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4 Things I’ve Learned Interning with the Alliance

With only two weeks left until the Alliance’s Stakeholders Summit, my time here is quickly coming to an end. Managing work responsibilities, homework and studying, and extracurricular activities, this semester has been one of my hardest yet – but definitely the most rewarding. I feel like now is a good time to share the four greatest opportunities and learning experiences I’ve had because of this internship.

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#1: Time Management

This is absolutely the biggest thing I’ve learned these last couple months. A full college course-load is hard enough, but when you add in this internship and stepping into a presidential role for a club, it’s safe to say I kept busy. With daily deadlines and to-do lists a mile long, I learned hard and fast the importance of working quickly, efficiently, and not wasting any “down time”.

#2: “Ag-vocate” wherever and whenever

In a coffee shop, at the store, in class, on social media; there are always opportunities to advocate for the animal agriculture industry. Those involved in the industry are eager to share their stories, and consumers are seeking more insight about the agricultural world. The Alliance has shown me the importance of forming relationships with everyone – consumers, food retail associations, producers – to help bridge the gap between farm and fork.

#3: Take advantage of every opportunity

You always hear “life begins at the edge of your comfort zone”. This internship has provided me with many opportunities that I would not have had otherwise. I’ve had the chance to attend receptions, events on Capitol Hill, and even a barnyard social with other animal ag interns in the area! Stepping out of my comfort zone and engaging in these events has left me with memories that will last a lifetime.emily 4

And #4: Animal rights activists are crazy

Period.

I am so thankful for everything the organization has taught me and the wonderful people that I have met in my short time here. My last month will be bitter-sweet as I am sad to be moving on from the Alliance, but looking forward to finishing this experience with a bang at the 2017 Stakeholders Summit in Kansas City!


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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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We can all root for Team Agriculture

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend the 2017 Young Farmers and Ranchers FUSION conference with the American Farm Bureau Federation. I competed in the Maryland State Collegiate Discussion Meet and had won a trip to the FUSION conference emily-1to compete in the national competition! Food labels and tax policy reform were just two of the topics I discussed with students from across the nation. In addition to learning to work cooperatively in a solution-based discussion, there were also a wide variety of sessions, speakers, and fellow Young Farmers and Ranchers who I learned a few things from.

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“4:1”

This is the ratio of how many positive agriculture posts, articles, stories, etc. that it takes to counteract ONE negative story. In my session on advocacy through video and film, it was stressed that we, as farmers and ranchers and agriculture advocates, need to share our stories as much as possible to reach the public. You can throw out statistics all day and go back and forth with someone on who’s right and who’s wrong, but they cannot argue with your story. They cannot tell you that your life experiences are not real. WE are the ones who know the truths about our industry, WE are the ones living this lifestyle, WE are the ones passionate about what we do and if WE do not do it, nobody else is going to.

Engagement

“Engagement is what’s going to allow agriculture to survive in the future.” –Zippy Duvall, American Farm Bureau Federation President

Not only emily-2is it important to share our stories, it is also important to take it one step further and engage with the public. Consumers do not always trust farming but they DO trust farmers. Use this to your advantage. Answer questions people have and pose new ones that make them think. Any time that you can have a positive interaction and get through to someone, you are creating another potential advocate!

Support

“You don’t have to be on the football team to still cheer for them. You don’t have to be involved with agriculture to still support it.”

During a networking luncheon at FUSION, I spoke with some collegiate members about getting those outside of agriculture involved.  It was mentioned that some people are really into football, some basketball and some baseball, but whatever sport it is, everyone still cheers regardless of being on the team or not. The agriculture industry needs this type of support too, now more than ever. There are fewer and fewer farmers every year feeding a growing population and it affects EVERYONE. We depend on agriculture for our food, our clothes, our shelter, etc. We may not all play on “Team Agriculture” but it has a huge role in our lives and we need to get behind it to ensure a successful future for it!

Overall, the FUSION conference was a great experience filled with many opportunities for learning and growth. It is truly amazing seeing so many Young Farmers and Ranchers so passionate and interested in sustaining and building the future for agriculture! I cannot wait for the conference next year in Reno!emily

 

 


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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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My Agriculture Story

The number of people directly involved in the agriculture industry today is dwindling at an alarming rate. The majority of those left were raised on farms and always knew it was an industry they wanted to be involved with for the rest of their lives. This was not the case for me. I grew up in the suburbs in a neighborhood in Southern Maryland where I played with other children instead of pigs and chickens. But as I sit and write this from the Animal Agriculture Alliance office in Arlington, Va., I too know that this is an industry I want to be involved with for the rest of my life.

