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Farmer’s Hands 2012 Missouri Farm Bureau Video Contest Winner

Check out one of the winners of Missouri Farm Bureau’s state video contest. The winners were announced at the 84th Missouri FFA Convention in Columbia, Mo. this week. This video was created by the Walnut Grove FFA Chapter.

I love all of the awesome facts they incorporated into the video, some of which I had heard before, and others that were new to me.

I spent the convention working in a basement room behind the Missouri FFA Convention stage. The people in that room worked incredibly hard, volunteering their time and effort to get the news out to the public. Each story that passed my desk as one of the editors (and there were over 400 press releases written and edited in that room) represented at least one big and exciting success of an FFA member, advisor, or supporter. My big and exciting success was practically running across the stage, one of over 700 people in blue jackets who were raised to the highest award/degree a state association can bestow on an FFA member – the state degree. I am the proud owner of a brand-new, shiny gold, emblem-shaped nerd medal!

Plant Goals, Harvest Success!

Oh State FFA Convention…. This coming week, hundreds (probably more like thousands) of high school students in blue corduroy jackets will converge on the Mizzou campus for an event they’ve been preparing for all year. Many will compete as state-qualifying teams and speakers in career development events (like Entomology, Dairy Foods, Meats, Soils, Floriculture, and other judging contests), and leadership events (speaking, Parliamentary Procedure, Knowledge, Sales, etc). Some will grace the stage as winners – of contests, awards, and degrees. Others will perform as talent entries or chorus members. This year’s leadership sessions will focus on this theme: Plant Goals, Harvest Success.

These two days of intense competition, inspiring speakers, leadership developments, and memories made are a celebration of agriculture in Missouri. These students are members of an organization that values and promotes our nation’s most vital industry – food and fiber production. Will all of them grow up to be farmers? Far from it. Many will go on to careers that are a far cry from a wheat field or a ranch – but even if their futures don’t become intimately linked with agriculture, they learn enough about the industry to speak up, vote smart, and spread the word – agriculture has a bright future, and we’re growing strong leaders for the winding road ahead.

This week, I’ll be spending most of my State FFA Convention in a room filled with computers and busy college students, typing away. It’s our job to record all of the awesome and exciting things that happen during convention to send to home chapters, newspapers and other media. The press room at convention will be hectic – but I think it’ll be a lot of fun. After all, this is part of what I can see myself doing with my life – telling the stories of the people of agriculture (or buying tan pants and a blue blazer – if girls even do that – and taking my own group of high schoolers to state contest). Talk about exciting!

Farm Out Loud!

Agriculture Education and the Department of Labor – an epic battle?

I recently took a poll of my public speaking class to get a feel for what my audience would know about my upcoming persuasive speech topic. Out of 18 students polled, all from the Honors College at MSU, only 2 had heard of the proposed changes to child labor regulations that could severely limit family farms and educational opportunities for agriculture students.

 

 

Today, my Agriculture Leaders class heard from the Missouri Farm Bureau National Legislative Programs Director Garrett Hawkins, a graduate of Missouri State. During his visit, Garrett answered some of our questions about the changes and Farm Bureau’s stance and actions regarding the measure. He shared with us that Farm Bureau, like every agriculture entity he has heard from, is strongly opposed to the changes as they are currently written. While no one would argue that safety wouldn’t come first when it comes to high school students working with animals, farm equipment, and so on, the changes would take away valuable education tools for teaching safety.

In case you’re still wondering what changes have been made, I strongly suggest researching this topic so that you can make your own call. However, here’s a quick overview. Before occupying her current position, U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis backed an initiative in California that called for strict regulations for the children of migrant workers who worked with their parents in the fields. This, of course, crossed not only labor issues, but also differences in culture – and did not pass. When she became labor secretary in 2009, she continued to fight the same fight on a grander scale.

The changes are a combination of the issues Solis wanted addressed, as well as a number of sweeping rules and changes that would apply to all US teens – including removal of student learner exemptions, as well as the ban of certain kinds of work for students age 13-16, which includes work with animals, in hog & poultry barns, and machinery (defined as anything powered by an engine, meaning mowing the lawn is out), unless they were volunteering or working directly for a parent or guardian whose operation had not been incorporated.

