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5 reasons why college students should do College Aggies Online!

Untitled design (16)Topanga McBride, a student at Kansas State University studying Ag Communications and Ag Economics and the 2016 individual winner for College Aggies Online shares why college students should sign up for this year’s program!

Back in June of 2016, I was sitting at my internship finding as many different agricultural organizations as I could. In my searching, I stumbled upon the Animal Agriculture Alliance and their College Aggies Online contest. Always one for a good newsletter, I signed up, not realizing I had just put my name in the hat for a 9-week challenge to tell my story. It didn’t hit me until I started getting emails and even a tweet from College Aggies Online saying they were glad I had signed up. I scrambled to figure out what I had just gotten myself into, to conclude that this was a great opportunity. One competition, a trip to the Animal Ag Alliance Summit, countless connections, and one scholarship later, I’m so glad I mistakenly signed up for the contest. If you’re still not sold, here’s five reasons to get yourself involved in the College Aggies Online contest.

1. Do it for the vine (or the followers).
Old reference, right idea. This contest allowed me to make all sorts of connections on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. I interacted with the hundreds of other college students in the contest, discussing strategy and learning each other’s experiences. On top of that, the contestants had a mentor each week who was a communicator in the industry we were focusing on. They gave us insight on their experience and advice both through presentations and personal conversations. Because of all this networking, I not only gained hundreds of followers and friends, but also valuable network connections as I pursue a career in the industry.

2. If you’re into strategy and competition, this contest is full of it.
There is not another competition that compares to College Aggies Online. Strategy is one of my top strengths and this competition gave me the opportunity to exercise it. The contest runs on a points system – whoever has the most points wins. While placing the top posts and entries is up to the judges, simply completing all the tasks is half of the battle. Each week, I’d scan over the score sheet to see who was leading and took the time to learn from their entries to understand what was successful. If you like some healthy competition, College Aggies Online has it.

3. Give your social media some purpose.
We all use our social media differently. This contest helped me understand how I wanted to use each platform with the audiences I already had. My tweets were no longer just about whatever funny hashtag was trending, my Instagram featured less pointless selfies, and my Facebook allowed me to feature stories of my friends instead of just me. I see my social media very differently, and continue to use these platforms more as a tool and less as an online journal and photo album.

4. Meet #AgChat celebrities in real life at Animal Ag Alliance Summit.
The top three finalists and a representative from the top club get to attend the Summit, wherever it may be. This was the first conference I went to where I recognized people all over the room because I’ve interacted with them on #AgChat, or read their blog. Everyone came from different industries and it was exciting to see poultry farmers and beef producers work together over the challenges that face them. I walked away from the Summit abuzz with all sorts of new information and a motivation to keep working towards my career in this industry.

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5. Agriculture needs more voices. It needs your voice.
You’ve heard before that agriculture is a small industry, an aging industry, a necessary industry, etc. You may not think you as a college student have something to offer. That’s where you’re wrong. We each have unique networks we are a part of and unique stories of our experiences in this industry. I can tell you a lot more about how a cow gets milked than I can tell you about row crops and the seasons. I have great reach in Northern Colorado with my environmentally-conscious peers, but I don’t have any connections to comfort food lovers in the South. For people outside of agriculture to feel comfortable with the food that they eat and the practices that make it possible, they need to be able to find a person in this industry they identify with. By telling your story, there is someone out there that will see part of themselves in you that they will never see in me. This contest trains you how to best tell your story in the most personal way possible to make the biggest impact.

If you’re still not convinced, reach out to the Animal Ag Alliance, another previous contestant, or myself. We all can help you understand if this contest is an opportunity for you. Hopefully you’ll get involved by choice instead of by accident, but I’m sure glad I did. Thank you for the opportunities and the experiences, Animal Ag Alliance. I cannot wait to see what stories are shared this coming fall.


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Understanding Consumers’ Relationship with Food

Dr. Tamika Sims, director of food technology communications at The International Food Information Council shares key findings from their recent Food and Health Survey.

The majority of today’s population is several generations removed from agriculture and are often susceptible to believing myths and misinformation about how their food is produced. To help bridge the communication gap between farm and fork, it is key to first understand consumers’ relationship with food. The International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation’s 2017 Food and Health Survey marked the 12th installment of this signature research.  This year’s survey shed light on the way consumers think about and perceive food and health, providing deep insights into food habits and purchase drivers. It investigated important issues regarding consumer confusion, the food information landscape, heath and diet, food components, food production, sustainability, and food safety. The online survey included 1,002 Americans from ages 18 to 80 and was nationally representative.

