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Sustainability is more than a buzzword for farmers and ranchers

We’ve all heard the word sustainability, but what does it really mean? For farmers and ranchers, it’s a promise to future generations. A promise that they will care for the land, air, water and livestock in a way that ensures their children can take over the family business if they so choose.

The Animal Agriculture Alliance puts together a report every year spotlighting farmers and ranchers commitment to continuous improvement in animal care, responsible antibiotic use, environmental sustainability and food safety.

Here are a few key points from the 2017 report:

  • The health of broiler chickens in the U.S. continues to improve with scientific advancements in genetics, management and nutrition. As a result of these industry-adopted developments, quarterly mortality rates remain at historic lows. According to 2016 statistics, today’s mortality rate is 4.8 percent compared to 18 percent in 1925.
  • Hens under the United Egg Producers Certified program now account for 95 percent of all the nations laying hens and are independently audited annually based on guidelines recommended by a committee of world-renowned scientists in areas of food safety and animal behavior.
  • In turkeys, the United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety Inspection Service reported Salmonella continued to decline to 1.7 percent in its most recent analysis updated in 2015. The turkey industry has continued to aggressively drive down the occurrence of Salmonella, to achieve the lowest count possible among raw poultry products.
  • The pork industry’s flagship education program for farmers and employees is the National Pork Board’s Pork Quality Assurance Plus. As of March 2017, more than 63,000 farmers and farm employees were PQA Plus certified.
  • More than 80 percent of research funded by America’s beef producers is used throughout the beef supply chain on a daily basis to enhance the safety of beef and beef products.
  • The U.S. dairy industry conducts almost four million tests each year on all milk entering dairy plants. In 2017, only 0.011 percent of all milk tanker samples tested positive for residues of animal medications, indicating that efforts at detecting and deterring harmful drug residues in milk are effective. Those samples that tested positive were dumped and never reached the grocery store shelf.

Sustainability is more than a buzzword to farmers and ranchers. It is their promise to never stop giving food, fuel and fiber to families across our nation and around the world.


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15 scary food myths

Halloween is here! Here are some scary food myths that are tricks, but knowing the truth is the treat!

