Friday, January 15, 2010

Heroes in ag communications

Ag communications revolutionary educator Dr. Jim Evans, renowned farm broadcaster Orion Samuelson, and farmer and national ag leader on a variety of fronts Mike Yost made up the great Communications in Ag panel yesterday at the AG CONNECT Expo. These three gentlemen brought a variety of experiences as leaders in agriculture and discussed ways to improve ag communications and get more students interested in the field. The event was held in the Innovations Theatre on the trade show floor and was hosted my Successful Farming.

Here are some notable thoughts and quotes from the panel:
  • Dr. Jim Evans said he remembers saying the FFA creed beginning with these words: "I believe in the future of farming." Evans said now, more than ever, he believes in the importance of these words: "I believe in the importance and future of agriculture." Evans believes students in ag communications are some of the brightest students compared to any other field of study. He said students in ag communications have a passion for the industry, and there are many opportunities for them to succeed in a professional setting. The key to this success will be students' abilities to understand not only how to tell stories of increased yields and productivity, but also the human interest aspects (thoughts, attitudes, changes in behavior) of agriculture.
  • Mike Yost is a Minnesota farmer, former chairman of the American Soybean Board and former director of the USDA's Foreign Agriculture Service. He said farmers need to work on being their own communicators and telling their story. "Farmers are very credible sources of information," Yost said. "'I saw it on my farm' resonates with people." Yost went on to say, "We (farmers) have a great story to tell."
  • Orion Samuelson is a farm broadcaster who has been heard on WGN in Chicago since 1960, where he has been a great source of information for Midwest farmers. Samuelson said ag communicators can help alleviate confusion in the ag industry by checking the facts. "It's far more important to be right than to be first," he said. Using correct statistics, information, and terminology is one of the first steps to telling agriculture's story in a better way. Samuelson said in his time reporting on stories in agriculture, the most non-news story has been one with a terminology issue - Mad Cow Disease. Reports on this issue in the media have scared consumers and made many not want to eat beef. Yost agreed that he spent more time at the Foreign Ag Service trying to open the beef markets than anything else. This is just one example of the many issues ag communicators have to combat and work hard to relay the real facts.
New media outlets are pushing agricultural communicators out of the realm of traditional media and into other forms of online social media. This was also discussed by the panel. Social media can be a powerful tool, as anyone can serve as their own communicator and have a voice on social media sites, including Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, and the infamous most recent social media source recognized by that little blue bird – Twitter.

I have brought updates about AG CONNECT to my Twitter account ( weeks prior to the show and throughout the duration. I feel Twitter is a tool that can bring the world of agriculture together and immerse people in conversation about ag. Combating negative publicity and false rumors about the industry is becoming a major issue, and people involved in agriculture can join in on social media sites to promote and fight for their cause. As with any online media source, however, ag communicators still need to report accurate facts. Many online forms of media do not follow through with that obligation. Regardless, online media can be a great tool for agriculture. Who better to tell how agriculture is making farming practices more sustainable than the farmers themselves?

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