By Julianne Johnston
Julianne Johnston is the News Editor for Pro Farmer in Cedar Falls, Iowa. She is also on the Iowa Soybean Association's Farm and Food Ambassador Team. You are invited to share this editorial with your local newspaper.
How much difference can one person really make when it comes to telling the story of agriculture? The answer: A lot -- and it starts by passing down your passion to the next generation.
All too often, we look at a task and easily become overwhelmed. With increased government regulation on ag production practices and animal rights activists coming at the livestock industry from multiple angles - whether by promoting "meatless Monday" or pressing the food industry to use only pork from group sow housing systems - there are some big issues for which to talk about and advocate.
I think it's important to be well read on the issues so you can respond to consumers' questions. But I also think you can do a lot by passing your values and knowledge to the next generation. As a 4-H leader, I talk to my club members about the current events that impact the livestock industry to get them more engaged in their projects and to become an advocate for the industry they represent. Our family lives are busier than ever and every minute we get with these up-and-coming agriculturalists is important. Do they see your passion for agriculture? This is where it starts.
Last year I had the privilege of welcoming Bruce Vincent, a third-generation logger from Libby, Montana, to the Iowa Soybean Association's (ISA) "Ag Matters Series." Vincent shared his story on how activists attacked the logging industry nearly 20 years ago, and how it changed his industry forever. He explained that because of well-intended environmental regulations, our forests have more trees, but they use more water. The unintended consequence is drier forests and massive forest fires.
Vincent told the audience the political environment is dictated by activists and to "get ahead of your message" through education. "Truth without a champion does no good," he says. "There is a difference between arguing and leading. Use your tools; provide facts to change public opinion."
Vincent urges farmers to add ag activism to their business plans. "Spend one hour a week educating consumers - your neighbors and community - what it is you do and why it's important to them," he says.
"The culture is what's at stake. The industry will live on, but the question is what it will look like. If you want your industry to stay where it's at, then be an activist for it," says Vincent.
I believe that what we do today will impact agriculture for the next generation and beyond. What do you want agriculture to look like 100 years from now? What are you doing to shape that vision? What we do today through educational efforts makes our industry stronger.