  1. Scary Food Myth: Today’s farm animals are raised on “factory farms” in poor conditions. Truth: Many of today’s farms may be larger than farms of the past, but the farms are also have better animal care practices, enhanced nutrition and housing. Indoor housing protects animals from predators, disease and extreme weather. Modern housing is well-ventilated, temperature-controlled and scientifically designed to meet an animal’s specific needs.
  2. Scary Food Myth: Chickens, turkeys, laying hens and pigs are fed hormones to make them grow bigger and faster. Truth: Federal law prohibits hormone and steroid use in all poultry and pig production in the United States. All chicken, turkey, pork and eggs are free of added hormones and steroids regardless of whether it is labeled.
  3. Scary Food Myth: Farmers only care about profits, not animal care. Truth: Farmers’ top priority is ensuring their animals receive the best care possible. If the animals are not appropriately cared for, they will not produce quality beef, eggs, pork, milk or chicken. Not only is quality animal care essential to a profitable farm – it is the right thing to do.
  4. Scary Food Myth: Cattle are the primary cause for climate change. Truth: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data show that all of agriculture contributes nine percent of America’s greenhouse gas emissions. By contrast, transportation accounts for 26 percent.
  5. Scary Food Myth: Farmers irresponsibly use antibiotics. Truth: After Jan. 2017, veterinary oversight is required for the use of medically important antibiotics, though it is important to note farmers and ranchers already routinely consulted with their vet before using antibiotics. Farmers work closely with veterinarians to develop herd health plans and when/if an antibiotic is needed for an animal to treat, prevent or control a disease, the farmer consults with their veterinarian to ensure an antibiotic is the best solution or if there is another form of treatment that will work better. Any antibiotic in animal feed requires a prescription from a veterinarian first.
  6. Scary Food Myth: Inspectors rarely visit meat plants. Truth: Few industries in America are regulated and inspected as comprehensively as meat and poultry plants. U.S. meat packing plants where livestock are handled and processed are inspected continuously. Large plants may have two dozen inspectors on site in a two-shift day. Plants that process meat or poultry, but do not handle live animals are inspected daily.
  7. Scary Food Myth: Meat is full of antibiotics and other drugs. Truth: Antibiotics are sometimes used in livestock production – but never in meat production. Under the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules, farmers and ranchers must wait a defined period to send animals to market if they have been given antibiotics or other medications. In meat and poultry plants, USDA inspectors sample carcasses and organs to ensure no residue violations are found.
  8. Scary Food Myth: Hormone use in beef production is a health concern. Truth: Hormones like estrogen are used in modern beef production to increase the amount of beef that can be harvested from cattle. However, these hormones are the same as, or synthetic versions of those naturally produced by cattle. The estrogen that is used in beef production, for example, is used at levels that are a fraction of what is naturally found in soybean oil, soybeans, eggs and what is produced by the human body.
  9. Scary Food Myth: Nitrite in cured meats is linked to diseases like cancer. Truth: The U.S. National Toxicology Program (NTP), which is considered the “gold standard” in determining whether substances cause cancer, completed a multi-year study in which rats and mice were fed high levels of sodium nitrite. The study, finalized in 2000, found that nitrite was not associated with cancer. NTP maintains a list of chemicals found to be carcinogenic. Sodium nitrite is not on that list.
  10. Scary Food Myth: Animal welfare in meat plants is not monitored. Truth: Under the Humane Slaughter Act, all livestock must be treated humanely. They must be given water at all times, given feed if they are held at a plant for an extended period and they must be handled in a way that minimizes stress. Federal veterinarians monitor animal handling continually and may take a variety of actions — including shutting a plant down — for violations.
  11. Scary Food Myth: Alternatives like almond, soy, coconut and rice milk are healthier than dairy milk. Truth: Milk alternatives use lots of additives to try to match the taste and nutritional profile of real milk. Cow’s milk is simply milk with added vitamins A and D. It has more nutrients that occur naturally – including eight grams of high-quality protein in every glass – with no added sugar. And the health benefits like improved bone health, a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes and lower blood pressure in adults are supported by decades of science. It’s nature’s original protein drink.
  12. Scary Food Myth: Milk is full of antibiotics. Truth: All milk is tested for antibiotics before it leaves the farm, and again before it is sent to the store. If milk tests positive for even the slightest amount of antibiotics, it is safely discarded and never reaches the store.
  13. Scary Food Myth: It’s not natural for humans to drink cows’ milk; no other mammals drink milk from other animals. Truth: Decades of research have proven that cows’ milk does a human body good. Humans do a lot of things other mammals don’t. We grow crops, read books, fly planes and make music. You wouldn’t call those things “unnatural.”
  14. Scary Food Myth: Milk is full of dangerous hormones. Truth: All cow’s milk – whether conventional or organic – naturally contains minuscule amounts of hormones (actually, plants contain hormones, too!). The majority of these hormones are eliminated in the pasteurization process; the rest are broken down safely and completely by your body when you digest the milk. Some milk also contains tiny amounts of a synthetic hormone call rbST, which has been closely studied and declared harmless by multiple organizations, including the FDA. Multiple studies over more than two decades agree that milk from cows treated with rbST is just as safe as milk from untreated cows.
  15. Scary Food Myth: Pasteurization destroys the nutrients in milk. Truth: Pasteurization kills germs, not nutrients.


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Key points from the 2017 National Animal Rights Conference

Do you ever wonder what campaign, movie or myth the animal rights movement will think of next? The Animal Agriculture Alliance has been tracking animal rights groups for more than 30 years to predict their next moves and keep farmers, ranchers, veterinarians and everyone in the animal agriculture industry ready for what may come in the future.

The Alliance sends representatives to the National Animal Rights Conference every year to gather insight on strategies and tactics of the animal rights movement. The Alliance shares a detailed report including quotes and observations with its members so they can stay informed. The 2017 event emphasized the ‘humane meat myth,’ clean meat innovations, expanding vegan options into the marketplace and a need for inclusivity within the movement.