Sustainability Taking a Top Spot for More than Half of Consumers

Sustainability is a broad term, and can mean many different things to different people. Over half of Americans stated that the importance of food being produced in a sustainable way was either “very important” or “somewhat important.” To understand what consumers valued, specific to sustainability, the Food and Health survey found that reducing the amount of pesticides used to produce food, conserving the natural habitat, and conserving farmland over multiple generations were the top three reasons. Fewer consumers highlighted that the food supply was a consideration in their understanding of sustainability.

Consumers and Industry Understand Sustainability Differently

The intriguing narrative presented by these data show that the features of sustainability that consumers found least important are the aspects that the food industry is more focused on. For example, the food industry is committed to producing more food with less natural resources and has developed pledges to reduce the use of greenhouse gas emissions, and solid waste created from their products.

Confidence in Food Supply Down Slightly

The Food and Health Survey also investigated consumer trust and confidence in the food supply. More than 50% of Americans stated that they were “somewhat confident” or ”very confident” in the safety of the U.S. food supply, down slightly from last year’s survey.

Consumers were also asked what they considered to be the most important food safety issues today. Data demonstrated that foodborne illness from bacteria was the most important food safety issue, with about 25% of Americans highlighting this concern. Further, carcinogens and cancer-causing chemicals in food were ranked second on the list of food safety issues, with significantly more consumers citing this as their top concern compared last year.

Confidence in Animal Products High after Knowledge of FDA Rule

Animal antibiotics got a spotlight question this year to follow-up from the 2016 Survey. With the new FDA antibiotic rule that recently came into effect, the survey aimed to gain knowledge into changing consumer feelings towards animal products. This rule prohibits the use of growth-promotion antibiotics and states that antibiotic issuance must include veterinary oversight for the administration of certain drugs. These tactics are aimed to limit antimicrobial resistance in animals and humans. The Food and Health Survey examined if this rule altered consumer confidence in purchasing animal products as well as confidence in veterinarians and farmers using antibiotics responsibly. The survey found that just below 50% of consumers were at least “somewhat more confident” in purchasing animal products and responsible use of antibiotics by farmers and veterinarians.

If you wish to learn more insights from our survey, please follow the link below to the full report.

2017 Food and Health Survey


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How the Animal Ag Alliance got its start…Part II

Steve Kopperud, the first president of the Animal Industry Foundation, tells the story of the first days of the now Animal Ag Alliance. See Part I of his story by clicking here

The Animal Industry Foundation (AIF) was founded in 1987. I was the sole staffer, and I was a part-timer. The directors were those same eight groups who originally formed the Farm Animal Welfare Coalition, namely the national groups representing the various species producing meat, poultry, dairy, eggs, as well as general farm groups. The American Feed Industry Association generously donated my time as administrator of AIF, as well as providing office space for the organization, in exchange for a bit of adult supervision. All producer groups accepted the AIF invitation to sit on the board. The old Pfizer Animal Health and the old Continental Grain Company lent executive expertise. If memory serves, the first year’s budget was about $65,000, compared with HSUS’s $100 million and PETA’s $20 million or so back then.

Our initial successful project was the first ever “Myths & Facts” booklet. This publication took the allegations of the animal rights groups and put them in an honest and correct context, explaining modern housing, animal care and so on. So popular was this booklet, companies and groups bought them to distribute to local school districts. I’ll never forget walking into a rental car office at the Denver airport and seeing “Myths & Facts” on the waiting area coffee table.

We also designed a full-page information/fundraising ad featuring an Iowa large animal vet – Dr. Rexanne Struve. Rexanne farmed with her husband, practiced vet medicine and at that time, was raising two sons.  In the ad, she talked about her experiences with farmers and ranchers and her frustration with the misinformation told by animal activists.  We broke the mold one more time – we didn’t run that ad in an agriculture magazine; we bought space in regional editions of Better Homes & Gardens and Newsweek. From the one-time appearance in Better Homes & Gardens, we received over 1,000 requests for more information.

Not too long after, a mutual friend and colleague introduced me to Kay Johnson Smith. After a single interview, I hired Kay to be the day-to-day administrative brains of the organization. We went through a lot in those days, hustling donations, trying to get projects done and out the door, hustling donations, making speeches around the country, hustling donations, creating partnerships with other like-minded organizations, hustling donations, and fending off groups trying to exploit AIF’s success. We worked to reinvent AIF in the mid-1990s to reflect changes in the industry. That spirit continues as the Animal Agriculture Alliance.

In 2000, I departed AFIA and the Animal Ag Alliance to start a government affairs/strategic communications company with a friend. I’ve remained AFIA’s federal lobbyist since, leaving Kay well in charge of the Alliance. I’ve never forgotten or ignored the Alliance and its good works. No one is as impressed as I that the Alliance is turning 30 this year!

Read Part I of Steve’s reflections here.


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How the Animal Ag Alliance got its start…Part I

Steve Kopperud, the first president of the Animal Industry Foundation, shares how the organization got its start and his experience with the animal rights movement. 

