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Published February 20, 2013, 05:02 PM

Farmers urged to promote their cause

‘Lead the conversation’ with passion, ag advocate says.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

Farmers and ranchers, not the news media or organizations such as the Humane Society of the United States, need to lead the conversation about agriculture, according to an ag advocate.

“Frankly, we have not done our job and gotten out and spread the word and worked with people to help them understand today’s farming practices,” said Michele Payn-Knoper, an agricultural speaker and founder of Cause Matters Corp., which focuses on agricultural advocacy, social media strategy and community engagement.

Payn-Knoper was the featured speaker Feb. 20 at the International Crop Expo in Grand Forks, N.D., which ends Feb. 21.

More than 5,000 people and roughly 200 exhibitors are expected to attend the annual event, which is sponsored by small grain, potato and soybean groups.

The two-day show resumes Feb. 21 at 9 a.m. and concludes at 4 p.m.

Highlights for Feb. 21 include a panel discussion, which begins at 1 p.m., on managing market risk. Speaking on the panel are Mike Krueger of Money Farm, a grain marketing advisory firm located near Fargo, N.D.; Al Nelson of AgCountry Farm Credit Services; Paul Coppin, general manager of Reynolds (N.D.) United Co-op; and Frayne Olson, North Dakota State University Extension Service farm crops economist.

Payn-Knoper, who grew up on a family dairy farm and later worked in the dairy industry, talked about her lifelong love of agriculture.

“I learned that farming would forever be in my heart,” she said.

Today, she lives on a small farm in Indiana with her husband and daughter.

Payn-Knoper also talked about “the very worst phone call of my life.” The one “from my parents telling me that not only had they decided to sell all our cows, but they were losing our entire farm to bankruptcy.”

That experience encouraged her “to make people know about agriculture, make them know about the importance of understanding where their food comes from, and what farmers do for our society,” she said.

She encouraged farmers, ranchers and others involved with agriculture to spend at least 15 minutes every day promoting it to people outside of the industry.

Doing so might seem difficult, she acknowledged.

“How many of you are tremendously uncomfortable with the media?” she asked.

Still, farmers and ranchers should consider talking with their local newspapers and landlords who might not understand modern agriculture.

“It’s about being able to take what you’re passionate about,” she said. “It’s about taking a risk and sharing it (your passion) and connecting your passion and what’s important to them.

“Your future is directly dependent on your ability to do just that,” she said.

Images, leverage

Everyone has a different mental image of what a “perfect American farmer” should look like, she said.

But actual farmers should promote themselves, and what they do, to give non-farmers a realistic standard on which to judge those varying images, she said.

Payn-Knoper added that typically, American agriculture reacts to things it doesn’t like. A far better approach is being proactive and promoting ag’s strengths and benefits.

Payn-Knoper has visited Egypt and seen its famous pyramids, which are made from huge blocks of stone.

Ancient workers transported the blocks over long distances by using leverage, she explained.

“They leveraged it. It was a group effort to get it into place. And look how many years it’s still standing.

“How often does agriculture actually work together to leverage our power?” she asked.

“I don’t think it’s often enough.”

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