2020: Agriculture gets a culture boost

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The “culture” of agriculture was granted a boost of American confidence as the 2020 drama unfolded. When the economy and the pandemic collided, so did the food chain process. There is no need to review those circumstances, but we should take the time to analyze the perception of agriculture as viewed through the lens of the American consumer.

In the not so distant past, animal welfare has been a topic of real concern for those of us aligned with the animals on the farm. We have opened our eyes and attitudes to concerns and revisions. At other times, fraudulent claims and social media have spread mistrust and less than factual information.

Yet, this year we have gained an important value of trust. According to a recent Gallup poll, farming and agriculture was ranked as the number one most positively-viewed industry, an 11% increase over its rating in 2019.

Opportunities

Hannah Thompson Weeman, vice president of communications for the Animal Agriculture Alliance, believes this gives all of us in agriculture a fantastic opportunity to step up and make the most of that favorable rating by establishing ourselves as trusted sources for information on food.

“People have questions about hot topics like animal welfare, sustainability and responsible antibiotic use. It’s up to us to make sure they are hearing our perspective and have access to balanced information as they make food purchasing decisions for their families.”

Even the U.S. per capita of dairy consumption has reached a 60-year high. Thanks to promotion efforts and the fact we are eating more dairy than drinking milk.

Scott Higgins, chief executive officer for the American Dairy Association Mideast and the Ohio Dairy Producers Association stated, “I am proud of how the checkoff program and the advocacy organization serving Ohio’s dairy farmers worked together to reassure consumers that dairy farmers were continuing to work hard, even during challenging times. Working with processors and grocers,we helped ensure schools, food banks, and consumers with access to milk and dairy foods.” Here is a link to dairy checkoff highlights during pandemic: drink-milk.com/wp- content/uploads/2020/05/May-2020-COVID19-Report.pdf

Resilience

Not only have we proven that our industry is sustainable and resilient, but we also have proven something to ourselves. In the midst of all our own disruptions, we put the needs of others above our personal traumas. In acts of selflessness, we gave away in any possible method to those in need.

On a dairy farm, there is rarely a day when events occur normally. Therefore we have learned the importance of thinking “outside of the box.” We survive and even thrive on being flexible and thinking through the variables of 2020. Your extension educators have functioned at an extended level of performance.

In the place of fear and confusion, creativity and leadership accepted a starring role as Zoom took us onto the “stage” of learning. Although I am far from Meryl Streep, I did use that minor in theatre and music to entertain students.

Being thankful

It is a time of year to celebrate blessings and being thankful. For those whose families have lost to the pandemic, it will have a much different meaning. As has been repeated countless times, nothing has been usual, customary or reasonable in 2020, but our wants and needs may have reversed their roles. In an unusual twist of fate, we have discovered that what we wanted may not have been what we needed and what we needed was indeed what we were taking for granted.

Perhaps those reading this have paused to rediscover that the best of our culture has been assigned a more significant role in our hearts and minds.

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Bonnie Ayars is a dairy program specialist at Ohio State University, coordinating all state 4-H dairy programs and coaching the OSU collegiate and 4-H dairy judging teams. She and her husband also own and operate a Brown Swiss and Guernsey cattle farm. In 1994, Bonnie was named Woman of the Year at the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wis.

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