Tuesday, March 25, 2014

National Ag Day and the Road Less Traveled

Submitted by Barry Nelson, John Deere

Now that the weather is finally warming up, I went out for a long ride on my road bike, a carbon fiber Specialized Roubaix! This is my preferred aerobic exercise to get my heart rate up while alleviating the pain in a sore knee! On this particular route, I’m able to get outside the city and onto less traveled country roads. It was a gorgeous, sunny day for a thought-provoking ride as I whirred past many of the farm fields in the area. This was quite a relief from the long winter we experienced this year. I was searching for a blog topic for the National Ag Day website and had one of those “ah-ha” moments on mile 6. The light bulb in my brain went from a dull flicker to a bright glow!

 I was thinking about all the talented farm men and women I’ve met this past year at many of the farm shows, producer seminars, and special events. When you hear the personal stories from these farmers about how and why they farm, the challenges for their businesses, and the commitment and enthusiasm they have for farming and their land, there can be no stronger advocates for the importance of agriculture to this nation. I wish every American could hear some of their personal stories.

Even with many of the commodity groups, ag companies, and special interest groups advocating on behalf of their farm constituents, many in the city are not getting the message. These folks are further removed from the farm, and some of our messaging has been very logical, technical, and scientific. We need to do a better job of communicating on a more personal level to urban grocery shoppers who only want to provide safe and nutritious food for their families.

The U.S. Farmer and Rancher Alliance (USFRA) www.fooddialogues.com has done extensive research on the appropriate messaging when communicating to an urban audience.  Their website has many great ideas for resonating more effectively with this important audience. 

We are all on a challenging journey taking a road less traveled, which reminds me of the famous poem by Robert Frost. But we are also traveling on new roads, and there are many misconceptions about how we produce the food, fiber, and fuel for the world’s population.

Farmers and ranchers must be able to provide enough safe, nutritious food for a growing population that will reach 9 billion by the year 2045. The producers must be able to do this with about the same amount of land and less water. They must be efficient, with more precise use of seed, fertilizer, and crop care products. And they must do this sustainably, protecting the land and preserving their farms for future generations.

The challenge remains, however, to communicate directly with consumers in large cities. How can a farmer have some personal face-to-face interaction with the end user of their food products? Fewer and fewer consumers understand the challenges of providing the food they eat every day.

One solution is to more effectively use social media to communicate and have personal interaction with more residents in the city. I met some wonderful socially engaged farmers and ranchers who are already doing this. They have very professional websites and blogs and are reaching out individually to food experts and consumers. They are personally engaged in promoting the strengths of agriculture in the United States. 

But all of this takes time, and we don’t have much of that to go around. Personally, I will be challenging   myself to communicate better and continue to weave this important message into the presentations I make to groups who want to know more about agriculture. As ag communicators, we could all be part of the solution to more effectively communicate the challenges, hard work, and expertise needed to raise crops and livestock in today’s complicated world.

Social media is opening up many new ways to communicate directly with an audience. Imagine if, in the future, before someone goes to a store or restaurant, they could use Facetime to contact a local producer to ask questions about how they raise their crops and animals. Face-to-face, personal interaction builds trust and credibility. 

My opinion of social media is evolving because this new media will allow farmers and ranchers to reach their customers and develop relationships like never before.

So, although I’ve been more conservative on the use of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, I’m on a personal mission to better understand social media. This has been my less-traveled road, but an increasingly more important road that will help us reach more of the consumers we ultimately serve. In the meantime, I am busy trying to understand Ning, Yammer, Vlogging, and Widgets while creating a Tag Cloud! I’m very fortunate to have found the road less traveled in agriculture because that has made all the difference in my career and personal life.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Bridging the Gap Between Farm and Fork, 365 Days A Year

Submitted by David B. Schmidt, International Food Information Council, Alliance to Feed the Future

What happens to the crops and livestock farmers and ranchers grow between the time they are harvested and the time they arrive as food on our tables? How do products like eggs, cereal and ketchup arrive to our homes ready to eat and stay that way until we make them part of our meals?

Those of us working in the farming and food sectors may take the answers to questions like these for granted. We understand the amount of labor that goes into both producing food from the land and preparing it for transportation, how to properly store it and what goes into the quick preparation of healthful meals.

When the Alliance to Feed the Future began preparing curricula about today’s food for teachers of elementary and middle school students, we knew the space between farm and fork is one about which most people outside our industry simply don’t have good, reliable information. For this reason, our K-8 resources, available free online, use fun activities and engaging graphics to focus on three essential steps leading to every American meal: production, processing and transportation.

The marvels of modern agriculture go far beyond the farm. We have endless choices for delicious and diverse cuisine 365 days a year thanks to farmers and ranchers around the world and the many others who help their bounty make it to our plates.  Advancements at every link in the food chain have allowed us to eat healthfully while spending less time and money getting our meals to the point of consumption.

Ag Day is all about celebrating the success that modern food production has been able to achieve with technology and hard work, while showing real images and impacts of today’s farms to the wider world.

We are proud to be one of many Ag Day partners empowering teachers to share the story of what happens on America’s farms and ranches—and beyond.

David Schmidt is President & CEO of the International Food Information Council, which coordinates the Alliance to Feed the Future.

The Alliance to Feed the Future is an umbrella network made up of 121 scientific societies, universities, industry and commodity groups that are working to raise awareness and improve understanding of the benefits and necessity of modern food production and technology in order to meet global demand.

For more information about the Alliance and to access its farm to fork educational curricula, visit alliancetofeedthefuture.org.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Shining Faces. Shining Futures.

