HPJ’s inaugural Farmer U & Trade Show promises education, inspiration and socialization

Rob Sharkey, also known as The Shark Farmer, knows all about trying something new and stepping out of his comfort zone—after all he did launch a successful podcast, radio and television show all while continuing to farm his ground in Illinois. On Aug. 18 and 19, Sharkey will be in Mulvane, Kansas, at the Kansas Star Event Center to get to know the farmers of the High Plains at High Plains Journal’s first-ever Farmer U & Trade Show. Sharkey is set to give a closing keynote address on Aug. 19 where he will share how he became one of agriculture’s biggest disruptors by taking the wheel and making his own path, all while giving the farmers of the world a platform to share their stories.

“I have not been to Kansas very much, which is why I was so excited to get an offer to speak there because it’s just one of those areas that we don’t dip into that much,” Sharkey said.

Sharkey started hosting a podcast called “SharkFarmer Podcast” in 2017, which started his media venture that has grown exponentially since that time. He hosts a radio show on Sirius XM with his co-host and wife, Emily, and in 2020 he launched a new television show on RFD-TV called “SharkFarmer TV.” The fifth-generation grain farmer said Farmer U attendees can expect his keynote address to be filled with positivity, encouragement and lots of laughs.

“I hope that I can inspire farmers, because farming is a tough business,” he explained. “I know we are on a high right now, but I feel like to be successful, you always have to be looking outside of that box, not necessarily starting a radio show, but there are so many non-traditional opportunities out there ag hasn’t embraced yet.”

Additionally, Sharkey admitted part of his reason for accepting HPJ’s invitation to speak at Farmer U was for his own personal education.

“Selfishly, I’m excited to come so I can learn about Kansas agriculture, the struggles that they have and what they love about farming,” Sharkey explained. “I just love learning about the different ways to grow things. Every time you visit a different area of the country, you realize two things: the first is that farmers are so different and the second is that they are so much alike. The same mindset and work mentality, but things are so diverse in different regions.”

Michelle Miller—myth buster extraordinaire

The Farmer U emcee will be native Kansan, Kyle Bauer, general manager and radio host of KCLY 100.9 FM in Clay Center, Kansas. Bauer will kick off the first general session by introducing the opening keynote speaker, Michelle Miller, and will moderate the farmer panel at the end of day one. Miller—also known as The Farm Babe on social media—will set the tone for Farmer U with her keynote speech focused on the misinformation that is spread on a daily basis about agriculture. Miller is a recognized speaker, writer and online influencer with an enthusiasm to advocating for farmers and ranchers. Six years ago she began righting the wrongs that were being alleged about agriculture, while also connecting with consumers and showing them where their food comes from. She now calls herself an ag myth buster. Miller will impart some of the wisdom she has gained from the work she has been doing and how agriculture can work to advocate for itself and bridge the gap between farmers and consumers.

“I hope they walk away feeling uplifted and inspired,” Miller said. “We all need to join the conversation to advocate for ag, but not everyone knows how to go about it. I hope my talk addresses that and helps people feel more confident.”

Like Sharkey, Miller is also enthusiastic about meeting with attendees and absorbing new agricultural practices and strategies at the event, especially after a year of shutdowns and cancellations.

“I love learning about agriculture all around the world,” she said. “Connecting with different producers is amazing because no two farms are the same and everyone has a different way of doing things. Every conference is full of unique knowledge and with such a diverse lineup of speakers and reconnecting in person post-COVID, it’s all really exciting.”

