This November more than 500 college students preparing to enter the agriculture field will gather to network with professionals, listen to speakers and build long-lasting friendships.
The 17th annual Agriculture Future of America Leaders Conference will be held Nov. 7-10 in Kansas City, Mo. It is one of the largest events Agriculture Future of America organizes each year.
“AFA’s mission is to create partnerships that identify, encourage and support outstanding college men and women preparing for careers in the agriculture food industry,” said Russell Weathers, AFA president and CEO.
And now is the best time in the past 50 to 100 years for students interested in entering the agriculture food industry, Weathers said.
“If anyone is looking for a highly energized work environment where you are making a real difference in the world, as well as peoples lives, there couldn’t be a better place to be than in agriculture,” he said.
To prepare students for the industry, AFA sponsors multiple events that take place year-round. These events include leader institutes, AFA’s Online Network of Tomorrow’s Agriculture Professionals and the AFA Leaders Conference.
The AFA Leaders Conference is application based. Students can get involved through community scholarships, national scholarships and sponsorships.
This year, there is expected to be between 550 and 560 students at the conference, which will make it the largest one yet.
The conference grows about 6 to 10 percent each year.
“This is a managed growth that we have planned since the beginning,” Weathers said. “We anticipate growing our conference by another hundred in the next three years to accommodate the increasing number of applicants, which increased by 30 percent this year.”
There are multiple opportunities during the conference for students to talk to company professionals. One opportunity is the career fair.
“The AFA career fair has been by far the best experience for me,” said Daysi Hawkins, a junior agribusiness management major at MU who will attend the Leaders Conference for the third time this fall. “The career fair was the first step to helping me receive my first internship.”
The conference has a student to professional ratio of 3:1, which helps the conference attendees meet professionals in the fields they are interested in, said Kayla Petree, senior plant science major at the University of Missouri and member of the Student Advisory Team for AFA.
“This give the students a chance to build a professional network, with both peers and industry professionals that will be working in the same industry you are,” Petree said.
“Be a sponge, and soak in as much as possible,” Hawkins said. “The conference is an excellent experience, so try not to waste it. The connections built through AFA are long-lasting, and I know I still enjoy staying in touch with my AFA friends and connections.”
As a first-time conference attendee, there are a few things Petree suggests bringing: professional dress, business cards, resumes, a note pad and an open mind
“You get out of AFA what you put into AFA,” Petree said. “If you don’t come in with the mind set that you are ready to go meet people and to step out of your comfort zone, then you really wont get the full AFA experience.”