Texas 4-H ambassadors get up-close look at state government, agriculture advocates

 AUSTIN – Recently 19 members of 4-H clubs from throughout Texas had an opportunity to meet and learn firsthand from the people involved in Texas government and agriculture.

The 4-H members, all Texas 4-H Livestock Ambassadors, participated in the “Texas 4-H Livestock Ambassadors at the Capitol” program in Austin specifically designed for them.

 Members of the 4-H Livestock Ambassadors program with Sen. Glenn Hegar, 8th District , the youngest member of the Texas Senate. (Photo courtesy of Sen. Hegar's office)  Dr. Billy Zanolini, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service specialist in youth livestock and agriculture, College Station, and county agents Robert Scott of Lubbock County, Alyssa Puckett of Polk County, Dustin Coufal of Brazos County and Keeton Ehrig of Lee County coordinated the program.

 “This year’s program was probably the most effective trip to Austin by the livestock ambassadors so far, providing opportunities for them to engage in meaningful discussions with legislators and others on the topics of junior livestock projects and Texas agriculture,” Zanolini said.

 This year’s participating livestock ambassadors and their respective counties were: Gabe Jennings, Mason; Rebecca Lazenby, Madison; Callie Zoeller, Coryell; Will Hussey, Brazos; Shelby James, Live Oak; Jessica Cowan, Lamar; Bridget O’Brien, Comal; Abby Christian, Walker; Cheyanne Millican, Gaines; Joelle Foster, Bastrop; Rachel Gibbs, Runnels; Victoria Barksdale, McCullough; Robyn Perez, Hidalgo; Tara Liska, Live Oak; Taylor Shearrer, Atascosa; Megan Grant, Fort Bend; Tommy Joe Ozio, Madison; Leah Bauer, Kerr; and Jacob Epps,Williamson.

The program began with a training on how to prepare and deliver messages for communicating with elected officials and governmental affairs representatives. The ambassadors then met with government officials, including Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, Reps. Tracy King, Trent Ashby, Kyle Kacal, John Raney and Cecil Bell Jr., plus Sen. Glenn Hegar and Oscar Garza, legislative director for Sen. Juan Hinojosa.

Livestock ambassadors also met with agriculture business and industry officials at Texas Farm Bureau offices, including representatives of the bureau, Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, Texas Sheep and Goat Raisers’ Association, DuPont and Armstrong Ranch.

“It was great experience for me,” said Gibbs, 16, of Ballinger 4-H “It gave me an opportunity to meet with people I would never have met otherwise, and after talking to them I was even more inspired to pursue a career in agriculture.”

Gibbs said her discussions with legislators and those in the agricultural industry convinced her of the overall importance of agriculture to the state.

“Unless you grow up in a small town or rural community, you usually don’t realize how important agriculture is,” she said. “But meeting with these people showed me that agriculture is really important to the state and made me want to know more about how we in 4-H can help.”

Jennings agreed the experience was a unique opportunity to have a dialog with lawmakers and others who have an influence over the state’s agriculture.

“We were able to let them know our concerns about the future of agriculture and tell them what’s happening at our farms and ranches,” Jennings said. “It was good to find out they had many of the same concerns about farming and agriculture in Texas.”

Both Gibbs and Jennings agreed that the main topic of discussion among legislators and agriculture industry representatives was the ability to provide adequate water for both rural and urban residents.

“Practically everyone we met with said water was the main concern and top priority for the future of agriculture,” Jennings said.

“Being from West Texas, water conservation is a big issue and it was good to see that it was such an important topic to those we talked to in Austin,” Gibbs said.

Zanolini added that the new motto for the Texas 4-H Livestock Ambassador program is “Embracing Our Past…Engaging the Present…Defining Our Future’ and the trip to Austin was in keeping with that motto.

“Our livestock ambassadors were able to discuss some of the past, present and future aspects of agriculture in the state, as well as learn what young people like themselves can do to help secure the future of agriculture in Texas,” he said.

For more information on the 4-H Livestock Ambassador program, contact Zanolini at 979-458-0466 or wfzanolini@ag.tamu.edu.

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