Malarie Thompson of Shelby, NC, was named a finalist for the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Young Farmer & Rancher (YF&R) Excellence in Ag Award.

The YF&R program’s focus is on assisting young Farm Bureau members with leadership development and personal growth opportunities.

The YF&R Excellence in Ag Award recognizes young farmers involved in agriculture but who do not necessarily derive a majority of their income from an owned production ag operation.

As the winner of the North Carolina Farm Bureau’s YF&R Excellence in Ag Award, Thompson became a finalist for the national award. She made her presentation to a panel of judges at the annual AFBF Convention and Trade Show in Salt Lake City.

After studying animal science at Cal State-Fresno, Thompson earned her master’s degree in ag education from North Carolina A&T State University.

She now works as a member services and sustainability specialist for the Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association. Along with her husband Will, she manages the Thompson Cattle Company’s 100 cow/calf pairs. They are in the process of expanding their pasture and hay land as well as introducing sheep to the farm. Their goal is to farm full-time in the future.

Much of her presentation was geared toward addressing what she sees as a major challenge for the future of agriculture.

“We need to find a way to engage more young people in ag,” she told the judges’ panel, “especially in leadership roles.”

NCFB member a finalist for national Excellence in Ag Award

Malarie Thompson’s presentation focused on a way to engage more young people in agriculture. Photo by Enrico Villamaino

She explained that she saw less participation by those under 40 in the leadership and policy planning roles in the farming organizations she studied. She said her experience as a 4-H volunteer leader drove home the importance of mentoring young farmers.

“I hope to teach vocational agriculture at a community college,” Thompson said. “We will need farmers who have been educated to find practical ways of solving problems in the moment.”

The other two topics she focused on in her presentation were the use of artificial intelligence and climate initiatives.

“We need to make sure that AI is used responsibly, and we need to remember that as powerful as AI can be, it is only as good as the inputs fed into it,” Thompson said.

She also highlighted how important ag practices are to the environment. “Ag and forestry are the two sectors where there can be major carbon sequestrations simply by utilizing their everyday activities,” she stated. “It doesn’t need to involve sweeping changes. We just have to be mindful of how we go about the things we’re already doing.”

Excellence in Agriculture Award Winners

  • Justin Hargrove of Tennessee won the Excellence in Agriculture Award
  • Ben and Ashley Menges of Arizona are the second place runners-up
  • Thomas and Rachel Henley of Virginia won third place
  • Megan Dwyer of Illinois is the fourth place finalist

by Enrico Villamaino