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Erin Norman and her husband, Luke, said they felt isolated when they took on a calf/cattle operation just outside of Crawford.

But after attending the annual Young Farmers and Ranchers Conference, she said the couple met other young producers in the same position. For the past 8 years they have attended the conference, and today, Erin Norman serves on the event’s planning committee.

With a theme of "Growing For Tomorrow," it continues today and Sunday at the Ramada Hotel & River’s Edge Convention Center. About 200 people between the ages of 18 and 35 came from all over the state for the chance to network.

“It is really hard to get into the field,” Erin Norman said about the industry. “This is a great way for all of us producers to come together, unify and learn something new ... and I feel like the networking (shows) you're not alone. There are hundreds and hundreds of young farmers out there trying to get their foot in the door.”

Joe Melnick, of Hastings, is one of the conferences participants. This is the first YF&R conference he’s ever attended. He said he’s excited about meeting others in the industry just like him. He hopes to learn more about the future of agriculture and how to better represent the meat industry.

“I want to get more involved in agriculture and the future, see where things are going, see what we can do to help out, especially with outreach and the way everyone looks at the meat industry nowadays," Melnick said. "I really want to be able to help with that.”

Although Melnick works with pork, he actually has a degree in fisheries biology. He said he accidentally fell into the industry after taking on a job with Seaboard Foods right out of school. After encountering the company at a career fair, he applied for a position under the impression the business focused on sea-food, based on the name.

“I thought a company called Seaboard Foods definitely has something to do with fisheries biology. They absolutely do not, they have to do with the pig industry," Melnick said.

Despite his initial confusion, he still went to the interview and got the job. Today, he works for DNA Genetics.

This year’s keynote speaker is Matt Lohr, who will give a speech today about life after the passing of his wife, Andrea. Other speakers during the weekend include Gov. Pete Ricketts, and additional entertainment is being provided by Hypnotist Steve Meade. Conference participants toured Jindra Angus in Clarkson, ADM, Duo Lift and Behlen Manufacturing on Friday. But, Norman’s favorite part of the conference is always the workshops.

“My personal highlight is always the breakout sessions," Norman said. "Because it really helps you to stay connected with people doing new and innovative things and what's going on in the political end."

The conference is sponsored by Nebraska Farm Bureau and Aurora Cooperative.

Eric Schucht is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at eric.schucht@lee.net.

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Eric Schucht earned his bachelor's degree in journalism at the University of Oregon in 2018. He has written for The Cottage Grove Sentinel, The Creswell Chronicle, The Pacific Northwest Inlander and The Roseburg News-Review.

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