Women in Ag urged to show their significance
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Delaware Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long kicked off the Mid-Atlantic Women in Agriculture Conference Feb. 13 by encouraging the audience of about 200, almost all female, to take their messages to local, state and federal elected officials.
“Let them know your needs,” she said. “Tell them why you matter.”
She encouraged them to write letters and send e-mails telling their personal stories.
Hall-Long added, “We need relationships! You need to know who your elected representatives are.”
Women in general are “air traffic controllers” and coordinators, she said, adding women in agriculture are agents of change for the economy, food security and environmental protection.
“I think in agriculture we have the smartest people. There is nothing more important than what you are doing,” Hall-Long said.
The theme of the day was “Educate, Engage, Empower.”
The conference, held at Dover Downs, was presented by the University of Maryland Extension in collaboration with University of Delaware, Delaware State University, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Virginia Cooperative Extension and Rutgers The State University of New Jersey.
The morning keynote speaker, Dr. Shoshannah Inwood, was unable to come to give her presentation on health care and its impact on building a vibrant farm community. Some of the breakout sessions, however, focused on mental health and stress reduction, which have been part of Inwood’s research. Also nurses from Beebe Healthcare system offered free health screening to participants throughout the day.
The lunchtime keynoter was Roxi Beck of the Center for Food Integrity, who discussed science denial.
“There’s never been a time when consumers have wanted to know more about their food, yet known less.” Consumers must wade through a lot of misinformation, she added. “Never have people been so disconnected from farming and food production.”
People choose what science to believe. Deniers might include those who oppose vaccinations for children or who don’t believe in climate change. Even if climate change isn’t “real,” why not do all we can to improve the situation, Beck suggested.
People choose what they want to believe. Some have a cognitive bias, opting into things that reinforce a previous belief. For example, one might google “how are chickens abused?” rather than “how are chickens cared for?”
We ask questions based on what we know, Beck continued. “If we’re honest, we can be cherry pickers (when it comes to information).”
When information is received that questions one’s perspective, that person may look at the source and methodology used. If it agrees with their way of thinking, they’ll tweet it, she said.
Communication has been forever changed by social media, she continued.
“I propose that denialism isn’t real… we should accept the fact that people have different viewpoints. It’s not our job to correct all the misinformation or to change minds, but to find out what is underlying a person’s perspective,” she said.
The Center for Food Integrity was founded 10 years ago and has worked to earn consumer trust and confidence in today’s food system. CFI talks to 2,000 consumers a year. “We’ve learned people don’t trust whom they don’t know. People love farmers but think farming is done by big corporations. And when asked, ‘What’s a large farm?’ the answer is 100 acres.”
Most in ag don’t agree.
Sixty-five percent of consumers want to know more about farming and food processing. They haven’t made up their minds, Beck said. They need to hear from voices they can trust.
“People want to feel good about their food.” That’s why there are labels touting “gluten-free eggs” and “GMO-free water.” Those claims are not going to go away, she said.
Farmers need to reach out to every communication channel they can. Research has shown that people trust information that comes from “influential others” (credential people in their lives) who present science-based data and inspire confidence, a perception of shared values.
In discussions, lead with why you do what you do (because I’m a mom, “because I care about our farm”…) Sharing values is where you can connect with consumers. Once they’re interested, you can discuss what, how and when. Listen without judgement. Make sure you understand the question. Acknowledge their fears. Figure out what’s important to this person that you can connect to. Then take the opportunity to share.
A total of 15 breakout sessions covered a variety of topics from cover crops to smart phones to international agriculture, urban market gardens, taxes and marketing on social media.
A trio from Mid-Atlantic Farm Credit offered important steps to take when you have a bad year. After last year, farmers may recognize signs of financial stress: not being able to pay account in full, not getting paid by those who owe you, or depletion of cash on-hand or working capital.
“Don’t stick your head in the sand,” cautioned Lisa Cunningham. Timing is key, and the sooner you communicate with your lenders, the better. If the reason for financial stress isn’t obvious (weather? low commodity prices?) your lender, accountant or a trusted advisor may be able to help determine the cause. Longer layouts for poultry growers, for example, are affecting grain farmers who are being told their stored grain isn’t needed right now.
Gather the most up-to-date and accurate financial information you can, including a balance sheet of assets and liabilities, tax returns for the past three years, year-to-date income and expenses, statements from suppliers and payables, and your operational plans for the coming season. In loan restructuring, your lender is going to want to know the “5 C’s of Credit:”
• Capacity: How are you going to pay him back?
• Collateral: What will you put up as security for the debt?
• Capital: What do you have available right now?
• Character: What’s your credit score and management and production history?
• Conditions: The lender may include insurance coverage, inspections, periodical financial updates and financial controls or verifications.
Sit down with a loan officer, who may ask how you want to fix the problem. Maybe you don’t want more debt, just restructuring an existing debt. Work out a solution — with all your creditors.
Keep the relationship going, advised Stacie Warner. Let the officer know how things are going.
In a last word of advice, Cunningham advised the audience to keep their financials current. You never know when you will face something like this until it happens. And you don’t want to have to be inputting figures then, she said.
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