Pictured above: Tennessee Tech alumnus and discussion meet winner Matthew McClanahan, American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall, Young Farmers and Ranchers Chair Matt Fimon, and Ford account supervisor Melissa Bufford.

Young farmers from 37 states who had each placed first at their respective state convention competed

A Tennessee Tech University alumnus, adjunct instructor and local attorney has taken home top honors at the American Farm Bureau’s recent convention in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Matt McClanahan, a 2011 graduate of Tech’s School of Agriculture, won first place in the Farm Bureau’s “discussion meet.” The competition simulates a committee or board meeting, and participants are evaluated on their ability to exchange ideas and information on a predetermined topic.

Young farmers from 37 states who had each placed first at their respective state convention competed against McClanahan for the coveted first place prize: a $35,000 credit toward the purchase of a new Ford vehicle.

“The point is to identify a problem facing American agriculture, identify possible solutions and enact an action plan,” McClanahan explained. “Your job is to try and coalesce different people into a shared vision and move that forward with words in a way that is persuasive.”

For McClanahan, using his words and speaking prowess to win over audiences is nothing new. The Tech alumnus educates students at his alma mater by teaching an environmental law course each fall and has racked up an impressive record of verdicts as a lawyer at his Crossville-based firm McClanahan & Winston, P.C. He also serves as executive director for the Tennessee Association of Conservation Districts.

McClanahan was even part of a legal team that argued before the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to successfully overturn a federal policy impacting restaurant owners during the COVID-19 pandemic.

He explains that his success on the Farm Bureau stage was made sweeter because of the times he had competed and come up shy of a first place finish.

“I had competed at the state level for years and years and had received second place in the discussion meet no less than seven times,” McClanahan said with a laugh. “At a certain point, you think ‘I’m never going to win this’, but I stuck with it. I give God all the glory and thank Him for giving me the words and the opportunity to compete.”

The Cumberland County native credits experiences at Tech, such as being part of Tech Honors, the university’s honors program, with instilling in him the confidence to succeed.

As a student, McClanahan also participated in the university’s moot court team, where he developed a rapport with Tech faculty like Lori Maxwell, chair of the Sociology and Political Science Department. The longtime professor affectionately called McClanahan “the cow whisperer” after he was once tardy to a group practice because he had to deliver a baby calf.

“I can’t say enough good things about Dr. Maxwell,” said McClanahan. “I would say that the instruction that I received from her on the moot court team and getting to serve alongside very accomplished colleagues helped set me on a trajectory for today.”

And as for that credit toward the purchase of a new car? McClanahan has another plan in mind.

“I’m going to give it to my mom and dad,” he explained. “They have always been great supporters of mine and my biggest encouragers.”

Photo courtesy of Tech.

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