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Tis The Season to Thank Agriculture

Food has a long history of bringing people together, especially during the holiday season. No matter our religion, political beliefs or which football jersey we wear, we can amicably sit around the table and enjoy our neighbor’s company with a warm meal. Food surrounds us in times of happiness and in times of sorrow. It is something we cannot live without and part of something bigger that we often take for granted. Agriculture.

With the holiday season among us, I can’t help but reflect on the reasons I have to thank agriculture for the gifts it provides not only during the holidays, but every day. This is why I thank agriculture:

  1. I thank agriculture for introducing me to my best friends, career and passion.

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    My best friends I met in the College of Ag at Auburn University!

  2. For the farmers and ranchers who don’t take a holiday off from raising livestock and growing crops.
  3. The dedication to animal care that all farmers share, not matter what size their farm.
  4. The people who care about the future of animal agriculture as much as I do.
  5. For the dairy cows and farmers who provide high quality cream for my coffee addiction.
  6. Bacon.
  7. All the students currently studying agriculture and working to become a voice for our industry.
  8. For giving me the peace of mind knowing that our country has the safest food supply in the world.
  9. The many choices in the grocery store – whether its produced a certain way or has a certain label, I know it is safe and nutritious.
  10. Chicken, turkey and pork free from added hormones…also known as all chicken, turkey and pork in the United States.
  11. For all the farmers who have hosted a farm tour and have reminded me why I love doing what I do.
  12. All my favorite wool and cotton sweaters, socks and scarves that keep me warm during the winter.
  13. For not only my food, but for the food I feed Zaza and Barney.Zaza and Barney!
  14. The colleagues in the sheep, beef, chicken, veal, turkey and dairy industries who at the end of the day unite for animal agriculture.
  15. Knowing that when I find a recipe online I can find the ingredients just down the road.
  16. The things I use every day that I don’t realize are made with by-products from animal agriculture.
  17. The small, but mighty team I get to be a part of at the Animal Agriculture Alliance.
  18. And a million other reasons!

The men and women involved in agriculture are some of the most dedicated, passionate and hard working people I know and to work on behalf of people I have the utmost respect for is an honor.

I hope everyone has a happy holiday season and remembers to thank agriculture for for all the presents it provides without fancy wrapping paper or bows. Please join me in sharing why you thank agriculture on social media with #WhyIThankAg!

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Using Snapchat to share agriculture’s story

The Animal Agriculture Alliance engages food chain influencers and promotes consumer choice by helping them better understand modern animal agriculture. Social media is one way we share information and facts about how farmers and ranchers care for their animals and help feed families.  We are active on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn and now Snapchat! Our username is animalag.

Snapchat is one of the newest social media channels with more than 100 million users. We are excited to use this new platform to make sure animal agriculture’s voice is heard and to reach even more people who may not be familiar with how delicious meat, milk and eggs get to their plates. Basically, the app allows users to take short videos and pictures to share with followers, but the content only remains visible for 24 hours.

The Alliance will use Snapchat to take our followers on farm tours and conferences we attend throughout the year, meet farmers and share trivia facts. Recently, our director of communications attended the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture annual conference in Nebraska and shared photos and videos from the conference where she had the opportunity to tour a dairy farm and a cow/calf beef farm.snapchat
Starting in the next few weeks, the Alliance will start Trivia Tuesdays and Thursdays on Snapchat about animal care, sustainability, meat matters and fun facts about pigs, cows, sheep, chickens, turkeys and all the other barnyard animals!

If you’re on Snapchat, here are a few other accounts to follow:

  • Gilmerdairy – Will Gilmer, Alabama dairy farmer
  • Hilljay45 – Jay Hill, New Mexico farmer
  • Nationalffa – National FFA
  • Realpigfarming – Real Pig Farming
  • Cristencclark – Cristen Clark, Food & Swine
  • Hmiller361 – Hannah Miller, social media guru on agriculture
  • Aggrad – Ag Grad, a career resource for college students and recent grads

For how to effectively use each social media platform to promote agriculture, check out the Alliance’s social media guide, The Power of Social Media in Agriculture: A Guide to Social Media Success.

