COLUMBUS — The agriculture community can overcome public skepticism about foreign trade by listening, messaging and communicating, according to winner of the 2018 Ohio Farm Bureau Young Ag Professionals (YAP) Discussion Meet.
Annie Specht, Tuscarawas County Farm Bureau member and Discussion Meet winner, emphasized the importance of talking about the benefits of trade agreements, “not only for us as an industry, but also for them [consumers] in terms of identifying new job markets and talking about how that will impact their bottom line.”
Specht participated in the Discussion Meet at the Columbus Convention Center Feb. 2, during the YAP Winter Leadership Experience. Other finalists included Casey Ellington, Stark County; Seth Middleton, Shelby County; and Jacob Hoelscher, Darke County.
Specht says that overcoming public skepticism about foreign trade agreements is no easy task. She says that 40 percent of Americans believe that foreign trade is bad for the economy and that distrust reaches the highest level of the U.S. government.
“In January 2017, the United States pulled out of the proposed Transpacific Partnership,” said Specht, “twelve-country free trade agreement that the American Farm Bureau projected would have added 40,000 jobs to the American economy and increased net farm income by $4 billion.”
She added that in August 2017, the U.S. began renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement, which allowed for $38 billion worth of U.S. goods to Mexico and Canada in 2016 alone.
Finalist Seth Middleton, farmer and agricultural lender at Heartland Bank out of Shelby County, explained the significantly low cost of meat in the U.S. versus other countries, such as China, Australia and underdeveloped countries.
“There’s a small cost to move our products to Cuba, as well as South America — much cheaper than it is to move to China,” said Middleton.
Middleton also posed the idea of working with grassroots organizations, like Farm Bureau, to reach those who can pass the regulations along to improve farmers’ profitability.
“What’s the best way to get capital? Be profitable,” said Middleton. “The more profitable we are as a whole with our trade agreements, the more opportunities we as a young group of farmers have to grow and continue to buy cattle, farmland and grow our operation.”
But how can the agriculture community reach the skeptics? Specht mentioned implementing grassroots campaigns in local communities with Farm Bureau, and potentially trade adjustment programs to help displaced workers find training and job opportunities.
Finalist Jacob Hoelscher, Darke County Farm Bureau member, says focus should be on educating at the individual level, enabling consumers to fully understand the benefits of foreign trade agreements.
“Agriculture ties back to that basic level of what we need to survive,” said Hoelscher. He says that not participating in trade agreements can affect the consumer’s buying power. But it can also create food manufacturing jobs.
He says that 11 percent of all employees in the United States are involved in agriculture and the food sector, and 14 percent of manufacturing jobs are food-manufacturing related.
Sharing information and ideas can be solutions to the skepticism problems, according to Casey Ellington, Stark County Farm Bureau member. She says even some of the Farm Bureau members need the “tools and knowledge about trade and how it truly affects them at home.”
She emphasizes spreading the message that jobs have been created and “that trade is good for the less fortunate.” She added the importance of explaining the cost of food and goods that aren’t necessarily grown in the U.S. year round.
“There’s importance of being transparent and talking about the production process,” said Specht, who says they need to address that 40 percent who are skeptical.
“Everybody these days wants to know where their meat comes from,” said Middleton. “I watched a skit on Saturday Night Live showing the chickens at the farm and somebody wanted to know the chicken’s name and wanted to know what he ate for dinner—that’s the consumer we’re trying to sell to these days.”
He suggests allowing urban communities to see agriculture first-hand. “We have to get our ideas to the larger cities so that people know that milk doesn’t come off the shelf at your local convenience store,” said Middleton.
Specht says that the majority of Americans think that trade is good. However, some have been negatively impacted by foreign trade in the past.
“It requires understanding the concerns of groups of people who feel aggrieved or harmed by these trade agreements,” said Specht. “Then it requires us to be leaders as we move forward in developing policies that benefit us as agriculture, but also benefit our industries and our workers.”
What’s next for Specht?
Specht won a $1,000 cash award from Nationwide Insurance, an expense-paid trip to the 2018 Ohio Farm Bureau Annual Meeting in Columbus and an expense-paid trip to the 2019 American Farm Bureau Annual Convention in New Orleans, where she will represent Ohio in the national Discussion Meet competition.
Specht is an assistant professor of agricultural communication at Ohio State University. She is a member of the American Association for Agricultural Education, North American Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture and the Association for Communications Excellence.
YAP Disaster Relief Fund
“Over the past year, agriculture producers have been hit hard with natural disasters,” said Greg Corcoran, Ohio Farm Bureau YAP state committee member. “Everything from hurricanes and flooding to wildfires and droughts.”
To help those farmers in need, the Ohio Farm Bureau committee created the YAP AG Disaster Relief Fund, focusing efforts on raising funds for fellow farmers across the nation as they try to rebuild from a natural disaster.
T-shirts, sweatshirts, hats, toboggans and calendars were available to purchase at the event.
“We are doing this by selling YAP T-shirts, hats and calendars. This year, we hope to raise over three thousand dollars to start our fund off right,” said Greg Corcoran. Last year, they raised more than $3,000 and this year’s goal is to reach $5,000.
The Discussion Meet is hosted by Ohio Farm Bureau’s Young Agricultural Professionals – singles and married couples ages 18 to 35 who are interested in improving the business of agriculture, learning new ideas and developing leadership skills. To learn more about the Discussion Meet and the Young Ag Professionals program, visit www.experienceyap.com.