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SMSU Student Lafe Aarsvold Competes in National Ag Discussion Meet

Published Thursday, March 30, 2023

Submitted photo: Joby Young, Executive Vice President of the American Farm Bureau Federation, with Lafe Aarsvold.
Submitted photo: Joby Young, Executive Vice President of the American Farm Bureau Federation, with Lafe Aarsvold.

SMSU student Lafe Aarsvold recently competed in the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) Young Farmers and Ranchers Committee Collegiate Discussion Competition at the 2023 Farm Bureau FUSION Conference in Jacksonville, FL. Aarsvold won the Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation competition and represented the state at the national level. The conference brought together over 1,000 young agricultural leaders from across the country on March 3-6, 2023.  

Aarsvold is a senior Agronomy major originally from Plainview, Minnesota. He was involved in FFA in high school, even serving as the state FFA president in 2019-2020. His dad, Paul, teaches agriculture education at Plainview-Elgin-Millville High School and co-advises the FFA chapter there. His mom, Val, is the executive director of the FFA Foundation. Clearly, agriculture and FFA have always been a part of his life.

“When I graduated high school, I was actually looking at Southwest Minnesota State University and the University of Minnesota Twin Cities,” said Aarsvold. “I chose the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and planned to study agriculture education. Both my parents went there, both my brothers did, so it was kind of like our family thing. I did a year of it. I love the place, I love the sights, and the people. I just wasn't falling in love with the program, so I took a year off.”

“I wanted to get back into the world of agriculture. I thought agronomy would be the way and SMSU has a great program,” said Aarsvold. “I work with Dr. Adam Alford, who's just been an absolute joy. He's a great professor. I'll be graduating in May and moving to Texas to do agronomy sales for a company.”

Aarsvold was familiar with the Farm Bureau Federation’s Discussion Competition from his older brother who competed at the high school level. There are three levels of competition: FFA students in high school, a collegiate discussion, and the young farmers and ranchers. Competitors are tasked with preparing for five different conversations.

“This year one of the topics was about sustainability practices within agriculture and what our responsibilities are with that,” explained Aarsvold. “Another was on how to support growers in the current production environment. As farms continue to get bigger, we need fewer people on the farm but more people who are in ag-adjacent roles and careers.”

Aarsvold explained that the competition puts you in a room with three to four other people and each gives their opening statement. The group has 15 to 20 minutes to discuss it.

“The judges are quizzing you, and they're just grading you on how well you know the topic. How what kind of pieces of information are you bringing to the table and how do you delegate the conversation? It’s a fun competition that I jumped into,” he said. “Because I transferred here last year, I was really focused on getting done with my major and not getting too involved in extracurricular activities. I forgot lunch one day and the Ag Club was holding a meeting. Free pizza sounded great, so I went. Now I serve as an officer for the club.”

Last year, as a club member, Aarsvold learned they needed college students to participate in the discussion competition. He participated at the state level and took second place. This year came around and, again, they didn’t have enough people, so Aarsvold decided to do it again. He took first place at the state level earning the honor of representing Minnesota at the national competition in Florida.

“There were 33 competitors up at the national level and having been involved in FFA at the state level, I ended up knowing most of the people. It was such a blast.”

The Farm Bureau Fusion Conference combines three key areas of agriculture: women's leadership, young farmers and ranchers, and promotion and education. The collegiate discussion meet is held during the conference.

“You participate in the first round, they grade you and use those scores to determine the discussion room you’ll be in the second round,” Aarsvold said. “They take the top 16 competitors completely based on scores and break them into four rooms of four. You have to score at the top of your room to move on to the final four. I made it to the final four which was exciting.”

Aarsvold encourages other students to participate in the discussion meets. The experience is rewarding and there are opportunities to meet a lot of people and win scholarships at the state and national level. The Farm Bureau encourages students in agriculture programs to be active in education and policy because of the impact it has on all aspects of life from food to technology.

“I grew up in an agriculture-based community with parents who were in ag-adjacent fields. I always knew I wanted to be in the industry, but it wasn't until I got in the field that I knew this is where the magic happens,” he said. “SMSU has been a really, great fit for me. I know my classmates by name, we have our text chain going and are in all our classes together. Having the bigger college experience to start out, I think I’ve been able to bring some ideas to SMSU about how to establish more industry connections and how we can continue to make our students more desirable for larger companies.”

“I'd love to continue to work with Southwest to continue recruitment and help spread the word about the great opportunities we have here,” he said.

SMSU student Sydney Walters also competed in the final round of the state competition held during the annual Leadership, Education, Advocacy and Promotion conference of the Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation.  


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