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It’s fair season! I like pig butts and I cannot lie…

This past Monday, I was sitting in my Washington D.C. apartment when I received a phone call from my mother; she wanted to FaceTime. I didn’t even know she knew how to that. I sat down my book, “The Fred Factor” and picked up her call. As I peered into the screen of my iPhone4, I was greeted by several familiar faces saying (some of them actually screaming) “HEY!” This crowd was filled with friends of all ages – some my parents’ age, some my age, and some that haven’t even hit double digits. The sight of this group and their location resurfaced many nostalgic feelings.

They were at my county fair!

Although my days showing at the fair ended three years ago, my parents always take time out of their week to reconnect with friends and be a part of the excitement and fun associated with showing livestock. The people I began chatting with over the phone are those I met and became close to when I was an exhibitor. During the conversation, I began to reflect on my fair memories. I am ever so grateful that I had the opportunity to raise livestock for the fair. It provided me with so much laughter, new friends and a chance to grow in many different ways.  Four reasons that immediately stuck out in my mind include:

Responsibility

Raising livestock is no easy task. Regardless of the animal, it must receive daily attention to ensure it has food, water and a comfortable living environment. I can remember spending hours cleaning out my hogs’ pen because I wanted to make sure they were kept clean throughout the entire production process. In addition to its welfare, I needed to be around my hogs to get them comfortable with humans and foreign noises. Transporting animals to the fair might seem hectic, but if you have given your animals the proper attention prior to this relocation, they are much more calm and relaxed throughout the process.

As you can see, one project can consume a lot of time. Some of this attention cares for the hogs basic needs, i.e. food and water for growth, but the additional care teaches me the value of hard work.  If I go the extra mile with a project, it is mutually beneficial.

Competition/Sportsmanship

I have always been a competitive person…just ask my sisters. Consequently, raising animals for show further prompted my drive to create healthy and happy animals.

  • Brush? Check.
  • Water bottle? Check
  • Show stick? Check.
  • Competitor’s number? Check.

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Before any show, I would mentally go through this check list to ensure I had all the necessary items. I needed a brush to keep my hog clean; a water bottle to keep it cool; a show stick to guide it; and my competitor’s number to check-in.  I enjoyed being in a ring with fellow friends and classmates to showcase the end product of our hard work. Because this was a competition, it subsequently taught me sportsmanship. Although I never made it to the championship drive (when the judge announced a winner), those who were not selected always went up to the champion to shake his or her hand. Were they disappointed? Probably. But they were able to put aside that emotion to congratulate a fellow exhibitor on a job well done.

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Working as a Family

I am the youngest of three, and with two ambitious sisters, there are few times that our entire family is able to get together. In addition to the holidays, fair time was one of those weeks I could guarantee a team of five. (Some might even consider their fair a holiday!) Every summer, we would camp at the fair; it provided convenience and a time to bond. I can remember getting up early to feed and water our hogs. Some mornings, we would get up extra early to wash them. Fair projects always brought my family together, and for that, I am beyond thankful. Being crammed in a small camper for seven days might have created some conflict at times (especially during our elder years!), but I was always sad to see fair week come to an end.

Creating Friendships

Fair friends. Have you ever used this term?  By being involved at the fair, I was able to interact with so many smart, funny and driven individuals. Through my interactions, I quickly learned the caliber of young adults that make up livestock exhibitors.  Not only were they successful, but they built me up to reach new heights, too. Consequently, they soon lost the title “fair friends” and became close friends. (But we won’t forget what started it all…the fair!) One of my friends actually gets married in a few weeks, and despite our separation the past few years because of college and careers, I, along with many others, were still invited to be a part of her special day. I have found that very few organizations or circles have this type of longevity and loyalty.

In addition to the friendships I created, my parents were also able to build relationships. As I previously mentioned, they are taking time off this week to reconnect with old friends and help their kids with their projects. This past Monday when my mom FaceTimed me, I was actually wearing a fair shirt that our friends made last year. The shirt reads (and something I will never forget!)… “I Like Pig Butts and I Cannot Lie…”!

Blog Post, July 31 Picture 1


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PETA may be crazy, but other groups aren’t that different

If you had cream in your coffee this morning or had meat for dinner last night, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) wants you to seek help for your “addiction.”

PETA supports a new group called Meat and Dairy Eaters Anonymous by providing sites for their meetings. The support group follows a 12-step program like any other addiction support group, except they are providing guidance on how to be vegan. They are comparing eating meat to being a drug or alcohol addict essentially, which is insulting to people who actually struggle with addictions that negatively affect their physical and mental health.

