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Kentucky farmer is first woman to lead National Young Farmers
By TIM THORNBERRY
Kentucky Correspondent

SHELBYVILLE, Ky. — Farming, in most cases is something handed down from one generation to another, but as the agricultural economy changes with each growing season, the number of younger generation farmers has dwindled.

Yet, through efforts of organizations like the Young Farmers Assoc. (YFA), new ways to perform an age old vocation are being taught to young farmers across Kentucky and the nation, and thanks to two Shelby County farmers the leadership of YFA is in good hands.

Ray Tucker is a sixth-generation farmer and is the current president-elect of the Kentucky YFA. His neighbor, friend and fellow farmer Peggy Jo Tipton is the 2006 National YFA president, the first woman president in the association’s history.

Tucker helps in the family dairy business and has a lawn care service as well but has decided to devote more time to the farm now as a way to be with his family.

“I wanted to be with my family more, but my lawn care business wouldn’t allow that,” said Tucker. “The family can be with me out here on the farm. I never hesitated a bit introducing my children to this way of life. To me, there is no better life than farming. I believe if you love something enough, you stick to it even when times are tough.”

Tucker has used the organization as a way to increase his knowledge of agricultural business, form his leadership skills and network with other members. He served on the organization’s executive committee for a year before becoming president-elect last year. He will now serve as president for one year and then a one-year term as past president.

“I was familiar with the organization and I felt like I had to do a better job in training so I became involved. My father was also involved with YFA,” said Tucker.

“The Phillip Morris Agriculture Leadership (PMALP) helped me as well,” he said. “I was nominated for the program and was able to tour Brazil and Argentina to learn about their farming industry thanks to that program.”

PMALP is a program conducted by the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture and Philip Morris, U.S.A. designed to develop the leadership skills of young, active, burley tobacco farmers and agribusiness persons.

YFA serves much like an adult student organization providing means to professional development as well as educating agricultural leaders through leadership training, agricultural education and community service opportunities.

Tipton became involved on a national level thanks to her husband Rusty who held the national president’s title in 2000.

“Young Farmers has been such a blessing to us, I wanted to become more involved and give something back. That’s why I ran for the office,” she said. “I’ve not heard the first negative word since becoming the organization’s first woman president. I’ve worked on the farm, too. I’ve milked the cows and worked in the tobacco and hay. I wanted to do this for personal growth as well and it’s made a difference in my life.”

Tipton’s 18-year involvement with YFA will continue on past her presidency as a mentor for other members.

“Each president has a theme and mine is MAMA,” she said. “That stands for Member and Mentor Achievers. Mama became a nickname for me when I first started attending meetings with my husband so I thought this idea would be appropriate. Mentors are important to the group to support and teach young folks. You don’t have to be young to be involved in YFA.”

Tipton and Tucker are involved now in getting ready for the YFA state conference in Paducah Feb. 24-25. Members from around the state will attend seminars and be involved in contests and awards ceremonies as well as electing new leaders for the coming year.

While both Tucker and Tipton are fulfilling a desire to learn and lead through YFA, it’s their love for their families and the farm that drives them. “There’s a value of life in farming you can’t find anywhere else and unless you’re on the farm you can’t understand it,” said Tipton.

2/15/2006