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From Small Farms to Feedlots: The Agriculture Industry Needs Us All

Growing up, I was an active member of the local 4-H Livestock Club, raising many species of livestock and showing them in local fairs as well as shows throughout the state. Though I lived on a small farm in which I was the only family member raising animals for show or consumption, I took a strong interest in the agriculture community in my area and did everything I could to actively engage with producers. I felt as though I had a clear understanding of modern day agriculture – at least in my area, which consisted mostly of smaller cow-calf operations.

straw-bales-2638678_960_720Then I went to college in southwest Virginia, an area rich in large-scale cow-calf farms with feedlots scattered between. I met other agriculture students who lived or worked on 10,000 plus head operations, or had grown up with three chicken houses in their backyard, and I was overwhelmed. I felt as though my experiences surely couldn’t compare to these individuals who had spent their entire lives working cattle through the chute weekly or waking up early on the weekends to take care of piglets. Little old me, who had come from a non-working farm and raised my very meager herd of purebred Angus cattle to a whopping 10 head, I certainly couldn’t give my opinion on farming in front of these other students. However, after spending time around individuals with varying degrees of experience, I found that everyone brought interesting insights to the table regardless of their background.

Don’t discount yourself due to lack of experience.

Experience isn’t everything in the agriculture world. Though previous knowledge certainly helps to understand the workings of agriculture production, lack of experience does not mean you are unable to have informed opinions about its practices. Even though I didn’t have the thorough background in production that some of my counterparts brought to the table, I still had something to contribute. Just as the person who grew up in the heart of a city with no hands-on experience working livestock had valid opinions to offer. Though some of us are more involved in the process, we all

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Me with some Virginia Tech friends attending the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Conference in 2016.

participate in the agriculture world and have something to share.

Never be afraid to speak up.

Even when you feel outnumbered by those who carry more experience than you: speak up! Share what you know! Ask that question to which you’ve been dying to get an answer! This is how we grow and learn from each other as a society. Growth in modern day agriculture comes about when everyone is an active participant in its conversations, and everyone who cares about the future of agriculture deserves to have a part in those discussions.

Learn from others.

If you are the person who grew up on a large scale operation, always have an open mind to others’ opinions, even though your experience may far exceed theirs. Additionally, if you did not grow up on a farm, listen to shared knowledge from those who had that exposure. Never pass up an opportunity to have an educational and potentially enlightening conversation with someone. Furthermore, always be respectful in your interactions with individuals of varying backgrounds, and remember to treat every conversation as an opportunity to learn and grow in your knowledge of agriculture.


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We All Have a Voice for Agriculture

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Firefighter, rock-star, princess and football player were always common answers for me. Yet as the years went by, my responses became more complex and so did the question. In high school it was, “where are you going after graduation?” and now in college it’s, “what would you like to do with your degree?” These questions likely get asked thousands of times a day throughout the world, but how many answers ever involve the word agriculture?

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I grew up with my heart set on becoming a veterinarian. It never occurred to me that my hatred of math might be a problem and that my love for writing could benefit my career. It took a very rude awakening, but I eventually realized that veterinary medicine was not for me; agricultural communication was. But when I declared my major in ag comm, I questioned how I could ever be credible since I hadn’t grown up on a farm.

Let’s Take a Step Back

If the history of agriculture tells us anything, it’s that the industry is constantly changing. This means that education and communication are changing constantly as well. I doubt when the Morrill and Hatch Acts were passed anyone anticipated we’d be studying drone technology and the best ways to reach an audience on Facebook, but here we are. And here I am, studying communications and learning more about the animal ag industry so I can share the stories of producers who care so deeply for their animals.

The first Morrill Act was passed in 1862 and the Hatch Act a few years later in 1887. These pieces of legislation, along with the Smith-Lever Act of 1914, have changed agriculture and my life. Each act emphasized agriculture, education and research, which have essentially shaped everyone’s livelihood. Without the establishment of land-grant universities, agriculture may have never had such high priorities for research and extension. Plus, I may have never had the opportunity to show cattle through 4-H, understand the importance of animal health or fall in love with my university. These acts set the foundation for lifelong learning, outreach and change.

You Have to Keep Up with the Times

As I’ve already addressed, the agriculture industry is constantly evolving. As a communicator and student, it is important (and difficult) to keep up with everything going on, especially when you didn’t have a great foundation of agriculture literacy growing up.

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In the year 1900, farmers accounted for 31 percent of the U.S. labor force. More than 100 years later, it accounts for less than 2 percent. We do have to consider that advanced technology allows fewer farmers to produce more food, but what does this mean for the gap between farm and fork? It means that people are disconnected from how food ends up on their plates. In fact, 7 percent of Americans believe that chocolate milk comes from brown cows. It makes you question what perceptions people have about strawberry milk, too, doesn’t it? There is information available at our fingertips, yet there are some interesting misconceptions.

Anyone Can Be an ‘Agvocate’

When I decided I wanted to share my story and the story of animal agriculture, I was anxious. I was afraid I could never connect with producers, professionals, peers or consumers because I worried they wouldn’t trust me. Because why should they? The only true exposure I’d had to livestock production was showing cattle that weren’t even mine! It took a year or so of college for me to figure this out, but my voice is necessary and welcome in this industry. It’s even possible that my background has given me an advantage when connecting with those around me. Having the status of ‘farm kid’ may not matter as much as it used to when it comes to advocating for the industry.

I am grateful for what the past has given me and I am excited for what my future will hold. I anticipate gaining great skills during my time with the Animal Agriculture Alliance, becoming a strong communicator for animal health and traveling the globe to experience different animal ag systems. Of course, there are concerns and obstacles that myself and the industry will face, but I am no longer weary that I don’t belong. In my opinion, all it takes is passion and a little bit of curiosity. Even though not everyone can be a farmer, everyone is a part of the agriculture industry. That’s something that will never change.

pexels-photo-95425So, as you continue to take classes, search for jobs or find new hobbies, I challenge you to approach the question a little differently. When someone asks you, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” why not tell them you plan to get involved with agriculture. Because believe it or not, you already are.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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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!