I say all that to say this: the proposed changes are a major deal. If you caught what I did in that list, you’d notice that the Department of Labor is trying to kill the traditional FFA SAE Project, as well as other activities for students in FFA and 4-H programs. The changes also threaten multi-generational farms where children and grandchildren learn safety and agriculture through work. Doing away with these opportunities for children to learn safety in a supervised environment is not protecting children – it’s exposing them to undue risk of harm.

Right now, these changes are being proposed yet again (they’ve been proposed before, causing passionate backlash from the agriculture community). The goal as I understand it is to push the changes into law by the end of the summer. Why? If our current president is not re-elected this November, the new president will have the right to go back through all laws passed during a certain time period before the office changed hands. The people (and activist groups) backing the labor law changes want the proposed changes signed into law before the window for review opens.

This means the agriculture community has a lot of work to do. Maybe you can help me spread the news about the changes. Maybe you’ll see fit to call or write your congressman and let them know what these changes really mean, and why they should oppose them.

Farm Out Loud!

Eating Intelligently

I told you in my last post that in my public speaking class, we had been writing and delivering career speeches. I wrote mine about Agriculture Advocacy, or “Ag”vocacy. I’m not sure if that counts as a “career” per se, but my professor was okay with it, so I went with it.

For a little background, I am majoring in Agricultural Communications and Agricultural Education at Missouri State University (not Mizzou, in case you were wondering). My dream job is to work with professional agriculturists (farmers, ranchers, businesspeople, marketers, etc) to manage the authentic on- and off-line presence of their sector of the agriculture industry. It’s becoming more and more important to be transparent as an industry in order to build and maintain trust in our consumer base, regardless of whether we feel we are doing anything wrong. I would also love to work as an FFA Advisor, expanding the opportunities of upcoming generations of “ag”vocates, or to work for a university extension program, helping farmers to become more efficient and more knowledgeable about new findings and technologies. However, for the purpose of my speech, I went with the communications side – an advocate for agriculture.

Interested? Here it is, for your viewing pleasure: my career speech.

Eating Intelligently: Agriculture Advocates and You

According to Terrence Loose in a recent Yahoo! News article, Agriculture is the number one most useless college major. As an Agricultural Communications student at MSU, I would like to challenge that assertion. Does the agriculture industry have a significant effect on your day to day life? It is the job of agriculture advocates to serve as the voice for food and fiber producers to consumers. Agriculture advocacy is both an engaging job and a career that can truly make a difference.

First, I’ll give you an agriculture advocate’s job description, and then I’ll show you how this career is important to consumers.

Advocates for agriculture, also called public relations professionals, engage in dialogue with producers and consumers alike.

A job description might include things like:                                                 
1. Writing press releases
2. Planning corporate events
3. Making sales pitches
4. And even managing the internet presence of a business or public figure through Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and other sites.
Agriculture public relations is all about engagement.

It includes working with farmers to help them tell their story directly. It also involves explaining the science and technology of agriculture to a consumer base that is worldwide and largely generations removed from the family farm.

I’ve explained what an agriculture advocate might do on a daily basis and what the overall goal is for the career. Now I’d like to highlight the importance of this career in your daily consumer life.

Agriculture public relations can make a huge difference in how consumers view the companies that have a hand in food and fiber production. I asked earlier about the agriculture industry’s effect on daily life. I would contend that the industry has a significant part in day to day life. To make use of an old cliché, everyone in the world has to eat.

In fact, the relationship you have with your food and its sources is very important. It determines what you eat, where you buy, and how good you feel about what you consume. It may also determine how you vote on ballot issues.

Having a good food relationship depends on the consumer learning enough about how the food is produced, stored, shipped, and cooked to feel confident eating it.

This is where the agriculture advocate comes in. To find out about your food, you might look to a number of sources. You may check out the Food Safety page on Tyson Chicken’s website. Maybe you’ll find a news article that could open your mind to the idea of genetically optimized seed. Perhaps you’ll come across a YouTube video of a local farmer giving a tour of his cattle operation, so you choose to buy beef directly from the farm. All of these are examples of ways agriculture public relations can help consumers make informed decisions when it comes to food.

Public relations professionals in agriculture help us make decisions about our food by providing valuable content online. They also work with producers to help them show their consumer base what really happens on the farm.

