About Clay Sundberg: “Ever since I was eight years old, I have had a passion for livestock judging — that spark is a strong flame that still burns today,” shares Clay Sundberg, Arlington, IL, 2019 American Junior Simmental Association President. “Growing up, I was told to keep my career options open. Now there are so many options, and it’s hard to choose just one. I plan to complete an Ag Business degree and work in agriculture marketing. Along with this job, I hope I can also run a smaller progressive herd of Simmental cattle, and I would also like to become a judging coach.” Currently, Sundberg is a sophomore at Lake Land College, Matoon, Illinois. He participates in an ag transfer program that allows him to complete two years at Lakeland and transfer to a larger university for an additional two years to complete a bachelor’s in Ag Business. He is active in the school’s livestock judging team and plans to continue judging at the collegiate level.
“Ever since I can remember I have always enjoyed working at the family farm, from everyday feeding, to working cows, or calving season, I can’t get enough of it,” he says. The Sundberg family has been raising cattle for over 200 years. Back in the 1890s the family focused on raising Galloway cattle, and 100 years later the operation started utilizing Simmental genetics, but later transitioned into Angus cattle. Sundberg exhibited his first heifer at seven-years-old and was hooked. The following year they brought Simmental heifers back to the farm. Today, the family operation focuses on producing Angus bulls and Simmental heifers and bulls to exhibit in the bred and owned division every year.
AJSA President Clay Sundberg answers questions posed by ASA Editor Emme Troendle.
Troendle: Share your involvement with ASA.
Sundburg: I didn’t originally begin showing Simmental cattle, but after attending my first Regional Classic in 2011, I was hooked. Since then, I have been active within my state association’s junior board, holding officer positions that include the president, vice president, and secretary. Since my first Regional Classic, I have had the opportunity to attend every North Central Regional Classic, along with numerous AJSA National Classics. Our family enjoyed the AJSA Classics because of the involvement in the educational events throughout the entire week. Along with the amazing atmosphere of these shows being such a family event, it encourages junior members to grow and excel with the knowledge they gain beyond the showring.
Troendle: What were your thoughts as you became an AJSA member, Trustee, and AJSA President?
Sundberg: Like I talked about earlier, I wasn’t born into the Simmental breed, but after such a phenomenal experience at my first Regional Classic, I have been an active member of the AJSA. I have truly enjoyed my time as a member of the AJSA because I have gotten the opportunity to meet and build connections with so many people from not only across the state of Illinois but across the US as a whole. My desire to be on the Board of Trustees started from the active leadership of past Trustees. Their activeness throughout the week at Classics, helping every junior member as if they had known them for years was always so welcoming to me. They encouraged each member to not only try their best in the educational contests but also to network with others throughout the breed.
One example that always sticks out to me is the first time I met Teegan Mackey. It was at the 2014 National Classic where his brother Tyler was a Trustee and encouraged me to participate in the corn hole tournament. At the time, I didn’t have a partner, but after Tyler set Teegan and me up as partners, we have been lifelong friends. I truly believe that is what makes our junior program so special. Networking encouraged by AJSA Trustees and junior members is evident throughout the entire week of each Classic every year. In 2017, my goal of being an AJSA Trustee came true at the National Classic in Mississippi. I have tried to make the most out of my time on the Board. I have gotten to meet so many more junior members and have tried to make the same impact on the first-year members that I had.
This past July a dream come true during the National Classic as I was elected President for 2019-2020. I couldn’t believe it had happened in the moment but now will make the most out of every opportunity it provides me. We have an extremely active group on the AJSA Board, and with Darla Aegerter’s guidance, I believe the opportunities for us to help grow and encourage our junior membership are endless.
Troendle: What would you like to see accomplished during your term as President?
Sundberg: I have one main goal in mind, encourage junior membership. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the support and encouragement of not only my family but past AJSA Trustees. They were the ones years ago who helped to light a spark in my passion for the Simmental breed. During my time as not only President but as a Trustee, I hope to have the same impact on other young, eager AJSA members.
