From the Field is a bi-monthly column writtenby Mark Campbell, Farm Bureau Field Services Director for the Central District. He writes about Farm Bureau member benefits and County Farm Bureau activities.
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I think the most dominant message in the agriculture community last year was about agriculture advocacy; getting the message about today’s agriculture industry out to the general public. It didn’t matter what commodity you raised; every trade magazine talked about it. Numerous daily ag emails that I subscribe to talked about it. But when faced with having to deliver the message yourself, the mantra of telling agriculture’s story hits home.
This happened to me on Monday afternoon. Emily Nelson, one of the staff from my soil and water conservation district, called and asked if I would be willing to be interviewed from a farmer’s perspective by the NBC TV station in Charlottesville about cost share conservation programs. I have to admit that I was initially reluctant and tried to think of some other people. But I then realized that I needed to seize on the opportunity when presented. There wasn’t much time since the reporter wanted to come to the farm in less than 24 hours. So I agreed and mentally prepared myself for some comments that I wanted to make.
I checked with Martha Moore, and she gave me a couple of comments, specifically about supporting the budget amendments for funding of cost-share agriculture BMPs by Senator Hanger and Delegate Scott. When it was all said and done, I think that having less than 24 hours’ notice was probably best, because the waiting time made me more anxious about what I was going to say.
Tuesday at 12:30 pm, the TV reporter and two staff from the soil and water district arrived. I took them to two riparian areas, and he interviewed me and Emily of the soil and water district. Both of us had great presentations and great comments. We didn’t high-five afterward, but it was one of those occasions when you feel that you just nailed it. I took the opportunity to give the reporter a paper with all of my contact information and offered myself as a resource for agriculture information and anything about beef and beef cattle, which he seemed very appreciative. They left at 1:30 pm.
The story aired at 5:30 pm, but I didn’t get to see it since I was in a budget meeting in Charlottesville. However, I did see it online and the video is above for you to view. The story that ran didn’t include any of my videoed interview or Emily’s interview. However, he did use some of our comments. One hour combination of talking and video was edited to 1 minute and 11 seconds. The text of the online story was O.K., but I didn’t like that one of his comments about cattle being a large pollutant to streams followed my comment, giving the appearance that I said it. In conclusion, the interview and story was positive, because it did get some of the agriculture message out to the general public, even though it wasn’t all the comments that I had hoped for. Most importantly, I was able to share that farmers care about water quality and are doing their part. I am very pleased that the reporter had interest in doing a story about cost share conservation programs and was willing to make the 45 minute drive from Charlottesville to Nelson County. I also had the opportunity to make myself available to him as a resource for agriculture issues.
This was my experience, but other farmers have been active recently. Lynnwood Broaddus of Caroline County wrote a letter to the editor in the Free Lance Star newspaper in Fredericksburg as a rebuttal to comments made about AFBF’s lawsuit appeal challenging EPA’s regulation of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Vickie Gibson of Orange County responded to false and derogatory advertising by an Arby’s franchise owner in Richmond comparing grass fed beef to grain fed beef. Pictured in the ad was a nice piece of sod compared to a bucket filled with corn, candy, and syringes. Vickie quickly contacted the franchise owner to correct their information. She also sent the message out through Facebook. I read the letter, and she did a great job. I think some of our workshops with U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance have paid dividends.
Advocacy can take many forms such as the three that I mentioned: TV, newspaper, and social media. In our age of abundant and immediate information, the general public is still misinformed and ignorant about agriculture. However, the food movement over the past decade has created an open discussion and is creating more awareness. That being said, we still need to tell our story and be ready to take advantage of opportunities whenever and wherever they are.
Another opportunity to advocate for agriculture will occur next week in Richmond. Farmers from all over the state will be visiting with legislators in the General Assembly to voice their opinions on issues and tell their story. Until next time, Mark