The French writer Francois de La Rochefoucauld said,

“To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art.”

Will you join me in allowing agriculture advocates to help us eat intelligently?

If consumers eat intelligently, and producers continue to produce intelligently, wouldn’t we have an easier time of it? I think it will take our industry being transparent and open to questions, even when accusations are flying. It’s tough, but it’s worth it.

Farm Out Loud!

thanks to Agriculture Impressions for the factoid photos. Check them out on Etsy for more.

Saving the World… Through Science

Guest Blogger! Well, almost.

In my Honors COM 115 class (public speaking), we’ve been writing and presenting speeches about our chosen careers this past week. As one of only 2 “ag” students in my class, naturally I was interested in what the other would have to say. I gave my speech on Agriculture Advocacy (talk about a mouthful); he gave his on Genetic Engineering. It’s difficult to talk about any career for 3+ minutes and make it interesting, but even more so for topics that are technical in nature, or that people just don’t know much about. I must say, I was impressed with my fellow aggie’s speech. Enough so that I was willing to be a dork and ask for a copy of it for my nerd farming blog.

So here it is: for your reading pleasure, a speech on the importance of  a career in genetic engineering by Justin Conover, a Cell and Molecular Biology major at Missouri State University.

Saving the World, One Plant at a Time

“Have you ever wanted to save the world?

When I was younger, I dreamed of being just like my favorite superhero, Superman. I dreamed of flying around the world, lifting large rocks off beautiful women and saving babies from evil, all while living the life of a businessman.

Now, however, I am dreaming of becoming a different kind of superhero, one who saves the world using science.

My name is Justin Conover and I am a freshman honors college student at Missouri State University, planning a career in genetic engineering.

Today I want to explain to you how genetic engineering can save the world, what qualifications it takes to become a genetic engineering research scientist, and tell you some of the benefits being this career has in today’s world.

First, let’s take a look at why the world needs superheroes and how genetic engineering can save the world.

Currently there are 6.7 billion people on Earth, but according to a report in 2010 by Dr. Pamela Ronald, a professor of plant pathology at the University of California at Davis, this number is projected to be close to 9.2 billion by the year 2050.

The question is how will we feed them?

There are already people around the world that do not have food to eat, not because they can’t afford it, but because it is not available to them. And with the traditional agriculture production yield, there is no way that we will be able to produce enough food to feed everyone.

This is where genetic engineering comes in. Genetic engineering is the use of recombinant DNA technology to alter the genetic makeup of an organism which improves its yield and nutritional value, along with added benefits such as pharmaceutical advantages and ecological gains.

Examples of genetically engineered plants include Bt corn, which includes an insecticide from a common bacteria; Round-up ready soybeans, which are resistant to Round-up, a herbicide manufactured by Monsanto; and golden rice, which contains small amounts of vitamin A used to prevent childhood blindness in many third-world countries.

These genetically engineered crops have led farmers to have higher production rates, provided consumers with lower prices of food, and given vitamins to those who otherwise could not get them.

The people that create these genetically engineered crops in the lab are called genetic engineering research scientists. Most genetic engineering research scientists have a doctorate degree in a biological science such as genetics or microbiology, which takes an additional four years after the completion of a bachelor’s degree to obtain. Many of these scientists have both their doctoral degree, or Ph.D., and their doctor of medicine, or M.D.. They spend most of their time working with a small team in a laboratory with strict cleanliness and safety standards. Research scientists often spend 35 to 40 hours a week in the lab, but additional hours are occasionally required for special projects.

Genetic Engineering research scientists also have great benefits. The average research scientist makes 65,000 dollars a year, according to stateuniveristy.com. Some of the benefits they can receive include paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and pension plans. Plus, they get the satisfaction that what they are doing will make a direct influence on someone’s life and that they may save hundreds of lives by testing and creating genetically engineered crops. But perhaps the greatest benefit of all is knowing that their work will not only affect those close to them and alive today, but it will help people around the world for generations to come.

Just like Superman, being a genetic engineering research scientist requires you to take action and save the world, but instead of sheer strength and the ability to fly, research scientists use the power of science to complete their tasks. Being a research scientist is a very rewarding career, as you will most likely make decisions and discoveries that will affect people around the world. People are in desperate need of saving from poverty, starvation, and malnourishment.

