The statistic showing that the average age of Canadian farmer has been consistently on the rise over last few years has understandably been causing concern among both social scientists and industry observers.

The young generation with rural roots, however, has been telling a different and fervently inspiring story.

The performance of two young Albertans at this year’s Canada Young Speakers for Agriculture competition in Toronto, Carmen White and Kara Oosterhuis, served as living proof that our upcoming generation of farmers are not only remarkably knowledgeable, but also generously caring.

Both of the young speakers, sponsored by AYSA, the Alberta chapter of the Canadian Young Speakers for Agriculture, picked “sustainability” as the topic for their speech, one of seven subjects offered to competitors to choose from.

Kara focused on sustainability from a standpoint of crop production while Carmen’s approach, which placed her second in her category, looked into the matter from a cattle farmer’s perspective.

“Sustainability is vital to the health and welfare of our planet, and to the ever-changing agricultural industry,” Kara said in her speech.

“We can’t expect to have sustainability without taking care of our environment, our finances, and ourselves.”

Touching upon the sustainability of a farming operation from every possible angle, Kara said “profiting from land and taking care of land go hand in hand”. Starting from finding the ideal dose of fertilizer to insuring crops and from maintaining creditworthiness to practicing informed crop rotations, Kara said sustainability of agricultural operations meant so many different things, including embracing emerging new farming technologies and ensuring that professional qualities of future agriculture practitioners are kept at the highest standards through education. She also touched upon the importance of farmers’ health, including mental health.

“We can’t expect to have sustainability without taking care of our environment, our finances, and ourselves,” said Kara in a separate statement.

“And that’s a huge one that is often overlooked – taking care of ourselves.”

For her part, Carmen stressed the need to ensure the sustainability of a market for beef alongside environmental resources that make cattle farming possible. “A grazing management plan would be implemented and monitored every year, focusing on soil quality, stocking rates, the phases of plant growth and what to do in times of too much or too little moisture,” she said.

“A producer would also need to implement a responsible water usage plan that minimizes contamination.”

And all this has to be done with animal welfare being the top priority in the operation, Carmen said.

Chancey Lane, current chair at AYSA, was proud of the young speakers’ performance in Toronto.

“I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the competition in Toronto and watch Kara and Carmen compete,” he said.

“As a past speaker coming up through the AYSA, I know how overwhelming it can feel to be at the national level, but both Carmen and Kara never missed a beat.”

As Chancey Lane has been doing, Kara will be sharing her knowledge and experience to lead new Albertan young speakers for agriculture to carry the flag along, now that she has become a member of the AYSA Board.

“A producer would also need to implement a responsible water usage plan that minimizes contamination.”

“We hope to see Carmen back at our competition in the future to compete at the senior level,” Lane added.

Insurance Specialist Martin Williams of AFSC, who sat as a judge at the Alberta competition that sent Carmen and Kara to Toronto, said he was impressed by the “unique perspectives that the speakers had”.

“One of the speakers talked about how critical mental health is to sustainability of agriculture.

“I found it to be a surprising but really important take on the topic,” he added.

“Another thing that really stood out was how confident the speakers were.

“When Kara was speaking, I found myself thinking ‘Wow!! When I grow up, I hope I’m half as confident as she is!’

It was the second year AFSC supported AYSA as a Gold and primary sponsor.

“AFSC is extremely proud to support AYSA,” said Meghan Phillips, AFSC’s sponsorship coordinator.

“In addition to our sponsorship, we had the opportunity to participate in judging again this year.

“AFSC’s support for AYSA is a natural fit. This event is about giving youth in agriculture an opportunity to learn, grow and succeed in this industry.

“AFSC’s partnership with AYSA encourages the development of the young agriculture leaders of tomorrow, which, in turn, is a vital piece of our community investment.”