I’m occasionally asked from where the notion came 30 years ago to create the Animal Industry Foundation, now the Animal Agriculture Alliance.  Herein, I’ll commit the origins of the Alliance to the official “record” of its 30th anniversary recognition – as best I can recollect – but first, you have to indulge me – and this brief history lesson – as I expound on how legislative action spawns public education and outreach.

I first heard the term “animal welfare” applied to farm animals in 1980, from Dr. Howard Frederick, then the staff nutritionist for the “old” American Feed Manufacturers Association, now the American Feed Industry Association (AFIA).  I was Washington, D.C. bureau chief for the American Broadcasting Company’s publishing division, which fed D.C. coverage to a host of ABC magazines, and Washington editor for Feedstuffs, the flagship of its Ag publishing books.

Dr. Frederick had returned from an animal nutrition conference in the United Kingdom (UK). He told me of the growing frustration among UK aggies over the increasing activist noise alleging routine mistreatment of farm animals. He also talked about the emerging animal rights movement.

My cynical reaction to Dr. Frederick’s report was, I think, pretty typical for the time: “How ‘European’ to worry about ‘happy’ pigs and chickens.  That stuff will never catch on here.”  U.S. animal right activists focused on animals used in biomedical research and ending the fur industry. I filed the issue in the back of mind, in that spot reserved for story ideas to be pursued later, if at all.

Steve at his desk in the AIF/Alliance office

Shortly thereafter came the first U.S. public noise on animal rights from the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).  HSUS in the early 1980’s pushed for House legislation to “study” on-farm livestock production practices, the goal being to change those practices and federally regulate how farm animals were raised.  The focus was on veal calves.

As a reporter, I took Dr. Frederick’s European experience combined with the HSUS agenda, and interviewed Dr. Michael W. Fox, the vice president of HSUS one afternoon in his office.  The focus of the article would be “could the European situation happen here?”  The article concluded the European “situation” was already happening in the U.S.  The interview ran in Feedstuffs, and my phone didn’t stop ringing for a week. The vast majority of calls were from aggies outraged I would give Dr. Fox a forum to criticize without basis U.S. animal agriculture, and by default, farmers and ranchers.

In 1982, about 18 months after the Fox interview, I was hired by AFMA/AFIA to be its federal lobbyist. I worked with Dr. Frederick identifying evolving issues which could affect the commercial animal feed industry’s customers.  In looking to Europe to see what, if any, issues were on the cusp of export to the U.S., “animal welfare” topped the list.

At first, I was a voice in the wilderness convincing livestock and poultry organizations of the threat of animal rights activism.  Farmers and ranchers could not fathom anyone believing the activist message of senseless cruelty in pursuit of profit. I sat down with the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), these groups having independently identified many of the same issues as AFMA/AFIA, as well as the HSUS “farm animal production practices” legislation.

Still, convincing some groups to take the issue as seriously as tax, food safety or trade legislation was tough. Consumers, based on contacts with ag groups, didn’t ask about on-farm production practices, housing, medications, feeds or animal transportation and processing.  However, given the noise being made by HSUS, the newly launched People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and Animal Rights International (ARI) – including national newspaper ads, publicity stunts involving nude activists and the ensuing media attention – it wouldn’t be long before consumer head scratching evolved into consumer demands for change, for regulation and so forth.

AFMA, AFBF and NCBA founded the Farm Animal Welfare Coalition (FAWC) in 1984, an ad hoc coalition of agriculture groups focused on ensuring any regulation or legislation affecting on-farm animal production and handling was science-based, actually enhanced animal welfare and gave the economic welfare of the farmer/farm family equal consideration. In addition to HSUS, PETA and ARI, groups like Farm Animal Reform Movement (now the Farm Animal Rights Movement), Farm Sanctuary, the Humane Farming Association, the Animal Welfare Institute, ASPCA, Mercy for Animals, Compassion Over Killing, and others joined the ranks of animal rights dogmatists.

In the beginning, FAWC’s membership was eight organizations representing general farm, feed, cattle, swine, chickens, turkeys, dairy and eggs.  At its peak in 1986, more than 40 groups attended meetings, including representatives of other animal industries, i.e. biomedical research, rodeo, fur farmers, zoos, fairs and exhibitions and circuses, along with university academics, bureaucrats and others who were involved with animal behavior.

With agriculture united, FAWC ensured federal farm animal rights legislation never saw the light of day, lending aid and comfort to state legislative battles when it could.

Steve exhibiting handing out information about the Animal Industry Foundation at a trade show

In 1985, FAWC partnered with the National Association for Biomedical Research (NABR) to beat back language in the 1985 Farm Bill to amend the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA). While FAWC had no dog in the biomedical fight, it lent political support, but stayed focused on protecting the “farm animal exemption” in the AWA definition of “animal” for the purposes of USDA regulation. That definition specifically exempts animals raised for food, as well as research to enhance the use of animals for food, and while they’ve tried numerous times, animal rights groups have not been successful in pulling farm animals into the AWA.

