By Cyndie Shearing

The American Farm Bureau Federation’s Partners in Advocacy Leadership program is designed to help agricultural leaders accelerate their engagement abilities and solidify their roles as advocates for agriculture. This article is the first in a series profiling selected graduates of the program, which launched in 2004.

John Boelts  
Credit: John Boelts   

John Boelts is an Arizona vegetable grower with a passion for sharing the story of agriculture by participating in numerous national media interviews. This included representing the nation’s lettuce growers on “The Dr. Oz Show” when an outbreak of E. coli infections was linked to romaine lettuce in 2018. More recently Boelts appeared on “PBS NewsHour,” where he discussed concerns of agriculture related to the Colorado River, and Fox News, where he shared how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting farmers.

In addition, he regularly engages with lawmakers and regulators about agriculture and connects with consumers through video farm tours and other types of outreach. He is a graduate of PAL Class 9.

Chris Chinn  
Credit: Missouri Dept. of Agriculture   

Chris Chinn is director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture, a post she has held since 2017. Her appointment followed more than 16 years of agricultural leadership at the local, state and national levels and recognition as a trailblazer in early ag advocacy outreach on social media. Her accomplishments include creating the MORE Strategic Initiative to protect and promote Missouri’s agriculture industry. The four pillars of the initiative are Grow MORE, Reach MORE, Connect MORE and Empower MORE, tying into the needs of farmers and consumers in the state.

A graduate of PAL Class 5, Chinn is a fifth-generation farmer who helps manage her family’s 1,600 sow farrow-to-finish hog operation, feed mill and small cow-calf herd, in addition to raising corn, soybeans and hay.

Rose Bradshaw Jeter and family  
Credit: Austin and Austin   

Rose Bradshaw Jeter is an instructor for the Agricultural Technology Program at Virginia Tech, in Blacksburg, Virginia. The university’s only two-year associate’s program combines classroom instruction and hands-on experiential learning. Jeter uses concepts that she learned through the PAL program in the classes she teaches, including Communication Skills and Contemporary Ag Issues, to help students develop confidence to become leaders in their field and community. Jeter invites industry guests to share with the students or make connections for internships, many of whom she has met through the Farm Bureau network. She enjoys volunteering with the Virginia Agriculture in the Classroom Foundation for which she is serving as chair. 

Jeter, a graduate of PAL Class 5, also enjoys helping her husband with the family farm’s agritourism ventures.

Matt Lohr  
Credit: Commonwealth of Virginia   

Matt Lohr is Virginia’s Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry, a post he was appointed to in January. In this role he oversees the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Virginia Department of Forestry and the Virginia Racing Commission. Prior to this appointment, he served as Chief of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and was elected for three terms to the Virginia state legislature. Lohr also owns Lohr Leadership, a motivational speaking/leadership development company specializing in energetic and engaging keynotes and workshops. In addition, he owns and manages a 250-acre beef, poultry, crop and sweet corn farm. He is a graduate of PAL Class 1.

Mathew McClanahan  

Matthew McClanahan is executive director of the Tennessee Association of Conservation Districts, where he focuses on conserving and enhancing the natural resources of the state through education, advocacy and the implementation of a broad range of programs and initiatives.A practicing attorney, he serves the legal needs of individuals and companies with interests in Tennessee. McClanahan also serves on the executive committee of the TennGreen Land Conservancy and formerly served on the board of directors for the Tennessee Tech Ag Foundation. A graduate of PAL Class 10, McClanahan and his family own and operate a registered Polled Hereford beef cattle farm.

Matt Rush, “The Gooder Guy, is a Texas-based motivational/keynote speaker who has entertained, lectured and led groups through thousands of leadership workshops over the past 20 years. He is passionate about inspiring people from all walks of life to “do more, be more and have more” than they ever thought possible.

Matt Rush  
Credit: Brandie Mustian   

From 2010-2014, he served as CEO of the New Mexico Farm & Livestock Bureau, where he garnered praise for uniting the agricultural community in the state. Rush is a graduate of PAL Class 4.

AFBF is accepting applications for PAL Class 11 through Feb. 28. Learn more about the program and how to apply at https://www.fb.org/programs/pal-partners-in-advocacy-leadership/.