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Agriculture Needs to Band Together

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to share the stage at the Black Hill Stock Show (BHSS) in Rapid City, S.D., with an incredible advocate for agriculture — Jordan Tierney.

Tierney is a 25-year old from Oral, S.D., who is currently serving a two-year term as Miss Rodeo America. Well-spoken, intelligent, talented and passionate, this South Dakota girl is doing an exceptional job of representing the western way of life in her travels and through her promotions across the United States. And along the way, she has become a champion for freedom, for rural America and for livestock ownership.

In our panel discussion on stage at BHSS, we discussed the current challenges facing the agricultural industry, and we shared our concerns over the bridging gap between those who produce food, fiber and energy for the world and the politicians, media personalities and celebrities who control the narrative and have determined that what we do is simply unsustainable and unhealthy for the masses.

During our conversation, we realized that although Tierney and I represent two different segments of the agricultural industry, we both have a vested interest in the future of agriculture, rural America and the western way of life. We all should have one common goal — to promote what we do and to connect with consumers on how our industries responsibly utilize natural resources to provide the essentials of life to enrich human lives.

So how do we get that done? Making connections, debunking myths, changing the narrative, sharing the truth and staying positive is a tall order in the face of so much negativity about who we are in agriculture today.

However, I think it’s impossible to shift the conversation in our favor, and my discussion with Tierney encouraged exactly that.

Here are five pointers to consider when in a public-facing environment where you may have an opportunity to share our agricultural stories.

1. Have your talking points ready.

Whether you’re promoting horse ownership at a rodeo, beef at a stock show or county fair, or something else entirely, know the message you want to share while you’re at an event and stick to those talking points.

2. Remember that you are the face of agriculture.

We can’t possibly bring the entire farm or ranch to town, but every time you interact with someone in public, you are the face of agriculture for that person. Be kind, friendly, factual, approachable and transparent. You may be the one and only producer this person has ever met, so leave them with a great impression of who we are and what we do.

3. Stay positive.

Without question, when you’re in the public, a naysayer or troll will surely find you and want to rain on your parade. Tierney shared stories of anti-rodeo activists confronting her at events.

While it can be intimidating and scary, it’s important to stand firm in the truth and not to waiver in your own mission that you seek to accomplish at the event.

Never stoop to the level of being negative or getting into debate where there are no winners. Take the high ground. Stay positive. Stick to your talking points. And don’t let anybody steal your smile or dampen the flame you have for sharing your passions in agriculture.

4. Set boundaries.

With the current environment the way it is, being an advocate can be dangerous at time. Your home, business, place of work, family or personal safety may be threatened. People will say terrible things behind a keyboard and even in person.

It’s important to set boundaries both offline and at agricultural events to keep yourself and those around you safe. Travel together. Have a plan in place to act swiftly should someone unfriendly approaches you. Don’t feel like you have to tough it out. We want you safe, happy and having a positive experience when you’re out talking about agriculture.

Online, I would encourage you to set filters on your social media to weed out the threats. Block and delete those who make you feel unsafe. As an example, an activist group that frequently uses drones to spy on farmers and routinely breaks into livestock buildings to sneak footage or steals animals was posting on all of my photographs on Facebook, including images of my family and children. They earned an instant block because that is not okay

5. Don’t give up.

Finally, I know it may seem like an uphill battle we are fighting right now. Bill Gates wants us all eating synthetic meat. Politicians want to tax us for cow farts. Schools are pushing for meatless Mondays. And the list goes on.

However, we have an incredible, positive and fact-based story to tell. If folks actually had the opportunity to sit down and listen to our stories, I think they would really like what they hear. Don’t give up, give in or ignore our shared responsibility of communicating what we do and how we help others by providing food, fiber and energy for the world.

We are in this together, so even on the hard days, let’s work together and keep fighting back with kindness and facts.

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