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2012 Beginning Farmer and Rancher Conference

Saturday, February 18, 2012 at 8:00 AM - Monday, February 20, 2012 at 11:00 PM (EST)

2012 Beginning Farmer and Rancher Conference

Ticket Information

Ticket Type Sales End Price Fee Quantity
2012 Beginning Farmer and Rancher Registration- TOUR 1   more info Ended $250.00 $14.74
2012 Beginning Farmer and Rancher Registration- TOUR 2   more info Ended $250.00 $14.74
2012 Beginning Farmer and Rancher Registration- TOUR 3   more info Ended $250.00 $14.74
2012 Beginning Farmer and Rancher Registration- TOUR 4   more info Ended $250.00 $14.74
2012 Beginning Farmer and Rancher Registration- No Tour   more info Ended $250.00 $14.74

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Event Details

2012 Beginning Farmer and Rancher Conference

Grand Rapids, Michigan

February 18-20, 2012


Location:         Amway Grand Plaza Hotel & DeVos Place Convention Center

187 Monroe Avenue NW
Grand Rapids, MI 49503


Registration:   Select your registration based on the tour you would like to go on. 

You can pay via credit card or select the “other payment options” and send your money by January 24, 2011 to

American Farm Bureau Federation

Attn: Julie Roop

600 Maryland Ave SW Suite 1000W

Washington, DC 20024


Early Bird fee - $200 – August 15- December 15, 2011

Regular - $250 – December 16, 2011-January 17, 2012

Cancellation - There is a $50 cancellation fee if cancelled prior to January 17. No refund will be made if registration is cancelled after January 17.


Registration fee includes conference materials and fees and meals for Saturday Lunch, Sunday Lunch and Dinner and Monday Lunch and Dinner. 


Hotel Reservation:

  • Reservations must be made by: January 17, 2012
  • The rate is $109/per night (Single/Double occupancy) plus tax
  • To make reservations: Call (800) 253-3590 or reserve rooms online . Access code: AFBF YF&R Leadership Conference.


Tours:              Choose your ticket based on the tour that you would like to go on. 


Dress code:     Business Casual for the entire conference is acceptable

                        Casual Dress (respectable) for the tours is acceptable – no open-toed shoes


Hotel Parking Discounted rate of $8/night in hotel parking garage.


*This meeting is held in conjunction with the annual American Farm Bureau Young Farmers & Ranchers (YF&R) Conference.  Attendees at both conferences will have the opportunity to attend the sessions at each other’s conferences.  This will provide great networking opportunities and more variety in the sessions you are able to attend!


For questions, contact Julie Roop at 202-406-3682 or  

Tentative Schedule of Events

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Cyber Café                                                                                         All Day


Registration                                                                                         7:00am – 3:00pm


Beginning Farmer and Rancher Session                                               8:00am

  • You Can Farm, You Can Ranch


Silent Auction                                                                                       9:00am – 6:00pm


Beginning Farmer and Rancher Session                                               9:30am

  • : Online Resources for Beginning Farmers and Ranchers


Break                                                                                                   10:30am


Opening General Session                                                                    11:00am

  • Keynote Speaker- Jane Eckert

·         “If You’re So Doggone Smart, Why Are You a Farmer?”


Luncheon                                                                                              12:15pm – 2:15pm

  • Sponsored by Monsanto
  • Welcome from Michigan Farm Bureau President Wayne Wood
  • Monsanto Address
  • American Farm Bureau President Stallman Address


 Breakout Sessions                                                                                 2:30pm – 3:45pm

  • BFR Session: Legal and Tax Issues for Beginning Farmers                    USDA Staff
  • Internet Marketing: Just About as Important as a Tractor                     Jane Eckert
  • Annie’s Project Overview                                                                     Ruth Hambleton
  • State YF&R Chair Session                                                                                AFBF Trainers
  • Can One Voice Truly Make a Difference?                                           Linda Johnson
  • Effective Risk Management Strategies- Crops                                     John Anderson and Todd Davis


Break                                                                                                   3:45pm – 4:00pm


Beginning Farmer and Rancher Session                                               4:15pm – 5:30pm

  • Marketing Goals and Development as Part of a Whole Farm Plan    Donna Westfall-Rudd


BFR Networking                                                                                   5:30pm – 6:30pm

  • Networking for Beginning Farmer and Rancher attendees to meet and greet and get in groups for the networking dinner


Entertainment                                                                                       8:30 – Midnight

·         Scott Thompson Band- A Michigan Country Band

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Cyber Café                                                                                           All-day


