Posts Tagged ‘agriculture’

What’s Your Why?

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to attend the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Agriculturists meeting to represent my company, and one of the speakers, Monsanto’s Vance Crowe, talked about the challenges we face in agriculture with so much negative and frankly, incorrect, information being spread about our industry.

He showed images that he had seen on social media, being shared by millions of people, that portray modern agriculture in a frightening light. Things like tomatoes being injected with mystery fluids from syringes – never mind that (1.) there are no commercially available GMO tomatoes and (2.) syringes are not used in genetic engineering. Images like these are designed to speak to our emotions, provoking fear and distrust without saying a single word.

He said, “All you have to do for people to question modern agriculture is to sow doubt.” Regardless of the facts and the science and the layers of regulation behind everything we do, one misguided image can cause irreparable damage.

Then today, back at work, I sat down to work on some homework for a leadership class I’m part of. Our assignment was to watch this TED Talk by Simon Sinek:

It’s about 20 minutes long and worth the watch, but if you don’t have time, I’ll summarize. He describes the “golden circle,” three concentric rings with “why” in the middle, “how” next, and “what” on the outside. Normally, we try to explain things from the outside in – what we do, how we do them, and why. He says that in order to get people to make an emotional connection that can lead to a change in behavior, we need to start from the inside out – WHY we do what we do, how we do it, and then what the benefits and opportunities are.

He goes on to explain that our brains are designed to respond to these questions. Our neocortex is where rational thought and language are processed, the “what.” That’s where we can absorb facts and figures, weigh out pros and cons. Our limbic brain, however, responds to “why” and “how” – that’s where we make our decisions and experience things like trust and loyalty, but does not process language. That’s why we make “gut decisions” or say something “didn’t feel right,” he says, “because we don’t have the words to describe it otherwise.”

And then it hit me.

In agriculture, we are awesome about the “what” and even the “how.” We grow the safest, most abundant, most affordable food in the world. We have the technology to grow more than ever before on less than ever before. We have facts and figures that show how much we’ve increased soil quality, decreased the use of fertilizers and pesticides, and improved animal health and production. It’s truly amazing.

But people don’t care about those things until you can show them “why.”

The message with the emotion is the message we remember. That’s why Crowe’s example of the tomato picture elicited such a negative response without a single word. People made an involuntary connection that colored their view of any facts that may have come behind it.

We must begin making those deep connections, showing our “why” when we reach out to those who may have questions about agriculture. Food is such a personal thing to all of us, but only 2 percent of Americans are currently involved in growing it. I believe that most people are genuinely interested in why we do what we do in agriculture, and want to be reassured that we’re doing the very best we can to continue to provide safe, affordable options for their supper table, but starting the conversation with science and statistics won’t open that door.

The “why” will.

Here’s mine:


What’s yours?




Day 21: Be a Part of the Fun!

Some of my best childhood and young adult memories revolve around 4-H and FFA activities. I was a proud Happy Hustler for 10 years and active in FFA five, throughout high school and one year into college to complete the requirements of my American Degree.

I can honestly say I wouldn’t be the person I am today without these two organizations. Especially for young people interested in agriculture, there’s no better way to learn skills and make connections that will lead to future success.

4HJoining 4-H at 8 years old, I was instructed in meeting etiquette, encouraged to make a speech in front of the entire club, almost all of whom were older than me, and educated on the importance of recordkeeping. Choosing a project, completing a set of specific activities related to it, and talking with a judge at the fair developed curiosity, perseverance, and elocution. As I became more involved, the opportunities to mentor younger 4-Hers and volunteer for projects both within and outside my club taught me the importance of working together for a common goal and the value of community service. The wide variety of projects I worked with over the years, from cooking to sewing, electricity to fine art, and Read-A-Book to child care provided me practical skills I still draw on today.

FFAI clearly remember looking at a picture in my grandparents’ office of my dad in his FFA jacket receiving his American Degree in the late 1970s, and knowing even as a child that someday I wanted to wear a blue jacket of my own. I signed up for Intro to Ag as a freshman in high school and never looked back. Career building skills I learned in the FFA have proven invaluable many times over as I now both work in an agribusiness and am involved on the family farm as well. But the lasting value of FFA membership for me was the friendships I developed that followed me to college and still find me today. I was able to meet others my own age excited about the agricultural industry, and many work in ag today. I can hardly attend an agricultural event without running into at least one person whom I first met through FFA.

Big C and I have already talked about how many activities we want to see Little C pursue as she gets older. I think there’s a real danger in overscheduling kids today, and I don’t want to see that happen in our family. But at the same time, we want her to experience being part of a group other than her family and realize the importance of taking part in something greater than herself.