A standout line-up of panelists

Farmer U will include two panel discussions during general sessions over the two-day event. Back by popular demand will be the farmer panel taking place on Aug. 18, which will include: Ki Gamble, Travis Schnaithman, Jimmy Frederick and Jeremy Brown. Gamble is a fourth-generation farmer from Greensburg, Kansas, who farms irrigated and dryland alfalfa, corn, sunflowers, soybeans, sorghum and wheat and has won the National Sorghum Producer’s Grain Sorghum Yield Contest 10 times. Schnaithman, a past National FFA Star Farmer of America, is a fifth-generation farmer from Garber, Oklahoma, who raises wheat, soybeans, milo and corn with his father and brother. Frederick, of Rulo, Nebraska, farms 3,000 acres of mostly non-irrigated ground alongside his father. Frederick is the world record holder for dryland soybeans at 148.8 bushels per acre. Jeremy Brown operates a 4,000-acre farming operation called Broadview Agriculture near Lubbock, Texas, using regenerative farming practices to raise cotton.

On day two of Farmer U will be a women’s panel with Miller serving as moderator for a discussion that will include Blayne Arthur, Oklahoma’s first female Secretary of Agriculture; Whitney Larson, a city girl turned Kansas farm wife, agricultural blogger and podcaster; fifth-generation Nebraska farmer Sarah Greer and Colorado Farmer Bureau state officer and agriculturist Roxi McCormick. These influential women will delve into where the agriculture industry is right now and what farmers should expect for the future.

In between keynote addresses, panels and educational sessions, attendees will have access to the tradeshow floor, which will be packed with exhibitor booths. HPJ will also be presenting Farmer U Awards at the event, including 2021 Woman of the Year Award and 2021 Farmer of the Year Awards, which are given in the categories of alfalfa, corn, cotton, soil health, sorghum, soybeans and wheat. Individuals can be nominated by visiting www.farmeru.net and filling out an online form. If selected, the recipient will be notified in advance and will receive two free registrations to attend the event, a one-year subscription to High Plains Journal, editorial coverage in the publication and recognition during the awards ceremony at Farmer U.

Education for six major commodities and much more

Aside from two celebrated keynote speakers, Farmer U will include at least 15 breakout session speakers to choose from covering alfalfa, corn, cotton, wheat, soybeans, sorghum, soil health and irrigation. For one of the sorghum breakout sessions, Brent Bean, director of agronomy for the United Sorghum Checkoff Program, will give a presentation on new herbicide technologies for the crop. He said attendees will gain an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of each of the three sorghum herbicide technologies—Inzen, igrowth and Double Team—and how they add value to sorghum.

“In addition, growers will learn strategies for how to use these technologies to minimize the development of resistant weeds to ensure their effectiveness for years to come,” Bean said.

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Bean is eager for the event to get underway and for farmers to learn new strategies to improve their farming practices and get in some much needed socialization that has been missing over the last year and a half.

“Knowledge is powerful,” he said. “Farmer U is an excellent platform for growers to gain knowledge from others that can be used directly on their farms to improve profitability, and after a season of essentially no meetings with growers I am very much looking forward to Farmer U.”

Attendees can also plan on a benefits of alfalfa in crop rotations session from University of Nebraska Extension Forage Specialist Emeritus Bruce Anderson; an increasing soybean plant health and yield presentation from dryland soybean yield world-record holder Jimmy Frederick; a cotton stand establishment and seed quality breakout session from Seth Byrd, Oklahoma State University Extension cotton specialist and a presentation on marketing wheat to extract additional value from Oklahoma wheat grower Travis Schnaithman. For a full list of breakout sessions and speakers, visit www.farmeru.net/attend/speakers/.

Pre-registration for Farmer U is $100 per person and onsite registration is $125 per person. HPJ subscribers receive a $25 discount at pre-registration and onsite registration pricing, check your current HPJ issue for the discount code. HPJ will be in compliance with all local and state pandemic precautions at the time of the event; however, facemasks and COVID-19 vaccinations will not be required. We encourage attendees to social distance whenever possible and our staff will strive to make the event as safe as possible. Questions about Farmer U can be directed to the event manager, Kylie Reiss, who can be reached at 785-346-4067 or [email protected].

Lacey Newlin can be reached at 620-227-1871 or [email protected].