I think we all can agree that PETA is on the extreme end of the spectrum with their insane publicity stunts, but maybe you’re thinking this is just PETA and other animal rights groups really do care about animal welfare without wanting to stop everyone from eating meat.

activst web

Activist Web

Animal rights groups have the same mission

PETA and other animal rights extremist groups like The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), Mercy for Animals and Compassion Over Killing  have the same end goal: total veganism. This means no more cream in your coffee, milk in your cereal, cheese in your macaroni or grilled meat on the Fourth of July (or any other day for that matter). Sure there are meat and dairy substitutes, but do you really want to eat tofu, veggie burgers, soy milk and fake cheese the rest of your life?

The Alliance has tracked animal rights activity for almost three decades and has identified connections between the groups that illustrate how similar they are despite their differing public appearances. Our activist web shows the transfer of money and/or personnel between the groups and our top profile pieces include key campaigns and quotes to show their true agendas.

John “J.P.” Goodwin, the director of animal cruelty policy at HSUS, is one example of key staff members moving between animal rights groups. Goodwin was a former spokesperson for Animal Liberation Front (ALF) – one of the most extreme animal rights groups that exists.  ALF is known for acts of violence including property damage and threats all in name of “total animal liberation.”

Another example is financial support between HSUS and PETA. Why would you send financial support if you don’t agree with and support the core beliefs of the organization? The answer is simple – it’s because HSUS does share the same core beliefs and values as PETA.

HSUS is PETA in a business suit

HSUS is on Capitol Hill (literally in business suits) lobbying against animal agriculture while PETA advocates are standing on the front steps in fake blood demanding that people go vegan. This isn’t just a coincidence. HSUS and other groups rely on PETA and ALF to be crazy and obnoxious so that they seem level-headed and rational when in fact they each have the same goal of ending animal agriculture and meat consumption.

Animal rights advocates argue that it is impossible to care for animals and also eat meat, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Animal rights organizations are concerned about animal rights (treating animals as equal to humans), not animal welfare (making sure animals are well cared for). They will spread misinformation and use undercover video smear campaigns in an attempt to tarnish the reputation of hardworking and dedicated farmers and ranchers and make consumers uneasy about the food supply.

You can care about animals and still eat meat, milk and eggs11731729_10152937901995636_1288857164315442414_o

Animal welfare is a top priority for the animal agriculture industry. If it weren’t, why would there be so many industry programs and organizations dedicated to ensuring livestock and poultry receive the best animal care?

Animal rights groups will never be happy until meat and dairy products are off the menu for good and all animals are “free,” so the next time you think an animal rights group sounds rational and has the best interest of the animal in mind, ask yourself who is caring for that animal 24/7, 365 days per year – the animal rights organizations and activists or the farmers and ranchers?


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Concerned about how animals are cared for? Discover the Truth Yourself

Kay Johnson Smith, President and CEO at the Animal Agriculture Alliance, joins us this week to share her experience at Discovery Cove which is owned by Sea World. 

When I was a child, the worst thing you could do in my home was lie.  It was my parents’ most important rule, and we knew no matter what we did that would make my parents disappointed or mad, it would be even worse if we lied about it.

Unfortunately, that rule does not appear to apply to many of the activists we in agriculture and other animal-related businesses have to deal with every day.  We find ourselves constantly responding to and defending against the lies and propaganda of those who feel humans and animals have no business working together or even interacting for the greater good of mankind.  The activists throw out accusations, innuendo and flat out lies at times, hoping anything will stick in the minds of the public who has little or no experience with farm animals, wildlife or any animals beyond their pet dog or cat.

Kay holding a starfish at Discovery Cove

Kay holding a starfish at Discovery Cove

Recently I had the opportunity to visit Discovery Cove in Florida which is owned by Sea World.  It was an amazing experience I’ll never forget.  Being submerged in the midst of thousands of tropical fish and manatees was an experience you could only get otherwise by scuba diving – which I’ve never done and most people never do.  I swam with dolphins and even got to kiss one.  I fed an anteater, otter and birds you would only otherwise see (but never interact with) in a zoo and saw other species of animals that you could only otherwise see if you traveled to Brazil.  But how many Americans will ever go to Brazil in their lifetime?

While there, I witnessed the behind-the-scenes work of some of their employees and their genuine passion for caring for these amazing animals was evident.  When introducing people to the animals, there was such respect for them and their environments demonstrated by the employees and required of us as guests.  I learned that Discovery Cove alone has nearly 200 employees in its zoological department!  That doesn’t include employees such as lifeguards, food service, hospitality or administration.  It was also impressive how many years many of the employees I met had worked there – some 10, some 15 and at least one for 30 years!  I took that as a sign that this company takes care of its employees in addition to its animals.

kay and peyton dolphinThis was truly an opportunity to interact with creatures I’d otherwise never get to experience in my lifetime.  And that’s the whole point of parks like Discovery Cove and Sea World – to give the average person an opportunity to discover, experience and learn about wildlife which in turn creates respect and appreciation.  It’s about education and conservation so that we can leave the world a better place for future generations.