NABR and FAWC have allied for over 30 years on major legislative and public relations initiatives to protect legitimate animal use in farming and biomedical research, i.e. food and medicine as “quality of life” issues. During the run-up in animal rights violence in the late 1980s-1990s, the two groups coordinated an animal user coalition which successfully saw enacted in 1991, the Animal Facility Protection Act (AFPA), a law which for the first time amended the federal criminal code to make violence against animal facilities a felony. In 2006, due to the expansion of animal rights violence to include ecoterrorism and other criminal activity – “domestic terrorism,” by FBI definition – that new section of the federal criminal code was amended by the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), providing federal protections not only to the physical facility housing protected animals, but to the organizations and individuals who represent the legitimate use of livestock and poultry.

While all of the above was going on I was living in airplanes, flying around the country and overseas making up to 50 speeches a year to various state and regional groups, as well as to national conventions, warning about the threat animal rights to farming and ranching, but also how best to talk with the public, how to counter the absurd allegations about on-farm animal handling, how to get ahead of the issue, and how to open up to consumers about where their food comes from, i.e. “good food from good people.”

It occurred to me during a late night flight home from who knows where that one person could not continue do what I was doing. That agriculture needed to coalesce behind an effort to engage the public about the reality of on-farm meat, poultry, dairy and egg production was obvious. Certainly the brains and expertise were abundant within the various farm and animal producer groups. Think of the iconic advertising over the years: “Got Milk?,” “Where’s the beef?!,” “Pork. The Other White Meat,” “The Incredible Edible Egg,” I figured the folks who brought American consumers these gems could easily message routine humane handling by farmers and ranchers who care about their animals.

However, it was also clear producer groups were not going to shift either resources or personnel away from protecting the business of raising animals and selling product to, as I kept saying in speeches, “selling the producer.” At this point in managing the animal rights issue, most groups did not have a dedicated staff person whose job it was to monitor and coordinate the industry’s response to the movement’s attacks. Associations were most comfortable reacting publicly as part of a collective to avoid being singled out by activists or the media.

Kay Johnson Smith at a trade show in 1991

After much research, brain picking and lawyer sessions, it became clear a stand-alone organization was needed; An entity that would have as its sole function the education of the consumer as to the realities and benefits of modern farming and ranching, and how professional farming and ranching contribute to everyone’s quality of life.

This new organization would focus exclusively on public education, doing absolutely no lobbying or product promotion. Most importantly, the majority of the new group’s board of directors would be representatives of the farm and ranch segments the new group was designed to help, i.e. national animal producer groups.  A board member had to be organization staff, but staff who had the authority or the permission to make decisions for their association.

The rationale behind the “no-company-director” rule was to protect company brand names. Company stockholder meetings were being targeted for shareholder resolutions brought by animal rights groups, making companies less confrontational and less aggressive in their approach to the issue than farmers and ranchers. We also wanted to spare the associations the pressure – real or perceived – of having a big member company argue against a proposal/position in a board meeting. As supporters, companies could sit on project committees and the like, and they could attend board meetings; they would not have a vote.

That day 30 years ago in 1987 when the Animal Industry Foundation was born was the start of something great for animal agriculture.

Stay tuned for part II of Steve’s reflections!


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HSUS bullies animal ag and hurts low-income families

Diane Sullivan, an anti-poverty and affordable food advocate, shares her story of standing up for agriculture while the Humane Society of the United States pushed for a ballot in Massachusetts that would hurt low-income families at the grocery store. 

Less than a year ago, I attended the 2016 Animal Agriculture Alliance Stakeholders Summit, my first real introduction to agriculture beyond labels on products in the grocery store. I had recently learned about a ballot initiative filed in my state that, despite efforts to legally challenge its certification, would become Question 3 on the Massachusetts 2016 ballot.

As I considered engaging in this food policy debate, I reflected on my own family’s experience with hunger, homelessness and poverty which drives me in my work for social justice. I recalled the times I would dig through my sofa for change just to purchase a dozen eggs to feed my children some protein for dinner. In deference to the real victims of Q3, I would later agree to become campaign manager for Citizens Against Food Tax Injustice.

In my work, I have always sought to break down the stereotypes we all know too well – that poor people are lazy and uninspired; that if we would just go to work, we can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. Rather than focus on solutions to poverty, policies began to look more like punishments, as broad brushes of accusations of fraud, waste and abuse taint us all when one bad apple makes a new headline.

While attending last year’s summit, I quickly learned that those of you providing the gift of nutrition have your own unique, yet similar challenges. I noted to Brian Klippenstien of Protect the Harvest at the time that low income families and farmers have their respective stories to share, stories that left untold by us, would be told for us by others with self-serving interests.