 


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Growing up the Farmer’s Daughter

Some children grow up in the suburbs, others in the big city, some live in large mansions, others in small apartment buildings, but I believe I had the best place of all tpicture-in-front-of-barno grow up. Where would that be you might ask? My family’s dairy farm. Our farm is proudly located in the Land of 10,000 Lakes (Minnesota) and has been there for four generations. Each and every day on the dairy is something very special to me. There are triumphs and challenges, but I could not be more thankful to have been raised with agriculture in my roots. Here are three of the most important life lessons I learned growing up as the farmer’s daughter.

The cows come first. Always.

Regardless of the day or time, cow care is the top priority for my family. In my home, we do not eat supper or lunch until the cows have received their’s. We don’t clean our home, until the cow barn is taken care of. We don’t go to the doctor until the veterinarian came to check on our cows. Everyone in my family knows and fully understands that the cows come first. Farmers just like my dad, work tirelessly everyday of the year to make sure that their animals are well cared for. Imagine getting a call from your boss at 2:30 a.m. telling you to get to work right away. Most of us would question their sanity and then roll back over in bed. That is not the case for farmers. If my dad knows a cow will be calving in the middle of the night, I can guarantee you he will be up monitoring the birthing process ensuring the cow and newborn calf are well and healthy. There is no such thing as a ‘day off’ in my family.

There is always something to learn.

There are just some things that cannot be taught in the classroom. Thankfully, I have learned many life lessons on the farm. Work ethic, growing from mistakes and failure, and the importance of advocating for what you love are all proficiencies I have learned from the dairy. When you have to be up at sunrise and do not get to bed until way after sunset, you begin to be appreciative for the fact that you have a job that makes time go by in the blink of an eye. When you spend a countless number of hours preparing the land and planting your crops in the spring only to watch a hail storm destroy everything, you begin to be thankful for the fact that no people or animals were hurt. When you read and hear about organizations trying to destroy your livelihood by spreading misinformation, you begin to find the courage within yourself to stand up for what you believe in. I am a better person because of the trials and tribulations, victories and accomplishments I have had on the farm.

Family is forever. kylas-family

It is definitely not a ‘normal’ thing to have to work with your parents, grandparents, and siblings every day, but truthfully, I would not have it any other way. Each day, my family and I wake up knowing that we are taking care of cows that are producing wholesome, nutritious milk and are feeding the world. Being able to lean on your family in times of success and defeat is something I will never take for granted. We support one another in all aspects of our lives, especially when it comes to the farm.

Farming is a family affair. We farmers love what we do and are thankful for the opportunity to work alongside some of our closest friends and family. Just because a farm is large, does not make it a “factory farm” instead of a family farm. Ninety-seven percent of farms in America ar
e family-owned. Just as a person from town or a large city may want to go back to the family business, children of farmers want to do the same. With more family members wanting to continue their agricultural legacy and tradition, it is important that the farm expands in order to support multiple generations. Regardless of the size of the farm, animal care is going to be our top priority.

Do you see whfamily-farms-for-blogy life on the dairy farm has meant so much to me? I would not be the person I am today without the life lessons learned and the family who helped to raise me on the farm. I can assure you that I am not the only one who has ever felt this way. People all across the country are thankful to have been raised in agriculture and are passionate about producing our world’s food and fiber. Being an actual farmer may not be in my career aspirations, but I know that agriculture will be in my future. After all, I will always be the farmer’s daughter. 


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Everyone Needs a Farmer, Three Times a Day

A Growing Community

The agriculture community is vast and continues to not only grow, but also to develop new practice methods. In a field so large not only can it be difficult to be well versed on all its subject matter, but it is also easy to find information that is subjective as opposed to objective. As an intern at the Animal Agriculture Alliance, my experiences have exposed me to the wide scope of information being shared along with those who are sharing it. In short, I have acknowledged the importance of the connection that needs to be made with all sides of the spectrum regarding individuals and their eating habits.

