Tag Archives: importance of agriculture

American PALs Cultivate Brazilian Culture

By Brandon Whitt

An extremely early morning awaited the PAL class as we gathered in the hotel lobby to make the trek from São Paulo to the beautiful city of Rio de Janeiro, and the group was anxious to visit another part of the country and take in the rich and diverse culture that awaited us.

Travel always seems much easier to me when done with a group, and this proved true on our journey this particular morning, as we quickly learned our English-speaking skills would be of no help in navigating the completely Portuguese-speaking local airport. Relying heavily on our native Brazilian tour guide, Ray, we made it through check-in, security and of course airport breakfast in a timely manner to arrive at our gate. On the short flight to Rio, I could already see that this city was going to offer some amazing sights for our group.

The view of Rio de Janeiro from Sugar Loaf Mountain

The view of Rio de Janeiro from Sugar Loaf Mountain

Upon arriving in Rio, we loaded a bus to begin our sightseeing journey in and through the city. As was the case throughout most of Brazil, the class divide became very apparent very quickly. Brazil has a very small middle class compared to America; you are either rich or quite poor. In the inner city of Rio, we saw many neighborhoods full of block structures that were used as government housing. We also saw a good deal of construction of infrastructure to prepare for the World Cup later this year and the summer Olympics in 2016. Leaving the downtown area and making our way closer to the coast, we quickly saw the housing improve and businesses that catered to a higher-end lifestyle, as well as the stadium for Carnival. The stadium itself holds more than 70,000 people who have a bird’s-eye view of the dance and float competition that takes place over the four day weekend leading up to Ash Wednesday.

American PALs Cultivate Brazilian Culture - Local Cuisine

Sampling the local cuisine

During our bus journey, we took in the breathtaking view of the harbor and beach down the coast of Rio de Janeiro from the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain. Most likely, if you were to Google the city of Rio, this view is the first image you would see. Seeing this landscape view of the city with my own eyes was absolutely amazing. I have traveled to and seen many beautiful places in the world, but this had to be one of the very best! While indulging in the local cuisine for lunch, we learned about “rooftop roast,” which is a beef roast that has actually been sun-dried up on the rooftop. The outer edge had a crispiness to it like nothing I had ever tasted, only to find the center was as juicy and tender as if it had been slow cooked in a crock pot.

American PALs Cultivate Brazilian Culture - Cristo Redentor StatueAfter lunch we made our way to see the Cristo Redentor, also known as “the big Jesus statue on the hill.” We waited with hundreds of people to board the train that would take us to the top of the hill before climbing a long flight of steps to actually reach the top. Known for keeping watch over the city below, I couldn’t help but ponder just how valuable this monument was to the people who visited it, as hundreds of them posed to have their pictures taken with the statue in the background. I was quickly reminded of just how important Christ is in my own life. I enjoyed having the chance to visit the chapel inside the statue, pausing for a moment to praise God for all of the blessings in my own life and for the opportunity to see a broader vision of how important my job is to not only American families, but also to families all over the world.

The week was a great adventure, and we were constantly reminded of the struggles and turmoil we face within agriculture – how to dispel the doubts, fight the pests, raise the yields to meet an ever increasing demand – and, at the end of the day, how to balance it all and meet the needs of my own family.

Our week in Brazil as 10 PALs encouraged to build a better tomorrow through agriculture was certainly an eye opening experience. Each and every day was valuable in its own way, but having the opportunity to step away and see the rich diversity and culture that Brazil has to offer helped to personally bring the message home of why I choose to farm for a living. Although we live in a world where we seem to face undying scrutiny from activists, relentless weather from Mother Nature and an unsure economy at times, I was reminded that what I do matters, and I will never stop trying to make this world a better place to live.

I have to extend my deepest gratitude to each and every person who helped to make this trip possible. The fine folks of American Farm Bureau, Monsanto and Farm Credit, in my book, went all out to ensure that PAL Class 7 gained a valuable vision of global agriculture and the significant role that each participant plays.


Brandon Whitt is a member of PAL Class 7 blogging about his experiences in Brazil with the PAL class. Brandon is an eighth generation row crop, hay and hog farmer from Tennessee.

National FFA Convention: Igniting the Fire in Future Ag Leaders

For four days last week, Louisville, Kentucky was engulfed in a sea of blue and gold. At the Kentucky Exposition Center, more than 55,000 students converged for the National FFA Convention. Founded in 1928, the National FFA Organization (formerly Future Farmers of America), is committed to each individual student, providing a path to achievement in premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education.

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YF&R Committee member, Dancey Creel, posing with some FFA members.

