University (OSU) collectively have provided more than 50 years of leadership training to college students and professionals alike.

“The goal is to have them receive exposure to all aspects of agriculture throughout the state. We also expand that experience nationally and internationally, so the participants are more well rounded,” says Edmond Bonjour, OALP director. “Ultimately, we hope they will go back to their communities, get more involved and give agriculture a better voice in the general population.”

Oklahoma youth agriculture programs

Oklahoma Youth Expo; Photo courtesy of Legacy Livestock Imaging

Successful alumni provide the proof: Blayne Arthur, Oklahoma’s Secretary and Commissioner of Agriculture, graduated from Class XV of the OALP. Several program alumni currently serve in the legislature, occupy positions on national boards and commissions, or they have earned promotions within their companies. Meanwhile, more than half of college-age participants in OALE secure jobs before graduation thanks to the connections they make during the program.

“Most of the students say it’s the best program they were ever involved in while at Oklahoma State,” says Kass Newell, OALE program leader and show manager of the Oklahoma Youth Expo. “They learn so much about the agricultural industry in the state, form strong friendships and gain leadership skills.”

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Oklahoma agriculture education

Members of OALP Class XIX touring the cotton gin in Altus with OALP alumnus Keeff Felty describing the process; Photo courtesy of Edmond Bonjour

Rigorous Program Deepens Knowledge And Skills

The demanding OALP requires 55 days of commitment to multiday seminars and study tours over a two-year period. Only farmers, ranchers and agribusiness professionals who are at least 25 years old may apply. The selection process begins with a written application and it ends with the enrollment of up to 30 qualified participants after two separate interviews on the OSU campus.

Upon selection, participants travel throughout Oklahoma for seminars to learn about communication, the political process, economics, energy, trade and more. They also visit Washington, D.C. before a final international tour. The program’s 19th class is set to travel to Chile in February 2020, adding this South American country to a list including China, Spain, Vietnam and Scotland, among other nations.

“We want them to see the similarities and differences that other countries have to the U.S., especially as they deal with marketing issues, government, trade, economy, workforce and labor issues,” Bonjour says.

Oklahoma agriculture education

Rita Wiedemann, owner of Growing Paynes in Mustang, describes how to grow strawberries in a hoop house; Photo courtesy of Edmond Bonjour

Collegiate Leadership Programs Bridge Gap

Modeled after the OALP, the high-demand OALE program accepts only a quarter of OSU juniors and seniors who apply for the 12-student class.

The one-year leadership training intends to build a professional network for upperclassmen and bridge the college gap between 4-H/FFA and the leadership training available to professionals through OALP, says Jerry Fitch, OALE program leader. The OALE program includes a monthly trip to visit leaders in every corner of Oklahoma, including the state capital and Washington, D.C. Over spring break, participants help run the world’s largest junior livestock show, the Oklahoma Youth Expo at the Oklahoma State Fairgrounds.

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The program ends with a 10-day, agriculturally focused international trip. Students traveled to Argentina in summer 2019 with industry sponsors, many of them potential employers.

“I think that this program allows these students to broaden their knowledge of agriculture in the state,” Newell says. “They learn about areas of agriculture they never thought about before and knowing those industries are in Oklahoma, they may stay here, create a career, raise a family and be successful at that.”

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