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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!


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How will you answer when someone asks – Why do youth show livestock? What is the point?

Shane Potter,  State 4-H Youth Development Specialist at the University of Missouri Extension 4-H Center for Youth Development, shares his insights on how to engage about livestock showing at the fair.

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I was recently asked “Why do youth still raise livestock and show at the fair?” I love questions like this. They open the door to not only inform and educate but to also share the impact involvement in 4-H and livestock can have on the lives of youth. Here are the main steps I walk people through and teach my 4-Hers.

Start with a Personal Story – Leverage your Experience

I could tell you all kinds of amazing benefits gained, in general, when youth are involved in livestock projects. They gain grit and resiliency through the completion of difficult goals, creative problem solving and management skills through the process of caring for and showing animals, and are better prepared for college and careers because of the experiences and connections made in their 4-H clubs. This is all true and sounds great, but without the personal story it just doesn’t stick.

Instead I might tell you about myself, a young boy, who took part in the catch-a-lamb project. Not having sheep of his own, a local farmer provided the boy with an opportunity to raise, train, and then show a lamb at the county fair. (At this point you would see the twinkle in my eye as I think back to the pride I had in my catch-a-lamb project). The fact that someone else believed I could be successful and take care of and train a lamb was exactly what I needed to build confidence in my abilities.

As the story unfolds a picture should start to form in your mind. The triumphs and challenges the boy had in the project seem more tangible. You can understand how he gained problem solving skills when his lamb ate wood chips and bloated and he had to figure out what to do. The story attaches your main points to tangible anchors people can more easily remember.

Know Your Facts – Science is our Friend, Use It1280_0E6YI9l8MRFt

Not only are youth livestock producers and exhibitors gaining important Life and Soft skills, they are also mastering vast amounts of animal science knowledge. Through 4-H livestock projects youth become experts on animal care including things like nutritional needs of their livestock, facility needs and maintenance, and health care.

A personal story is excellent, but don’t be afraid to share your knowledge. If someone asks you about docking a tail be ready to explain the how it helps reduce parasite infestation. I usually tell 4-Hers – This is your chance to shine and show a bit of what you have learned. It is also OK to not know everything. That is one of the great things about showing livestock, it is supposed to be a learning experience.

Model the Behavior You Describe in Your Story – Be Confident and Kind

Above all – regardless if you agree with the person you are talking to or how they are acting, be gracious and kind. Anyone who has ever worked with livestock knows they have a mind of their own and may not do what you want them to do. This is excellent training for keeping your cool when talking with someone who you may not agree with.

As a final thought, I again go back to my story about the boy and his lamb project. I remember how the project was just the spark needed to develop a passion and drive to improve and work hard to accomplish his goals. This is true for thousands of youth each year who raise and show livestock.


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You’re teaching my daughter WHAT in health class???

This guest blog post is from Ty Higgins, a farm broadcaster from the Ohio Ag Net and host of Farm and Country Radio, sharing his experience of when he learned his daughter watched “Food Inc.” in her school health class and how he took action to help the school learn the truth about agriculture. Read Ty’s original post here. 

Ty Higgins

Ty Higgins

What started out as a nice family meal out at one of our favorite fried chicken stops turned into a conversation that had me boiling like the oil that cooked our supper that night.

My 6th grade daughter began telling us about her day. Part of her studies for this quarter included a health class. I have to admit as a protective father the thought of what she might learn in health class scares me just a tad, but never in my wildest imagination did I think she would learn something like what she was about to tell me.

Her health teacher loaded up a video that was called “Food, Inc.”! My heart literally stopped for a second, although that might have been a bit of the fried chicken’s fault too, but that’s beside the point.

She went on to tell me, muffled by a chicken leg between her teeth, that many of the girls after class said that they would never eat meat again and felt so bad for the animals in the film. I was appalled and wrote this letter to the health teacher and the school principal.

Good Afternoon,

Over dinner last night, my daughter brought up that her health class curriculum included viewing the “documentary” “Food, Inc.”

As a member of Ohio’s agriculture community and a very proud grandson of a farmer, I was disheartened to hear that this misleading, propaganda-filled movie was part of a health class curriculum.

I was hoping for some insights on why this anti-agriculture biased film was part of a health class? Is it the intention of the local schools to teach kids that all of America’s hard working farmers are bad and that animal proteins are not healthy?

These 6th grade students are very impressionable and I am in complete disagreement that such a movie is part of any class, unless there were an opportunity for actual farmers to share what really happens on family farms, which make up 97% of farms in this country and just how safe and healthy animal protein is to consume. I can arrange that if you would like.

I feel that if we are teaching our children to come to conclusions about certain societal issues, they should hear both sides of the argument.

I truly value the education that my daughter receives and I thank you both for the time you spend with her and all of your students. My only concern is about showing them documentaries that are one-sided and agenda-driven against something that is so important for people in my world and the world as a whole.

I look forward to your response and I thank you for your time,

Sincerely,

Ty

The first response I got was from the teacher, who wrote:

By no means was this meant to be that at all. We talk about how the companies place things into our foods without us even knowing it… We looked at it from the food safety side, as well as what it means when things are organic products (grass fed; no antibiotics, and hormone free)…

Totally agree — We talk about what the corporations have done to the farming industry and all the power they have; in fact we talked about in the video where the natural farmer raises his on all grass and not corn and the differences between the two.

By no means was this a push for me to say that farming is bad. I was raised in eastern central Ohio in a rural community and support farming 100 percent.  Appreciate all the hard working farming communities.  

I would love to have someone speak to our health classes… If you or someone you know would come and speak to our kiddos as that would be great!

And I responded back:

Our food safety system is one of the (if not the) safest in the world. With a huge urban population (only 1.5% of our society is farmers) that is not a small feat. Although I think there is room for all types of agriculture, including grass fed and organic, these methods are not sustainable with the amount of food needed. No meat that is sold in stores has antibiotics. Antibiotics are used to keep in livestock to keep them healthy, but there is a period before production that an animal is taken off the antibiotics.

As for labels, I think that today’s labels are made simply for marketing and that should be part of your curriculum as well, i.e. “hormone-free” pork or poultry (hormones are never used in these animals).

Then I got a phone call from the principal. Before he called me, he watched a few clips of “Food, Inc.” on YouTube and he sounded just as upset as I was about this type of film being shown inside the walls of his school.

He assured me that he realized this video was not meant for teaching students about food, but for scaring them into not eating it. He was by no means a part of agriculture, he admitted, but a generation or two before him were farmers and he knew the importance of telling ag’s side of the story.

That is exactly what will be happening from now on at this particular middle school. He has already contacted me since to see if I knew of some local farmers that would want to stop by to share what they do every day to keep our community, our nation and our world fed.

Just so happens, I know a few of them.