The Early Days

When I was younger, my mom used to joke that if I could choose between a day at an cattle-chuteamusement park and a day at the barn, I would choose the barn every time. I was not fortunate enough to grow up on a farm but my cousins were – and boy, did I envy them! Typical visits with them usually included me begging to go to the barn to see all of their animals. I always got my way.

A few months before I started high school, I received an offer that completely changed my life. My older cousins had aged out of 4-H and there was only one sibling left to prepare and show all of the animals over the summer and at our local county fairs. I had been recruited to help out and I was hooked! Just about every weekend I was at their house working in the barnpalpating dreading the thought of my mother coming to take me home at the end of the day. Over the next couple years I became more and more involved due to my willingness to try just about anything related to agriculture – including learning what it meant to palpate a heifer (pictured left).  In addition to showing beef cattle and goats, I participated on the Livestock Judging and Skillathon teams through 4-H.

 

My Start in Ag-vocationccfb

2014 was a big year for me! I was graduating high school, earned a spot on the Maryland state Skillathon team and was selected as a delegate for National 4-H Congress! It was also the year I was chosen to be Miss Charles County Farm Bureau. I spent the next year learning more and more about agriculture within my county as well as the state. I attended county Farm Bureau meetings where I learned about legislation regarding the agriculture industry, mingled with and gave speeches to our county commissioners and officers, and competed in the Miss Maryland Agriculture contest.

The contest is held at our state fair every year in August and is a competition between the Farm Bureau ambassadors from each county. There are multiple rounds throughout the contest – interviews, first impressions, round table discussions, and finally a speech and fishbowl question and answer given to all of the spectators in the Cow Palace. It was through my time as a Farm Bureau ambassador that I learned about the importance of advocating for this industry that I love so much!

I’m Not in Southern Maryland Anymorestate-fair

After my time in 4-H, I realized I wanted to do something related to the cattle industry. I enrolled at my state school, the University of Maryland, where I am currently a junior studying animal science and agribusiness economics. Attending such a diverse school with a very small agriculture department, my eyes were really opened to the disconnect between farmers and consumers, especially those with no direct ties to agriculture. This is where I realized I wanted to focus on consumer education and help to bridge the communication gap! My passion for production animal agriculture and my interest in consumer education on how your food gets from farm to table is what led me to apply for the Animal Agriculture Alliance’s communications internship program.

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The Alliance sticker on the back of my truck.

A little over two weeks ago when I started at the Alliance, I entered the “real world” chapter of my story. I now have my first “real” job and I am more motivated than ever to continue working towards my career goals. I’m so excited for my semester interning with the Alliance and I cannot wait to see what opportunities are in store for the future!


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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!

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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.

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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!

 


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Celebrating 30 years of bridging the gap between farm and fork

Story by Peyton Johnson, junior in public relations and Spanish at James Madison University.

Since its launch in 1987, the Animal Agriculture Alliance has been a central voice in the animal agriculture industry, bridging the communication gap between farm and fork. As the nation’s largest and oldest coalition speaking for the entire animal agriculture industry, the Alliance is celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2017.

In the last three decades, the animal agriculture industry has battled campaigns from anti-animal agriculture groups across the U.S., a misled public, and “undercover” activists. While many of these groups have changed courses over the years, the animal agriculture industry works to better inform the public every day.

History and Milestones

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President & CEO Kay Johnson Smith represents the Animal Industry Foundation (later the Animal Agriculture Alliance) at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association trade show in 1999. Also pictured is Don Hecht, formerly with Elanco Animal Health (now retired) and chair of the AIF from 1998 to 2000.

As the animal rights movement in the U.S. began to focus on agriculture in the early 1980s, leaders in animal agriculture met regularly to discuss activist groups, such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). These groups’ campaigns were targeting farming, ranching and the animal protein industry. In 1986, the American Feed Industry Association (AFIA) formed the Animal Industry Foundation (AIF) to have an organization solely dedicated to monitoring the activist groups’ efforts, informing the animal agriculture industry of the activists’ actions and coordinating a unified effort to correct misinformation. The AIF launched in 1987 and later became formally known as the Animal Agriculture Alliance in 2001.

“The board of directors decided the new name reflected the true nature of the organization’s purpose, bringing all stakeholders together to provide a unified voice on behalf of animal agriculture,” explained Kay Johnson Smith, Alliance president and CEO. She added that the name change came after a long-term strategic planning process.