FFALike many people I do not have a background in agriculture. Agriculture was not a field I had involvement in until I took my first agriculture science class as a freshman in high school. The class exposed me to the unspoken truth that was made notable by Brenda Schoepp. “Once in your life you may need a doctor, a lawyer, a policeman, and a preacher but every day, three times a day, you need a farmer.” It is when I finally understood this truth that I knew I wanted to become more vocal in speaking out on issues of concern for our nation’s farmers and ranchers.

A Need for Effective Communication 

Currently there is a great need to bridge the communication gap regarding the truth that serves as the backbone of American animal agriculture. America’s farmers and ranchers have faced combative comments from animal activists as well as animal rights organizations. They want to know what the agriculture community’s defense is and explain again how farmers and ranchers care. These comments are all confrontational in nature, but by following two steps when responding to – or proactively confronting – these comments the agriculture community can take progressive strides forward regarding farmer’s sincere consideration for animal welfare.

  1. Focus on a particular segment of agriculture

    Photo by: Laura Bardot

    Photo by: Laura Bardot

Animal agriculture encompasses many different species and topics, such as animal welfare. Focus on a particular topic such as pigs, chickens, beef cattle, etc. With all of the different species, there are different farmers and ranchers utilizing different techniques. Because of this, farmers frequently specialize in one of the livestock or poultry species. With this specialization, farmers and ranchers can not only provide more tailored care and welfare practices for their animals, they can also provide specifically designed nutrition plans and specially designed housing. Consumers are hungry to know more about their food. By highlighting the benefits of specialization through focusing on the information about particular species, the consumer can see the emphasis farmers and ranchers put on animal welfare.

  1. Provide facts

Consumers want to know where their food is coming from. By providing facts and adding them to anecdotes of farmers utilizing these practices, information will be better retained. Farmers are constantly learning about new practices and systems they can use to raise their livestock, similarly to how consumers are constantly learning about where their food is coming from. As the majority of consumers are more than two generations removed from the farm, it is difficult to fully understand why farmers do what they do. This is why we encourage consumers to do their own research and decide for themselves what they should eat or not eat. In today’s world, food labels are becoming harder and harder to read, therefore, farmers are trying to be open about how their livestock is raised. The facts about your food are out there, go get them.

13941052_1204172576288928_195915745_nContinue Your Education 

President Kennedy said, “Our farmers deserve praise, not condemnation; and their efficiency should be cause for gratitude, not something for which they are penalized.” Then and now, the education of agriculture needs to be continuously spread. By being specific in the information being shared and providing facts along with anecdotes the true face of animal agriculture will leave no room for contentious questions. Never stop learning because agriculture never stops teaching.


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Reflections from the Animal Rights National Conference: what can we learn

Attending Animal Rights Conferences blog picture

The Animal Agriculture Alliance frequently attends conferences hosted by animal rights groups. The purpose of attending – to get inside information straight from the source and generate reports for its members. I attended Taking Action for Animals, hosted by the Humane Society of the United States and the Animal Rights National Conference, hosted by the Farm Animal Rights Movement. The experience was eye-opening. I went in open-minded and intrigued by the conference themes. The themes targeted the rights and welfare of all animals. After a few phrases were repeated, the strategic position these organizations held was clear: these conferences are an attempt to undermine the animal agriculture community.

While attending each of the conferences, I did not see eye-to-eye with much of the information shared. Oftentimes the information was outdated, out of context and invalid. There was one speaker howbeit, that I did side with in one regard, Steve Hindi. Hindi is president of SHARK (Showing Animals Respect and Kindness). During his presentation Hindi said, “We’re winning? That’s absurd.” A statement which I applaud. The animal rights movement is far from a winning force. Hindi verified this truth in front of all attendees at the Animal Rights National Conference.