This adventure was much like what I’ve experienced with farmers every time I have visited a farm during my nearly 30 year career in agriculture.  The people who raise animals, whether for food or education and conservation, love what they do.  They love their animals and respect their needs, and they expect others who enter those environments to do the same.

kay kissing dolphinSo the next time you see an “undercover” video about farming or a big budget movie like “Blackfish” disparaging companies like Sea World, don’t believe everything they say or show.  From my experience, every one of these videos is edited and narrated in ways specifically to mislead you with their emotional charges, when really the incidents shown are either staged, taken out of context (showing you 30 seconds of a 30 hour video) or they’re edited in ways to completely misrepresent what’s really happening.  One of our interns whose family owns cattle recently wrote a blog demonstrating that very point.

Do bad things happen at times?  I’m sure – we’re talking about nature and living creatures interacting with one another.  But these videos are edited to present a false impression about the people who grow our food or provide educational experiences about wildlife because they do not believe we should benefit in any way from animals.  And the activists producing these videos know that the majority of the American public has never had the firsthand experience to know otherwise.

That’s why it’s important for everyone to discover the truth about farming and other businesses that involve animals for yourself.  Talk to those who own and are responsible for the direct care of the animals in question.  Don’t believe the propaganda of activists with an agenda whose only mission is to take away your opportunities to interact with and benefit from animals in our world.

Lying for a living may be profitable, but it certainly wouldn’t pass the test of my parents – or likely theirs either.

 


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Proactive steps to prevent an “undercover activist” from telling their version of your farm’s story

In my previous blog post, I examined the various “ag-gag” laws across the country. These laws vary widely in their scope, intentions and effects. Some farmers living in states with these laws may fear they do not go far enough to protect against undercover activists. Farmers living in states without these laws may fear that without them, they are defenseless against smear campaigns against their livelihoods. Agriculture is a business, and just like any business, farmers need to proactively protect themselves from potential legal issues. Below are some suggestions that farmers could implement today that may help mitigate the disaster that is animal rights activism.

Paper trail and training

First and foremost, all agricultural employers should provide written guidelines on every action employees should undertake on the farm, coupled with appropriate training. In the case of animal rights activism, making sure that all employees understand how to properly care for livestock is an excellent safeguard for employers. These guidelines and training sessions should also include information that explicitly demandCollege_Math_Papers employees raise any concerns about animal abuse – or any other problem for that matter – with a supervisor or employer immediately. This kind of rule will prevent animal rights activists from being able to claim that abuse is rampant on a farm; if employees are not holding themselves and each other accountable, it is less likely that the employer can be responsible as well. That said, employers should always try their best to personally oversee operations to ensure that no improper actions are conducted. Additionally, employees should sign a notice indicating that they have read the written guidelines and received appropriate training. This way, animal rights activists or otherwise rogue employees cannot claim ignorance of the materials an employer provides.

Be your own ‘Undercover Boss’

In conjunction with creating a paper trail that proves vigilance in caring for animals, employers should consider installing cameras on their property in areas where employees will likely handle livestock. While this can be expensive, having your own video evidence to combat the claims of thsurveillance-camera-241725_640e significantly altered activist videos can provide necessary context. Also, having this kind of video evidence is beneficial to the entire animal agriculture industry, as consumers could have the opportunity to see what really happens on farms. Perhaps if consumers better understood what farming operations really look like, they would swallow sensationalist claims from agenda-driven animal rights organizations less readily.

Public defamation is already illegal

Now let’s assume that despite an employer’s best efforts, an undercover activist infiltrates a farm and releases a video that portrays out of context activities as abuse. Employers should not be afraid to sue the activist for defamation. These undercover videos can completely destroy the livelihoods of farmers. If an employer can prove – perhaps through the measures mentioned above – that no abuse has occurred on the farm, or that appropriate measures have been taken to eliminate abuse therefore placing liability on the individual abuser, then that is simply fantastic. But the damage that arises from public defamation can be absolutely devastating to farmers and their families, not to mention public perception of animal agriculture as a whole. Many animal rights organizations see 4442238548_e54f2c3396_oeconomic benefit from jumping from one issue to the next, as Chris DeRose – a fringe animal rights activist himself – points out in an interview with an animal rights terrorist organization. These organizations profit dramatically every time a new video or other public outreach campaign creates a national firestorm. Because we can connect economic benefit to defamation, it is even possible to claim that these organizations violate the Economic Espionage Act of 1996. Granted, this act has historically always been employed in cases of data theft, usually involving an individual attempting to sell or otherwise transfer trade secrets to foreign corporations. However, the text of the law could be interpreted to apply in this circumstance as well. Any attorneys out there? Just some food for thought.