My years in policy work have also shown me that when we start to solve for a problem that does not exist, there will be unintended consequences. More often than not, the poor will suffer the worst. Q3 is the very definition of social injustice, those elite with money and satisfied choices imposing burdens on those with neither.

On its surface, Q3 would appeal to the good-hearted voters in Massachusetts who want to prevent cruelty to animals. In reality, Q3 was a cruel indifference to those of us who struggle to feed our families in a state ranked 47th in housing affordability and where our food costs are already 26 percent higher than the national average. Like most everyone, I don’t want to be cruel to animals, but I refuse to be cruel to people.

The Humane Society of the United States and their supporters would ultimately spend $2.7 million on the passage of Q3, while ensuring that the good and truth of agriculture would be a story left untold in my state. HSUS would continue to ignore not only the economic impacts for some of our state’s most vulnerable citizens, but also the animal welfare trade-offs for the very livestock they claim to protect.

The politics is strange. Imagine if President Trump were to propose doubling the cost of the most affordable and accessible source of protein available to low income families. Outrage would ensue as advocates for the poor and the media would express their disdain for such a heartless and reckless act. Yet, when merchants of veganism do it, compassion for our fellow humans can simply be set aside, it seems.

Thankfully, Mr. Forrest Lucas and the National Pork Producers Council would provide enough funds for me to give voice to the voiceless in this debate. Sadly, we would ultimately be outspent 10:1 as funds directly from HSUS and their supporters in places like California, New York and DC poured into their campaign. Citizens for Farm Animal Protection rained down TV ads that portrayed animals in awful conditions, duping MA voters into thinking these conditions existed across farms in our state and were acceptable, normal agriculture practices across the country.

Walking into this debate, I had no idea how extraordinary our food producers and science partners are at providing healthy, affordable and sustainable nutrition. I am among the grateful who appreciate why your work is so critical and meaningful. I know why, going forward, the coalitions that I am accustomed to working in must be working in partnership with you all who feed us.

HSUS cleverly played on the emotions of voters in a progressive state where we, in general, know very little to nothing about agriculture. HSUS has bullied our local farmers into submission with direct threats to their livelihoods. HSUS lied about the cost, as they did in CA, selling their ‘penny-an-egg’ story to unsuspecting voters. HSUS claimed that consumers were driving their cause, not mentioning the consumers they were referring were retail executives who know about a good marketing plan, not your average shopper on a budget. HSUS called me as a pawn for big agriculture.

HSUS would soon learn that my supporters hadn’t just come to MA to randomly pick some low-income woman to be the face of this campaign. HSUS wasn’t certain how to handle me. This low income grandma, working 2 jobs to survive, with a solid record of 15 years in anti-poverty work, was on a crash course in agriculture. I found myself being the voice for not only those victimized by Q3, but also in defense of agriculture.

I created a unique challenge. HSUS couldn’t protest in front of my home: my neighbors would have had a field day with them. HSUS couldn’t threaten a boycott of my business: I don’t own one. HSUS couldn’t bully me out of this debate: though they tried. Their supporters suggested that I be locked in a cage. Some commented that my children should not exist if I ever struggled to feed them.

Despite our efforts, Q3 would pass overwhelmingly in MA, with a 2022 implementation date. As predicted, HSUS has moved along to another small, coastal state that, like my own, ranks among the very lowest in agriculture receipts in the country. HSUS is taking to state legislatures and ballots what they have been losing at the check-out counter where 90 percent of us purchase conventional eggs.

As I consider my next steps in this debate, I am reminded that HSUS did not happen overnight. Campaigns take time. Now, I know there has been an on-going food policy debate where those most impacted – and harmed – have been absent. I am here to take my seat at the table. HSUS is now pressing further, trying to bully big agriculture into producing slower growing broilers driving up the consumer price of chicken meat. That negotiation does not include the voice of those most adversely impacted. Any meaningful debate on these issues requires the presence of one of its major stakeholder groups –low income consumers.

In MA, nearly 800,000 residents rely on the federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps). Nationwide, that number is 45.5 million. We know that these numbers only scratch the surface at what food insecurity in the United States really looks like.

We must be more united and assertive in protecting and distributing our abundance. We must have the victims of this debate join with those who produce. The voice of low-income consumers can no longer be excluded from the negotiating tables. It is critical we unite urban and rural partnerships to promote food security and protect our dinner plates from the self-appointed food police.


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Family and Farmers – Why I Thank Ag

Kay Johnson Smith, Animal Agriculture Alliance president and CEO joins us this week to share why she thanks agriculture!