Why They Are Not Winning farmer-657332__180

Taking Action for Animals and the Animal Rights National Conference are the two primary conferences hosted for animal rights activists. As a result of their significance, messages conveyed were synonymous and presentations paralleled. Despite undeniable resemblance, the animal rights movement as a whole lacks synergy. There is no combination of strengths among organizations. Instead, speakers denounced other animal rights activist groups discrediting their effectiveness as an organization. Besides the lack of unity, the animal rights movement also fails to convey current and original information. Repetitive speeches at workshops with replica information and analogies was a common occurrence.

The animal agriculture community has become the primary focus of activist groups. By targeting animal agriculture, these groups claim they can “spare” the most animals. To do this they attempt to discredit scientifically-backed practices and protocols. With these tactics, activist groups draw profound attention to the animal agriculture community; but these organizations have forgotten a key business strategy –  never underestimate your opponent, but never make them bigger than you either. In attempt to discredit farmers and ranchers, these conferences do just the opposite. The conferences sing the praise of how far we as a collective, undivided industry have come and shine a light on what we are – science based.

My Take-Away 

AAA_group_con-eng-pro_4CAs a result of these conferences, the animal agriculture community must face the “marketing campaign” of the animal rights groups. Immediately, the question “how?” is raised. My answer – we don’t. Instead, we should aim to expand public knowledge about how farm animals are cared for and broaden the understanding of animal agriculture practices. At these conferences Wayne Pacelle and Nick Cooney said, “People are smart.” They are correct, the public simply has minimal exposure to agriculture. Animal welfare is a driving force that influences both the farmers and consumers. The well-being of animals’ health are valued by each, and because of this, practices reflect both values. By seeking what is understood by the public, and further developing their knowledge, there is no fight. The importance of animal care will be unquestionable. So I thank the conference speakers for drawing attention to animal agriculture – now it’s our opportunity to shine a light on the indisputable, humane methods of America’s farmers and ranchers.

The Alliance recently released its report from the 2016 Taking Action for Animals conference, available to Alliance members only.


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Don’t let misinformation become someone’s truth

We are all consumers. We all have our preferences regarding the types of foods we like to purchase and eat, but our purchasing decisions should be based on facts, not fear and misinformation.

IMG_17411I recently attended the annual Glenview Dairy Breakfast and Stockshow at the Historic Wagoner Farm, a family-oriented event filled with games, a tasty breakfast and barnyard animals. My job was to answer any questions people had about animal agriculture and animal care. Almost every person I spoke with didn’t necessarily have a question, but rather a statement they wanted me to verify. Unfortunately, all of their statements were laced with misinformation.

Here are a few of the myths and misinformation I heard:

“I don’t buy products in the store that come from factory farms.”

When people say “factory farm” they are usually referring to large farms, but size does not automatically make a farm good or bad. What matters is how the farm is managed.

It takes farms of all sizes and types to make up the agriculture community and provide consumers with healthy food choices. Large farms can be conventional, organic or local and the same is true for small farms. Large farms often have the resources to hire animal care specialists, veterinarians and animal nutritionists to be on staff to help care for the animals using advanced technology that not only benefits the animals, but the farmer as well.

Farmers may prefer to raise their animals or grow their crops in different ways, but one thing all farmers share is the commitment to animal care and food safety. One way the animal agriculture community ensures their herds and flocks are healthy and receive the best care is through quality assurance programs and constant research and dedication towards continuous improvement.

Advances-in-Animal-Ag

Advances in Animal Ag Infographic

Perfectionism does not exist in agriculture because farmers are always looking for ways to improve and evolve as new research and technology becomes available. The Alliance recently released a report and infographic highlighting the advances in animal care, food safety, responsible antibiotic use and sustainability achieved by animal agriculture.

“What are you doing to prevent farmers from abusing their animals?”