I feel another great way of connecting with junior members is beyond just at shows, but through social media as well. I would like to start a “What’s Up, AJSA?” themed blog where Trustees can talk about what they are up to, allowing the membership to get to know their Trustees even better. This can also be used to help show success of other members whether just short interviews with past members and breeders or even current junior members throughout the country. There’s a lot of thought that still needs to go into the idea, but I think this would be a wonderful way to connect with our AJSA membership.
Troendle: What are your feelings with regards to the new IGS Youth Leadership Summit? How was it received among your peers?
Sundberg: I really have enjoyed the IGS Youth Leadership Summit. Not only have these events been able to provide junior members with three action-packed days of learning about the beef industry and the impact their breed has throughout the country, but it has allowed the AJSA membership to network with juniors across numerous breeds building more lifelong friendships beyond the Simmental breed.
Troendle: Any particular AJSA events or experiences that are especially memorable to you?
Sundberg: Every summer since 2011 have been filled with memories provided by AJSA events. One main one that comes to mind is when I attended my first National Classic in 2013. That was the first time I decided I wanted to attend the National Classic instead of my 4-H fair. Looking back, I am so glad I did. Only my dad, my brother, Tate, and I went on this trip as my mom and other brothers stayed back for our county fair. It was such a fun and exciting week with all of the different activities the Classic has to offer. I was encouraged to try and meet 10 people a day, just to say hello and find out a little bit about them whether I was in a food line or waiting to check-in for a contest. At the end of the week, I was fortunate enough to be named high individual in the Junior division and still to this day remember not only the emotional call home to tell my mom the exciting news, but the months’ worth of stories I got to tell from the memories made at that National Classic.
A second memorable event has to be my first IGS Summit conference in Lincoln, NE, where I got the opportunity to meet so many new people over a short three days and make memories that are with me today. Recently, we had a judging workout at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and all I could think about during the workout is how where I was standing was home to one of my most memorable water balloon fights I’d ever experienced during the Summit conference.
Troendle: What are the strengths of the AJSA program?
Sundberg: I think a tremendous strength of the AJSA has to be its activeness throughout the membership. Our family has always enjoyed the educational contests because it builds lifelong skills beyond our time as AJSA members. For example, the quizzes encourage members to not only know more about the ASA and their genetics, but also about the beef industry as a whole. Then there’s the livestock judging contest which encourages AJSA members to learn about the evaluation of livestock. The public speaking contest not only allows an AJSA member to gain knowledge of the topic they are speaking on, but builds communication skills that are helpful no matter what career field one hopes to be in. Finally, my favorite is sales talk; this contest helps members not only better understand the strengths of an animal and how to read a registration paper, but also how to connect with a breeder and portray how a specific animal will work for a program. Although these are said to be required contests, I have found them to be more of another competitive aspect to our Classics as I look forward to competing in them.
Troendle: What advice would you offer to juniors who are reluctant, for whatever reason, to become involved in AJSA programs?
Sundberg: The simple answer would be: “don’t be,” but that’s easier said than done. Instead, ease yourself into it and set goals that are achievable each year. First, be involved in the mixer events where you get to meet other AJSA members. These are the opportunities that I found the most beneficial for meeting new friends I could hang out with all week and talk about contests with. Also, network in the barn, just meeting new members in the barn not only allows for more fun activities like corn hole or cards, but these are also great people to study with for contests. The more prepared you are for a contest, the more enjoyable the contest becomes. The contests may seem overwhelming at first, but by setting goals and preparing to achieve them with friends and family, the results at the end of the week become even more meaningful. These goals don’t have to be to win, but instead maybe its to place in the top 10 or 20 in your favorite contest the first year and to build from there.
It is an accomplishment in itself to compete in the educational contests for the knowledge that is gained within them. Take time to enjoy these contests and make the most of them, that’s what they are for. Also, the AJSA Board of Trustees is there to help with anything you need; if you ever have any questions about anything, please don’t be shy to talk to one of us, we will help you the best we can. We all have a passion and love for the Simmental breed because these events were always enjoyable to us and we would want to share the same experience across all junior members.