Over the Fence with Brad Bennett by Megan Slater

Brad Bennett is the extension educator for livestock evaluation and youth programs at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL). Brad serves as the UNL livestock judging team coach as well as the meat animal evaluation team coach in addition to teaching several courses. The primary focus of Brad’s extension program is youth education using animals as the vehicle to create knowledge, teamwork, critical thinking, and communication skills.

The American Gelbvieh Junior Association (AGJA) was grateful to have Brad join the AGJA at the 2017 Big Red Classic in Grand Island, Nebraska. He served as the announcer during both show days and helped coordinate and officiate the livestock judging contest.

What programs or opportunities does UNL offer students looking to seek a career in the agriculture industry?
In the UNL College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, we have 30 degree programs preparing students for careers in everything from animals to plants, soil to climate, golf to business, mechanization to leadership, and food to forensic science. We provide individualized academic advising to all our students so they can tailor their education and experiences to their interests and career goals. In addition to a wide range of majors, we have a program called Ensuring Your Future that guarantees participating students will have a job offer in their interest area within six months of graduating or we will pay to retrain them. To make this possible, we have our own career expert to help students with their resumé and interviewing skills as well as introducing them to numerous employers who attend our twice yearly career fairs. We are committed to student success at every level, which includes providing students with fabulous facilities, internationally recognized faculty, and significant scholarship dollars. We also offer the opportunity for students to create their own businesses through our Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship, get involved in an incredible line-up of clubs and organizations, conduct cutting-edge research with faculty mentors, or experience the world in far-flung locations through Education Abroad.

What does UNL look for in prospective students?
In a single word, we look for passion. That doesn’t mean you must know exactly what you want to do in life. More importantly, have an outlook that allows you to find something you love, dedicate yourself to excellence, and always work to make yourself and those around you better. We have a set of world class academic programs, student involvement, and campus engagement programs that can give you all the knowledge you’ll ever need. But we can’t replace dedication, drive, and passion. They say “there’s no place like Nebraska” and that’s all because our students come in with that passion and they transform it into something great. We’d be happy to host you on a visit and to have you as a part of the Husker family.

How do junior programs, such as the AGJA, 4-H, and FFA, help to prepare youth for future success?
In my opinion, nothing can replace the value of involvement in junior programs. Speaking from personal experience, it was involvement in 4-H, FFA, and junior breed associations that have opened up every opportunity I have ever had, both in college and my professional life. Often, we think of these associations as a way to show livestock and hopefully come home with some ribbons and banners, and that may be true. But what you will realize as your show career is coming to an end is that the livestock weren’t just there to be shown – they were there as vehicles to mold you into the person you are. Late nights in the barn, countless hours of work, and competing on the biggest stages build accountability, work ethic, and a competitive spirit. But they also instill communication, problem solving, and decision-making skills that are key components to anyone’s success in the future, whether you know that at the time or not. Beyond that, the network of people from all over the country that you have the chance to interact with will become your peers and mentors in the agriculture industry moving forward. I’ll paraphrase Jason Elmore’s comments at the conclusion of junior nationals that I thought best summarized how important these organizations and events are. “There is a lot of negativity in the world today. I wish everyone would witness what happens at a junior nationals and embrace the positivity we are building here.”

Why do you think it is important for youth to be involved in their junior breed association?
You’re never supposed to answer a question with a question, but hopefully we can make an exception this time. Would you grow up wanting to play professional baseball without first playing youth baseball? I think the answer would be no 100 percent of the time, and I’m a firm believer that it’s the same for those who want to be involved in the agriculture industry. Even if running a 500-head Gelbvieh seedstock operation isn’t in your long-term plans, chances are you’ll want to be involved in agriculture in some form and it’s organizations like the AGJA that will show you all the opportunities that exist in agriculture.

How does livestock judging prepare youth for a future career in the agriculture industry?
We hear from employers all the time that experiences outside of the classroom are huge factors in deciding who to hire. Livestock judging both at the youth and college level is a way to give you those experiences. Judging has grown into much more than learning how to place four head, even though that’s still a major component. It’s also communication, problem solving, and decision-making skills that can be near perfected by devoting your time to judging programs. There aren’t many other activities that can teach you to evaluate a situation, arrive at a conclusion, and then confidently explain why in a matter of minutes. When you enter your career that same process becomes a staple of your everyday life.

In our program, the focus is on building better people. When thinking about the list of pioneers that have brought the livestock industry to where it is today, many will trace the reason for their success back to livestock judging.

What do you see is the biggest challenge facing youth in agriculture? What can they do now to prepare?
Challenges are simply opportunities for the next generation. The agriculture landscape is changing rapidly and it’s up to youth to understand where we’re at today and where we need to be in 10, 25, or 50 years. Often, we can get bogged down by what’s happening right now. I would challenge youth to always be forward-thinking. We need you to be innovative, willing to adapt, and knowledgeable enough to lead this industry well into the future. There’s not a silver bullet that can prepare you for everything you’ll encounter in life, but no matter what, ask questions, reflect on what does and doesn’t work, and always be willing to step outside of your comfort zone for the sake of progress.