To assume that farmers mistreat their animals is quite disheartening because it couldn’t be further from the truth. Farmers and ranchers care about the well-being of their animals and work hard to ensure they are providing the best possible care every day. Groups that want you to think otherwise often use scare tactics, misinformation and highly-edited videos to convince you not to support American farmers and ranchers. When a farmer takes care of his/her animals, the animals are healthy and comfortable which yields a safe, wholesome food supply for consumers. Farmers are striving to feed us, while activist groups are striving to take protein-packed meals off our plates.

grassfinished-or-grainfinished-beef-1-638“What’s the deal with grass-fed and grain-fed?”

A common misconception is that grain-finished cattle never eat a blade of green grass, but all cattle spend the majority of their lives eating grass on pasture. Some cattle are grass-finished and others are grain-finished. Grain-finished means they are fed a nutritionally-balanced diet of grains, vitamins and minerals for the last 3-6 months of their lives.

Farmers work closely with veterinarians, animal nutritionists and animal care experts to ensure their animals receive the right amount of nutrients at the right time. Whether the animal is grass-finished or grain-finished does not correlate with the quality of care they receive. Ninety percent of United States cattle are raised under the guidelines established by the Beef Quality Assurance program – a science-based program that helps farmers and ranchers raise their cattle using proven techniques and recommendations from animal care specialists.

Myth-busting marathon

What I honestly hoped would be a day filled with sharing coloring books with children and Alliance resources with parents quickly turned into a myth-busting marathon, but I would run the marathon again in a heartbeat. The people I spoke with were only repeating what they had heard from advertisements, activist groups and misinformed friends. Once I started a conversation with parents addressing their concerns and sharing the truth about how farmers care for their animals, they planted their feet in the ground and we had long discussions that left them smiling and thankful to hear the other side of the story.

We need to share our agriculture story so they hear the truth. Go to events, be active on social media, talk to people in your community and don’t let misinformation become what they think is the truth!IMG_17621

About the author: 

I didn’t grow up on farm, but as soon as I met a farmer I knew I wanted to help tell their story. I am the communications coordinator at the Animal Agriculture Alliance responsible for social media, website management and member resources, bridging the communication gap between farm and fork and telling farmers’ stories every day. 


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Taking Opportunities from the Cattle Pasture to Capitol Hill

Coming from a small, rural town in east-central Missouri, I never would have imaged myself interning in an office near the nation’s Capitol. Yet, growing up on my family’s large, commercial cattle farm has given numerous opportunities that have led me to where I am today. So, how could a small-town farm kid end up here?

The Beginning

If I were asked what my favorite animal was when I was younger, I would have answered “cows!” without hesitation. I knew I lived on a farm with cows, pigs and chickens, but I never realized the importance of agriculture and farming until I was older.

In grade school and high school I was known as the “farm kid”. I could be found wearing my boots almost every day and sporting a shirt from my FFA chapter or 4-H club. I raised and showed beef breeding heifers, breeding gilts and market hogs during my time as a member. (A breeding heifer is a young female cow shown at a fair to exhibit her qualities, a breeding gilt is a young female pig also shown for her qualities, a market hog is a pig grown and showed for his/her qualities and auctioned off during the fair.)

cow calf

Getting on the Right Road

When it came time to choose a college and major, unlike most people I knew what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go. I was exposed to the agricultural communications field when I visited Kansas State University in the fall of 2011, due to my participation in the National 4-H Meat Judging competition. After that visit, I knew I wanted to be an advocate for the agricultural industry. I had my heart set on going to K-State and being a Wildcat. Yet, the University of Missouri was where I knew I belonged, mostly because it was closer to home and I had some family ties there. At MU there is not an agricultural communications major, instead there is a science and agricultural journalism program, which is where I found my passion.

