I will make no bones about it — I do not like snakes. Rats are worse, but I do not like snakes.
In the part of the country where I live, garter snakes merely startle me and are not a match for the riding lawn mower that I’m driving when I usually encounter them. I’m not sure what I would do I lived where I was actually lower on the food chain than a Serpentes. We all know about the snakes that can cause danger by a venomous bite or by putting a death chokehold on its prey.
Snakes are everywhere, and not all of them slither around. Some walk on two feet and can be very vocal.
Matt Rush, a motivational speaker and executive vice president of the New Mexico Farm & Livestock Bureau, warns U.S. agricultural producers to look out for the snakes that live among us, meaning those in the general populace whose only goal appears to be to undermine the agricultural way of life, specifically livestock producers.
Rush offered the keynote address — “There’s a Snake in my Bumper!” — at the recent Iowa Pork Congress in Des Moines, telling producers they need to take a three-V approach to combating the antagonistic human snakes that we encounter in our daily lives.
“Snakes” will continue to tell their version of the agriculture story, though their description most of the time is way off the mark from the reality found on American farms. Rush encourages U.S. producers to get out of the comfort zone of simply doing their work. “There are three things we need to do if we want to continue to be as successful as we have been in the past,” Rush says. “We have to be Viable, we have to Valuable and we have to be Visible.”
As the globe continues to shrink and the critics continue to get louder, those in production agriculture will need to “continue to get even better than we’ve ever been in the past” at being viable. One definition of viable is being willing and able to grow, and there is no one who fits that definition any better than most U.S. pork producers. Not many producers are satisfied with the status quo. Today’s producer knows that they need to keep improving their operation because even if you’re standing still, you’re falling behind.
By striving forward, producers are assuring themselves of being valuable. “You are feeding the world,” Rush reminds the Iowa Pork Congress audience, “that makes you crazy valuable.”
So farmers continue to be viable and valuable in what they do, by Rush encourages to become more visible. “Why is it important to be visible?” he asks. “Probably because it seems like we have more opponents than advocates. Maybe that’s not true. Maybe our opponents are just more vocal than our advocates.”
Rush refers to a survey that was done in what he described as the furthest-removed-from-ag part of Albuquerque. “Eighty percent of the people in the poll still had a favorable thought on agriculture. We were shocked.”
At first glance, those are encouraging numbers, but those favorable thoughts are based on an outdated image circa American Gothic.
Because of the outward pressure from agriculture opponents and the dated perception of what agriculture is and should be, today’s producers need to be visible and vocal in telling “our story,” Rush says. “Can you imagine what kind of world it would be if we had people at the state and national levels of our government standing up for us, defending us, telling our story for us? Can you imagine if we had people in Hollywood, Calif., standing up to defend our right to feed and clothe people, not only in this country but around the world? Can you even imagine what kind of day that can be?
“I’m telling you, we can have that day because all it takes is us telling our story,” he says, “but more importantly it’s about us telling why it matters to them (the consumer). That what we do is OK for them, and it’s OK for their kids. … At the end of the day, they just want to know why we’re just a farmer or rancher.”
Telling the story of agriculture is needed now more than ever. Just as the claims of the old western snake oil salesmen were dispelled, so can the messages of today’s anti-agriculture snakes. But those messages can only be squashed if you tell your story, and as Rush says, tell consumers why your story matters to them.
We will never be able to get rid of all the snakes, as they continue to bite and choke, but maybe, just maybe, we can charm a good number of them along the way.