Maybe the headline should have been "The Millennials are coming, the Millennials are coming!" Barely into her 30’s, Amelia Levin Kent is one of the youthful hard-chargers that will soon be the heart and soul of the cattle business. She represents the leading edge of an oft-maligned age group that really does know how to get things done.
When I asked her why so few farmers and ranchers of her generation were as deeply involved, she explained, "It takes a lot of work and money to get started in farming. So many young farmers can't afford to take the time away to serve. They have to hustle to get past the entry costs."
"I'm hugely motivated to serve, especially to help end the misperceptions about modern agriculture," she said as she answered my question about how such a young farmer had already become a member of the Cattlemen’s Beef Board (CBB), a group usually distinguished by the age and length of service of most of its members. She graduated from college just a few short years ago and immediately showed her motivation. In just 15 years, she's had leadership positions for the Louisiana Beef Industry Council; Capital Area Groundwater Conservation Commission and the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation.
She's also served as president of Tangipahoa Parish Cattlemen's Association and is a member of the East Feliciana Cattlemen's Association and National Cattlemen's Beef Association. She and her husband won the Farm Bureau Louisiana Excellence in Agriculture Award; she was a Farm Bureau Louisiana Discussion Meet Finalist and won the Farm Bureau Louisiana's Outstanding Young Farm Woman award.
Six years ago, Michael Danna, writing for the July 2010 edition of Mid-South Farmer, cleverly stated "When Amelia Levin married Russell Kent, it was a union of vows and cows. But the couple, newly married in May, began consolidating their cattle herds long before they said 'I do'.”
Amelia and Russell each had their own herd. Amelia had just moved to Louisiana after college to work with her mother's family on a nursery and a small herd of 40 beef cows. "But Katrina hit while I was passing through and redirected me. I never left," she said.
Russell is a fourth generation Louisiana cattleman, well experienced in the Southern cattle business. Working as a team, they started to build their own family business and they've made it a mix of tried-and-true practices with some interesting experimentation as they try to find that niche that works best for them.
"We've tried direct marketing," she said. "We're only two hours from New Orleans so we tried supplying restaurants with rose veal. Now we're working with a home delivery service in Baton Rouge. It has helped us learn more about what happens after harvest and how to best serve the consumer."
Together, Amelia and Russell bring an out-of-the-ordinary combination of backgrounds and talents to farming and ranching. He graduated from LSU with a degree in agribusiness. His family has lived and farmed in the area since before the Civil War. In fact, they live in his maternal grand parent's pre-Civil War home. She grew up with cattle in Colorado.
She's a graduate of Boston's Wellesley College, a long way from LSU, with a degree in economics and religion. Together, they own and manage a sizable beef-cattle herd, market their calves and replacement heifers, market and manage local beef sales, and own a hay operation.
Amelia was nominated to fill the state's lone seat on the CBB by the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation, Louisiana Cattlewomen and the Cattle Producers of Louisiana. She was appointed by Thomas Vilsack, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to begin her first term on the Board in 2016.
"My first meeting was the new member orientation in March and subsequently I was appointed to the Innovation Committee," she said. "I was super excited about it. Did you know how much innovation has meant for the cattle industry?" she asked.
Answering her own question, she said, "The Flat Iron and Petite Tender increased the value of the chuck and round by $247 million in 2014 alone!.
"I know there has been some resistance to the checkoff in Louisiana," she said. "We no longer have a state assessment. A lot of that skepticism comes from a lack of understanding about what those dollars can do."
Part of her self-assigned mission, spurred by her contacts and experiences with the CBB, will be working hard to correct those misunderstandings.
To learn more about Amelia Kent's farming experiences, watch this YouTube video here.