KEARNEY — The focus at opening day Wednesday at the 27th-annual Governor’s Ag Conference in Kearney was how to provide more opportunities for the next generation of ag producers.

Before the conference opened, Gov. Pete Ricketts met with more than 100 high school- and college-age Nebraskans while other youths throughout the state watched a live stream of the meeting.

Ricketts said several twentysomethings who have started their ag-related careers also participated.

“That is the future of our state,” he said.

Nebraska Department of Agriculture Director Greg Ibach introduced the college-age members of the Nebraska Agricultural Youth Council who are helping with the conference.

The council also plans the annual summer Nebraska Agricultural Youth Institute for high school juniors and seniors. At 43 years old, NAYI is the longest-running event of its kind in the nation, Ibach said.

Ricketts focused on the next generation issue in his conference welcome by saying Nebraska has more ag producers older than age 65 than it has younger than 45.

“It is important that we grow Nebraska, and agriculture is our largest industry. If we don’t grow agriculture, we can’t grow Nebraska,” the governor said.

Because it is expected that the world’s population will grow by 2 billion by 2050, creating the need for 100 percent more food, Ricketts said, “We are ideally situated in Nebraska to take advantage of that.”

One big reason, he noted, is that 70 percent of the new volume of food needed will be produced as a result of enhanced productivity and innovation.

Wednesday afternoon’s opening remarks were followed by a panel specializing in ag business transition and succession planning, a Celebrate Nebraska Agriculture Reception and dinner.

Today’s speakers focused on economic, energy, farm and trade policies; building Nebraska’s good name to build trade with growing world economies; and using value-added agriculture to connect the state’s urban and rural areas.

Ricketts was the keynote speaker at lunch.

There were 327 people registered for all or part of the conference.

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