Why I AGvocate- A college cowgirl’s perspective

Before you read any further I strongly suggest you go read what another AGvocate’s personal reasoning behind blogging and advocating for agriculture. Judi Graff is an excellent role model to all of us in the AGvocate world and her post can be found here on AgChat’s website.

My back story in agriculture is one thing, but my back story in social media and AGvocating is young. I started this blog because I wanted to take a photojournalism approach and bring the stories, traditions, personalities, and histories of the people who produce and provide the food for this growing population. But, life happened and things came up and my original idea for my blog was put on the back burner. However, I knew in my mind that what I wanted to do was still possible but I had to be flexible and change my approach because agriculture and those who oppose it weren’t going to change their approach to fit my idea. So, it was back to the drawing board and I rearranged my game plan then switched out my tactical plan.

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Protect the Harvest & Their Plan to Protect You

Animal agriculture has been around since the dawn of time and man has made great use by specializing and with advancements in technology to gain the ability to generously feed others. However, animal agriculture is under attack by groups that want to see an “abolition” to the industry. Erik Helland, a Representative in Iowa’s House of Representatives, wanted to make it known that that simply cannot happen last Monday night on RFD-TV, Rural America’s Most Important Network, by discussing a group called Protect the Harvest. Protect the Harvest is a group of individuals that have made it their mission to put a spread the truth about agriculture one farmer or rancher at a time. They are getting these truths out using social media, face-to-face interactions, TV appearances, and radio appearances because they know how critical it is to set the record straight. Although the individuals behind this organization were smart enough to know that just talking to consumers won’t be enough to truly put an end to this battle between the animal agriculture industry and the animal rights advocates.

The main point that should be taken from the interview is this: animal agriculture is under attack and here’s what we can do to stop it. The Humane Society of the United States, HSUS, is an organization known for its commercials that show pet shelters and a celebrity holding an animal and they ask you for donations. They have what is known as a “hidden agenda” and know how to use it, in other words, they have a plan that is not the one they advertise and then do anything possible to achieve the underlying goals with the help of money from those who may have just been misinformed. Erik says that creating an awareness of this hidden agenda could make all the difference in the world. That hidden agenda is then used to scare and intimidate others into doing as HSUS pleases. Visit Protect the Harvest’s website for more information.

Overall, Erik did a fantastic job of explaining how to utilize what resources are available in this fight, and the most important one is also the simplest: be honest with your consumer and let them ask the questions. I recently did a post about that very topic and it can be found here. Protect the Harvest not only provides information on the deception of animal rights groups, but it also provides a sense of community that you can find common ground with someone who might have a completely different story then yours. Make sure to check out their YouTube page for videos like this one:

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Our First Step: Listening to Consumers

My amazing grandparents were in town this weekend and my Grandfather had brought down a copy of Future Farmers from September of 2011. He had read an article within the magazine that sparked his interest because it was right up the alley I’ve been paving for myself. His opinions were that of an agricultural background and I could hear some frustration and exhaustion in his voice when he explained his fear for the agriculture industry. Those are included in this piece.

Farmers are talking; will consumers listen?
Mike Wilson

The opinions that critics of agriculture present to the public are rarely from an agriculturalist’s point of view, in turn, providing an inaccurate portrayal of the industry and those within it. The critics create propaganda aimed at consumers that has been carefully thought out to scare consumers and provide falsified information about food. The necessity of food for survival is a fantastic way that critics play on consumer’s fear to manipulate choices and opinions.The fear of food being dangerous is a terrifying thought to all, but the actuality of these claims is not reliable. Informing consumers about food by the people who produce it is as obvious as consulting a doctor for chest pain. Becoming “transparent and gain consumer trust” will be the most important factor agriculture can have in this world, aside from feeding it.

Enter the U.S. Farm and Ranch Alliance, an alliance of diverse food producers and agricultural partners that are spending time and resources to understand and listen to American’s questions about food production. The alliance does not excel because their main concern is making a better profit, but they succeed because for the first time a concern had been make so blatantly obvious, their views on productivity were set aside to allow the big picture to be first priority . The cruciality of informing consumers about the actuality of food and agriculture was brought into the light and quickly made the focus of the industry as a whole. Spreading the message in agriculture doesn’t require a marketing or advertising degree, it takes a heart that has a passion for agriculture that completely outweighs yearly profit.

Social media works wonderfully as the starting point in communicating to consumers. In Wilson’s article he brings up a statistic, “277,000 online conversations about food and agriculture in May, but the ag industry barely joined the discussion.” My own Grandfather asked, “Well Shelby, when do agriculturalists have time to blog or time to use Twitter?” The honest truth is that each individual uses social media in their own way and and present their honest opinion so differently and diversely that it’s hard to say. What can be said about keeping up with the media and putting informative information out there is a time consuming activity on top of their tireless careers. To be as active in the social media community as most are by spending any free time checking Twitter or WordPress updates, speak volumes about those farmer’s and rancher’s priorities.

The pivotal point in this movement is to educate consumers on food, however the key is to ask the consumer to ask the questions they are curious about. Agriculture is a supply and demand industry, not a “If you build it, they will come” industry. The consumer ultimately calls the shots and thus proves the incredible importance for clearing up any misinformation. The need to be professional and talk down to consumers should be evaded indefinitely, no question about it. Speaking from the heart and allowing the passion of agriculture to come out in your tone and your words can do more for a conversation than a flip chart and a graph ever could. Remembering that the consumer is the focus is crucial, because taking this strategy and attempting to fight the critics will place both parties where they stood before hand. The ultimate motive here is to gain the public’s trust by being completely open and honest and then continue that honesty once the questions have been satisfied.

A huge problem agriculturalists face is the public’s perception on motives a producer might have. For instance, a producer that uses hormones on cows and heifers in feedlots might think they can profit more than grass-fed beef in the end, or the input costs to raise dairy cows could be cheaper than allowing a free-range environment. That perception is rarely true and really allows “rumors” to be spread that can ultimately put a farmer or rancher out of business. What consumers need to know is passion, heart, and love of what agriculturalists do for a living. There has been an untrue assumption made towards farmers and ranchers thanks to a tactic critics use that throws a cape over the women in dirty jeans and cowboy boots and the women wearing muddy muck boots and Carhartt bibs. The people who make up the agriculture population have love and passion in what they do, or they simply wouldn’t do it.

The most valuable opinion agriculture needs to hear, is that of those who buy the food.

More information about U.S. Food and Ranch Alliance Here.