Recently at my youngest uncle’s – 80th birthday party – it truly hit me (again) exactly why I feel so blessed agriculture is my career and such a huge part of my life.  My parents both grew up on farms.  My dad’s family operated a dairy and logged (think timber) for a living.  My surviving uncles, now 84, 82 and 80, all still log, and my youngest uncle also helps his sons with their sawmill business and still has beef cattle.

That probably seems amazing to most people, but to me, that’s just how the Nichols are – and how most of the farmers I’ve been fortunate to meet are.  Hardworking, passionate, dedicated, salt-of-the earth people who love what they do, and can’t imagine not doing it – regardless of their age.

kays-uncles

My three uncles and their wives!

My personal interest and college degree were solidly established in the political arena, but that’s how I was (re)introduced to agriculture and the people who grow and raise our food – now more than 25 years ago.  It was truly because of the people in agriculture that resulted in why I chose to stay in agriculture for my career.  And I’ve loved it every day since.

I’ve been blessed to travel the United States and many other countries around the world with the Alliance (I’m in Mexico as I type) and almost everyone I’ve met has been genuine and works hard to do the right thing.  In addition to hardworking, they are incredibly intelligent – blessed with both “book sense” and common sense.  They are always seeking to improve, searching for ways to improve by listening to what consumers want, watching the markets and supporting research and adopting new methods and processes based on science.

Farmers and ranchers have to understand and care for their animals, the environment and employees, know how to predict the markets and weather; engage in sales and marketing, understand and be adaptive to legislative and regulatory policies (local, state and national); be food safety experts given their animals or crops ultimately become food.  And now we expect them to actively engage communications and social media in order to demonstrate their commitment to transparency.

We expect a lot, and often don’t understand how all of our demands impact not only their business and way of life, but how the requisite changes truly impact their animals or land or even the safety and cost of our food.  I urge people to learn more before supporting emotionally charged causes that have a negative impact on our nation’s food producers – and ultimately everything between them and your dinner plate.

We are so fortunate to have such dedicated farmers and ranchers – less than two percent of our 300+ million population – who allow the rest of us to have choice jobs, take time off for vacations, and feed our families for less than 9% of our discretionary income – less than any other country in the world. So this holiday season, take time to visit family and get to know the amazing men and women who dedicate their lives to feeding my family and yours.  That is why I thank ag!


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I am a voice for agriculture and I am learning to speak up

Dallas Dooley is a 2016 College Aggies Online competitor from New Mexico State University and winner of the week three challenge: Introduction Blog Post. Visit her blog to read more.

“Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire.” I have never been one to stand around and watch idly as my dreams surpass me, so naturally it made sense for me to join College Aggies Online and seize this amazing opportunity to spread truth about the industry that I love. You may have seen me posting more than usual on social media. I have started using hashtags, cool graphics and facts about livestock. But what is this #CAO16, and why do I use it so much?

transparent-caoWhat does CAO stand for?

First off, CAO is short for College Aggies Online. We are a bunch of passionate agriculture students and groups from across the U.S. Though we may not always be on the same side of the stadium come Saturday, we stand hand in hand when it comes to loving agriculture.

What is my role in #CAO16?

As a 2016 competitor, my role in College Aggies Online is to create social media posts that reflect common misconceptions in the agricultural industries. Some of these hot topics include hormones, antibiotic use and animal welfare. Each week for 9 weeks, there is a different animal theme. Via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and my blog, I tell Ag’s story one post at a time.

Who am I?

Who am I? Who am I? *begin terrible Eddy Murphy impression of Mushu from Mulan* I am the generous, the gregarious, the indispensable Dallas Dooley. I grew up on a small family farm where we raised everything but wages. After I left for college at New Mexico State University, my mom started a horse rescue called Phoenix Equine. She is a firm believer that bad things happen to good people, and she gives all horses a second chance at life and service. If you ask me, her compassion extends to more than just horses which is why our farm looks more like a petting zoo than a business. However, my mother’s compassion is the trait I am most proud to have inherited. It allows me to step back and gives me time to try and understand when someone shares an opinion different than my own.

Growing up on a farm taught me how to love and care for animals, though I was not always so good with the ones that could talk back (aka humans). After leaving the farm and going to a university that was several hours removed from my friends, family and animals, I started to get really involved to fill the void of farm chores. As a result, my social skills began to blossom. Years later, I am able to carry on a conversation with a brick wall if necessary, but I can still sympathize with agriculturalists who struggle with talking to people not directly related to the farm. I am a voice for agriculture and through College Aggies Online, I am learning to speak up.

Time flies when you are having fun. Being a competitor in #CAO16 is no different. We are already at the end of week 5! If you are having a great time keeping up with all of our posts, don’t fret because we still have four weeks to go. Don’t forget to check back in with me for next week’s theme: Dairy Cows.