How I got Here

I was a very active member of 4-H growing up and I served on the Missouri State 4-H Council for three years before retiring in early June. As a 4-H member, I had countless opportunities to minimize my comfort zone and maximize my leadership potential. One opportunity that took me above and beyond my comfort zone was being a participant in Missouri 4-H’s 2015 Legislative Academy. I was not interested in politics, I dreaded American Government class, yet with a smile on my face and a leap of faith I went to the state’s capital. I shadowed my hometown representative and as a savvy college kid, I left my business card and resume “just because”. The very next day I received an email asking me to return to the capital as an intern the following week. I was eager and excited, I accepted the position and caught the “political bug” while interning at the Missouri House of Representatives.

AGJAs the saying goes, “It’s a small world.” You never realize how small of a world it is until you talk to one person and the next thing you know you are interviewing for an internship halfway across the country. I was a participant in the 2015 Agriculture Future of America (AFA) Leader’s Conference, where I was sponsored by Farm Credit. As I was thanking one of the ladies from Farm Credit, I happened to give her my introductory elevator speech. The next thing I know, she is giving me a recommendation for an internship with the Animal Agriculture Alliance. A couple of emails and phone calls later, I was offered the position and decided I was moving to the East Coast for the summer.

Now Here I Am

As a 20 year-old, junior in college, my parents were not too keen of the idea of their youngest child living half way across the country. Yet, with some persuasion I was able to convince them this is what I wanted to do and where I wanted to be. As I carry on in life, no matter where connections take me, I will remain a passionate advocate for American agriculture. With an industry that fuels the globe, agriculture is indeed a very “small world”, you never know who you will meet next.


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Action, Please!: My pledge to take action for animal agriculture

Imagine you’re at the grocery store needing to pick up a carton of eggs to make one of your favorite recipes and when you get to the dairy aisle where the eggs are usually kept, the eggs are gone. You ask an employee stocking shelves nearby where the eggs are and he responds “we don’t sell eggs anymore” and points you in the direction of the vegan substitutes.

This was a dream I had a few nights ago. As a consumer myself who values food choices, I couldn’t help but think…what if this becomes reality one day?

Although I wish the dream was about something more joyful, it has only strengthened my passion for animal agriculture and my commitment to take action for the farmers and ranchers who work hard every day caring for their animals so we can have food choices in the grocery stores.

I am not the only one with a renewed drive to stand up for animal agriculture. Our 2016 Stakeholders Summit concluded on May 6, but the action is just beginning. With the theme of “Action, Please!”, attendees committed to taking action to better share the truth about agriculture.

Action, Please! Idea Board

Action, Please! Idea Board

Action pledges from our attendees included:

  • Being active on social media and incorporate video
  • Ensuring crisis management plans are in place and continuously updated
  • Engaging with the younger generation about agriculture
  • Engaging with the mainstream media about animal agriculture
  • Starting more in-person conversations about agriculture
  • And the list goes on!

With several attendees already creating social media accounts, I am excited to see more people passionate about animal agriculture sharing their passion with others.

My personal action pledges are: be more active on my personal social media, take advantage of any opportunity to become a better communicator and improve Alliance social media to reach and engage with more people.

Speakers discussed how to better engage with consumers, retailers and the media and how the agriculture community can enlist allies to help tell agriculture’s story and find solutions to pressing issues facing animal agriculture today.

One of my favorite quotes from Summit came from a Canadian dairy farmer who shared a photo on social media every day of 2015. He said, “to the consumer our side of the story doesn’t exist, unless we tell it.”

Andrew Campbell sharing his story at Summit.

Andrew Campbell sharing his story at Summit.

Soon after Andrew Campbell began sharing agriculture’s story, he experienced backlash from the animal rights community. He credited the support from the agriculture industry as the reason he was able to fight through the activist noise and continue sharing agriculture’s story.

“When you see the advocates out there – think how you can support them. It doesn’t have to be publicly,” said Campbell. “I was able to take that picture every day because the industry had my back.”

If you are interested in securing a bright future for animal agriculture, think about how you can support farmers, ranchers and fellow agvocates. Join the action and share your “Action, Please!” pledge in the comment section!

