Pushing to help young farmers, business professionals, and civic leaders.

When anyone talks about Missouri and what we consider our homegrown industries, I immediately think of agriculture. Our state is home to more than 95,000 farms, making us the second largest farm state in the entire nation. More impressive is the amount of farms that are still family-owned. According to the USDA, more than 90% of the farms here in Missouri are owned by family farmers. People are still working the land, just as their parents and grandparents did before them. Agriculture is also the backbone of Missouri’s economy. It is the No. 1 industry in the state by economic impact, contributing around $88 billion to our economy each year.

As the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, a large number of the bills I file deal with farms and agriculture-related businesses. Over the past three years, I have sponsored legislation dealing with feeding operations, working animals, anhydrous ammonia, prescribed burns, pesticide certification, and family farm livestock loans. While it seems like a diverse set of subjects, the ultimate goal of these bills is the same — to keep agriculture the biggest industry in the state.

This is a goal that I take very seriously. It is very important not only to preserve the gains our farmers and ranchers have made, but to also help them grow. Growth in agriculture means more jobs and more state revenue, and it helps our country continue to feed not just our own people, but people around the world.

As important as the financial health and stability of our agriculture community is, I don’t think it’s the most important thing we do for our farmers. The most important part of our growth and planning for our future is developing the next generation of agricultural leaders.

Organizations like FFA and the 4-H club have been helping our youngsters prepare for careers in not just farming, but civic leadership, too. Every year, I try to encourage young people to come to the Missouri State Capitol, watch the proceedings, and learn how the lawmaking process works. All the activities of these clubs, from showing livestock at the fair to participating in a mock legislative session here in Jefferson City, prepare our kids for the challenges and responsibilities they will face in the future.

Although last year was quieter than usual, this year I got to participate in the annual FFA HYPE academy. HYPE (Helping Youth Prepare for Excellence) is designed to nurture kids as they learn to be agriculture advocates for the future. A group of 30 kids from all over the state come to the Capitol and learn about the legislative committee process through exercises that deal with issues such as water rights disputes. For this exercise, some of my fellow legislators join me in presiding over the mock hearing, helping to give these kids the foundation they need to become the future leaders of Missouri.

One of the most important resources that we have is our children, and the most important part of my job is helping our kids grow into the farmers, business professionals, and civic leaders that the state of Missouri needs. I am very proud to help make this a reality.