We’ve decided that we will very strongly encourage 4-H membership when she’s old enough. There are so many benefits that children in grade school receive from 4-H that they don’t get anywhere else. I hope she enjoys it enough to stay involved though high school, because I intend to raise her to be a good role model for the younger kids coming along behind.

I also hope she’ll consider FFA membership, even if she chooses a non-ag career. Keeping a record book, learning things for contests, and meeting new people are skills any employer will value. The FFA mission of training members for premier leadership, personal growth, and career success reflects the kind of person I hope Little C will become one day.

Little C, my little farm girl, I hope you’ll be as excited to join organizations like 4-H and FFA as I was. You’ll gain so much more than you ever thought possible.

Day 10: Think it Through

Every day, we hear thousands of messages. Somehow, we have to sort through them all and decide which messages we believe, which ones require action, and which ones to ignore. It’s not easy to develop the skills needed to figure out who and what to listen to – but I hope to equip Little C with the tools to do just that.

It seems like lately there has been a lot of conversation about food. Because it’s something we all need to survive, food has always been important – but in the last few years I’ve heard more people talking more loudly about where their food comes from, what ingredients are included, and why this is good for you but that is not.

I think it’s awesome that people are beginning to pay more attention to the way we produce food here in America. We have a safe, abundant food supply that is extremely affordable. We have choices and a free market that allows for a variety of production methods and options for purchasing what goes into our refrigerators and pantries. That, to me, is a true blessing.

As we as a nation have become more interested in food production, many different people and groups have added their voices to the conversation. Some of these people offer insightful food for thought (pun intended) while others seem to focus less on the facts and more on the emotions.

I hope she doesn't always think inside the box!

I hope she doesn’t always think inside the box!

I’ve grown up around agriculture my whole life. I know what good farmers do and the reasons why. I also know there are some bad farmers out there, just as there are many good doctors and a few bad, many good teachers and a few bad, and many good lawyers and a few bad. It hurts when I hear others making broad statements about how we do our work and the products we produce without thoughtfully listening to those who may see things differently or have additional knowledge on a particular subject.

I want Little C to be able to listen to all sides of an issue, whether it’s about food or anything else, before making a sweeping judgment of a situation. I want her to call upon her own experiences and reach out to others who may have more knowledge than she does to help her gather all the facts before making up her mind. I don’t want or expect her to believe everything I do, but I do want her to make up her own mind and be able to present a logical reason why.

Little C, my little farm girl, I want you to grow up able to listen to all sides of an issue, and use good judgment and credible sources to form your own opinions.

The rest of the series:

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Day 6

Day 7

Day 8

Day 9

Day 6: Respect the Past

I recently completed a personality trait assessment at work and one of the things the book said I would likely enjoy was caring for and preserving items of historical importance in both the workplace and in the family. It said I would be the type of person who catalogs, preserves, and treasures items that tell the story of the past.

Guess what? That book is right.

One of my favorite tasks at work is collecting items for our company archive. I’ve had my home compared to a museum. We enjoy collecting farm antiques and displaying the more unique pieces. I grew up with a father and grandfather who collected and restored many antique tractors, and we spent many a summer day at tractor shows (actually, we still do, because I married a guy with the rusty iron disease!) I truly enjoy learning about history that I can personally relate to.

One piece of the collection!

One piece of the collection!

In the past century, agriculture has changed at an almost unbelievable pace. A hundred years ago, many farmers still relied on literal horse power to complete their work. Corn yields were less than 40 bushels per acre. Soybeans were a minor crop, mostly used for hay, and the Dust Bowl was nearly two decades away.

I can’t imagine what it must have been like to be a farm wife and mother back then.

The words of the FFA Creed come to mind: “In the promise of better days through better ways, even as the better things we now enjoy have come to us from the struggles of former years.” Amen.

Tractor Show

By learning about the past and trying to understand it, we can create a future our great-grandparents probably couldn’t have even dreamed of. But you can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been.

Little C, my little farm girl, I want you to develop a respect for agricultural history, so you can be part of agriculture’s future.


Thanks for reading along!

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Making the Most of “Monday Eve”

One of my Facebook friends commented yesterday that Sundays feel like “Monday Eve.” I’ll admit, sometimes by the time Little C goes to bed on Sunday night, I’m feeling like I need just one more day in the weekend to make me feel like I’ve had time to accomplish anything. Especially this time of year, Sunday is the only day I know Big C (my husband) will not be in the field, and we try to pack a lot into that one day.

Last night, though, once Little C was tucked away, we decided to watch a movie. I’d heard that the movie “Farmland” was being offered for free this month on Hulu, and we’d both been wanting to see it even though it didn’t play in any theaters near us. I’d never used Hulu before, but after figuring out how to plug the laptop into our TV we were ready to go.