That is why I have decided to become a genetic engineering research scientist and start saving the world through science.”

Justin Conover is a freshman Honors College student at Missouri State University majoring in Cell and Molecular Biology pursuing a career in Genetic Engineering. He is a 2011 graduate from Pattonsburg High School in Pattonsburg, MO. In high school, he was a part of FFA, FBLA, Student Council, National Honor Society, and was the Class of 2011 Secretary. He served as the Pattonsburg FFA Chapter President and as the Area II Treasurer. He competed on multiple contest teams in FFA, including Prepared Public Speaking, Poultry Evaluation, and Farm Business Management.

Farming out loud is more than just what I call “geeking out” with others in your field. It’s having the courage to speak up and tell you story when you know not everyone listening is on your side.

Farm Out Loud!

Passion

 I wrote in an earlier post about how important passion is to me when it comes to careers. I think it makes the difference between a life of joy and one of regret. It’s more than that, though. I love this quote (above) because it makes so much sense. The biggest determinant of a person (or business, or industry)’s  success is their drive and commitment to their cause. I know I would rather do business with someone who is excited about what they’re doing and excited to allow me to be a part of it than with someone who is just doing their job. To me, that’s the difference between a job and a career. If you’re doing what you love because you love it, it’s a career. If you’re doing something, in order to get something that will allow you to do what you love… that’s a job.

I have a friend who makes amazing jewelry. She takes unique silverware patterns that she finds at antique stores and yard sales, and remakes them into something truly special. Spoons, forks, and butter knives become rings, bracelets, and necklaces. The most exciting part for customers is bringing in their own inherited silver sets, if they’re willing to part with their intended use. She’s had whole sets of family Christmas presents made from just a few pieces of great-grandma’s first silver pattern. The most exciting thing for my friend is taking on new projects. Her newest idea? Antique buttons. I can’t wait to see what she does with them.

Time for a shameless plug before I go on. My friend’s company is called The SilverSmiths, and it’s based in central Missouri. 

            

The SilverSmiths are just one example of a business, and a person, with a passion for what they do. Deb, the founder, is so excited about her creations that it’s contagious. It’s obvious that this project is more than just a job – it’s a fun and rewarding career. Her workshop is full of inspiration and her friends are very willing advertisements. I  have several pieces, and I love knowing that I’m one of a few who know where to get something so unique. I’m going to relish that idea, because I know it won’t last long. Her secret’s out!

Now, to bring this idea full circle, let’s consider this idea in the context of agriculture. There are honestly very few people who work in the agriculture industry who are not passionate about the work they do. And, let’s be honest: they aren’t in it for the money. So, here we are with a bunch of farmers, ranchers, marketers, communicators, service providers, engineers, scientists, (and the list continues) with a passion for their careers. How can you share your passion? If you happen to be a row crop farmer like my dad, then you spend a lot of your time alone, in a quite literal field. You can imagine a day like that to be as exciting or a boring as you want. Either way, nobody knows about it.

I’ve been reading a good book (do you believe that it’s a textbook? my nerd is showing, sorry about that) by David Meerman Scott called The New Rules of Marketing & PR. A lot of my seemingly original ideas probably originate from this book, and I highly recommend it. Or you can go for the free versions he posts on his blog and website. (oops, that was another plug, and I didn’t even warn you that time…. oh well, it’s worth it, I promise)

Back to your day in the field.

What if, after a particularly interesting day in the field, you decided to tell the world? Where would you turn first? Probably the same place your customers would: Facebook, Twitter, a website, maybe a blog. Now, you share your story in your own words, be they printed, spoken, or photographed. You now have something out there that people will find when they’re wondering about you. When your loyal customers wonder what you’ve been up to after you’ve missed a couple of days in the coffee shop, there you are. And most interestingly, when someone wonders about where their food comes from and want to see a face or a name behind it, they can find you!

Of course, there is a variety of kind of technical things that can go on behind the scenes to make sure you come up in Google where you want to be found. But the truth is, the things I’m suggesting here are really user friendly ways to get your story out there. The sites will even walk you through the steps. So what are you waiting for?

Farm Out Loud!