By Amelia Kent
What if there were no more farmers and ranchers? What would that look like, and how would that outcome affect the rest of our country? Those might sound like light, theory-type questions to most of us. But within our agricultural community, those thoughts are staggering and carry an incredibly heavy weight.
Farms and ranches are the lifeline for rural communities. In many places, agriculture is the only local industry. Additionally, farm inputs and services are often sourced by other companies within our small towns. In turn, farms and ranches carry a strong, positive impact on our local economies. In a time of intense dialogue about how farmers market their crops, I would argue all farms and ranches are local, regardless of how or where their crops are sold.
Those same farmers and ranchers supply our food available through grocery stores and restaurants, whether locally, regionally or nationally sourced or through distribution suppliers. We consume domestically-produced food that is the safest in the world. Both at the farm level, as well as through protocols and testing throughout the supply chain, farmers, ranchers, distributors, grocers and restauranteurs strive to produce and serve safe food. Should American farmers and ranchers no longer produce the products we do, our food would be sourced internationally, and would likely not be subject to as rigorous safety protocols.
We know the statistic that agriculturalists are less than 2% of our U.S. population. Of that 2%, how many of us actually do advocacy work? What does advocacy look like? You might be surprised at things you’re already doing that are considered advocacy. Do you serve on local and industry boards? Do you post pictures and stories from your farm on social media? Those are great, easy advocacy tools which help spread the good word of our farm stories. Who is your tribe? Do you have non-ag friends, or visit with other parents during ball games and practices? Those visits are great opportunities to advocate, as well, in a simple, informal manner.
Earlier this month, I spent several days in Washington, D.C. in an intensive advocacy training focusing on communicating our issues to our policy makers. Ten farmers and ranchers from all over the country, myself included, participated in a rigorous agenda which included roleplaying testimony before the House Ag Committee, meetings with congressmen, a press conference, and television interviews. The mission of this advocacy training is to push us, farmers and ranchers who are already advocates, to a higher degree with this module focusing on policy. Relationships with our policy makers and their staffs are incredibly important. While this is outside of the comfort zone for many of us, our policy makers need to know how their decisions affect our livelihoods.
Given the demographics of our society, advocating for agriculture is crucial – advocacy in any form is now a requirement. If you don’t advocate for your industry, you won’t have a job. This advocacy isn’t just for you so you continue to have a job, it’s so your neighbor has a job and the neighbor in the next town over has a job too. If our farming and ranching population dwindles to nothing, so do our rural communities.
Amelia Kent and her husband, Russell, raise beef cattle and hay in East Feliciana Parish. Amelia is a past chair of Louisiana’s Young Farmers and Ranchers Committee, is currently a member of the - Partners in Advocacy Leadership program with AFBF, and serves on the Cattlemen’s Beef Board. Find them on Facebook at Kent Farms; or on Instagram and Twitter @kentfarms_la.