Agricultural Communications….Working for Farmers, Educating the Public, Sharing Agriculture’s Story

There are two types of questions that I am asked pretty much on a daily basis. 1) The typical hows the family, how old are you now, are you married kinds and 2) where do you go to school, what year are you and what are you studying kinds of questions. So you are probably wondering, “Alison where exactly are you going with this?” Just sit back, read on.

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It is nothing new for people to ask me what I plan on doing with my agricultural communication degrees. My common answer is hopefully something in promotion of agricultural products, marketing, advocating, public relations, writing, public agricultural education, etc. However, one of the most crazy questions I’d been asked after telling someone what I’m studying is this. (I’m NOT making this up either!) “So agricultural communications, huh? So that means you’ll like talk to animals and actually communicate with them?”

After proceeding to pick my jaw up of the floor and bite my cheek hard enough so I wouldn’t laugh or make a sarcastic comment back (for everyone that knows me, I can be super sarcastic sometimes…). Honestly, the first time this happened, I did not really know what to say for a second. I mean I really wanted to be funny – and yes I know as an agvocate I should never do that, but just go with it – and say something like- “Why yes, just call me the next animal whisperer!” “Yes because I am the female version of Dr. Doolittle” Haha 🙂

While on the topic of some of the “crazy” things I have heard people say, here are some other common questions/statements I have heard/seen. Feel free to laugh (I really hope you do!); however keep in mind that this represents lack of agriculture education.

  • My family and I show Brown Swiss dairy cattle. I have heard this at almost every fair I have shown at. “Oh look at those brown cows. That’s where chocolate milk comes from!!!!!” True story.
  • While talking about the milking process at the Missouri State Fair, I was asked this. “Do those sucky things (referring to milkers) hurt the cows? I cannot believe you put those on the poor cows!” This seriously happened.
  • “Why do we need farmers when I can just go to the grocery store and get all my food?” I can’t make this up.
  • A 60+ year old woman from a large city approached me and my cow at a Branson, Missouri resort where I was talking about dairy. “This is the first time I have ever touched or seen a farm animal.” So crazy!

Do you see why agricultural communications is important now?

In all seriousness, I do explain what I am planning to do with my degrees. I explain why agriculture is so important and I truly hope that I do make them realize this concept! However, as ignorant as this sounds to some of us that people actually think agricultural communications deals with talking to animals, this is actually something quite alarming. It is proof of just how uneducated the public is about the agriculture industry. This also gives me a sense of purpose, as well as a mission to tell agriculture’s story.

These encounters gets the wheels in my head turning and reminds me that I really am where I need to be. Why do I need to tell agriculture’s story? Why do I need to work to promote agriculture products? Why do I need to support farmers?

Here’s a few facts about agriculture that will be better than any explanation I could give.

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  • Twenty two million American workers produce, process, sell and trade the nation’s food and fiber. But only 4.6 million of those people live on the farms– slightly less than 2 percent of the total U.S. Population
  • Consumers spend $547 billion for food originating on U.S. farms and ranches. Of each dollar spent on food, the farmer’s share is approximately 23 cents. The rest are for costs beyond the farm gate: wages and materials for production, processing, marketing, transportation and distribution.
  • Nearly two million people farm or ranch in the United States. Almost 90 percent of U.S. farms are operated by individuals or family corporations. And American agriculture provides jobs—including production agriculture, farm inputs, processing and marketing, along with retail and wholesale sales–for 15 percent of the U.S. population.
  • According to the 2002 Census of Agriculture, 50 percent of the farmers are 55 years of age or older, up only three percent from 1997. Average age of the principal operator is 55.3.
  • A recent survey of America’s young farmers and ranchers revealed that 97.2 percent planned to farm and ranch for life. And 90 percent said they would like their children to follow in their footsteps. This provides strong incentive for today’s farmers and ranchers to protect and preserve he natural resources on their property. Not only is the land and its resources farmer’s lifeblood today, it represents the future for his family and its business.
  • Forty-one percent of U.S. total land area is farmland (938.28 million acres). In 1900, the average farm size was 147 acres, compared to 441 acres today.
  • Experts still project that our population will add more than 2 billion within the next 40 years.
  • The efficiency of U.S. farmers benefits the United States consumer in the pocketbook. Americans spend less on food than any other developed nation in the world. On average in 2004, Americans spent only 2% of their disposable income on meat and poultry, compared to 4.1 percent in 1970.
  • Farmers and ranchers are independent business people who provide for their families by growing and producing food and fiber. They use modern production techniques to increase the quality and quantity of the food they produce. In the 1960s one farmer supplied food for 25.8 persons in the U.S. and abroad. Today, one farmer supplies food for 144 people in the U.S. and abroad.

