Sandy Ludeman has witnessed the consolidation of farms and rural business, seen bankruptcies, declining school populations and the closing of rural churches. To him, the Minnesota Agriculture and Rural Leadership program spells hope.
Ludeman, chairman of the leadership’s board of directors, delivered that message to the House Agriculture Policy Committee Thursday during a presentation by several of the organization’s leaders and participants. They explained that MARL is a program nearing its 14th year of existence, run in conjunction with Southwest Minnesota State University and the University of Minnesota, which selects a group of about 30 participants every two years and helps them develop as agricultural and rural leaders.
Two-thirds of each class are agriculture producers, while the remainder are business, civic or government leaders in agriculture or rural Minnesota. During the two-year program, they participate in a series of nine, three-day seminars around the state and also travel on national and international study tours.
Sarah Betzold, a member of the current MARL class, who was elected president of the Future Farmers of America in 2000, and is just beginning her career as a farmer, told the committee she likes to think of MARL as “an adult version of the FFA leadership program, on steroids.”
Michelle Rossman, who owns a farm in Olmstead County, and whose husband was a member of MARL Class IV, said that while still only in their third session, her class has already engaged in skill and leadership development activities that members will be able to draw upon for the rest of their lives
“I’m making a lifelong group of friends that I will utilize and be in touch with the rest of my life,” Rossman said. “Truly, people who are as passionate about agriculture as I am, and want to ensure there is a very bright future for our young people in Minnesota.”
Although MARL participants pay $5,000 to take part in the program, that money covers only about 30 percent of the program’s budget, with the rest coming from other public and private sources. Rep. Rod Hamilton (R-Mountain Lake) asked Ludeman what the program’s monetary needs might be going forward.
Ludeman said that would be a conversation his board would like to have and stressed the need to continue the work MARL does.
“While costly, without this investment in training and enabling leaders,” Ludeman asked, “what would be the cost to our rural communities and agriculture-related industries if we didn’t do it?”
- Jonathan Mohr
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