Registration                                                                                           7:00am – Noon


Silent Auction                                                                                       9:00am – 3:45pm


Beginning Farmer and Rancher Session                                                 9:00am

·         Being a Successful Beginning Farmer: Panel of Beginning Farmers from Across the Country


Morning Devotions                                                                                10:00am


General Session                                                                                    10:45am

·         Speaker: Matt Lohr

·         “The Strongest Link”


Luncheon                                                                                                12:00 – 1:45pm

  • Sponsored by Case IH
  • CASE IH Address
  • United Soybean Board Address
  • Beginning Farmer and Rancher Project Director Introductions


Breakout Sessions                                                                                  2:15 pm – 3:30 pm

  • BFR Session: Knowing Your Farm Insurance                                          Nationwide Insurance
  • Making an Impact                                                                               Matt Lohr
  • Accurate Ag Books                                                                               Curtis Miller
  • Leadership Development: Switch                                                         AFBF Trainers
  • Social Media: Blogging Basics                                                                        Josh Lysne
  • Effective Management Strategies- Livestock                                        John Anderson and Todd Davis


Break                                                                                                    3:30pm


Silent Auction Ends                                                                                3:45pm


Breakout Sessions                                                                                  4:00 – 5:15pm

  • BFR Session:                                                                                         Marie Barni

Getting the Lay of the Land: Accessing and Assessing Land for Agriculture

  • Accurate Ag Books                                                                               Curtis Miller
  • Leadership Development: Switch                                                         AFBF Trainers
  • Social Media: Blogging Basics                                                                        Josh Lysne
  • Collegiate Farm Bureau Break Out                                                     AFBF Trainers
  • Farmer and Rancher- Message Training Program                               USFRA


Beginning Farmer and Rancher Poster Discussion                                  5:30pm


Dinner Banquet                                                                                     7:00pm         

  • Sponsored by General Motors
  • General Motors Address


Monday, February 20, 2012


Cyber Café                                                                                           All Day


Closing Session                                                                                      8:30 am        

  • Speaker: Bryan Townsend
  • Stand On It! Succeeding in Challenging Times

*Tours will be dismissed directly after this session


Tours                                                                                                      10:00am – 6:00pm


Tour #1

 Fenn Valley Vineyards & Wine Cellar * Tiara Yachts & Energetx * Zeeland Farm Services


Tour #2

General Motors * Carbon Green Bioenergy Ethanol Plant * Heffron Farms Market


Tour #3

 den Dulk Dairy Farm * Countryside Greenhouse * RiverRidge Packing


Tour #4

Victory Farms * Robinette’s Apple Haus & Winery * Gordon Food Service


Grand Finale Event                                                                              6:00pm – 9:00 pm

Grand Rapids Public Museum


*Tours will drop off at the Grand Rapids Public Museum. There will be transportation from the finale event to the hotel for the entire length of the event. The museum is located a few blocks from the hotel.

Tour Descriptions

Tour #1

Fenn Valley Vineyards & Wine Cellar - Fenn Valley Vineyards is a family-owned and operated vineyard and winery complex established in 1973. The vineyard site, located near the shores of Lake Michigan, has the great lakes climate ideal for growing grapes. Fenn Valley combines a unique climate, age-old winemaking techniques and the best of modern technology to create award-winning wines of distinction.

Tiara Yachts & Energetx – Tiara Yachts, focused on the design and manufacture of pleasure boats, has a rich boat-building heritage that extends over four decades. Energetx, housed in the same building, is an innovative provider of manufacturing solutions for composite fabrication and recently began building wind turbine components including 150-foot wind blades. *No children under 5 permitted on this tour stop*

Zeeland Farm Services - Zeeland Farm Services, Inc. located in Holland, Michigan, is a family-owned and operated business with 60 years of service to the agricultural and transportation industries. Zeeland Farm Services consists of several agricultural product divisions including a soybean processing plant, a soy biodiesel plant and a soybean oil refinery plant. *No children permitted on this tour stop*


Tour #2

General Motors- General Motors Lansing Delta Township Assembly is GM’s newest plant in North America, blending the best practices and newest technology into one facility. LDT is proud to be the first and only manufacturing facility to be a Gold Certified Leader in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).Tour attendees will see how LDT harvests the rainwater from the roof, based on a cutting-edge roof drain system. It is then stored in cisterns above rest rooms and is used to flush toilets. Tour attendees will also see a modern day assembly line, which will encompass various aspects to assembling the Chevrolet Traverse, GMC Acadia, and Buick Enclave. *No children under 12 permitted on this tour stop*

Carbon Green Bioenergy Ethanol Plant - Carbon Green BioEnergy, LLC, is dedicated to optimizing biofuel production through management, energy efficiency and operational improvements. The plant buys corn from local farmers to produce 50 million gallons of ethanol and 120 thousand tons of distiller dried grains per year.