More facts can be found here: http://www.fb.org/index.php?action=newsroom.fastfacts

How do you feel about agriculture now?

F481501_10200455320567593_712146636_nor you farmers and fellow agriculturists feel INSPIRED! feel PRIDE! You are responsible for feeding the nation and the world. You are responsible for life as we know it here in the United States! I know you do not get the credit you so deserve. (That “So God Made a Farmer” video…just think about that!) That is why I am in agriculture communications. I want to change that so you can keep on doing what you’re doing and so that you can get some appreciation. I have your backs!  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AMpZ0TGjbWE

For those who have never considered agriculture to be such a major part of your life- feel EDUCATED! feel THANKFUL! Considering only less than 2% of the population is responsible for providing you with food and fiber on 41% of the land here in the U.S; you spend less on food compared to any other country in the world; the population grows everyday meaning more mouths to feed on the same amount of land used for production practices today; many farmers are older than 50 meaning fewer young people are entering the production agriculture sector; and agriculture is a huge part of our economy and our daily lives! I want to be a reason that the public becomes more educated about agriculture.

For those who are disrespectful to farmers and criticize them for production practices feel the need to CHANGE your views. feel GRATEFUL instead of hateful. After reading the facts above, seriously reconsider your accusations and the perceptions you have of what agriculture should be. Here’s the deal. If all producers went to non-confinement farming, did not use vaccines, did not use pesticides, etc.? ask yourself these questions. How would we have enough land? How would we control disease to ensure enough of a safe product for consumption? How could we produce enough product to meet growing demand of food products? Our current methods of productions are efficient. Yes, there are ways which to improve so let’s focus on improvements instead of working to enforce more strict regulations, shutting farms down, etc. I want to be the reason you change your mind about agriculture!

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As you can see, agriculture is important. Sometimes, farmers forget just how important they are. Sometimes, the general public forgets just how lucky we all are to have a strong agriculture industry. Sometimes people forget about reality and focus just on how they want farms to be like. (You know, rolling green pastures, big red barns, happy animals, etc.) As an agricultural communicator, these are some of the challenges I know I will face. It is an almost impossible task of educating every single person about agriculture. I truly believe that through efforts such as advocating agriculture at community events, direct contact with the public talking about agriculture, working for farmers, using social media, writing newspaper articles, designing material to tell agriculture’s story, making videos, developing agricultural advocacy websites, etc., I can be a big part of this difficult task.

To wrap this post up, I just want to say this. There is no doubt in my mind that agriculture is in my blood. I was born a dairy farmers daughter, so it is safe to say I have been involved in the industry since the day I was born. My dad’s parents were dairy farmers. My mom’s parents are still dairy farmers. Two of my aunts are still dairy farmers. My dad is an agriculture education teacher. My cousin is an agriculture education teacher. Another of my cousins works in 20131020-204752.jpgagriculture engineering. My little sister is majoring in agriculture at Missouri State. I have a Bachelor’s degree in agricultural communications and have a semester to go before I get a Master’s degree in agricultural communications. Agriculture is a huge influence in my entire family’s lives and is something I have been around my entire life. To be able to work in a field where I can work to help my family is a blessing in itself. 🙂

I truly hope that you now have a better knowledge of agricultural communications. It is a diverse field with so much opportunity that I am blessed to be a part of! Remember farmers, pat yourselves on the back. Everyone else, thank a farmer because without them, you would not be here.

