For the past 10 months, 13-year-old Julia Dimmitt has awakened every day at 5:45 a.m. to feed and care for Bentley, her prized show steer. Julia spends countless hours for the chance to compete at the world's largest junior livestock show in Oklahoma City.
From now through March 26, Julia and thousands of other youth will converge on the Oklahoma State Fair grounds for the Oklahoma Youth Expo. The annual event provides a platform for young enthusiasts to show the best livestock their generation has to offer. The event also fosters important leadership training and life skills centered in rural values.
I grew up participating in the show. I learned the value and hard work of competing. My family is still involved four generations later. We find these same levels of commitment in countless families across the state.
Since 2001, the OYE has managed an almost century-old program with tremendous success. Its board consists of private industry, members of the Oklahoma Agriculture Commission and the head of the OSU Department of Animal Science. All are committed to promoting higher education in agricultural studies and careers in agricultural industries.
The Oklahoma Youth Expo is a portal for rural students to access these opportunities. Since 2002, more than 1,000 Oklahoma students have received $2.1 million in scholarships. In fiscal year 2012, the OYE paid out more than $373,000 in scholarships.
Our 10-day expo is one of the largest event venues in Oklahoma City. We welcome exhibitors from all 77 Oklahoma counties and anticipate 100,000 visitors to the newly renovated fairground facilities. Economic benefits are high. Last year's expo contributed an economic impact of $24.5 million to Oklahoma City. With 6,000 exhibitors and 13,500 head of livestock, this year's figure is expected to be even higher.
Last December, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack ruffled a few feathers when he bemoaned the waning influence of rural America. Vilsack's remarks remind us that a vibrant rural America is vital to our nation and state. From this source springs the majority of the country's water, food, fuel and energy.
Few Americans have any direct connections to the family farm. Fewer still understand the systems that contribute to a healthy food supply. We must keep programs like OYE in the public eye. We must focus on the challenge of keeping kids such as Julia Dimmitt “up” on the farm. America's agricultural future depends on it.
Davis, an OSU graduate, lives in Guthrie. He is a member of the Oklahoma A&M Board of Regents and managing general partner of Davis Farms and Dimmit Hay.