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Where are they now: Catching up with CYL grads at NCBA Convention

Updated: Feb 13

The popular CattleCon event, organized by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA), was hosted Jan 31 - Feb 2, 2024 in Orlando, Florida and captivated a diverse audience from every corner of the beef industry. Among the thousands of industry stakeholders present were Canadian Cattle Young Leaders (CYL) alumni, Dr. Jessica Sperber and Rosie Thoni, who have established noteworthy industry careers that have led them to the United States.

CYL Alumni, Dr. Jessica Sperber, at 2024 CattleCon.

The Canadian CYL Program was established by the Canadian Cattle Association in 2010 and has now seen over 180 graduates. The program is open to young people ages 18-35 in all areas of the Canadian beef supply chain and is accepting applications for the 2024-2025 program year until March 31, 2024 at

Dr. Jessica Sperber is currently on faculty at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She attributes her participation in the Canadian CYL Program from 2016-2017 as a pivotal moment in establishing a successful career in the beef industry.

"The Canadian CYL Program was integral in helping me to create and maintain a broad network within the beef industry. It was during the CYL semi-finalist selection process that I was recommended for graduate school in the U.S., and I was keen to explore the opportunity," Sperber said. "I completed my master's with a focus on meat science at West Texas A&M University, and PhD in feedlot nutrition from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. I am now on faculty as an Assistant Professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, with a feedlot extension specialist role."

During her time in the Canadian CYL Program, Sperber was mentored by Canadian Cattle Association, General Manager, Ryder Lee, who was the CEO of the Saskatchewan Cattlemen's Association at the time before rejoining CCA in 2022.

"It is a relationship that will last for life. Ryder and I are fortunate to overlap at a handful of conferences throughout the year, and NCBA is by far one of our favorites to enjoy together!"

A similar experience is noted by many CYL alumni that the mentor and mentee relationship continues to grow long after the formal nine month mentorship experience in the program concludes.

Ryder Lee & Jessica Sperber

CYL alumni, Rosie Thoni, was also in attendance and works with a marketing agency specializing in agriculture, AdFarm, as their Director of PR and Content.

"One of my favourite parts of my job is the ability to attend industry events like CattleCon where I can connect with fellow industry members, learn about the newest innovations and hear from beef industry experts," said Thoni. "My role at CattleCon includes supporting our current clients with media relations and content needs and networking with potential clients and partners."

Rosie Thoni with Tim O’Byrne, Editor of Working Ranch Magazine, at 2024 CattleCon.

Thoni was a participant in the Canadian CYL Program in the beginning years of the program in 2010, where she was mentored by renowned agriculture reporter, Dianne Finstad.

"Through my mentorship with Dianne, I learned foundational skills in communication and grew to understand the process that reporters undergo in researching, interviewing and broadcasting stories," Thoni said. "This perspective has proven invaluable as I work with reporters at events like NCBA to connect our clients with beef producers and industry members through agriculture media platforms."

CattleCon also saw a handful of CYL alumni from Canada make the trip south for the event, including current Alberta Beef Producers Chair, Brodie Haugan, AgriCommodity Management Association Project Coordinator, Amy Higgins, and Beef Farmers of Ontario Producer Relations Specialist, Jaclyn Horenberg.

Applications for the 2024-2025 Canadian Cattle Young Leaders program year are open on our website for ages 18-35 until March 31, 2024. Click here to learn more and apply: Apply to the Canadian Cattle Young Leaders Program today

The AdFarm team at 2024 CattleCon. Rosie Thoni centre.

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