Heffron Farms Market - Heffron Farms in 1983 decided to venture into the retail meat business, making natural meats available locally. Originally, their product was marketed at the City of Grand Rapids farmers' market. Due to that success, the family opened a market on the farm and two years later opened their first store in the City of Grand Rapids. Three additional stores have been opened in the surrounding area.  


Tour #3

den Dulk Dairy Farm - denDulk Dairy is a family-owned farm located in Ravenna (west Michigan). den Dulk Dairy milks 3,000 jersey cows and grows all of the feed which includes 3,500 acres of alfalfa and corn. The farm also includes a state-of-the-art calf raising facility, modern milking parlor and an innovative methane digester. The methane digester currently utilizes 30% of the manure produced on the farm and generates electricity to operate the methane digester operations.

Countryside Greenhouse - Since 1982, the Buist family has incrementally expanded their Countryside Greenhouse operation. The business was originally built as a small wholesale operation and was just a single hoop style greenhouse. Countryside Greenhouse steadily grew over time and is now a regional destination for plants of all shapes, sizes and colors.Countryside Greenhouse is one of the largest garden centers in West Michigan and provides a wide variety of home and garden decorations and accessories.

RiverRidge Packing - Riveridge is an apple sorting, grading and packing facility in Sparta, Michigan. Riveridge represents growers throughout Michigan and markets approximately one-third of Michigan’s fresh apple crop every year. Riveridge also represents growers in the top apple producing regions of the United States, as well as those in South America. *No children permitted on this tour stop*


Tour #4

Victory Farms – Victory Farms grows 1,000 acres of produce for primarily fresh market and processed products. Produce grown includes turnips, parsnips, celery root, rutabaga, red beets and 500 acres of winter squash. All of the products are packed on-site for distribution to chain stores and terminal markets in the Eastern portion of the United States. The majority of produce packing takes place from October through February and Victory Farms also processes and packs produce from other growers. Owner Roger Victory started Victory Farms in 1990 by farming 50 acres of produce.

Robinette’s Apple Haus & WineryCelebrating its Centennial in 2011, this family owned and operated fruit farm, cider mill, bakery, winery and lunchroom features (in season) apples, peaches, nectarines and cherries. In the fall, they have a corn maze, horse-drawn hayrides, and you-pick apples. An 1881 barn holds their wine tasting room, original West Michigan artwork and distinctive gifts.

Gordon Food Service started out as a butter-and-egg delivery business more than a century ago in 1897. Today, they are the largest family-owned broadline foodservice distributor in North America—and one of the largest privately held companies in the United States. Gordon Food Service distributes to foodservice operators from Northern Michigan to Key West, Florida, to National and Regional Chains along the entire East Coast of the United States and coast to coast in Canada. They also operate over 140 GFS Marketplace retail stores located in Florida, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee. *No children permitted on this tour stop*


Conference Speakers

Jane Eckert
Jane is the founder and CEO of Eckert AgriMarketing, a full-service marketing and consulting firm that offers a variety of services to both the agriculture and tourism industries, helping them harvest the rewards of agritourism. As a public speaker and trainer, Jane has provided Keynote Presentations, Workshops and Breakout Groups in 36 U.S. states and 8 Canadian Provinces. A sixth generation farmer’s daughter, Jane grew up on the family’s agritourism-focused apple orchard, earned a college degree in Business Administration and honed her skills for 15 years in an executive career providing corporate marketing for firms such as Atlantic Richfield. She then returned to the family farm, Eckert’s Country Store and Farms, as Vice President of Marketing to develop the farm into one of metropolitan St. Louis’ most popular entertainment and tourist destinations, attracting 400,000 guests annually. She left the farm in 2001 to establish Eckert AgriMarketing.  Jane has been featured in USA Today, Time, This Week in Agribusiness on RFD-TV, and interviewed for hundreds of newspapers, magazines and radio shows throughout the country. In her speeches and workshops, she has helped thousands of tourism and ag professionals to see the financial benefits of promoting the niche product of agritourism.

