Farm Bureau advocates are on the front lines of agiculture
March 17, 2016
South Dakotan Josh Geigle is a self-professed selfie fanatic.
A former shy person, Geigle, 36, is a fourth generation farmer and rancher who recently hosted a video chat with visitors to the Smithsonian in Washington DC.
It's safe to say Geigle has recovered from any misgivings about public speaking.
He got his training through the American Farm Bureau Federation.
“Consumers are not familiar with agriculture. They want to know is this safe for my family, is it safe for me. We are telling that story. We want people to come to our farms and ranches and see what we’re doing.” Jordan Craig, Farm Bureau advocate
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Founded in 1919, AFBF is an independent organization governed by farm and ranch families.
"I was always shy," Geigle says. "I'm the last person who wanted to get up and talk in front of a bunch of people. But (because of Farm Bureau) I went through executive-style intense leadership training…I was part of an elite group."
The gig at the Smithsonian went well, and you can find it on AFBF's Facebook page.
Jordan Craig is a full time advocate for Farm Bureau. Craig, 29, is a director of grassroots program development.
Unlike Geigle, Craig is hardly from an ag background. Hailing from a mid-sized town in Arkansas, he had a 4-H pig once that died a few weeks before county fair, forcing him to show a borrowed swine.
But Craig is passionate, really passionate, about what he does for a living.
"When I'm explaining what I do as a grassroots advocate," Craig says, "I tell people my job is to raise the level of awareness on an issue or a cause, and that either happens on the state, federal, or local level.
"I have always said that the day I wake up and don't want to go to the office is the day I need to get a different job."
Which is exactly the point, because farmers and ranchers have to love what they do to keep doing it.
That has arguably never been more true.
It's not easy running cattle and growing wheat in the breaks north of Wall, South Dakota. It never has been, and Geigle and his family don't expect it to be.
But lawmakers make it harder than it has to be when they don't understand day to day operations and pass laws that don't even serve a greater good; and when voters don't understand what it takes to put food on grocery store shelves, that's not a win either.
That's where advocacy comes in.
"Advocacy to me means to tell my story of how I farm and ranch," he says.
Geigle works directly with the consumer, and is active with Farm Bureau at the county and state level.
He is what's known as a "grasstop," a standout in his field.
He doesn't remember answering a lot of tough questions in the recent video event, which focused mostly on history, but he's faced tough questions before.
Misunderstandings about GMOs are common.
Take the Roundup Ready corn he grows.
Concerned that the product is unsafe because it's a genetically modified organism, people ask him directly, "Do you feed it to your family?"
"I say, 'No. Because the field corn I raise, it's not for human consumption. It's for livestock feed or ethanol."
Geigle goes on to explain to people that the sweet corn you butter at the dinner table is a different variety.
With most Americans a few generations removed from the dirt, it's not hard to see where educating the public is part of the answer.
But it's complicated.
"If you feed GMO corn to a cow," Craig says, "then (it could mean) that cow has to be labeled GMO."
A bill on the Senate floor this week addressed exactly that.
The Biotech Labeling Solutions Act would have made it a federal, voluntary law to label products that were genetically modified, but prevented states from creating their own laws.
Farm Bureau supported the law, and when it failed to make it to a vote, they—and many other ag organizations—were disappointed. American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall expressed his dismay, saying, "To say we are angry with those senators who abandoned farmers and ranchers and turned their backs on rural America on this vote is an understatement. Their votes opposing this measure ignored science, threw our nation's food system into disarray and undermined the public's understanding of the many benefits of biotechnology in feeding a growing and hungry population. We remain hopeful they will have a chance at redemption by correcting this situation that will otherwise lead to increased food costs for consumers and stifle agricultural innovation, which remains a strength of our nation
Other laws, like the EPA's Waters of the United States rules (WOTUS) are laden with unnecessary regulation, according to the views of most in the ag industry.
WOTUS could potentially require a rancher to get permission to fix downed fence in the spring, fence that may have been damaged by a snowdrift or swept downriver by snowmelt.
"To think," Geigle says, "that I'd have to get a permit to fix my fence to keep my cattle in is kind of absurd to me."
When laws overreach, Farm Bureau members work to change it.
"Farmers and ranchers don't need these burdens. They need relief," Craig says.
The Food Safety Modernization Act is now being implemented.
Farm Bureau is working closely with that, Craig says, to make sure things are not being done that will be unworkable or too costly for farmers and ranchers.
"Consumers are not familiar with agriculture," Craig says. "They want to know is this safe for my family, is it safe for me. We are telling that story. We want people to come to our farms and ranches and see what we're doing."
Geigle could show a visitor to his place how the biotechnology that made GMO corn allows him to rotate that out with wheat, and avoid a plant monoculture which means less disease and fewer insects.
"It only makes sense to treat the environment right, to pass the farm land and ranch land on to the next generation," he says. "We were environmental advocates before it was cool."
Words like sustainable and environmentalist have always characterized agriculture, Geigle says. Farmers and ranchers just need to do a better job of getting that message out there.
"We're still on the same ground my great grandfather homesteaded. I'd call that sustainable."
Leaders like Geigle can work their side of the equation and leave it to other Farm Bureau members to handle the other, Craig says.
"Josh uses advocacy to work directly with consumers. In some of our members' case, it's to advocate the government for better policy."
Geigle says his way of life is on the line.
"I look for ways to protect our livelihood as farmers and ranchers and ways to make it better, so that if my children have the desire to farm and ranch, they have the same opportunities I've had."