Worried about the future of animal ag? Read this.

When it comes to podcasts, I’m a novice. Most times, I turn on some George Jones or Journey while I’m working, but recently I have warmed up to the idea of listening to podcasts because of one show in particular: The Shark Farmer Podcast.  Admittedly, this show has made me cry, laugh and fall into deep reflection all at my desk here at the Alliance office.

During one of my many binges of the podcast, I came across an episode with a quick discussion about the millennial generation that grabbed my attention. Unexpectedly, the guest on the show praised the individuals who belong to this generation.  This came as a shock to me as I hardly like to associate myself with my generation, but that quick conversation triggered a different thought process.  I took a long look at this generation, and it wasn’t all that bad. With this idea in mind, I decided to reach coast to coast and find some of the brightest minds of my generation and see what they have to say about animal agriculture. I was by no means disappointed, and I don’t think you will be either.

Lauren Heberling, Agribusiness Management Student at Michigan State University

I met Lauren as a state FFA officer, and she and her team taught me two things:

  1. (Ag)riculture is actually pronounced (egg)riculuture (at least in the Midwest), and
  2. the dairy industry is kind of a big deal.

Lauren Heberling

Lauren and I kept up with each other after our year of service and I have always been impressed by her unfailing motivation to make herself and the world around her better. During the school year, she works for the Michigan FFA Association as editor of the Michigan FFA publication, The Creed, trains current state FFA officers for their state FFA convention and works with media for Michigan FFA Association. In addition to her schooling, she is involved in the Michigan State Dairy Club, Sigma Alpha, Collegiate Farm Bureau and is finishing up her last year as a 4-H member. This summer she is interning for the Michigan Milk Producers Association. MMPA is a milk cooperative comprised of nearly 1,100 farms in the Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin and Ohio. This opportunity has allowed Lauren to strengthen her passion and understanding of the animal agriculture industry as well as be on a team solely devoted to making sure their dairy farmer members receive the most profit possible for their hard work.

And what does Lauren have to say about animal ag?

“Those who raise the animals for food and fiber take the skepticism around what comprises their livelihood and turn it into transparency and innovation. The values and integrity of our American farmers are next to none and the raising of our food and fiber through animals pushes scientific advancement, raises ethical standards and holds the ideals of hard work high. The single-most reason animal agriculture is so vital to our society is because it produces the food – a burger, a cold glass of milk, an ice-cream cone in the middle of summer- while also providing a model of what every industry should look like. Animal agriculture makes a living for families, is honest in the face of controversy, works non-stop to provide for America in the safest manner for both humans and animals and above all else, does it with an honest pride.”

I could really stop right here and my point be made, but there a few more people you should meet.

Omar Raymundo, Biomedical Engineering Student at Duke University

Omar Raymundo

This kid is a GENIUS. Ask him anything about anything, and if he doesn’t know the answer, he will figure it out. Better yet, if he isn’t familiar with a subject, he craves to learn about it. Omar grew up in a small, rural town at the foothills of the Appalachian mountains. As a child, he had relatively little interaction with the agriculture industry compared to others in his area. His grandfather owned livestock and had a small garden, but Omar was oblivious to the intricacies of agriculture. Since then, he has gained intelligent and passionate mentors to teach him much more about agriculture. As he reflects on the industry, he says,

“I am constantly reminded that animal agriculture is not simply ‘slopping the hogs.’ It is a complex mix of genetics, engineering and advocacy.”

I would like to give a huge shout out to agriculture teachers every where. As intellectual as they are, not many Ivy League students know the truth and importance of animal agriculture. Thanks to agricultural education, students like Omar will soon not be an anomaly.

John Winkler, Animal Science Student at University of Georgia

John Winkler

You know that FarmersOnly.com commercial with the tag line “city folk just don’t get it”? Well, I beg to differ. They do get it. John is a prime example of this.

