Kecks find a family and seat at the Farm Bureau table
Caitlin and Jason Keck’s two-year term on the American Farm Bureau Federation committee begins next month.
A couple from Steele County will represent Minnesota on American Farm Bureau Federation Young Farmers and Ranchers Committee.
Caitlin Keck said she sees the couple as a good representation of the diversity in Minnesota agriculture.
“I grew up on a dairy farm and Jason grew up with corn, soybeans and hogs, and we now raise beef cattle and produce — in the same area where we grew up,” she said.
The couple, who got married in 2012, live near Owatonna, Minnesota, where they raise crops and a beef herd they’ve grown in the past three years to include F2 wagyu cattle for direct sale.
“We've had some really good interest,” said Caitlin Keck of wagyu, including themselves. “We kept a quarter of the wagyu we processed last time, and now I'm like, I don't know if I can go back to regular.”
The two have been involved in the Farm Bureau since around 2008, as Caitlin said they saw the organization as a “natural transition” from FFA, which they were both heavily involved in.
“My Farm Bureau membership started when I was a state FFA officer,” she said. “Minnesota Farm Bureau provided some really great training to the state FFA officer team and some good resources, so I just maintained my membership after that.”
Caitlin and Jason went on to take part in American Farm Bureau Federation discussion meet competitive events, which simulate a committee meeting and are evaluated on an exchange of ideas and information.
Last month, AFBF President Zippy Duvall announced their appointment to the American Farm Bureau Federation Young Farmers and Ranchers Committee. Their 2023-25 term will begin in February.
The YF&R Committee is made up of 16 positions representing all regions of the U.S., with an individual or couple holding each appointment. Committee members are responsible for program planning which includes the coordination of YF&R competitive events and the Harvest for All program.
Prior to their appointment on the AFBF YF&R Committee, the Kecks served on the Minnesota YF&R Committee, where Caitlin served as chair. She said the experience, which provided her a voting seat on the Minnesota Farm Bureau board of directors, “energized” her.
“I gained a lot of really good insight from that experience into the organization and how things operated,” she said. “And also the change happening in Farm Bureau — we have a lot of new staff, and a new executive director and president, and I was also able to participate in that.”
They decided to apply for the AFBF YF&R Committee after being encouraged by past committee members including Miles and Sarah Kuschel, and MFB President Dan Glessing.
Seeing Farm Bureau as the next step
Caitlin Keck said that Farm Bureau offers a way for students who excel in ag organizations to continue their education and volunteer leadership in their adulthood.
“One of the things that we wrote about in our application and talked about in our interview with the committee was that we really think there's a great opportunity for the future of Farm Bureau through programs like for 4H, FFA and PAS (Professional Agricultural Student Organization),” Keck said.
That future relies on the many motivated students involved in ag programs throughout their youth, she said.
“But FFA stops at age 21, and 4-H stops the year after high school,” she said, “So we have to make sure they're aware of the opportunity to get involved in Farm Bureau.”
The Young Farmer & Rancher program goes through age 35, and Keck said the program offers more than just a great opportunity to gain skills in leadership and public speaking.
A national family
“To enhance either your involvement in the organization and industry, or your operation if you're in production agriculture,” she said.
The Kecks are like most thriving young farmers and ranchers in today’s ag industry and have off-farm jobs they work alongside running their own operation.
Caitlin serves as director, stakeholder communications at the National Pork Board, and Jason is an agronomist for Keck Farms, working with farmers on seed, chemical and manure management plans as well as crop and swine production.
After Caitlin graduated from the University of Minnesota and moved to Nebraska for her first job in the ag industry, she said she didn't know anyone. She said that if there would have been an opportunity for her to be involved in Farm Bureau at that time, she probably would have taken it.
A year later when the couple moved to Iowa they became involved in Farm Bureau, and Keck said it made a big difference.
“It’s kind of like this national family of farmers that we found through Farm Bureau, and we’ve really enjoyed our experience,” she said.