To follow the action on social media, search the hashtag #ActionPlease.aciton-please

If you were not able to attend the Stakeholders Summit, recorded speaker presentations will be posted here as they are available.

About the author:

I didn’t grow up on farm, but as soon as I met a farmer I knew I wanted to help tell their story. I am the communications coordinator at the Animal Agriculture Alliance responsible for social media, website management and member resources, bridging the communication gap between farm and fork and telling farmers’ stories every day. 


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A day in the life of an agriculture student

A few weeks ago, I had my very final spring break, cue the sad violin. I traveled home to Pennsylvania to spend some time with family and friends. The conversation of my post-graduation plans always seems to plague pleasant conversations during my time home. More recently, I received some negativity regarding certain aspects of agriculture from family and friends, citing various articles or documentaries. Even the conversation at a doctor’s appointment shifts to the fear of GMOs – my optometrist should have seen my eyes roll. Nothing gets my blood boiling faster than people bashing agriculture based on misunderstandings or a lack of exposure to the industry.  With misconceptions that follow agriculture around, here is a look into what it is really like to be a student studying in the agriculture field.

We are a diverse group of students. Agricultural students can study in a variety of disciplines such as animal sciences, entomology, plant sciences, food science and marketing. Each discipline is crucial to the agricultural industry. Our studies are woven together through our coursework. You can find us all over campus. We are out on the farm learning about crop growth and animal husbandry, in the field collecting insect specimens, in the lab conducting research and in the library doing lots of studying.

abby 1

Collecting feed samples for research means competing with these girls for food.

Research is at the forefront of our studies. Many students, including myself, conduct research in agricultural labs. The science of agriculture is constantly evolving and research allows for the development of innovative technologies. During my time at the University of Delaware, I have spent countless hours in a dairy nutrition laboratory researching top of the line ration additives that allow the farmer to preserve their feed harvested in the fall for year-round feeding.

We are involved on campus with clubs and organizations. Our commitment to agriculture doesn’t stop in the classroom. Most of us spend our waking hours, eating, living and breathing agriculture. There are countless clubs devoted to agricultural majors. Personally, I spend my free time involved as a sister of Sigma Alpha, an Ag Ambassador giving tours to prospective students, and as a puppy raiser for a guide dog foundation. Campus involvement has been the most memorable part of my college experience.

abby 2

Sigma Alpha gave me sisters who share my passion for agriculture

 

We deal with controversial issues involving agriculture.  As I mentioned before, being an agricultural major comes along with controversial topics. Whether it be animal welfare or the fear of genetically engineered foods, everyone seems to have an opinion that they want to voice loudly at us. Being in the agriculture field means staying up-to-date on hot topic issues and always agvocating louder than the misguided information.

We love our studies! No matter what the major, agriculture students are fiercely passionate about their studies. Agriculture is our life and our future. I have found my niche in agriculture, a place where I feel right at home alongside my peers. I cannot imagine loving my major any more than I do.

So to my friends, family, acquaintances, and even doctors, I’ll leave you with a quote from Leslie Knope from the tv show, Parks and Recreation. Leslie loves parks just as much as I love agriculture. “If I seem too passionate, it’s because I care. If I come on strong, it’s because I feel strongly. And if I push too hard, it’s because things aren’t moving fast enough. This *agriculture* is my home. And I promise you – I’m not going anywhere.”

My time as a student may be coming to a close but it has given me a love for agriculture and that, I will have forever.abby 4


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Cage-free eggs: a PR battle or concern for animal welfare?

To a lot of consumers, cage-free eggs probably seem like they are the best thing ever. Almost every week another restaurant or retailer is pledging to transition to a 100 percent cage-free egg supply, but these complex decisions have more implications for food costs, supply chain logistics and even animal welfare than many realize.