Since its inception, the Alliance has represented a diverse array of entities in the animal agriculture industry, ranging from farmers and ranchers, to companies and associations, to scientists and dietitians. Because there are so many voices within one industry, the formation of the Alliance was crucial to unite stakeholders, creating one strong voice to represent all sectors of the animal agriculture industry.

In order to share information within the animal agriculture industry and to be a resource for the media and the public, the Alliance launched its first website in late 1995 – far ahead of most others in agriculture – establishing the organization as a leader in communication and outreach.

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The Alliance’s “Adopt a Teacher” program helped put accurate information about animal agriculture in front of students across the country.

In early 1996, the Alliance produced its first public service announcement that aired on TV and radio stations across America. Then the Alliance sponsored a kids’ cooking TV show that showcased recipes featuring animal protein and provided farm tours. These shows aired in classrooms across the country as well. The Alliance targeted children to provide them with necessary resources to form strong, fact-based opinions about the animal agriculture industry at an early age.

This industry was and still is in great need of a united voice because trends in agriculture narratives are constantly evolving. Today, there is a large need for open conversation between consumers and producers surrounding food sources and the treatment of animals before they become food.

By facilitating engaging dialogue between consumers and producers, the Alliance has helped to shift the animal agriculture industry toward open, transparent conversations with farmers and ranchers understanding the need to engage with consumers. The Alliance emphasizes engaging with all stakeholders, instead of simply providing educational materials. All voices are heard and understand the processes chosen by the other. By focusing on the long-overlooked relationship between consumers and producers, the Alliance has established itself as a thought-leader and an educational resource inside and outside of the animal agriculture industry.

The Alliance continues to demonstrate leadership in the field by utilizing social media and by engaging agriculture and mainstream media. In 2014, the Alliance, along with the pork industry, invited 12 influential food bloggers – only one of whom had ever been on a farm – to tour a swine farm, meat lab and pork production facility.  From that tour, there were more than 20 million impressions or views of content produced by the bloggers about their visit.

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The look of the Animal Agriculture Alliance from its inception in 1987 (left) to 2017 (right).

In 2015, the Alliance conducted a re-branding effort, marking a major organization milestone, according to Hannah Thompson-Weeman, vice president of communications.

“In order to create a look that is appealing to today’s consumer, the Alliance modernized its website and all educational materials to focus on our updated motto: Connect, engage and protect,” said Thompson-Weeman.

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Alliance president and CEO Kay Johnson Smith (left) and vice president of communications (right) Hannah Thompson-Weeman talk with media at the 2016 National Association of Farm Broadcasters Trade Talk event.

Additionally, using its 30 years of resources, the organization writes regularly for some of the industry’s leading publications; is actively engaged on all major social media platforms; writes its own weekly blog which gets tens of thousands of hits – and has provided hundreds of presentations and media interviews nationally and internationally as a recognized expert on farm animal welfare issues.

The Alliance has several committees that work to connect and unify the animal agriculture industry as a whole. Through its Issues Management Committee, the Alliance informs stakeholders on industry-related trends, upcoming issues, current media narratives and strategies to combat misinformation from anti-animal agriculture groups. The Alliance’s Communications Steering Committee monitors current and upcoming media stories and creates resources on how to be proactive with science-based information. The Alliance speaks at many industry-related events and blogs on the topics regularly to share trends and strategies.

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Alliance membership and marketing manager Allyson Jones-Brimmer represents the Alliance at the 2016 International Processing and Production Expo.

“While it was once a challenge to get companies in agriculture to understand the potential impact of the very driven activist groups such as PETA and HSUS, when the agriculture industry leaders began to feel long-term business impacts from these groups, they understood the importance of the Alliance – and they still do today,” said Johnson Smith.

Looking Back to Plan Forward

As the Alliance continues to implement current efforts throughout 2017, it also will launch new projects and initiatives to continue to strengthen the animal agriculture industry. While the Alliance has always had a strong online presence in today’s traditional social media (Facebook and Twitter), the organization will continue to expand its use of newer platforms, such as Instagram and Snapchat.

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Alliance communications coordinator Casey Whitaker appears on the Alliance’s Snapchat account.

“The Alliance has grown not only in numbers of members and staff but also in its understanding of strategies used by activists and its own tactics to ensure agriculture’s voice is a key part of the conversations,” said Johnson Smith. She added that, “the Alliance has become more adept at identifying threats, developing proactive responses and coordinating diverse interests to provide a strong, unified voice for agriculture.”

While the Alliance has grown immensely over the past 30 years and made its impacts felt throughout the industry, it also understands that there are always areas for growth.

The anti-animal agriculture groups are not going away, which gives the Alliance a raison d’être.  It is important for all stakeholders in the animal agriculture, feed, animal health, biotechnology, meat and food industries to work together because changes caused by activist groups impact stakeholders, up and down the food chain.