Its largest annual event, the National FFA Convention, is an opportunity for high school students from across the country to come together to celebrate the organization they love, as well as the accomplishments of their fellow FFA members. The convention schedule is jam-packed with leadership and career development workshops and events, the best student agriscience fair projects in the country, an expo featuring hundreds of industry-leading exhibitors, concerts and other entertainment, and awards recognizing the top FFA members and chapters in the nation.

As a member of the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) Young Farmers and Ranchers (YF&R) Committee, I was fortunate enough to attend the convention last week with my fellow committee members and interact with these talented and enthusiastic young leaders. In fact, I learned that, like myself, many of our committee members started their own agricultural leadership experiences wearing the blue and gold jackets so many years ago.

The national competitions for the many FFA award programs are a major part of the National Convention schedule. One of these award programs is Career Development Events (CDEs), with contests ranging from public speaking and ag sales, to agricultural mechanics, to dairy and soil judging. The American Farm Bureau Federation sponsors one of these CDEs: the Extemporaneous Public Speaking event. Fifteen years ago, I stood in front of a panel of judges at the National FFA Convention giving my own extemporaneous speech at the national level. So, I was honored to have the incredible opportunity to be on the other side of the fence this year, serving as a judge for the finalists of the competition in which I had previously competed. I was blown away by their passion and ability.


The awards ceremony on stage for the Extemporaneous Public Speaking contest


Zach Hunnicutt, YF&R Chair, with the four National FFA Extemporaneous Public Speaking finalists

The Expo is where colleges, FFA sponsors, ag industry representatives and various businesses and organizations set up their booths to interact with the thousands of FFA members rolling through the aisles. Using a commodity that’s not often thought about but enjoyed by many – popcorn – we worked with the American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture and the AFBF Public Policy Department to create a whole Farm Bureau experience in our booth. The Foundation featured a My American Farm kiosk with educational games about corn, while the Public Policy folks highlighted the importance of advocating for policies like improved transportation infrastructure to make sure that popcorn (and other commodities) can get from the farmers’ fields to the consumers’ hands. The YF&R Committee tied it all together with an opportunity to win prizes by answering popcorn and agriculture trivia. As these FFA members showed off their hoops skills and enjoyed some fresh popcorn (donated by Preferred Popcorn and grown on the farm of our very own YF&R Chair, Zach Hunnicutt), YF&R Committee members encouraged FFA-ers to continue pursuing and advocating agriculture after their high school careers come to an end. We really had a great time interacting with these future ag leaders.

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FFA members line up at the Farm Bureau booth

It was an incredible few days. The FFA members I met last week are brightly shining lights for agriculture, and they give me no doubt that the future of agriculture will be in good hands!

Tradition…what does it mean?

This past weekend I was fortunate enough to travel to visit my grandparents to help them celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary. Sixty years of marriage is a huge monument for any couple! It touches a little closer to home when it is your own grandparents whom you have watched as their love grows, and hope that your marriage can match their happiness when you have been married 60 years.

My grandparents’ last 60 years have been based around their faith, family and the family farm. We come from a true farm family. We have spent countless hours milking cows, harvesting crops and picking rocks as a family. I never would have guessed that some of the best hours of my life growing up would have been spent in the dairy barn, followed closely by being on the hayrack and picking up rocks. It seemed fitting to have our family picture to celebrate my grandparents 60 years of marriage taken on the rock pile. This is one of the rock piles that was created by generations of a farm family working together.

Tradition...what does it mean - Photo

It is quite a phenomenon, really, that for some reason rocks in the fields seem to grow from year to year. These rocks need to be picked so they do not damage the equipment that is used to harvest the crops or hurt the farmer as he/she is out in the field walking. In the spring after the fields have been planted but when the crops are still small in nature, my brothers and I would spend countless hours picking rocks. Each spring we would cover every acre of the farm picking up rocks and putting them on a hayrack, which was then driven to a “rock pile” where we would unload them and start the process the over. This has been a process that has been passed down through the generations. Mom, alongside her brother and sisters, and years before them my grandfather alongside his father, also picked rocks on some of these same fields every spring. Even though each year rocks are picked on every acre, you can be assured that there will be more rocks to pick next year.

The tradition of agriculture is also something that has been passed down through generations from my grandparents and their grandparents. My grandparents were blessed with 5 children, 14 grandchildren and, so far, 7 great-grandchildren. You can see the pride in my grandparents’ eyes when they comment on how proud they are that 5 out of their 6 adult grandchildren have also chosen careers in agriculture just like them. I am extremely grateful to my grandparents for bestowing their work ethic, love of the land and the need to be thankful to the man above for all the blessings I have been given. I would not be the person I am today if I had not had the family time milking cows and picking rocks!