Speakers urged attendees to avoid using the term ‘factory farming’ to encompass small farms in their rhetoric and breaking the law in the name of animal rights was deemed acceptable. These tactics are already in use as we see an uptick of activists breaking into farms of all sizes and stealing animals. Just in the last few months two different animal rights groups broke into farms in Colorado and Utah to “rescue” animals. Direct Action Everywhere trespassed and broke into a commercial pig farm while Denver Baby Animal Save walked onto a free-range chicken farm. The number-one goal of animal rights groups is to put farmers and ranchers out of business, no matter the size of the farm.

The Alliance team

Another theme at the conference was to continue pressuring restaurants, retailers and food-service companies to adopt certain policies for their supply chain – not to improve animal welfare, but to increase prices for both the farmer and the consumer. The focus has shifted from egg-laying hens to broiler chickens and the next target is will likely be aquaculture according to speakers at the conference. The Humane League is notorious for pressure campaigns and their executive director recommended “putting blood drips on their logo.”

The Alliance keeps detailed profiles on more than 80 animal rights groups for its members. Some of the most active animal rights groups include: The Humane League, Direct Action Everywhere, The Save Movement, The Humane Society of the United States, Mercy For Animals and Compassion Over Killing.

To find out more about the Animal Agriculture Alliance and the resources that are available, visit www.animalagalliance.org.


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Thank you, Mark Zuckerberg!

Mr. Zuckerberg,

As champions for farmers and ranchers, we know sharing the stories of the people and families who raise and produce our food is key to helping consumers better understand where their food comes from. We are excited to see you joining us as you visit farm families across the country and share their stories on Facebook.

As you know, there is a lot of misinformation being shared online about food and agriculture – often times by people generations removed from agriculture. We appreciate you sharing how much hard work, dedication and passion farmers and ranchers have for raising livestock while feeding families everywhere.

The Alliance is no stranger to receiving negative comments from groups that are opposed to animal agriculture as we work to bridge the communication gap between farm and fork. We’ve noticed that you are now receiving some of the same comments on your posts and standing strong in the face of their tactics is not always easy. The Alliance team and the farmers, ranchers, veterinarians, animal health companies and other farm organizations we represent want you to know how much your recognition and appreciation of the people who grow and raise our food means to each of us.

We sincerely thank you for being a supportive advocate of the agriculture community!

 

 


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‘What The Health’ claims get debunked

Some determined activists will say almost anything to convince people to go vegan. One example of this is “What The Health,” a film you might have seen while scrolling through Netflix. If you’ve watched the movie, it may have left you feeling confused about the nutritional value of meat, milk, poultry and eggs.

Several scientists, dietitians and agriculture advocates have started speaking out against the film and helping viewers find factual information to make decisions about their diets. Nina Teicholz, author of The Big Fat Surprise analyzed each health claim made in the film and concluded that 96 percent were bogus and not based on sound science. Dr. Harriet Hall, a retired family physician says the film “cherry-picks scientific studies, exaggerates, makes claims that are untrue, relies on testimonials and interviews with questionable “experts,” and fails to put the evidence into perspective.”

Here are some of the main claims from the film debunked:

Red and processed meats cause cancer

The World Health Organization (WHO) report that brought this controversy to the forefront relied on a few weak studies and ignored numerous other studies that have affirmed the nutritional benefits of consuming meat. Since the report was released, the WHO said “meat provides a number of essential nutrients and, when consumed in moderation, has a place in a healthy diet.”

A 2015 meta-analysis of 27 studies concluded that the link between cancer and red meat consumption is actually pretty weak. In another 2015 meta-analysis of 19 studies, scientists concluded “the results from our analyses do not support an association between red meat or processed consumption and prostate cancer.”

Sodium nitrite, a salt used to cure meats like sausage, bacon and ham is often brought to the table when discussing cancer and processed meat; but the U.S. National Toxicology Program (NTP), which is considered the “gold standard” in determining whether substances cause cancer, completed a multi-year study that found nitrite was not associated with cancer. NTP maintains a list of chemicals found to be carcinogenic. Sodium nitrite is not on that list.

Sugar and carbohydrates don’t cause diabetes, instead it is caused by eating meat

According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), type 2 diabetes is caused by genetics and lifestyle factors. Starchy foods can be a part of a healthy meal plan, but portion size is key. Being overweight does increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and a diet high in calories from any source contributes to weight gain. Research has shown that drinking sugary drinks is linked to type 2 diabetes. The ADA recommends that people should avoid intake a sugar-sweetened beverages to help prevent diabetes.