“We are all in this together, and the Alliance is here to connect, engage and protect all of animal agriculture,” concluded Johnson Smith.


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Life Lessons from 2016

Just like that, another year is almost coming to a close! Where the heck has the time gone?! It seems like just yesterday, I was ringing in 2016 with some of my closest friends and family. Looking back at the last 12 months, I cannot help but be thankful for all of the opportunities I have been blessed with, especially within the agriculture community. Throughout this year, I have learned many life lessons…

Spring semester 2016 at South Dakota State University was definitely a rewarding one. This was the time I would finally start my Agricultural Education courses and be placed in a classroom to observe and assist. I was so excited! My first day there, I knew I was going to love interacting with the students and teaching them about different aspects of agriculture and leadership. These students challenged me in many different ways, but I learned so much and grew personally and professionally. Life lesson #1: “People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.” -Theodore Roosevelt. This is my all time favorite quote! Boy, did it ever ring true during my time in the classroom. I learned that if did not show my students how much I truly cared about them and the subject I was teaching, it would be difficult for them to learn anything from me.

Fast forward to Ag Day 2016 and I am on a plane to Washington D.C. to advocate for agriculture in our nation’s capital with students from across the United States. Through this program we were able to learn about different aspects of agricultural policy, network with professionals within public policy and meet with our Congressmen and women to celebrate Ag Day. Because of this experience (thanks to Ag Future of America) I knew I wanted to be an intern inkyla-1 D.C. Life lesson #2: There is a disconnect between rural America and D.C., but there are hardworking and passionate people who are trying to minimize that gap.
Summer 2016 was filled with courses, corn and crowns. This odd combination included my summer classes, an internship and serving as Minnesota’s Princess Kay of the Milky Way. It was a hectic, rewarding summer! Life lesson #3: Get yourself a mentor. My mentors helped me immensely during this busy summer. They always had a listening ear, words of encouragement and expert advice. Without them, I do not think I would have been able to get through this summer!

My internship allowed me to travel across Minnesota and Wisconsin supporting and assisting farmers. It was an absolute privilege to meet some of the most hardworking people in the country. Even though these people are working 24/7 to provide food for our country and world, they are doing so with perseverance and a great attitude. Life lesson #4: If you find a job you love, you will never work again. Farmers are the perfect example of this. Their demanding occupation could not be done if they did not believe wholeheartedly in what they were doing. Most of the farmers I have met are in it for the lifestyle, not the paycheck.

In August, it was time for me to pass the crown to the 63rd Princess Kay of the Milky Way. (Princess Kay is the goodwill ambassador for the Minnesota’s dairy community.) As I stood on the stage that so many other young dairywomen have stood before, I could not help but be thankful for the kylaopportunities I had been given thanks to this experience.
My heart swelled with joy as I set the crown on our new Princess Kay, knowing she would be in for the ride of a lifetime. Life lesson #5: Advocate for what you believe in. I spent an entire year traveling Minnesota to schools, conferences and community events talking about the importance of the dairy community. I am thankful for every conversation had, relationship built and memory made through this experience.

Two weeks after giving up the crown, I packed my bags and started my journey across the country to Arlington, Virginia to start my internship with the Animal Agriculture Alliance. This internship has been one of the greatest experiences of my life. Being surrounded by a team of passionate women in agriculture was a true blessing. The projects I worked on have given me real-life, applicable experience that I will utilize for the rest of my professional career. I have thoroughly enjoyed taking in all of the sights, sounds and history of Washington D.C., networking with professionals in agricultural policy and supporting the team at the Alliance. Life lesson #6: “There is no comfort in a growth zone, and no growth in a comfort zone.” Moving across the country has its challenges, but it has been something special. Who would have thought that after this internship I would actually end up changing my major? Not me! I am happy with my decision to switch to Agricultural Communications because it is a career path I can see myself doing for the rest of my life. Telkyla-2ling the story of agriculture has always been something I have loved doing.  Now, I can do it as a career!

My time in D.C. and at the Alliance is coming to an end, with a greater understanding of my purpose and a full heart, I will head back home to Minnesota thankful for each and every opportunity I had this year. These few experiences and lessons are just a small portion of all the wonderful things that happened in 2016. If 2017 is anything like this past year, I know it will be an unforgettable adventure. Life lesson #7: Work hard and believe in yourself. There is nothing you cannot do if you put your mind to it. 

Wishing everyone a Happy Holiday season and a wonderful New Year!


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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.

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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!