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Ag is Losing at the Polls – What do we do about it?

February 9, 2011

There I was, sitting on my futon, filling out my absentee ballot, quickly checking boxes, and eager to get my ballot in the mail. I reached the section on constitutional amendments, read the title Iowa Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Act; thought to myself, “Sure, why not help Iowa’s natural resources?” Checked yes, and put my ballot in the mail to be counted; later that day I received an e-mail from the Iowa Farm Bureau, urging voters to check ‘No’ on that same ballot initiative I had just voted to pass.

As I researched exactly what the ballot initiative meant, a thought hit me. I grow angry when consumers look only at the words or the pictures and make assumptions about agriculture, yet I had just done the exact same thing, and voted for a constitutional change I didn’t even know anything about.

Why wouldn’t they check yes?

Standards for Confining Farm Animals, Puppy Mill Initiative, Relating to Cruel and Inhumane Confinement of Animals, all were titles on past legislation passed through ballot initiatives. Of course they passed. Even with huge campaigns trying to explain their real meanings, many voters were unreached, and who wouldn’t want to save the puppies, and treat farm animals humanely?

The obvious answer to fighting back would be education. However, Dr. Steven Sapp, sociology professor at Iowa State University explains that if you try to educate the public you will fail based on the fact that opponents are distributing negative information which carries disproportionate weight to positive information.

What will work?

So what will work? The answer to agriculture winning at the polls is a strategy involving the combination of involvement, education, and offense.

As Dr. Sapp explained, education alone may not be the answer, but I believe combined with involving consumers in agriculture, as well as offensively sharing information rather than defensively responding to videos, articles, or news reports, will create a winning atmosphere for agriculture at the polls.

It has been said that the agriculture industry is always on the defensive, and I agree wholeheartedly with that statement. “TeachKind, the humane-education division of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, is a resource for teachers, administrators, and librarians who want to help students become kinder, more compassionate individuals. You can download free lesson plans or order free books, posters, leaflets, stickers, videos, and other resources.” People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), reaches elementary students through protests outside of schools, but also by allowing teachers to order free curriculum that covers topics ranging from vegetarianism, and a rat’s life, to where do eggs come from? For many students, the first view they get of agriculture could be a PETA inspired lesson, creating a negative image that will forever be carried throughout their lives.

Involving people in agriculture from an early age will erase those negative images. Agriculture needs to advocate offensively, to be proud of what we do on a daily basis. Allowing students to visit your farm for a tour, bringing farmers into classrooms for a career day, inviting civic organization members, and community leaders to ride in the combine during harvest will all help erase the efforts of the opponents of agriculture.

It’s time to fight back

David Martosko, director of research at the center of consumer freedom gave his opinion on how to increase the public opinion of agriculture at the Animal Agriculture Alliances annual Stakeholder Summit. Producers need to tell their story and discredit those who are against agriculture. I believe by encouraging producers to tell their story and by exposing the activist organizations for what they really are, the perception of agriculture will increase.

Iowa’s constitutional amendment on natural resources and outdoor recreation received enough votes to pass, and mine was one of those votes, even though I didn’t agree with what the amendment meant. Agriculture losing at the polls is not something we can afford to continue. We’ve tried to push back by campaigning, and educating voters, but the negative information voters receive drowns out agriculture’s voice. It is time for us to become offensive players, educating youth on current agriculture practices, reaching out to civic organizations before they have negative opinions about the industry, and sharing our story as agriculturists. Consumers need to be involved in agriculture as much as they possibly can. If, and when these changes are made, agriculture will win at the polls, and consumers will begin to realize what a great industry agriculture really is.

 

This was written for an essay contest for the College of Aggies Online program.

 

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