Posted by Karla Pazour
As part of a beef producing family farm from central South Dakota, I have a number of deeply held beliefs about the importance of agriculture for my community and South Dakota. I grew up on a farm, went to college and met my future husband. Even though he graduated with an engineering degree, his love of the land brought us back to his home area where we have been farming and ranching for the last thirty years. We now have brought our two adult sons into the operation by expanding with a 5000 head feedlot.
This was not an easy undertaking. We worked closely with the NRCS, Department of Agriculture and an experienced Ag Engineering firm to develop a feedlot that meets EPA laws, provides a safe and nourishing environment for the livestock and hopefully economically efficient in order to pay off the loan payments required to build this facility.
Over the years, I’ve had a number of opportunities to talk with people who have a negative opinion of production agriculture. Often, the first response is to “teach” them about all the positives – economic impact of agriculture, involvement of farmers in local communities, all the practices put into place to protect the environment and care for animals, etc. It is easy to launch into a laundry list of everything we are doing right.
Depending on the situation, it is easy to get defensive, which makes it even more difficult to listen to the other person’s viewpoint and more likely that the conversation will end badly.
Along with about 20 other South Dakota producers and agribusiness professionals, I recently participated in a training session facilitated by the Ag United for South Dakota and the Center for Food Integrity. The goal of the SHARE training was to better prepare us for conversations with friends, neighbors and even complete strangers. At the heart of the training was that values drive nearly all of our opinions and actions. If we can take time to understand the values of someone with a negative perception of agriculture, we have a better opportunity to provide information about our own understanding of living on and managing a modern farm.
We live in a very complex world, yet I learned through the SHARE training that we could successfully change attitudes with one conversation at a time. A conversation is communicating back and forth . . . sharing. I’ll spend more time asking questions and learning about their perspective before launching into my own story.
For example, is the person a vegetarian because she saw a negative documentary on TV or because her father died of a heart attack she blames it on a “meat and potatoes” diet? Knowing that will change how you talk about the beef cattle I raise.
In a successful conversation you don t try to “win” an argument, but rather try to find common ground on areas where you share the same values. And, sometimes, you may simply agree to disagree on a controversial issue. But, by engaging in an open, honest discussion, you’ll end the conversation on a more positive note than it began.
There are some people and organizations who are fervently opposed to modern agriculture and do not believe we have the right to exist and operate. Chances are all the thoughtful conversations in the world will not bring us to a common ground of agreement. However, the majority of other people who have concerns about agriculture today are open-minded with legitimate questions or have simply never been exposed to a farm or had the chance to talk to a farmer. By taking the time to listen to their perspective, I’ll now be better able to answer questions they may have.
I appreciate the positive communication skills that the SHARE trainer provided and the opportunity to network with other South Dakota producers who also have a personal story of agriculture to tell.