A 2016 study and meta-analysis regarding sugar and diabetes concluded, “habitual consumption of sugar sweetened beverages was associated with a greater incidence of type 2 diabetes.”

Eating one egg is the same as smoking five cigarettes

Yes, they actually made this outrageous claim. There’s no way an egg has the same health effects as smoking cigarettes. Eggs are packed with 6 grams of protein, 14 essential nutrients (including choline and vitamin D) and they’re only 70 calories each – how can you beat that combo?!

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend three healthy eating patterns…all of which include eggs. According to a 2015 peer reviewed study about the effects of egg and egg-derived foods on human health, “eggs represent a very important food source, especially for some populations such as the elderly, pregnant women, children, convalescents and people who are sports training.”

Pregnant women who eat meat, milk and eggs are introducing toxins to their child

Wrong again. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, a pregnant woman should eat lean red meat, poultry, fish, dried beans and peas to obtain the daily recommended dose of iron during pregnancy.  A 2013 study states pregnant women “should eat foods that contain adequate amounts of choline” and milk, meat and eggs just happen to be choline-rich! Now you may say – pregnant women can skip meat, milk and eggs if they take a prenatal vitamin, right? Nope. The study also states that “prenatal vitamin supplements do not contain an adequate source of choline.”

Milk contains pus

Let’s put this misinformation, frequently used to try to scare you out of drinking milk, to rest. Here’s an awesome explanation from Carrie Mess, a Wisconsin dairy farmer…

Somatic cell count (SCC) is a measurement of how many white blood cells are present in the milk. “White blood cells are the infection fighters in our body and so an elevated white blood cell presence or on a dairy farm an elevated SCC is a signal that there may be an infection that the cow is fighting. Dairy farmers are paid more money for milk that has a low SCC, if our cell count raises above normal levels they will dock the amount we get paid for our milk, if it raises even higher they stop taking our milk and we can’t sell it. So not only do we not want our cows to be sick, it would cost us a lot of money and could cost us our farms if we were to ignore a high SCC. While the current US regulation is that milk must have a cell count under 750, dairy coops and companies generally require under 400 and most dairy farms aim for a SCC under 200. So, does this mean that we are allowing some pus into your milk? No. All milk is going to have some white blood cells in it, that’s the nature of a product that comes from an animal, cells happen.”

For these and more claims from the film debunked, check out this resource from the Animal Agriculture Alliance. The Alliance also provides detailed reports to its members on popular books and movies pushed by animal rights activists along with films that are positive towards farmers and ranchers.

This film is tagged as a “documentary,” but I would argue it should be categorized as a comedy because it has so many absurd allegations about food and agriculture.

As always, if you have concerns about your health or the foods you eat, you should consult your doctor!


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Lights, Camera…Misinformation!

It’s lights, camera, action for America’s farmers and ranchers – whether they auditioned or not. Films are popping up on the big (and small) screen, putting animal agriculture under increased scrutiny. These films often claim they are “shedding light” on the agriculture industry, but they usually leave out the true story.

Producer vs. Producer 

It could be a great thing to have American farmers and ranchers showcased for raising the safest food supply out there and providing great care to their animals, but when film producers attack the producers of our food, fuel and fiber it can spread misconceptions and “alternative facts” – especially when the films are produced by or in collaboration with animal rights groups.

Producing films (and publishing books) is not a new tactic animal rights groups are using to further their mission of putting farmers and ranchers who produce meat, milk, poultry and eggs out of business, but they are getting more attention in recent years. This is due to increased interest in how food gets from the farm to the fork along with the popularity of movie platforms like Netflix.

Lights, Camera…Misinformation!

Documentaries are supposed to provide a factual report of a certain event or issue, but the films produced by activists skew the truth or ignore it all together. Some claim they are giving an “unbiased” look into how food is raised on farms, but is it unbiased if the film is produced a vegan who only interviews other vegans?

