An Arizona Farmer Explains Why the Young Farmer Program Matters

By Julie Murphree, Arizona Farm Bureau Communication Director: The family farm was founded in the early 1940s and is based in Yuma, Arizona. The Dinsmore Farms, Inc., a 1,500-acre vegetable, hay, and grain farm, grows an array of vegetables including iceberg lettuce, romaine lettuce, red- and green-mix lettuce. In the past, they’ve also grown cauliflower and broccoli. Veterans at applying Yuma’s unique farming opportunities, the family grows many varieties that respond to specific times of their season. While Yuma is the lettuce capital of the world between the months of November and March, any Yuma farmer will tell you they experience a wide range of temperatures and weather patterns form Baja California, Mexico making it extremely difficult to manage the diverse amount of crops at times.

Lara and Jonathan Dinsmore, with their five children, represent the fourth and fifth generation of Arizona vegetable and hay farmers from Yuma, Arizona. Jonathan has been serving on American Farm Bureau's national Young Farmer & Rancher Committee. 

The hay grown on Dinsmore Farms includes Sudan and Alfalfa. Much of it is exported to China and Japan. They donate stacks of hay to local organizations that work with disadvantaged youth. They also operate a custom hay business where they swath, rake, bale, and stack hay for farms across the Yuma valley.

The wheat grown on their farm is Durum. They often grow experimental plots of vegetables and wheat in cooperation with seed companies and the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension. To accomplish of all of this, their land must be prepared appropriately to allow for proper growing conditions. They operate a minimum tillage program on most of their ground. Reducing tractor passes conserves fuel, emissions, and energy. Much of their farmland in the Yuma Valley is then laser leveled with GPS driven tractors to provide the flattest ground and most efficient irrigation of Colorado River water possible, a method of reducing water use.

It’s in this busy and diverse backdrop that Lara and Jonathan Dinsmore, the fourth-generation of family farmers, are raising their five children, engaging in their community and operating as young leaders. Arizona Agriculture interviewed Jonathan about his experiences as a committee member with the American Farm Bureau’s Young Farmer & Rancher Committee on the national level.

Arizona Agriculture: Now that you’ve had some time on American Farm Bureau’s Young Farmer & Rancher Committee, what’s been your biggest take away? Talk a bit about the experience.

Dinsmore: I’ve learned how much is involved behind the scenes to pull off the convention and leadership conference. Beyond the tasks involved to plan and prepare for the main events, we also gain training in leadership and public speaking. We’re able to apply what we learn throughout the year when promoting farming and ranching from county to the national level. This summer we had the opportunity to gather in Washington D.C. to cover business and visit with our legislators on The Hill.

Arizona Agriculture: What do you feel you’re more equipped to do now that you’ve served on the national level for the YF&R?

Dinsmore I’ve improved my public speaking and learned to be more confident when sharing my story. When doing so, I remind myself that no one else has my story. Its personal, and keeping it personal when visiting about important issues connects with people and engages them better.

Arizona Agriculture: What was your biggest learning curve? What challenged you the most?

Dinsmore: I was challenged most with stepping out of my comfort zone and becoming more confident when being interviewed. Public speaking training through the use of bright lights and cameras helped tremendously. Sometimes the best way to learn is to be thrown in to the deep end.

Arizona Agriculture: For young farmers and ranchers from the Western region, what can we bring to the table that’s different from other regions of the country?

Dinsmore: In many of the state Farm Bureau’s there is more competition for opportunities to lead and serve. Due to state size or variance in membership involvement, YF&R members in the Western states have a greater opportunity to make an impact on their communities and states. We also offer a unique array of agriculture and family histories to the other states. Arizona, in particular, has a very special passion that seems to rub off on most of the other state’s members.

Arizona Agriculture: What would you like to see AFBF YF&R improve on?

Dinsmore: The AFBF YF&R Committee has been working to improve communication not only to state coordinators and chairs, but from members down at the grassroots level. There are many fantastic ideas out there, and it’s our job to make sure we continue to engage and exemplify the grassroots. We are a Federation for a reason. It’s from the ground up.  

Arizona Agriculture: Based on how the Farm Bureau system develops future leaders and prepares us for advocacy roles, what else should the organization be doing to make sure we keep our up-and-coming leaders engaged and committed to the work of the industry?

Dinsmore: I firmly believe our county and state boards must continue to encourage and engage the younger folks in actively serving alongside the more seasoned board members. Unfortunately there are times when someone with a passion to serve is not allowed the opportunity because of the absence of term limits or because it is assumed their age defines them. The millennial generation is coming, one way or the other. It is the responsibility of all members to lift up and guide those alongside them, no matter the age. You’re never too young to learn, and you’re never too old to respect the wisdom and experiences of those who have come before you.

Arizona Agriculture: Similar to the profile of the aging American farmer, how can we bring a more diverse mix of farmers to the table?

Dinsmore: Social media is becoming a more transparent form of communication within the Farm Bureau. Multiple generations are connecting through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook Live, etc. Farmers and ranchers are having conversations with consumers all over the world, thousands of miles apart at the tap or scroll of a finger. It is an amazing opportunity to engage the consumer or politician, but it carries a great responsibility. The efforts of many can be shaken in matter of seconds by how we engage people outside the industry, as well as within the industry. Unfortunately it isn’t too hard to stumble across conversations in a comment section of a resource or photo that is isolating folks and divisive. Our job is to remind folks that the American Farm Bureau is not about your political party, religion, or whether you grow conventional or organic. AFBF is the unified national voice of agriculture, working through our grassroots organizations to enhance and strengthen the lives of rural Americans and to build strong, prosperous agricultural communities. We must always remember that. Or, we will become our own worst enemy.

Arizona Agriculture: Having served, what do you see as your next stage of volunteer investment in Farm Bureau?

Dinsmore: Serving at the county and state level I quickly gained a deeper understanding of what grassroots can accomplish. My interest in my community increased. While being on the AFBF YF&R Committee I have become more interested with the idea of serving my county and city more formally. As scary as that may seem, perhaps one day I will find myself running for city council or even more. For now, my volunteer time will remain anchored around my family and farm. I am honored every time I get to coach one of my children’s teams or host a field trip.

Arizona Agriculture: What changes have you seen in your lifetime as it relates to farming?

Dinsmore: The technology, firsthand, has just blown up. One of my first large-tractor jobs was listing, making the beds for planting. Once we got the GPS systems in the tractors I became the one to teach our experienced farmers how to use the technology. From then on the speed of technologies’ advancements just seemed to blow up.

Arizona Agriculture: Why did you choose to go into agriculture?

Dinsmore: Growing up in farming gave me an opportunity to see it firsthand. I always watched my father and my grandfather tirelessly work. Looking back, I can remember their muddy boots and dirty hands and it makes me feel like it’s another illustration of the hands and feet of God since they could work the soil, plant seed and see the miracle of farming take place. It’s always been amazing to me. Plus, the science behind agriculture has always fascinated me too. I always tell people I get to play in the dirt for a living.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the October 2016 issue of Arizona Agriculture called "A Conversation with a Young Farmer: Jonathan Dinsmore." 

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