The movie is a documentary about six young (under 30) farmers and ranchers from different parts of the country, working on different types of operations. Each one shares his or her story and talks candidly about why they do what they do and the highs and lows they’ve experienced as they make their way in agriculture.

One of the farmers in the movie talked about how difficult it is to start farming from scratch today, when you’re paying for inputs nearly a year in advance and being completely at the mercy of Mother Nature to produce enough crop or livestock to cover those bills. I don’t know of any other industry where you can work as long and as hard and still, with one storm or drought or disease, have nothing to show for it. And even if you do end up with a good yield, you’re at the mercy of people in Chicago, or China, or who knows where to set the price you’ll ultimately receive. It’s something that I don’t think people outside of agriculture really understand.

We both thought it was very well done and a fair, accurate picture of modern farming, something that isn’t often portrayed in Hollywood. I hope they’re not just “preaching to the choir” with the digital release on Hulu – that the intended audience of non-farmers takes the time to watch. It’s a breath of fresh air among so many negative and confusing stories in the media about agriculture today.

Farmland: The Movie on Hulu

Whatever Happened to Agreeing to Disagree?

Today my family went to the Illinois State Fair. I hadn’t been there in several years, so it was fun to go back and see what had changed, and what hadn’t. One of my favorite things about the fair – the butter cow – was of course on my “must see” list.

The 2013 Illinois Butter Cow. She also had some butter friends - frogs, butterflies, and possums!

The 2013 Illinois Butter Cow. She also had some butter friends – frogs, butterflies, and possums!

So when I heard about the vandalism to Iowa’s butter cow earlier this week (I don’t want to post a link to the story because I don’t want the vandals to get any more attention than they’ve already received), I was upset. Upset that someone thought the best way to share their message was to break several laws to make a point. Upset because agriculture, which I am so passionate about, was once again being targeted . But most of all, I was upset because this is just one more example of how we can no longer seem to agree to disagree.

Opinions are important, and they are valid. I certainly have my own opinions on many topics that I will defend vehemently. But there comes a point, in most cases, where in order to preserve a relationship it’s vital to take a step back and look at things from the other person’s perspective, and maybe, just maybe, find a little common ground and agree to disagree on the rest.

So many aspects of food production – organic vs. conventional, free range vs. traditional animal housing, “factory farms” vs. family farms – have caused people to take up sides, and sometimes leads to extreme behavior as seen in Iowa. With the experiences I’ve had in my life, I often take for granted what I know about how our food is produced in this country, and sometimes forget that others don’t have that background to filter what they hear on television or read online through.

We all have the right to make choices when it comes to what we eat. When someone has a different opinion on what’s for lunch, that doesn’t make them wrong and me right. It just makes us different. I have friends who make very different food choices than I do, for various reasons that I don’t always agree with, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still be friends.

Before we resort to finger pointing, name calling, and worse, let’s try respectfully listening to each other, REALLY listening. Programs like Illinois Farm Families start by finding out what people want to know about the way their food is produced and sharing information in a way that speaks to their specific concerns. Even though that may not completely change people’s minds, at least it opens the door for more dialogue and builds a relationship.

After all, everyone has one thing in common – we all need to eat.

Farm Friday: Aerial Applicators

So I’ve been tossing the idea for this blog around in my head for a few months, and finally decided I just needed to jump right in.

And with that, I’m writing my first post on something I’ve seen a lot of lately: aerial applicators. Some may call them crop dusters. The little yellow airplanes flying over cornfields, piloted by people who have a lot more guts than I ever will.


It fascinates me to watch these planes do their work. Flying low over the fields, then rising up quickly to loop around and back down again. I’m not the only one… the guy driving the SUV at 40 mph in front of me on my way home from work today was a little distracted watching them, too.

The last few days the planes have been out in full force here in central Illinois, applying fungicide. A couple years ago, I was able to write a story for my day job about some of the new technology used in aerial application. GPS maps that show exact field boundaries and prescribed treatments, instant electronic notification of field completion, and the ability to schedule fields for application up to a year in advance have all made this a economic option. Plus, when fungicide is most beneficial for corn (at VT stage – when the corn is tasseled), it’s normally much too tall to move through with other application equipment.

According to the National Agricultural Aviation Association, just under 20 percent of all crop protection products in the United States are applied by airplane, covering 71 million acres (just over 17 percent). Most crops can and have been treated by aerial application, but the most common are corn, wheat, soybeans, pastureland, and alfalfa.

So the next time you see one of those little yellow planes doing their acrobatic work, give a wave of thanks for the crucial role they play in producing our crops! And be thankful your workplace is a little more roomy than this:

Inside the cockpit of an aerial applicator. Not much wiggle room!

Inside the cockpit of an aerial applicator. Not much wiggle room!

~ FarmWife04