Activist films are often how myths get started – because if it’s in a “documentary” it must be 100 percent true, right? Here are a few ways to tell if you’re watching an activist movie, or as Leah McGrath, dietitian and agvocate, likes to call them – “Shockumentaries.”

  • Cherry-picking studies
  • Playing ominous background music
  • Using outdated information and studies from 1841
  • Taking things out of context
  • An animal rights group is the main sponsor
  • The overwhelming majority of the cast is vegan
  • The call to action is “GO VEGAN!”

One of the main claims from an activist film recently released to Netflix is eating one egg is the same as smoking five cigarettes. I was honestly happy to hear this lie included because any rational person would recognize it as crazy and discredit the rest of the movie.

A pig farm

The Animal Agriculture Alliance has more than 20 movie and book reports summarizing these activist films which are available to our members. Each report lists out the main claims so you don’t have to go through the trouble of wasting an hour or two of your time, but can stay informed on what the other side is saying about our industry.

What’s worth watching…

As for what you should watch to learn more about agriculture and food production, how about videos of farmers taking you on a virtual tour of their farms?! They may not be as dramatic as the activist films, but they do show the truth. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Fresh Air Farmer – a dairy farmer from Canada taking you on a different farm tour every week (from a celery farm to a pig farm!)
  • Farmland – a movie showcasing young farmers and ranchers across the United States
  • Chicken Checkin videos – the National Chicken Council put together a series of videos showing how broiler chickens are raised
  • Farm tour from Tyson Foods chicken farm – a recent video by Tyson Foods, Inc. about their commitment to animal care and sustainability
  • The Udder Truth – series of videos from dairy farmers about what really happens on America’s dairy farms
  • Veal farm tour – a veal farmer from Wisconsin invites you on a virtual tour
  • Turkey farm tour – a turkey farmers from California takes viewers onto his farm

Turkey farm tour!

Farmers and ranchers realize how important it is to be transparent and many have added advocate to their list of farm chores. They’re the true experts on farm animal care and know if they don’t tell their story animal rights activists will not only tell their version of the story, but make it into a book or film. So, the next time you hear of a “documentary” about animal agriculture ask yourself this question: who is telling the story? The farmers and ranchers who raise and care for the animals or the activists who could care less about animal care and just want to take meat off everyone’s plate?

 


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Animal rights activists masquerading as consumers

Consumer demand is powerful. It can be the champion of a company’s success or the culprit of their failure. What I find even more interesting is how consumer demand is defined. Does a group of people with no intention of ever buying a restaurant’s product qualify as their consumer? With the avalanche of recent restaurant and retail pledges caving to pressure from animal rights organizations, it seems so.

At the Animal Agriculture Alliance’s recent Stakeholders Summit, speakers offered insights about consumer demand – suggesting consumers aren’t the ones demanding restaurants and grocery stores to change their supply chain policies at all. Dr. Dan Thomson of Kansas State University stated, “activists today are masquerading as the consumers.”

I have yet to hear a person order their chicken sandwich only with meat from “slower-growing” chickens, so Thomson’s statement didn’t surprise me. Although I understand why restaurants adopt certain sourcing policies in the face of mounting activist pressure, it would be refreshing to see a company stand up against the “self-appointed food police” as Diane Sullivan, an anti-poverty and affordable food advocate calls them. Thankfully, there is still at least one brand with a backbone – Domino’s Pizza.

Tim McIntyre of Domino’s Pizza

Tim McIntyre from Domino’s shared how the pizza company hears from animal rights “extremists” all the time, but they value the hard work of farmers and ranchers and will never make a policy announcement threatening farmers’ livelihoods [cue standing ovation].

Animal rights organizations hide behind the guise of being concerned about animal care and well-being, but in reality they are campaigning for animal rights. No matter how well animals are cared for, if it benefits humans in any way it is unacceptable in their eyes. The pressure campaigns are about one thing – driving up the cost of production and in the end, consumer costs to put farmers and ranchers who raise meat, milk and eggs out of business.

I urge the consumers who don’t want to be bullied by animal rights organizations to take a page out of Domino’s playbook and stand up and take action. A simple thank you to our favorite restaurant or the manager at your grocery store can go a long way.


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Cast your vote for two farmers to win our blog and photo contests!

