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Minnesota Soybean Business

It Takes Two: Redwood County farmers growing into Young Leader roles

May-June 2021

Redwood County farmers Kelli Sorenson and her husband, Jeffrey, are the newest members of the American Soybean Association’s (ASA) Corteva Agriscience Young Leader program, training to be a voice of U.S. agriculture.

The Sorensons were elected to represent Minnesota in the 38th class of ASA’s longest running leadership program founded in 1984. The Sorensons are enhancing their agriculture leadership, communication and issues-based training and are also building a peer network across the nation through the program. The prestigious program has also graduated leaders from the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association, including current President Jamie Beyer, past President Mike Petefish and current ASA Chairman Bill Gorman. Kelli applied for the program after learning about it at the Commodity Classic Trade Show and Conference and was selected as the representative. Jeffrey was also appointed to the Young Leader Program as a joint position for couples.

“As a young producer a lot of the decisions are made jointly (between couples), and I think that’s why it’s a joint partnership,” Kelli said. “It’s a partnership on the farm and a partnership in the program. It’s good for both of us to learn this information to grow and develop.”

They are going through the program together, which enables them to discuss the content they’ve learned and how to implement the skills and information in a real-world setting.

“Couples working together is one of the big strengths of the program, and I think this is one of the programs that we have done together,” Jeffrey said. “I think that is a strength of both of us learning together.” Each person or couple serves in this role for one year, but due to COVID-19 the Sorensons will participate for just over a year. So far, the young leaders met virtually once for a meet and greet and a chance to hear from Soybean leaders. Typically, the young leader representatives attend numerous meetings throughout their term, but this year will go longer to allow the young leaders the best experience and education.

Redwood County farmers Jeff and Kelli Sorenson are raising three children while also holding off-farm jobs.

“It’s kind of been pushed back (and) definitely had to take a new twist because of COVID-19 and the virtual things,” Kelli said. The young leaders will meet a few more times before the end of their term, slightly overlapping the next class of 2022. The young leaders plan to meet during July in Washington, D.C., and again in November in Johnston, Iowa. An additional part of the program for a select few is four to five months for more in-depth training and more policy and legislation education .One thing that Jeffrey is excited to take away from the program is how other young leaders balance their busy lives and farming.

Finding their voice

The Sorensons are raising three children, and farm on Jeffrey’s fourth-generation operation where they grow corn and soybeans. On top of farming, Kelli is an agriculture banker, and Jeffrey is a Legend Seeds agronomist. Kelli also teaches Sunday school, serves on the Morgan Library board and is a member of the Redwood County Corn and Soybean Growers Board.

Jeffrey is board chair and represents Redwood County on MSGA. “The other young leaders, I think just about all of them, had something else going on besides farming full-time, and I’m excited to see how everyone else is  balancing it and what is working well for them,” Jeffrey said.

Along with learning leadership skills and networking with young leaders across the nation, Kelli and Jeffrey are members of MSGA and joined fellow farmer-directors for MSGA’s virtual Hill Visits. There were more than 40 meetings throughout, affording the Sorensons a chance to advocate with Minnesota’s federal and state legislators.

The Sorensons began ASA Hill Visits by meeting with Rep. Pete Stauber.

“I had not done any kind of Hill Visits before, and this was a new thing for me,” Kelli said. “It definitely stretched me out of my comfort zone to meet with representatives, but it was also good to become more familiar with Minnesota Soybean policies, ASA policies and things that we want to try to educate the representative on that affect soybean growers here and across the country. That was kind of a fun thing for me to learn more about.”

In those meetings they met with state and federal representatives and senators to discuss policies.

“For me it was kind of interesting, especially on the federal side because there are definitely legislators that are completely in camp with us and everything agriculture is doing, and then there are obviously other ones that aren’t necessarily opposed to us, but don’t know near as much about it,” Jeffrey said. “I thought that those were some of the more fun ones because we could educate them. We maybe weren’t changing their policy, but at least we were educating them on what agriculture is what we’re doing. It was more challenging because they weren’t necessarily on our side, but I felt like we accomplished more, if you will, with those non-agriculture representatives.”

The couple spoke to legislative representatives about being young farmers and how the specific policies affect them differently than a more-experienced grower, along with their perspective as young farmers. A topic Kelli also discussed is the urgent need for more rural mental health awareness.

“One thing that I took that was kind of neat … (is) we are the voice of Minnesota Soybean Growers, not of Sorenson farms,” Jeffrey said. “So even though I have personal biases it was really neat to see all of us that were in the conversation – we had one unified voice.”

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