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Lucas Sjostrom wins Farm Bureau Discussion Meet

By Janet Kubat Willette

Date Modified: 12/12/2013 12:55 PM

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BROOTEN, Minn. — A Stearns County dairy farmer talked his way to a trip to San Antonio.

Lucas Sjostrom, who farms with his wife, Alise, and her parents, Jerry and Linda Jennissen, on Jer-Lindy Farm near Brooten, won the Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation Young Farmers and Ranchers Discussion Meet on Nov. 23.

He next will compete at the American Farm Bureau Federation's annual meeting in San Antonio from Jan. 11-15.

Sjostrom first competed in the Discussion Meet in January 2013 at a Young Farmers and Ranchers Leadership Conference in Bloomington. There, the contestants competed in two rounds, and the number of competitors was whittled down to the final eight, who competed Nov. 23.

The eight competed in two 25-minute round robin Discussion Meets and the top four were picked as finalists to compete in another 25-minute Discussion Meet before the members gathered for the annual meeting luncheon. The Discussion Meet finalists were Sjostrom; Maria McGinnis, of Washington-Ramsey County; Jake Hein, of Becker County; and Joel Mathiowetz, of Redwood County.

The same subjects and issues keep coming up no matter what the question is because everything is intertwined, Sjostrom said.

In January, before the first two rounds of competition, contestants received the five possible topics they would discuss. At the Nov. 23 luncheon, the question centered around what farmers can do to stimulate economic growth. Other topics included how to work together with people involved in different types of agriculture and how to influence policy makers in the rule-making process.

Those same topics will be discussed further when Sjostrom competes in San Antonio. Minnesota Farm Bureau president Kevin Paap and Katie Brenny, associate director of consumer outreach and leadership development, will tutor him before he leaves.

Sjostrom is guaranteed two preliminary rounds of discussion at the national meeting. To win, he would have two addition Discussion Meets -- a sweet 16 round and the final round. For those trying to keep count, that's nine rounds to win the national Discussion Meet competition.

While contestants know what the topics are, they don't find out what topic they will be discussing until 15 minutes before they start talking.

Discussion Meets contestants are judged on their basic knowledge of farm issues and their ability to exchange ideas and information in a setting aimed at cooperative problem solving.

They aren't allowed to take any notes with them onstage, but are given two sheets of blank paper at their seat, Sjostrom said.

Contestants must give an opening and closing statement in addition to the open discussion. Sjostrom said he doesn't memorize an opening statement, preferring to have talking points. He fears if he memorized a statement, the person before him would say the same thing.

Sjostrom participates in the Young Farmers and Ranchers competitions because they are enjoyable. With working on the farm in addition to his studies as a research graduate student at the University of Minnesota, the Young Farmers and Ranchers program forces him to get off the farm and do something fun. It is eye-opening for him to talk with dairy farmers from other parts of the state where the landscape is much different. He looks forward to learning about farms from all over the country when he goes to the American Farm Bureau Federation annual meeting.

Sjostrom grew up in a Farm Bureau family. His father was a state Young Farmers and Ranchers chairman in the early 1990s. A 4-wheeler that his father won in a Farm Bureau contest still is used on his parents' Nicollet County farm.

He has fond memories of going to Farm Bureau child care when his parents, Steve and Deb, were busy at state Young Farmers and Ranchers meetings. He and Alise now bring their daughter along to the YF&R meetings and put her in child care while they are busy with the meeting.