2023 Special 10 attendees

Ohio Farm Bureau annually selects 10 Young Ag Professionals to attend American Farm Bureau’s FUSION Conference, all expenses paid. The FUSION Conference is a national leadership conference that brings together volunteers in three program areas: Promotion & Education, Women’s Leadership and Young Farmers & Ranchers.

This year’s event was held in Jacksonville, Florida March 3-6 and included speakers, breakout sessions, fellowship, tours and the Collegiate Discussion Meet.

Holly Reitano from Athens County reflects on her conference experience.

Holly ReitanoQ. What did you hope to get out of the FUSION Conference and was that accomplished?

A. Before attending the FUSION Conference, I had the goals in mind of increasing my Farm Bureau involvement, traveling away from Ohio for a bit and utilizing the planned sessions to develop myself personally and professionally. My goals were absolutely accomplished, and I came back with a renewed sense of energy for my work, advocation for Ohio Farm Bureau and an appreciation of what Farm Bureau does for its members. It was the perfect opportunity to mix business with some leisure time as our group dinners and tour events allowed us to explore the city, beaches and other parts of beautiful state of Florida. 

Q. What did you know about Ohio and American Farm Bureau before the conference and has anything changed since attending?

A. I knew Ohio had the Young Ag Professionals (YAP) group, but I didn’t fully understand that YAP is Ohio’s version of the Young Farmers & Ranchers program in other states. Attending the American Farm Bureau FUSION Conference gave me the understanding this conference is a “fusion” of the three program areas: Promotion & Education, Women’s Leadership and Young Farmers & Ranchers. When American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall spoke, he said the “definition of fusion is the process or result of joining two or more things together to form a single entity,” which is exactly what this conference did. It brought all of our leaders from these groups together as wells as others such as MANRRS (Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences) and while I have always felt this way, attending this conference solidified to me, no matter who you are or what you do daily, there is a place for you in American agriculture, and your state Farm Bureau and American Farm Bureau will welcome you with open arms! 

Q. What was your favorite part of the conference?

Jacksonville, Florida









A. It is difficult to narrow down a favorite part. The first evening having ice-breaker time with the Ohio folks was a blast, the motivational speakers always inspire, and my tour trip to the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park was certainly educational. But my favorite part of the conference was the workshop session I attended “Not Your Momma’s Mental Health” by Adrienne DeSutter, Illinois Farm Bureau member and ag mental health specialist. Her session about coping with chaos and managing stress really spoke to me. As a wife, mom, full-time employee with AEP Ohio, juggling decisions for our farm and two businesses with my husband, our stress is real and it can be daunting because we have a lot to manage. I know our busy schedule and days are very similar to a lot of other Farm Bureau members. Adrienne’s session gave great tips and resources to help change the way you view and process stress. Mental health is for everyone, and taking care of your mental heath means you can continue to show up, be present and be your best self for the people and animals who depend on you. 

Q. What is someone missing who is not a Farm Bureau member or taking advantage of YAP programs?

A. Someone who is not a Farm Bureau member or taking advantage of the YAP programs is missing out on the personal and professional development as well as the benefits of connection. One of my favorite parts of participating in Ohio Farm Bureau and YAP is the networking and meeting folks that come from all different walks of life, but are very much the same as myself. We all have a have a common goal in mind: to advocate for the future of agriculture. Farm Bureau and YAP programming can equip you with the skill set you need to develop personally and professional and be an “agvocate” in your community. 

Q. Do you plan to take anything you learned at the conference to implement personally or professionally?

A. Yes, absolutely! I work as an energy advisor for AEP Ohio in the Energy Efficiency Program department and serve as the main point of contact for our agricultural customers. I work to promote beneficial electrification technologies to our customers such as Controlled Environment Agriculture, Electric Ag Irrigation Pumps, Heat Pumps, Heat Pump Water Heaters and many others. I strive to find funding to help offset the cost of projects and meet sustainability goals within their operation. Having great relationships with our partners, stakeholders and customers are one of the key aspects of my job as well as promoting alternative funding opportunities to help customer projects come to fruition.

One of the break-out sessions I attended on the farm bill was especially helpful because it provided a legislative update and a current/future economic outlook. It touched on the Inflation Reduction Act and how Congress put non-farm bill money into the farm bill this time, to help mitigate climate change. While some may see this as a negative, I view this as a positive. Agriculture is now being looked at as a solution to climate change, not part of the problem. Throughout the conference I was able grow my professional network and learn about the biggest policy issues impacting agriculture today and acquire more information on grants and tax credits that could benefit our customers and other Ohio farmers.

As a side note, I learned the farm bill is one of the “Must Pass” bills for 2023. This year 260 out of the 535 elected officials have never before seen a farm bill. It that’s not motivation to reach out to your congressmen/congresswoman and start building relationships and advocating for American agriculture I don’t know what is! 

Labor has always been an issue, mainly because we are a seasonal operation. So that's a challenge finding somebody who only wants to work three months out of a year, sometimes up to six months.
Mandy Way's avatar
Mandy Way

Way Farms

Farm Labor Resources
I appreciate the benefit of having a strong voice in my corner. The extras that are included in membership are wonderful, but I'm a member because of the positive impact to my local and state agricultural communities.
Ernie Welch's avatar
Ernie Welch

Van Wert County Farm Bureau

Strong communities
I see the value and need to be engaged in the community I live in, to be a part of the decision-making process and to volunteer with organizations that help make our community better.
Matt Aultman's avatar
Matt Aultman

Darke County Farm Bureau

Leadership development
Farm Bureau involvement has taught me how to grow my professional and leadership experience outside of the workforce and how to do that in a community-centric way.
Jaclyn De Candio's avatar
Jaclyn De Candio

Clark County Farm Bureau

Young Ag Professionals program
With not growing up on a farm, I’d say I was a late bloomer to agriculture. I feel so fortunate that I found the agriculture industry. There are so many opportunities for growth.
Jenna Gregorich's avatar
Jenna Gregorich

Coshocton County Farm Bureau

Growing our Generation
Knowing that horticulture is under the agriculture umbrella and having Farm Bureau supporting horticulture like it does the rest of ag is very important.
Jared Hughes's avatar
Jared Hughes

Groovy Plants Ranch

Groovy Plants Ranch
If it wasn't for Farm Bureau, I personally, along with many others, would not have had the opportunity to meet with our representatives face to face in Washington.
Austin Heil's avatar
Austin Heil

Hardin County Farm Bureau

Washington, D.C. Leadership Experience
So many of the issues that OFBF and its members are advocating for are important to all Ohioans. I look at OFBF as an agricultural watchdog advocating for farmers and rural communities across Ohio.
Mary Smallsreed's avatar
Mary Smallsreed

Trumbull County Farm Bureau

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