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Ferrum College competitors have solid showing at event

by | Nov 24, 2021

Virginia Farm Bureau Federation’s 14th Annual Collegiate Young Farmers Discussion Meet finalists gather together. From left, they are first runner-up Rachel Smith of Virginia Tech, first-place winner Madison Cogle of Ferrum College, and finalists Laurynn Hackett and Ryan Gobble of Ferrum College. (Photo courtesy Virginia Farm Bureau Federation)

LYNCHBURG, Va. — Madison Cogle, a third-year student at Ferrum College, earned first place in Virginia Farm Bureau Federation’s 14th Annual Collegiate Young Farmers Discussion Meet, held Nov. 5.
First runner-up was Rachel Smith, a senior at Virginia Tech. Other finalists were Ryan Gobble and Laurynn Hackett, both students at Ferrum.
The Collegiate Discussion Meet competition is designed to simulate a roundtable committee meeting in which discussion and active participation are expected from each contestant. Competitors are judged on their discussion skills, understanding of important agricultural issues and ability to build consensus. 
In this year’s competition, students discussed four pre-determined topics: COVID-19 challenges, preventive approaches to farm safety, renewable agricultural practices, and how to best enhance Farm Bureau Young Farmers Program participation.
Cogle, who competed in the 2020 collegiate competition, said she was thrilled that Ferrum College took three of the top four spots this year.
She lives on a farm in Lewis County, W.Va., where her family raises cow-calf pairs. In Virginia, Cogle is a member of Franklin County Farm Bureau.
While she has yet to determine a specific academic path, “the end goal is vet school,” Cogle said.
When asked about livestock processing disruptions related to the global pandemic, her discussion points were drawn from personal experience.
“When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and things shut down, there was a large push to localize products, because people could no longer rely on what was in their supermarket,” Cogle said. “While that benefitted us (beef producers), we were unable to get spots in the slaughterhouse because everyone else was doing the same things we were. So, putting into perspective the number of slaughterhouses, and streamlining the approval process while keeping the product safe, will really help producers in the future.”
Cogle predicted the current demand for local food is here to stay, and added that grants, good policies and mentorship opportunities can expand the availability of safe, regionally grown product that does not compromise worker health.
She was awarded a $500 scholarship from Southern Farm Life Insurance Co. and VFBF Young Farmers. Cogle and Smith will receive a travel package to the American Farm Bureau Federation Young Farmers & Ranchers Collegiate Discussion Meet, to be held in February in Louisville, Ky. Cogle also will receive a trip to view the AFBF YF&R Discussion Meet at that organization’s annual convention in Atlanta in January.
Runner-up Smith is studying human nutrition at Virginia Tech and working toward a career as a registered dietitian. She was awarded a $350 scholarship.
While her home county of Augusta is a major agricultural producer for the state, “it wasn’t until I took an interest in nutrition that I realized so much food is grown and produced all around me,” Smith said. “That was a motivating force to be here today.”
All other finalists won $150 from VFBF.
With 132,000 members in 88 county Farm Bureaus, VFBF is Virginia’s largest farmers’ advocacy group. Farm Bureau is a non-governmental, nonpartisan, voluntary organization committed to supporting Virginia’s agriculture industry.

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