Well, here we are again, the first day of Spring and the annual Ag Day event — the once a year celebration sponsored by big Agribusiness where ag celebrities gather in Washington to pontificate about the benefits of American agriculture and the contribution of the American farmer. “Food for Life” is the theme this year and is, frankly, very similar to what the theme was last year and the year before that and the year before that. Let’s be honest, the Ag Day message has not changed much over the years. Yet, consumers have and their attitudes about food have. In addition, farmers and the way they produce food have also changed. So, how about if we update the Ag Day message and stress a more 21st century image of agriculture?
We in agriculture complain that consumers today don’t understand how their food is produced but do we show them enough? Do a Google image search on the term U.S. farmer, and you will get mostly photos of producers in fields with crops and tractors, many in bib overalls. I did see one of a drone being used, one of a laptop in a field, and a few of producers with mobile phones, but these were in the minority. Perhaps if we want consumers to accept the technology we are using to produce food, we need to show and tell them more often how we use it.
Another reason to update our image and message is to attract more young people into careers in agriculture. Research by AgriNovus revealed that students in the K-12 grades are not interested in a career in agriculture because it is not seen as interesting, exciting, or modern. Today’s students use sophisticated technology every day. Yet, when their image of farming is baling hay, milking cows by hand, and detassling corn, it is no wonder they do not see a future in farming. Perhaps if we showed them how computer, robotic, and satellite technology are used on today’s farms, they might be more interested. If we told them that the way to prevent worldwide starvation involved bioengineering, nanotechnology, and life sciences, they might see a place for themselves in that future.
The Kid Who Changed the World is a book that is being used by many Farm Bureaus to update the image of agriculture. It tells the story of Norman Borlaug, who would one day grow up and use his knowledge of agriculture to save the lives of two billion people. More and more, ag leaders are becoming aware of the need to update the image of agriculture for the next generation. The soon to be released strategic plan for the Indiana State Department of Agriculture has an entire section dedicated to this area. The AgrinNovus study indicated the kind of employees that ag companies will need in the future will have to have a much different skill set than the ag students of the past.
Too many of our Ag Day materials and messages remain rooted in the past. A more modern and, might I suggest, a more edgy message is needed. For example, last week the Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers Committee scrapped the traditional theme for their safety campaign which urged motorists to watch out for farm equipment on the road during planting. Their new slogan is “Get out of my Space.” While it is great and important to honor the past and to acknowledge the contributions of the present, we also must engage consumers and young people in the dynamic and exciting future of agriculture.
By Gary Truitt