Keynote: If You’re So Doggone Smart, Why Are You a Farmer?
“So if you’re so doggone smart, how come you are going to be a farmer like me?” your dad might ask. Hundreds of young men and women are choosing farming for a way of life, so agritourism and direct farm marketing guru Jane Eckert decided it’s time to explore “How come?” Her keynote address explores the mysteries of why on earth anyone wants to be a farmer, with a good dash of humor and a whole lot of pride. A sixth generation farmer’s daughter, Jane knows for certain that today’s American farmer is feeding the world while living one of the best lifestyles America has to offer.

Matt Lohr
Matt Lohr loves living life to the fullest! Over the years, he has personally visited with two former presidents, ridden a bull, hiked the Grand Canyon, flown a plane, won a new Dodge truck, taught middle school, climbed Mt. Fuji, and experienced the amazing births of his two children…Caroline and Carson. Matt has traveled over one million miles across all 50 states and eight countries entertaining folks of all ages. He first developed a passion for speaking as an FFA member in high school and went on to serve as both a state and national FFA officer. After graduating from Virginia Tech in 1995, he and his late wife, Andrea, founded the company New Directions Communications to spread their positive message. Matt and their two young children live in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley on the farm that has been in his family for over 100 years. Matt has been very active in Farm Bureau over the years, winning the American Farm Bureau “Excellence in Agriculture” award in 2003 with his wife Andrea.  He also participated in the first PAL class later that year. Matt has presided over his county’s Farm Bureau, chaired his county’s school board, and served five years in the Virginia state legislature. He currently serves as Virginia’s 14th Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Keynote: The Strongest Link
For years Matt encouraged agricultural groups to step up and get more involved in the political process. Then one day in early 2005, he decided it was time to run for office himself. Matt served five years in the Virginia State Legislature as one of only two active farmers before becoming commissioner of agriculture in 2010. His experience has given him valuable insight on how to communicate effectively and convey the proper message to political leaders. This interactive and engaging program is ideal for any audience wishing to strengthen the link between the farm house and the capitol house.

Bryan Townsend
A member of the National Speakers Association, Bryan Townsend has earned the designation “Certified Speaking Professional” and he is one of only a few speakers who have been inducted into NSA’s Speaker Hall of Fame. In the 2009 July/August issue of “Speaker Magazine,” Bryan was noted as one of the hottest 25 speakers in the country. Bryan is one of the nation’s most active motivational humorists, speaking to various groups all across the country about “Making Good Things Happen” and “Hitching Up A Winning Team.” Bryan also leads seminars on Customer Service and Teamwork. In addition to speaking, Bryan is a professional writer. He has written advertising copy, numerous articles and several books including: Life is An Adventure, and Making Good Things Happen. Bryan’s background includes a successful twenty-year career in broadcasting serving as a play-by-play sports announcer, advertising salesman, talk show host, and radio station manager. At the age of 23 he was the manager of one of the first financially successful stand-alone FM radio stations in the country. When he is not working, Bryan likes to fish. He is active in Carpenters for Christ, and he lives with his childhood sweetheart, Judy Babe, at the Eureka Fish Camp on Logan Martin Lake in northeast Alabama.

Keynote: Stand On It! Succeeding in Challenging Times
The Talladega Super Speedway is NASCAR’s most competitive venue. For eighteen years Bryan was the anchor on the live radio broadcast of time trials from Talladega, and covered races from the pits. At the start of each race, as the flagman waves the green flag to start the race, thousands of fans rise to their feet and cheer, “Stand On It!” That means, put your right foot on the floor, slap the pedal to the metal and give it everything you’ve got! It means, put your heart in it.
In this world of people, we can accomplish only so much with our hands and heads. It’s when we put our heart in our work that we excel, overcome challenge and become champions. Good people, in good times, can do good work on cruise control. In these challenging times, what was good enough before is not good enough now. It’s time to turn off the cruise control, put the pedal to the metal, and Stand On It! As our economy becomes more competitive, those who succeed in challenging times will be those who adapt with ingenuity, excel with individual efforts and increase the odds for success with teamwork that is both efficient and effective.


Have questions about 2012 Beginning Farmer and Rancher Conference? Contact

When & Where

Amway Grand Plaza Hotel
187 Monroe Ave VW
Grand Rapids, MI 49503

Saturday, February 18, 2012 at 8:00 AM - Monday, February 20, 2012 at 11:00 PM (EST)

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Start2Farm provides farmers and ranchers with information that will help them with planning, financial assistance, classroom and on-site training, mentoring programs, farm and ranch organizations and much more.

This project is supported by the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, USDA, Grant #2009-49400-05879.

For questions, contact Jorie Porter at 301-504-6020 or

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