Closing thoughts

With or without “ag-gag” laws, employers can disincentivize activists from even trying to erroneously accuse hardworking farmers. If there is real abuse, then employees should report it immediately so they and their employers can find a solutions to correct the problem. However, the likelihood of discovering real animal abuse on farms is far lower than animal rights organizations would like the public to think. Animal care is the number one priority on my family’s farm, and for all other farm families. At the end of the day, I hope my suggestions can help farmers effectively reduce the likelihood of being the target of an undercover activist while also improving the public perception of animal agriculture.

 


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On the job hunt? The agricultural industry can provide you with a meaningful career.

As a rising senior in college, I will soon be tasked with the daunting responsibility of applying for jobs with the hopes of building a career. As a communication major, there are endless industries, companies and organizations that I could join in pursuit of accomplishing my goal of having a career that is meaningful and impactful. But where do I start? With so many opportunities, how do I narrow down my options to find the best fit?

There are a multitude of opening questions one could ask to begin their research. Where do I want to live? What are my passions? What experiences do I currently have that will benefit me long-term? While these are all fair starting points, I would like to focus on one that I believe holds the most weight – What do I want out of my career? While each individual’s expectations will be somewhat unique, there are general trends in society that have been summarized through research. Studies have been conducted to gauge the expectations and interests of recent college graduates to determine what they expect out of a career.

One research study, mentioned in this article, conducted an online survey that collected responses from nearly 60,000 undergraduate students from 320 universities across the United States. The study found that college graduates are interested in the following:

  • Job security is considered top priority and is rated as the #1 job attribute.
  • The next most important requirement is professional training and development.
  • Young people are more mobile and more interested in an international career with a company brand that is consistent over national borders but flexible enough to adapt to cultural preferences.
  • They want a clear opportunity for future growth.
  • Many want the chance to do something that is meaningful and the freedom to work where they’d like.

Are these findings similar to your expectations? I know I could get on board with them, which is why I have chosen a career within an industry that can meet these demands – agriculture.

Job security

It makes sense that job security tops the list. The argument as to why agricultural jobs have high job security can be very simple – food is needed for life; everyone eats. Consequently, there will always be a need for agriculture and the business associated with it. ‘Nough said, right? But let’s look into other figures…

Fortunately, unemployment numbers have decreased within recent years, but can this increase in employment be seen within the agricultural sector? A report released by the United States Department of Agriculture states, “During the next five years, U.S. college graduates will find good employment opportunities if they have expertise in food, agriculture, renewable natural resources, or the environment. Between 2015 and 2020, we expect to see 57,900 average annual openings for graduates with bachelor’s or higher degrees in those areas.”

USDA

Those numbers are comforting, but what if you don’t have a degree in one of those areas? The report goes on to state that of the 57,900 annual new openings, only 61 percent will be filled by individuals with degrees in food, agriculture and environmental sciences. So even if you don’t have a degree in these areas or come from a production agriculture background, there are still employment opportunities for you within the industry!

USDA 2

International travel

As someone who has studied abroad twice and loves to travel, I can totally relate to this expectation.  It is no secret that we live in a global market, and with the U.S. being a leading producer of agricultural products, agribusiness and the exportation of our commodities is essential to the U.S. and other countries. U.S. agricultural exports more than doubled from 2006 to 2014. Our top exporting countries include: China, Canada, Mexico and Japan.  Because agriculture has such a strong international market, the business behind the industry provides numerous opportunities to travel abroad.

Speaking of trade, some of you might have been hearing about Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) or Trade Promotion Authority (TPA). TPA was signed by President Obama this past Monday, June 29. Its passage will open up more international markets for agricultural commodities, making this an even more opportune time to get involved with the industry.

*Want to learn more about TPA? Click here!

Clear opportunity for future growth

A career in agriculture is sure to aid in one’s growth, both personally and professionally. I believe we experience the most growth when we are challenged, forced to step outside of our comfort zone when dealing with adversity and challenges. The agriculture industry has been tasked to meet many demands that are quite challenging. Some popular ones include:

  • Increase food production to be able to feed 9 billion people by 2050.
  • At the same time of increasing production, we need to conserve and enhance our natural resources such as soil and water.
  • Improve nutrition and public health by providing a safe and affordable food supply.

I don’t know about you, but I want to be a part of an industry that is always changing and finding solutions to world problems!

Pursuing a degree in agriculture might be intimidating to those who didn’t grow up on a farm or have production agriculture experience, but don’t let that deter you! There are many benefits to working in agriculture, and I am confident you can find your fit. If you need further convincing as to why you should join America’s largest industry, check out the articles below!

http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/personalfinance/2015/01/31/cheat-sheet-highest-paying-degrees/22478439/

http://www.cnbc.com/id/102691649