Follow Dallas on Twitter and Instagram!

dallas-2


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A Flashback to ’15 – College Aggies, Activists and Online Engagement

Jennifer Weinberg, 2015 College Aggies Online (CAO) second place individual winner, grew up on a beef cattle ranch in New Jersey. In 2015, she graduated from George Washington University with a degree in Political Communications. Her goal is to defend the rights of farmers in the court of law and public opinion by fusing together her love for agriculture with her current and future knowledge of law. 

Beef CattleBeing a part of the College Aggies Online program provided me the opportunity to do exactly what I love to do more than most everything else- talk about cattle and agriculture. Entering the competition taught me one thing- engagement defending agriculture on social media has never been needed more, or in higher demand. Opponents of agriculture have taken to the seas of social media in their attempts to end meat consumption. To their credit- they are good at it – “it” being using vast emotionally-engaging propaganda to drive a wedge of mistrust between shoppers and farmers. It’s time that the agricultural community mounts a force online to disrupt this and the CAO program was exactly that driving force for me.

Growing up on a small family-owned beef cattle farm gives me something in common with many other farmers, as 97 percent of U.S. farms are family owned, and I got to share my reality through creating various graphics and posts that I shared on social media platforms. Without the CAO program, activists would be able to continue telling their completely one-sided story of agriculture. Through the various seminars and tasks handed to us in each of the nine weeks of the program, we gained knowledge and encouragement that helped us learn to be heard.

In this however, being heard is not simply enough. The College Aggies program helped me see that not only was it important to be engaged with the PQA Plusonline world, but sharing my story had to do more than simply show a glimpse into my life; it had to do its part to combat the very negative framing that has been pushed forth about agriculture in America. Due to the changing tides of technology, it is no secret that information is spread almost instantly online. Not only is it a quick mode of information transfer, it’s efficient in changing how people form opinions and adapt behaviors. For instance, a Facebook post by an activist group that contorts the pig-preferred, safe usage of gestation crates for sows into an evil tortuous prison cell degrading the value of life, if seen by an individual who unknowingly takes it to be an expression of reality, can cause such an emotionally-formed opinion that they decide to stop eating pork products or even, stop eating meat all together. This decision has a significant effect on the market of supply and demand for pig farmers. This effect grows as more people change their eating and consumption habits, and activist engagement on social media is designed to do exactly that. One of the best parts of the CAO program was that learning how to combat this while avoiding the negativity of anti-agriculturalists.

450 poundsAvoiding this negativity was not hard because I drew on the experiences I have with agriculture. I was not aware before the program to the degree in which in both central New Jersey, where I spent the first 18 years of my life, and in the nation’s capital where I went to college, the average person’s conception of American agriculture is plagued with illusions of animals in pain and suffering by the hand of “heartless farmers”. This simply is not true, but before CAO I did not know what I could do about it.

By being a part of the College Aggies Online program I was able to learn how to effectively combat this online by balancing my conveyance of the facts with emotionally salient materials that shoppers want to see. In other words, I got to share my story of what farming ACTUALLY looks like through informative posts that show the lighter, meaningful relationship that farmers share with their livestock. I am forever grateful for the Animal Agriculture Alliance for providing me the opportunity to learn how to express my story through social media and other mediums like on the “Future Problem Solvers” Panel at the 2016 Summit that allowed my voice to be heard. That’s what needs to happen more and more from all of us, both young and old –  if we want to preserve the industries that feed us and have fed us since even before we called ourselves “Americans.”  Luckily, the CAO program is here to teach us all how to be heard, and be heard effectively.

“In no other country do so few people produce so much food, to feed so many, at such reasonable prices.” –


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Without Agriculture, I wouldn’t be an Aggie

Heather Abeita is the 2015 College Aggies Online third place individual winner. She grew up on a small farm and ranch in New Mexico and was actively involved in 4-H and FFA. She is a senior studying Agricultural Biology at New Mexico State University with the goal of becoming a veterinarian. Read Heather’s original post here

“Agriculture: noun; the science or practice of farming, including cultivation of the soil for the growing of crops and the rearing of animals to provide food, wool, and other products.”heather

The definition of Agriculture can easily be looked up, but actually living the life and being able to experience it is a whole different story and telling the other side of the story was exactly what I did in College Aggies Online (CAO). There were so many things I learned during CAO, which ranged from learning about GMOs, how hormones are illegal to use in the poultry and pork industry to why we even have to import beef to the United States. Growing up on a small farm and being active in FFA and 4-H, I thought I knew quite a bit of information of the agriculture industry, but being able to participate in CAO I learned so much more.

My favorite part of CAO was being able to advocate for agriculture and telling the other side of agriculture. There are so many stories making the agriculture industry look like horrible people who want to destroy the land, which is not true at all.

I am a better agvocate today because CAO has taught me so many great points on how to be a great agvocate and how to communicate and fill the gap from the agriculture community to people who may not know much about agriculture. It now makes it easier for me as well and I am more confident in being able to compose an answer to a question whereas before I was not as comfortable answering questions about GMOs and hormone use (or lack thereof) in poultry.

