Patton is the voice of agriculture for Nebraska farmers and ranchers
Clay Patton has gone from wearing the iconic blue corduroy jacket, stationed at the door, to his current position behind the board at Nebraska’s Rural Radio Network. Patton, a former Colorado State FFA officer, is moving up the ranks in agriculture radio and leaving his mark.
Patton is a farm broadcaster for KRVN, the Nebraska Rural Radio Association, based in Lexington, Neb. His voice is often the one detailing the day’s trade or delivering feature stories about Nebraska’s agricultural community.
The Nebraska State Fair, which just wrapped up in Grand Island, was an event important to the state’s producer community that allowed Patton to catch up with Nebraska Farm Bureau President Steve Nelson.
“At the time, the new tariff relief was just coming out and we were starting to learn some information about that,” he said. “It was when we were also just getting information about Mexico coming in on NAFTA so we were able to get his thoughts and insight on it. Steve is a great guy and he’s been doing that a long time.”
Patton has kept his finger on the pulse of agriculture news as it relates to Nebraska producers, most recently in the form of tariff payments. The state’s soybean growers are receiving $1.65 per bushel in the form of relief payments while corn producers’ payments are significantly lower.
“Corn is only getting a penny per bushel tariff relief and one of the corn economists had estimated the losses much closer to 44 cents per bushel damage due to the tariffs,” he said. “They were curious how that one penny per bushel was calculated and some of them saw it as a slap in the face.”
Patton has also been reporting on York’s FFA Chapter, recently selected as one of the six National Outstanding Programs. He said the program is led by two educators who are passionate and enthusiastic. The FFA program is one that Patton holds dear but nearly didn’t join in high school.
As a freshman at Genoa-Hugo High School in Genoa, Colo., agriculture educator Ty Kendrick was encouraging Patton to sign up for FFA and agriculture education courses. A cattle kid at heart, Patton didn’t have any interest in the farming aspect he thought was synonymous with the group. After some prodding from an older member, Colton Thompson, Patton and his parents attended a back-to-school barbecue and he was hooked.
He went on to serve as chapter president, District X President, and eventually as the State FFA Sentinel in 2013-2014. It was through his leadership roles and speaking competitions that Patton realized his interest as a public speaker. He is one of four Genoa-Hugo FFA alumni to have earned his American degree, the highest degree possible in the organization.
“Serving as a state officer was huge for me,” he said. “Learning what large-scale service looks like to an organization which, at the time, had close to 6,000 members and has grown since then. You’re on the road a lot but it’s so fulfilling and makes you feel good about what you’re doing and what the program is doing.”
Patton’s original intention was to attend a junior college to judge livestock but when he earned a spot on the State FFA Officer Team, he put college on hold for a year.
“I called the college and explained the situation and that I had to put my higher education on hold for a year,” he said. “The president, at the time, of Colby Community College, where I finally went, at first was apprehensive.”
FINDING HIS NICHE
At that point, Patton believed none of his scholarships could be held over for a year and then the phone rang and it was Steve Vacik. He had researched FFA and, if Patton was willing to commit to attending, his scholarships would be waiting for him.
While at Colby Community College, Patton approached the commodity office about a potential internship. His mentors there, he said, could have been just as easily stepping out of a Ford pickup or John Deere tractor as out from behind a trading desk. It was there, Patton became a trade clerk and gave the commodity reports on the radio. He eventually began work part-time at the radio station at the sports desk.
“When wheat harvest rolled around that first summer, they said, ‘you seem to know agriculture, do you want to go on our harvest tour and give reports?’” he said.
Patton believes in not turning away from an opportunity and, in sticking to that motto, he made his entrance into agriculture broadcasting. After graduating from Colby Community College, Patton had plans to continue his education. However, a call from the general manager of the station brought an offer for a farm director position that kept him in Colby, a community he has a deep appreciation for. Patton spent two years broadcasting in Colby and even had a chance to speak to students about ag broadcasting, one way he has given back to the community.
“One of the final things I told the students was never say no to opportunity,” he said. “And if it scares you, it’s a good thing. Little did I know, two hours later the phone would ring and Susan Littlefield, director of the Rural Radio Network would call me.”
Following his own advice, doled out hours earlier, Patton wrapped up his time in Colby, which included his own wedding a month after that call, and joined the Rural Radio Network in Nebraska, a move he said felt like stepping up to the varsity team.
Nebraska, he said, is the hub of American agriculture. A local cattle producer recently told Patton that Dawson County, Nebraska, is quintessential agriculture and Patton agreed.
“It has cow calf operations, feed yards, irrigated and dryland farm ground, and a large packing plant,” he said. “The whole cattle industry is represented right here in one county in Nebraska.”
Patton, also an auctioneer, spends time giving back to the industry calling FFA auctions, junior market livestock auctions, benefits, and announcing rodeos and shows.
While reporting the challenges facing Nebraska producers from low commodity prices to high property taxes, and the big wins of the industry, this cattle kid, all grown up, has found a home behind the microphone. ❖
— Gabel is an assistant editor and reporter for The Fence Post. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (970) 392-4410.