Submitted by Jessie Headrick, CHS Inc. and the CHS Foundation

What happens when you gather 175 promising young farmers and ranchers from across the country for an in-depth exploration of issues facing agriculture and rural America?

You feel a rush of energy from the passion that ignites their conversations. You’re amazed by the intensity of their curiosity as they learn new ways to manage their operations. And you’re moved by the pride you hear in their voices as they talk about carrying on the legacy of their family farm.

Every fall, a new crop of progressive, business-minded producers gathers at the CHS New Leaders Forum, held in conjunction with the CHS Annual Meeting. Most arrive reserved and a bit tentative, but in a few short hours, they’re talking shop with each other like they’ve been friends for years.

These new leaders discuss their common challenges, of course, but mostly they zero in on upside opportunities that will keep their operations sustainable for future generations. They eagerly reach out to shake the hands of trusted partners that will help them stay relevant in the marketplace. They open up and ask more questions as they learn how a strong cooperative system gives them the closer connections they crave. And they smile as they celebrate the success of a global Fortune 100 company that they actually own and have a voice in — knowing it exists for the singular purpose of helping them grow.

CHS is proud to be a long-time supporter of National Ag Day and a leading force in developing rural leaders and building vibrant communities.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

From Farm to Plate: What Our Children Don’t Know

Submitted by Tracy Zeorian, U.S. Custom Harvesters

My husband and I are custom harvesters. Every summer, we travel the highways of this country with our combine. We chase the ripening wheat from Texas to Montana, just as my grandparents did 65 years ago.

We return home to Nebraska each fall. When school is back in session, I work as a substitute bus driver. This one particular day had me navigating morning rush hour with a busload of 4th graders. We were heading downtown to a performing arts center to learn about sound, music and symphonic instruments.

We passed new tractors, planters, grain carts and even a combine, being hauled on trailers. I couldn’t help but think about the kids just behind my seat. They were too busy wondering what they’d have for lunch or what game their buddy was playing on his iPod. They didn’t even notice the farm equipment. Do they even know what they are? These kids come from a small town, and their school is next to a cornfield! It occurred to me that this generation really has no idea what it takes to get food on their plates.

Surrounding communities gathered together this day to learn about music. Why not gather children to learn about how food is produced? Instead of bassoons and oboes, they could learn about seeds and harvest. They could learn about calving and ranches and gardens and farmers.

 Food grown in America is the safest, highest quality food in the world, and our children need to know. They need to know what it takes to feed so many mouths. They need hands-on experiences and digging in the dirt to fully understand … before it’s too late.

"Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn."
Benjamin Franklin

Friday, March 14, 2014

Making Cows Comfy at Meyer Dairy

Submitted by Tara Sammon Meyer, Meyer Dairy

Cow comfort and nutrition are two of the most important aspects for any dairy operation. Healthy cows are productive cows. In this Women in Agriculture Blog, Tara Meyer, from Meyer Dairy, walks us through their feeding and bedding process. Enjoy this video as if you are right there on the farm!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Farmers As Community Leaders

Submitted by Frank Holdemeyer, Farm Progress Publications

It's no secret that many consumers have no idea where their food comes from or how it’s produced.  That's especially true as society moves further and further from the farm. Many farm organizations are working to educate consumers on the role of farmers in food production.

But there is another story that should be told …

Besides producing food for consumers around the world, farmers and ranchers donate hours and hours of their time and, often, considerable amounts of money for the benefit of their local communities. They serve on school, bank, local co-op and church boards. Many are lay leaders in their churches. Farmers are likely the first to donate money for community buildings and then lead the fundraising efforts.

Often, farmers park their machinery during the busy planting and harvest seasons to participate in these meetings. 

Many also take on voluntary leadership roles beyond the local community, serving in state and national organizations. Many, many hours are committed and many miles are traveled.

In some states—Iowa, for example—the majority of seats in the state legislature are held by farmers.

I know this because I have worked with Master Farmer Awards programs in Iowa and other states for 40 years. Giving back to the local community and serving in leadership roles is one of the criteria for the award. But I doubt the average consumer ever considers that farmers and ranchers are the backbone of rural America.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Agriculture: The Answer to the World’s Hunger Crisis

Submitted by Garrett Jewett, Farm Journal Foundation

Farm Journal Foundation and its anti-hunger platform, Farmers Feeding the World, are proud to sponsor National Ag Day 2014. American farmers produce enough food to feed 155 people per farmer and contribute 25% of the world’s food supply. The United States is the leader in agricultural production because of its rich history of hard work, innovation, know-how and public policy. We celebrate American agriculture’s contribution, while remembering that there are millions of farmers in developing countries who struggle to produce enough food to feed themselves and their families.

The road to becoming a self-sufficient producer of key nutritional staples is a seemingly long and daunting journey for many less developed countries. Even in the United States, a staggering 14% of households are food insecure. But farmers all over the world will need to band together to produce more with less in order to meet growing global food demand. Americans can do their part by learning actions they can take to reduce hunger and support agriculture’s response to this global challenge.

Farmers Feeding the World programs rally diverse voices to ensure ending world hunger remains a national priority. The HungerU tour is a traveling exhibit that engages university students nationwide in a dialogue about world hunger, raising awareness of this crisis and agriculture’s contributions to fighting hunger. Our Farm Team brings agricultural community leaders who are passionate about fighting world hunger to engage with their representatives in Washington.

This year, Farmers Feeding the World will bring the HungerU exhibit and Farm Team members to National Ag Day to commemorate “365 Sunrises and 7 Billion Mouths to Feed,” and we hope you will join us!