John grew up in a city in the outskirts of Atlanta. As you can imagine, he didn’t grow up with an agriculture background or with influence such as FFA, Georgia Cattlemen’s or 4-H, but he knew he wanted to be in the agriculture industry. He began his collegiate career at Abraham Baldwin Agriculture College (Gee Haw, Whoa Back!) where he decided he wanted to go into the animal aspect of agriculture. He learned a lot about the industry through the connections he made and through joining the cattlemen’s club on campus. When asked his thoughts on the industry, he says,

“Animal agriculture plays a big role in our food industry. It is important that the people in this industry know how to raise the animals properly. Many factors go into doing such, in which I am learning throughout the course of my major. Without animal agriculture, just think about how our food industry would look.”

Wise words from a city slicker, huh?

Lizzi Neal, Agricultural Communications & Animal Science Major at Oklahoma State University

Some people think that Oklahoma is God’s country, but they are sadly mistaken. Being from Georgia, I can assure you that the Peach State holds this title. Nevertheless, this girl decided to move Oklahoma to gain a higher education. Again, not really sure why when she could attend the finest institution in the land, the University of Georgia. We still love her, though.

Lizzi Neal

Lizzi Neal is a livestock-showing queen. Her passion for agriculture and more specifically animal agriculture directly relates to her journey as a member of the National FFA Organization. From public speaking to livestock and meats evaluation, each avenue brought forth a new perspective of the industry that she had yet to consider. She began exhibiting livestock at the age of 11, and eventually her single market hog project grew to also include cattle. She later had the unique opportunity to serve as a state officer from 2016-2017. If you ask her, she will tell you that her life has been forever changed by animal agriculture.

When I have questions about animal ag, I normally give her a call. This quote shows you why:

“For me, the single most important aspect of animal agriculture at any stage is perception. 962 miles away from the only home I had ever known, individuals carried a much more positive and accepting connotation with the words animal agriculture. Such a way of life traveled back generations through family lines and was almost expected of at least 50 percent of people in a crowded room. Urbanization has stolen valuable farm land and more emphasis lies on research for more efficient yields. Still, as our industry becomes more progressive, the common perception fights against change. From the basic nutrients to total amount of edible product yielded per carcass, by changing perception, animal agriculture can be the driving force for feeding a growing world.”

Whether you’re a Poke or a Dawg, we can all agree that Lizzi makes a good point.

Elisabeth Doody, Plant Sciences and Technology Advancement Management at the University of California- Davis

There are many reasons why my passion runs deep in the agriculture industry. One reason is that this industry brings people together. I met Elisabeth at a reception here in DC. She is interning at the Agricultural Retailers Association where she is being introduced to agriculture policy and exploring how decision makers influence the agriculture industry. Although we are both from completely opposite ends of the country and focus on two separate areas on the industry, we easily found common ground and sparked up a great conversation. Elisabeth prefers to work with plants, but she has some pretty great insight on the animal ag industry and the industry as a whole.

Elisabeth Doody

“I hail from California- the land of star-studded runways, technological innovation, and not to be forgotten, agriculture.  Though perhaps not as illustrious as Google or the Kardashians, California agriculture is extraordinarily productive and innovative. More than a third of the nation’s vegetables and two-thirds of the country’s fruits and nuts are grown in California. Here, dwindling resources, evolving consumer demand and growing concern for the environment necessitate that we embrace change and embody adaptability. Agriculture isn’t a popular pursuit among my peers, many of them choose instead to study computer science, engineering or medicine, but I was drawn to the industry at a young age. I discovered agriculture through 4-H – a youth program that manages to promote agriculture even in the suburbs of Southern California. With 4-H, I bred dairy goats, showed horses and raised market lambs. Working with livestock taught me to appreciate environmental, economic and cultural sustainability – a philosophy I hold on to even today. Agriculture exists at the intersection of biology and business, where tradition and technology work together to feed the world. I see in agriculture both a need for problem solvers and an opportunity for young people to affect positive change.”

I’m not crying…you are.

It’s time we as an industry see this generation as the generation who will not only hold on to the roots that run deep in animal agriculture but will make them stronger. Millennials will lead this industry to prosperity, and I am proud to be one of them. The next time you let the mainstream image of my generation float into your head, look around. We may just surprise you.

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