A one-sided story in the media

It’s not hard to understand where many people get the idea that cage-free egg production is ideal. The news coverage of the cage-free movement is picturesque. Animal rights organizations, such as the Humane Society of the United States and Mercy for Animals, are often quoted as claiming they “worked with” the company and want to express their appreciation for a “step in the right direction” for animal well-being.

What is often left out of the story is how those groups try to influence companies in their decisions to go cage-free.

Activist pressure, praise and repeat

Animal rights groups are notorious for “pressure campaigns.” They target a consumer-facing brand, restaurant or retailer with an often misleading campaign which aims to put the company in a spotlight as being supportive of animal mistreatment. With sales and a reputation on the line, the company needs the negative attention to cease.

The Humane League, another animal rights organization, placed an online ad for a “Kroger Campaign Organizer” to launch a pressure campaign against the grocery by motivating “local consumers to boycott their Kroger and Kroger subsidiary locations.”

Mercy for Animals recently launched a pressure campaign against Safeway. One of their tactics included a snapchat asking their followers to “politely ask why Safeway continues to torture egg-laying hens in tiny cages when Trader Joe’s, Target, CVS and Costco have committed to going 100 percent cage-free.” The message included the Safeway CEO’s name and a phone number. Less than a week later the Albertson’s Companies (one of the largest food and drug retailers in the United States which includes Safeway) announced they would be going 100 percent cage-free by 2025.

To think that activist pressure will cease once a pledge is made is just not the case. Animal rights groups pressure a restaurant or retailer to change their sourcing policies, then praise them once a new policy is announced only to repeat and pressure the food company again. They either argue that the food company isn’t moving fast enough and demand a quicker timeline or argue that cage-free isn’t enough and hens need to be raised on pasture.

cage free eggsShouldn’t science have a say?

Many of the recent policy announcements are based on animal rights activist demands and what some consumers think is best.  Letting hens out of cages sounds like a rational decision for animal welfare, but many fail to address what science says is best.

The Coalition for a Sustainable Egg Supply is a multi-stakeholder group made up of leading animal welfare scientists, academic institutions, non-government organizations, egg suppliers, and restaurant and food retail companies. The Coalition conducted a three-year study to evaluate various laying hen housing systems by considering the impact of multiple variables on a sustainable system. The three types of housing evaluated were: conventional cages, cage-free aviary and enriched colony cages. The research assessed five areas of sustainability: animal health and well-being, food safety and quality, environmental impact, worker health and safety, and food affordability.

The final results revealed that in regards to animal health and well-being, cage-free has substantially worse cannibalism/aggression and keel (extension of the breastbone) damage compared to both conventional and enriched colony systems. Both cage-free and enriched colony have better tibia/humerus strength and feather and foot conditions compared to hens raised in conventional cages and the enriched colony proved to have the lowest mortality rate compared to both the conventional and cage-free systems.

In terms of worker health and safety, the cage-free had substantially worse particulate matter exposure and endotoxin exposure compared to the conventional cages and enriched colony. For the environmental aspect, the enriched colony has substantially better ammonia emissions, while the cage-free has substantially worse indoor air quality and particulate matter emissions with slightly worse natural resource use efficiency.

Bird health, worker safety and product sustainability are complex topics, and reducing them down to just cage size is an extreme oversimplification. Instead of following the commitment to continuous improvement based on science and selecting the solution that works best for their individual operation, most egg farmers are being forced to switch to cage-free systems with risk of being dropped by their buyer if they don’t comply. This would understandably frustrate any farmer.

Take action and stand with science 

Farmers and ranchers are not only committed to continuous improvement, but they also hold the experience of caring for their animals every single day. They work tirelessly to provide a safe, affordable and nutritious food supply for people who take it for granted.

Some animal rights groups may act like they have the best intentions in mind, but in reality they are only moving our society towards a more vegetarian and vegan way of life. They want prices to increase and eventually take milk, meat and eggs off your plate for good.

Whether you are a restaurant, retailer or consumer, I challenge you to stand with science, not animal rights extremists.