‘A better voice for agriculture’: Minnesota farmers grow their leadership skills

Growing both soybeans and farmers are specialties of the American Soybean Association’s (ASA) Corteva Young Leader program.

Minnesota soybean farmers work to grow the best product, but one of the best products they can grow is themselves through the leadership program.

Minnesota farmers Tim Braun and Gary Schoenfeld were accepted into the leader program for 2022-23. This is a two-phase program with a third phase for a select few. The pair recently completed phase one of the program in Iowa.

“We had leadership training, and how to be a better voice for agriculture,” Schoenfeld said of the first phase.

Braun is from Mille Lacs County, where he grew up on his family farm and eventually started his own operation; he’s still working with his family. Schoenfeld is a fourth-generation Waseca County producer who also farms with his family.

They’re from different parts of Minnesota, but both have a common goal of wanting to grow their leadership knowledge.

Agriculture leaders from around the nation gathered for the first phase of the leadership program in Johnston, Iowa, on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1.

“I got involved because I wanted to get more involved at a bigger level within the state and nation on telling my farm story,” Braun said.

Every farmer, no matter the acreage, crop or geography of their operation has a story to share. The program shapes agriculture leaders and connects their stories around the nation. By doing so, it creates a network for them to connect and help each other.

The Schoenfelds operate a fourth-generation farm in Waseca County.

One of the unique aspects of the leadership program is the inclusion of spouses. Renae Braun and Tina Schoenfeld joined their husbands for the program, gaining information from their own perspectives of the training.

 “I think it’s nice to do it as a couple because it shows our personalities on how we handle things,” Gary Schoenfeld said. “It shows how we can work better together and communicate better.”

Tina Schoenfeld added that between farming together and the other agriculture work they do together it just makes sense and feels right to work and grow in the leadership program together.

“I feel more confident in speaking with people on a public speaking level,” she said. “I feel more confident in being able to do that, with the tools that we were provided and able to practice a little there.”

Renae Braun and Tina Schoenfeld are vital parts of both operations, working on the farm in various ways, from preparing meals to running machinery to caring for the animals and the kids.

“Renae comes from a non-agriculture background, so it’s good for her to get exposed to some of the people, too, and hear some of the stories,” Tim Braun said. “It’s great to include both of us.”

Phase two of the program is at Commodity Classic, a farmer-led, farmer-focused event in Orlando, Florida, in March 2023. The Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council is a longtime sponsor of the Young Leader program.

Renae and Tim Braun are growing their leadership skills – together.

“The program for what we saw here (phase one) right away was pretty darn good,” Braun said. “I enjoyed the time we spent there and hopefully we can enjoy our time down at Classic in Orlando and keep building the relationships we started here.”

The Brauns and the Schoenfelds plan to attend to continue growing their skills.

“If it’s like the last two days was,” Gary Schoenfeld said, referring again to phase one,“it’ll be a lot of fun to learn more and get to know the other people in our class, as well.”

Throughout the young leader program, they’ll enhance their leadership, interviewing and public-speaking skills. They’ll also have opportunities to network with other young ag leaders.

“My goal is to continue to build that network,” Tim Braun said. “That’s a key piece, getting to know people across the country as well as just being able to communicate better.”

The ASA Young Leader Program started in 1984 and continues to develop strong leaders across the country. Many of Minnesota Soybean Growers Association and MSR&PC leaders have completed the program before going on become state or even national directors.

An ASA Young Leader is appointed for a year to serve on the MSGA board. One member of each couple will fill that role this year. This allows them to get firsthand experience on the board.

“It’s just amazing to hear everybody’s story. They’re similar, but different, they’re all so unique,” Tina Schoenfeld said. “It was such beneficial information that I feel like I can perfect with practice. I can grow to be an advocate for agriculture, which is not something that I had ever planned as I don’t come from a farming background.”

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