Over the course of the nine weeks, I loved learning how to make an infographic which helps in explaining topics when advocating because there is a visual that people can actually see. I loved every bit of the competition and it was also pretty convenient because everything is mostly online-based and works better for your schedule.

My overall experience of CAO was a very impactful nine weeks of learning about various topics within the agriculture industry. Learning about all the various topics in the agriculture industry will help me in my future career of wanting to be a veterinarian because of the many connections and topics. I stumbled across College Aggies on Facebook and I thought I would give it a go and it was the best decision I made. I’ve also met so many other students and others who are involved in agriculture while attending the Tyson Foods tour as well as Animal Agriculture Alliance‘s Stakeholders Summit in Washington D.C. who want the best for agriculture.

Becoming a CAO individual winner was such an amazing accomplishment because I was not only representing myself but New Mexico State University. I was very excited that over the course of the nine weeks my hard work paid off in being one of the top individual winners. It meant a lot to me placing because there was competition with the other individuals and I was always looking for ideas to step up my game and how I could be a better advocate.

I hope others will take what they learn over the course of the nine weeks and become awesome advocators. I hope that they don’t stop advocating once it is all over but to keep advocating for agriculture because it is so vital, especially right now when there are so many voices who are speaking against the agriculture industry. We are hearing about GMOs and the use of antibiotics that may ultimately lead to bills being passed by lawmakers who have never stepped foot on a farm. So let’s all agvocate and become a stronger voice for agriculture!

The 2016 competition kicks off September 19. Sign up today!

 


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AGGIES are AMAZING

Jessica Miller is the 2015 College Aggies Online first place individual winner. She received her undergraduate degree in animal science and is now a graduate student studying agriculture education at Oklahoma State University. She grew up on a beef farm in Oklahoma and showed cattle, judged horses and livestock and participated in 4-H. Read Jessica’s original post here

Summer is about to end and school is right around the corner. I almost can’t believe it myself. Days pass by so quickly anymore and the things I look forward to now are fairs and fall. However, I am also looking forward to something else that happens in the fall that is much more exciting.

College Aggie’s Online (CAO), an initiative of the Animal Agriculture Alliance, is one of my main highlights that I look forward to now that I was so involved in it last year. I’d have to say the whole entire event was my favorite just because it challenged me to push myself and get things done.

I learned so much in those nine weeks and applied them after the event ended. I learned about the kind of people who tend to “hate” on agriculture as well as how to handle them online and in person. I learned so many ways of how to properly advocate for Ag in order to teach people where their food comes from. I am way better at advocating because of CAO and I help teach visitors at our school dairy farm about where their milk comes from and handle their questions with the confidence I didn’t have before CAO.

Overall, CAO was thrilling, challenging and fun. I first heard about the contest through others who had done it at my school. Our dairy club had recently won the club competition and had gone to the Alliance’s annual Stakeholders Summit, which the president had told me had been a load of fun. Since I loved to compete and loved to advocate for agriculture, I went ahead and joined the competition. I never knew how much fun I would have.

My first post was a dairy show in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I made it a point in my schedule to share at least twice a day everyday when I wasn’t busy with school or work. I enjoyed the blogs, AgChat and all of the various assignments we did.

I didn’t really expect to win the CAO competition. I tried my best to do all the assignments and get the points I needed. However, winning the competition meant I had given it my all,  learned how to properly advocate for Ag, had kept pushing myself to do well and get all of the assignments finished. Winning the competition meant everything to me. I also got to experience Washington, D.C. for the first time in my life which was something this country girl was not used to, but I loved every minute of it and the Summit while getting to meet people and see things I had never seen.

I hope others gain the experience and have the fun I had during this competition. It is important we learn the facts about the Ag industry and learn about our detractors as well – because in the end, we have people who don’t support our farmers and ranchers and use what they call “facts” against us. In all honesty, what they use as facts are usually false or taken out of context and we as agriculturalists need to learn how to handle such accusations while maintaining a diplomatic demeanor.

I believe our youth in Ag is the future. If we arm our youth with knowledge of why and how we do things in agriculture, they can use it to defend our way of life against the ones who want to criticize it. Having knowledge that is correct and factual is mightier than the sword and if younger generations defend agriculture, we will have a promising future. I believe that CAO and the Alliance are the best at getting youth involved in advocating for Ag.

Thank you College Aggies and Animal Ag Alliance for everything!

Here is a link to the panel I was on discussing futures in Ag at the Alliance’s annual conference. This was an amazing experience if not a little nerve wracking just because it was my first time, but it was enjoyable and down right fun!

This year’s College Aggies Online scholarship competition kicks off September 19. To sign up, visit the Alliance website!