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Published July 09, 2012, 09:43 AM

Be an ag embassador

Summertime. No matter who you are or where you farm or ranch in the region, now is the time of year when you are likeliest to have an opportunity to be an ambassador for your business.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

FARGO, N.D. — Summertime.

No matter who you are or where you farm or ranch in the region, now is the time of year when you are likeliest to have an opportunity to be an ambassador for your business.

This is the time of year when families gather, bringing grandchildren, cousins and friends back to the home place. It is the time for high school reunions and community celebrations. No matter how small the town, you can see the signs that tell of these gatherings. Perhaps you have written them.

I grew up in Brookings in eastern South Dakota. It was home to a land-grant university, so in some ways, it was like Fargo’s North Dakota State University, except the town was much smaller. The college was a bigger deal. My father was an agricultural journalist with the South Dakota State University Extension Service. Our summer vacations often came this time of year. We’d go to the Philip, S.D., area, in the western part of the state, and stay with our grandpa, or with uncle Rose and Loren, near Quinn.

We got a chance to help cousin Dan with his milking chores. Uncle Loren would explain (sometimes in excruciating detail) how the then-fallow rotation worked and the reason for it. He took us on tours to see his beef cattle. He explained the irrigation system and how stock dams worked and the reason for them. We had our pictures taken next to Sudan grass that climbed eight feet tall.

We’d go for field tours and see the cattle herds, get a sense of the distance between neighbors. We’d go on cattle drives and get a chance to ride the horses, providing the opportunity for saddle sores.

My brothers and I would have a chance — one time every year — to be around and witness the cattle work. We would help with chores such as branding. Loren would explain the symbols in the brands and the need for branding at all. We saw the sweat around the hat brims of the men and women who lived in this environment. We got to see their big smiles, and the pride they had in raising the food we’d enjoy at the supper tables in the evening.

Seemingly elementary topics — what spring wheat, winter wheat and durum are — were concepts that were taught to a city-slicker, elementary-school kid like me. I learned the importance of rural water because I saw people who lived without it, who couldn’t find a well.

Later, when choosing my journalism and economics pursuits in college, my father suggested that I combine them with something basic — agriculture — because, “simply growing up in South Dakota, you know more about agriculture than 90 percent of American youth.”

A few weeks ago, I was sitting in a steak house in downtown Redfield, S.D., having supper. I was joined by Jim Schott, owner of Schott Limousin Ranch, of McLaughlin, S.D. We talked for quite awhile, and among the topics were some of Schott’s efforts to host people — often young people — at his ranch. The events he described sounded like a lot of work. And he also talked about a dream of his to get busloads of inner-city youths on a trip and educational mission to places such as McLaughlin.

Good idea. But if you don’t go for something that grandiose, just take time to talk to your visiting relatives about what you do. Let them know how it feels to produce food. It’ll be good for both of you.

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