God Bless You All!!!!! Until next time,

~Ali

P.S.- GO ST. LOUIS CARDINALS!!!!!! LETS GET THAT 12 IN ’13!!!! 🙂

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Living the Life

Being that my birthday is tomorrow, I decided to sit down and think about my life for a while. I think about everything I have and think to myself, “Wow, I am one lucky woman.” Even though I tend to take many things for granted, I cannot help but realize how blessed I truly am. No, I am no rich movie star who has everything; however in my own world, I’ve got more than what I feel like I deserve.

God has been so good to me in so many ways. I have an amazing family, great friends, a roof over my head, a car that gets me where I need to go, food on the table, clothes on my back, horses and dogs that put a smile on my face, and an agriculture foundation that has truly made me into the person I am today. Sure, I do not drive a fancy vehicle nor live in a mansion, but the way I see it now, I really am living the life.

My viewpoint on life has definitely changed over the years. When I was little, I remember being the green-eyed, blonde haired girl who wanted nothing but to have fields full of paint horses and Brown Swiss cows. In elementary, all I wanted was to play basketball all the time so I could be the next Jackie Stiles. When I was a teenager, all I wanted was a cool car, sweet kicks and anything else that would put me in the “popular crowd.” In my early college years, I wanted nothing but to have the physical looks that will make me be the cool college kid who rides a flashy horse…

As you can see, I used to be one of those who wanted everything. Never once in that previous paragraph to you see me having the mentality of being satisfied with what I already had. Over the years, I have always had the things I mentioned earlier in this post. However, it has taken me almost 22 years to realize what really is important in life. Those things I have (and still take for granted) are the things I should be most thankful for.

Today, I drive a car that is ten years old and has over 105,000 miles. I still live in an old farmhouse with my family. I ride a plain, sorrel quarter horse that is not necessarily going to get me noticed in a crowd. I do not have a perfect body and could stand to lose a few pounds. I wear clothes that I have been wearing for the past five years. My life now is relatively simple, and to some of you may seem boring. However, for me, I would not have it any other way. I know it is not perfect by any means, but I also know it is what makes me who I am.

I am so very thankful for all these things in my life. The only thing I want now is for others to realize what it has taken me so long to. Be thankful for the things in life that you already have. Don’t spend your life wanting things because you will find that your wants will overcome you and transform you into someone you truly are not.

In closing, I just have to say that I feel like I truly am living the life. I am honestly very happy with my life right now, and I would not change it for anything!

The World From the Back of a Horse

When I have four days off from school, it almost always means me spending as much time as possible riding my horses. This past weekend was no exception. With the fantastic February weather we have been having here in southwest Missouri, I could not help but spend time riding my Quarter Horse gelding around my family’s farm.

As I was riding across our fields, I could not help but take in everything around me. It was very peaceful which gave me the perfect opportunity to do some thinking. I could not help but think about how truly blessed and fortunate I was to be able to soak up the sun while riding a horse. From where I was riding, I could see my family’s farmstead, which made me think how lucky I was to have the opportunity to grow up on a dairy farm. At that particular moment, I made the realization that life is SO good.

It is truly amazing how riding a horse can give me an entire different perspective on life. For a while, I was away from the hustle and bustle of the city and the stress that school puts on me. All I was focused on was my horse and our surroundings. It gave me the chance to really appreciate farm and country life, as well as all the small things we all tend to take for granted.

To some, this post may seem cliche’. However for me, it serves as an eye-opener for a number of reasons. First of all, with all the stress I am under from school, I really need to spend more time riding my horse to get away from it. Secondly, it is truly a blessing to grow up in a rural environment. Not everyone gets to have moments like these, which is really a shame. Lastly, I truly am a lucky woman who is blessed beyond measure.

If you are having a stressful week or just need to get away from the world’s problems, I urge you to go saddle a good horse and just go for a ride. Let your mind wander, relax and leave your worries behind for a while. You will most likely see life in an entirely new perspective all while sitting on the back of a horse.

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