The top entries for our Instagram and blog contests have been selected and now it’s up to you to decide which ones will be the winners and receive a free registration to our 2017 Stakeholders Summit! Cast your vote by Friday, March 10th and the lucky winners will be announced on Monday, March 13th!

Blog Post Entries 

The farmers with the top blog posts are…

  1. Nicole Small, Kansas Farm Mom: “Action Please”
  2. Wanda Patsche, Minnesota pig farmer: “Action, Please – Minnesota “Farm-to-table style” 
  3. Melinda B., Cattle rancher: “Action, Please!”

Please vote for your favorite Action, Please story and the winner will receive a free registration and hotel stay to attend the Summit to Connect to Protect Animal Ag! The two runner-ups will be invited to come at a discounted rate.

 

Instagram Photo Entries 

We received so many great entries that we couldn’t limit ourselves to picking just three photos, so we picked our top five!

Laura Daniels, Wisconsin dairy farmer

laura-daniels

Karra James, Kansas beef rancher and row crop farmer

kara-james

Michelle MillerThe Farm Babe, sheep and cattle farmer

michelle-miller

Krista Stauffer, The Farmer’s Wifee, dairy farmer

krista-stauffer

Lauren Arbogast, Paint The Town Ag, Virginia chicken farmer

lauren-paint-the-town-ag

Please vote for your favorite farm photo and the winner will receive a free registration and hotel stay to attend the 2017 Summit and the two runner-ups will be invited to come at a discounted rate!

 


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Did you take action for animal agriculture? Share it with us!

Last year’s Stakeholders Summit focused on taking action to secure a bright future for animal agriculture. Well, it’s that time of year again and we want to know what you did to take action! Did you talk to people in your community, start a club or teach a lesson at a local school, join social media to start advocating, invite neighbors to your farm or something else to help secure a bright future for our industry? If you did, we want to feature you at the 2017 Summit! Share a photo with a few sentences explaining the picture or video testimonial and we will share your Action, Please story with our Summit attendees this May! The deadline to submit stories is April 7, 2017!

Please share your photos and videos on Instagram or Twitter and tag the Alliance! You can also send your photos and videos to Casey at cwhitaker@animalagalliance.org!


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Farmers and ranchers can enter to win a FREE registration to the 2017 Stakeholders Summit!

The Animal Agriculture Alliance’s Stakeholders Summit is one of the must-go-to events of the year! Set for May 3-4, 2017, the Summit will take place in Kansas City, Mo.

With the theme of “Connect to Protect Animal Ag: #ActionPlease2017,” the conference will build on the 2016 Summit’s focus of taking action to secure a bright future for animal agriculture. Speakers will give the audience actionable solutions to take home and implement on their farm or in their business.

Sound exciting? Are you a farmer or rancher who advocates for animal agriculture? Well here’s your chance to enter to win a FREE registration to the event!

farmer-rancher-blog

Blog Contest:

Write a blog post telling your “Action, Please” story! This can be something you’ve done to help bridge the communication gap between farm and fork in your community and engage with consumers about animal agriculture.

What you need to do:

  • Write a 500-750 word blog post
  • Publish your blog post somewhere public before March 1
  • Promote your blog on Twitter and use the hashtag #AAA17 and tag @animalag

The Alliance will respond to your tweet to acknowledge it being entered into the contest. On March 2, 2017 we will announce the top three blog posts. Then, the top three will be up for public voting. The farmer that receives the most votes by the stated deadline will win a free registration to our Summit! The farmers in second and third place will receive a discounted registration to attend.

contest-2

Instagram Photo Contest:

If photography is more your style, here’s what you can do to win a free registration:

  • Share your favorite farm photo on Instagram before March 1
  • Use the hashtag #AAA17
  • Tag @animalagalliance

The Alliance will comment on your photo to acknowledge it being entered into the contest. On March 2, 2017 we will announce the top three photos. Then, the top three will be up for public voting. The farmer that receives the most likes by the stated deadline will win a free registration to our Summit! The farmers in second and third place will receive a discounted registration to attend. We’ll also choose some of our favorite photos to use for Alliance social media graphics in the future!

If you know a farmer or rancher who should be at our Stakeholders Summit, tell them about this opportunity!