Joni Mitchek of Kit Carson, Colorado, will soon preside over her first High Plains No Till Conference as coordinator for the Colorado Conservation Tillage Association.
The conference, which attracts hundreds of farmers to hear dozens of guest speakers over the course of two days, is being held February 5-6 at the Burlington Community Center.
Mitchek took over from long-time coordinator Becky Ravenkamp following last year's conference.
"The board has been wonderful to work with, and I've learned a lot," Mitchek said from her family's ranch north of Kit Carson. "I think Becky did such a great job, and I just feel blessed to step in and continue that on, and it fits with my family's goals as well."
For Mitchek and her husband Andrew, the primary aim is to work in production agriculture and raise a family in rural Colorado.
They have a daughter Anaiya, who is 3, and a one-year-old son, Mark.
They both grew up in Eastern Colorado ranching families and remain involved in their families' operations.
While attending high school at Karval — back when she was still known as Joni James — Mitchek did a summer internship at the La Junta Tribune-Democrat and Ag Journal with then-publisher Pat Ptolemy and former editor Candi Hill, an opportunity that proved to be a transformative experience.
"I really enjoyed it," Mitchek recalled. "It was my first opportunity to learn in a practical setting rather than in the classroom, and that was the beginning of knowing I wanted to stay and work in Eastern Colorado."
She went on to attend Colorado State University-Pueblo where she studied mass communications and media studies.
Her role coordinating the activities of CCTA draws on her degree but also on related work experience helping to put on the mid-summer conference for the Colorado Farm Bureau and serving as a college ambassador at CSU-Pueblo.
Just as importantly in the past she has volunteered with the National Beef Speakers Bureau, a check-off funded program that trains beef industry members to share their stories with consumer audiences.
Connecting with consumers is likely the next frontier for groups like CCTA, which emphasize environmentally responsible farming methods and improved resource management.
"It's mostly producers who attend our conference right now, but the consumer education piece is something I definitely think we need to be looking at," she said. "That will be the next step in the conversation: how to take these responsible production practices to consumers and say to them, this is what we're doing and why we believe in it."
"Consumers want to know the background of their food," she added, "not just where it comes from, but also that it is being raised in ways they agree with. That's an opportunity for producers."
CCTA has already taken on a pioneering role in connecting farmers with members of the scientific community who can explain why certain practical boots-on-the-ground practices seem to improve soil water-holding capacity, plant vigor and overall productivity.
"I think they've done a great job of balancing both sides of that equation," Mitchek said. "This year one of our keynote speakers is Jennifer Moore-Kucera. She brings a background in soil microbiology, so I'm excited to hear what she has to share."
The High Plains No Till Conference is one of several educational opportunities in Eastern Colorado that Mitchek believes can give young farmers like herself tools for future success. Another is Annie's Project, which provides farm women with financial training through a series of evening courses in Hugo, La Junta and Holyoke.
"There's information out there that can give us ways to be more profitable without expanding our acres and help us to be as efficient as possible," she said.
Online registration for the High Plains No Till Conference ends January 31, but walk-in registrations will be accepted at the door either day of the event. Registration is $180 for one or both days and covers numerous keynote speakers and breakout sessions, a trade show and generous meals and snacks.