Grass & Grain

04-22-2014

Agricultural Newspaper

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By Donna Sullivan, Editor What do a former Bill Clinton impersonator and a group of Kansas producers have in common? More than you might think. When Damian Mason addressed the Kansas Grain and Feed Association meeting in Wi- chita on April 15, he drew on his experience of being raised on a dairy farm cou- pled with keen observa- tions from years in the comedy business to present an energetic, insightful pro- gram entitled Agriculture: Trends, Topics and Tomor- row. Mason graduated from Purdue University with a de- gree in agriculture econom- ics and was working as a lighting fixture salesman in California – "Because that's what you do when you grad- uate with a degree in ag eco- nomics from Purdue Univer- sity," he joked – when he won a Halloween costume contest dressed as Bill Clin- ton in 1993. "I've been able to imitate people all my life,' he said. "When you're the youngest of nine kids, you have to be funny, or nobody's going to pay attention to you." In 1994, with three paid en- gagements totaling $1200 in income lined up, he quit his job to become a full-time Bill Clinton impersonator and political comedian. "To be a comedian for money is to be a professional observ- er," he said. He doesn't do Bill Clinton much any more, after having reinvented him- self about ten years ago to become an agricultural speaker. Mason and his wife also have a 200-acre mixed use farm in Indiana where they raise all natural beef along with putting up hay. "Agriculture is my lega- cy," he said. "Ag people have a common background. But what you have to under- stand is that agriculture is not about us. It's about the consumers." With less than 2 percent of the American population employed in production agriculture and only about 7 percent that works peripher- ally in food production, Mason began by pointing out the stark reality of those numbers. "83% of the popu- lation lives in metropolitan or suburban areas," he said. "Where do we grow food, where do we raise hogs and chickens and hatch eggs? Where do we do all the things that happen to make food, fiber and fuel? Out in the country where 17 percent of the population lives. We tend to not realize how far removed the consumer is from what we do on a daily basis." Using language that the average consumer does not understand is one of the worst mistakes agriculture producers make, according to Mason. "We can't keep talking to these people like they know what we do," he asserted. "We have to under- stand they have never raised anything, grown anything, slaughtered anything… they don't get it." When entering into a de- bate or discussion with con- sumers, especially when at- tempting to counter false in- formation, producers tend to use science, economics and logic. In contrast, the oppo- nents to agriculture deliver their message by playing on consumers' emotions, with fear being the most common one used. He pointed to a re- cent episode of Dr. Oz where, while railing against genetically modified organ- isms (GMOs) Oz claimed that that some grocery store tomatoes have been inserted with fish genetics. "It's not true," Mason said. "But that is what we're up against in the business of agriculture. We're out here using facts, and we don't even have a forum. He has more viewers in a day than RFD-TV has in a week." With one eye always on ratings, Mason said that the media's responsibility is not to tell an accurate story about agriculture, but to gar- ners the viewers, readers or listeners to keep their share- holders happy. He also places no faith in social media as an effective tool for educating the public. While Honey Boo Boo videos might attract millions of views on YouTube, ani- mal handling videos by renowned expert Temple Grandin might only get about 20,000 views. "Type in 'animal abuse' and be- tween the Humane Society and PETA, with all of their salaciousness, they get mil- lions of views," he said. "The real experts don't get viewed." "In the business of agri- culture, we do things every day that are shocking," Mason continued. "When the average American thinks of anhydrous, they think of meth production or a bomb. And what do we do with an- hydrous in the business of ag? We pump it into the dirt." He explained that with no clear understanding of the purpose of anhydrous in agriculture, to the average consumer, we are just pump- ing poison into the ground. "Every day we handle stuff – fertilizers, herbicides, pesti- cides, anhydrous ammonia. It's very shocking. Every- thing we do – dehorning cat- tle, cutting out needle teeth of pigs, chopping tails off of hogs. We know why we do these things, but the average consumer doesn't. Mason predicts that be- cause of the shocking nature of some agricultural prac- tices, there are going to be even more regulations put in place. Activists will go into cities, show pictures of a bloody pig that's crippled and blame it on factory farms. "We argue back with science and facts, economics and logic. The city people outnumber the country peo- ple, and pretty soon it's not an agricultural state any more," he said. He compared the strong opinions on food production to those aroused in the gun debate, and contrasted the responses of the NRA to those of agriculture advo- cates when they are attacked. "Why is it when every issue comes up about firearms, the NRA is out in front and they're swinging fists?" he asked. "What we need to un- derstand is, are we bikers or are we rich women in fur coats?" He explained that about a decade ago, it became very trendy for animal rights ac- tivists to walk down Fifth Avenue or Rodeo Drive with a can of red spray paint. When they encountered a woman in a fur coat they would paint a red X on the garment to demonstrate the cruelty of wearing fur. "But you never once saw one go into a biker bar and spray- paint a biker in his leathers," he pointed out. "I would contend that those of us in ag are too content to be a rich woman in a fur coat and we do not fight back." While detractors of agri- culture are noisy, Mason be- lieves that they're not really that great in number. The problem lies in the amount of influence they have on the masses. "There's like 80% of the people that are just fine with us," he said. "Agricul- ture has a good public rela- tions record. But we allow our detractors to set the agenda. We allow the radical fringe to define us. That's why we should fight instead of being so passive." Mason sees the "cheap food" argument as terribly ineffective, since most Americans spend only about 10% of their disposable in- come on food anyway. "That's why they concern themselves with how we produce their food," he said. "Because they think there is a bigger cause" Using science to counter their arguments is also inef- fective, and he pointed to a recent study that showed 26% of the U.S. population doesn't even know that the earth orbits the sun. Using emotional argu- ments would be much more effective, in his opinion. "That's why our detractors use terms like Frankenfood and factory farms," he stat- ed. He believes an argument touting the freedom of choice Americans enjoy in their food system would be more effective, and that the fringe groups want to take away their freedom to eat meat, etc. On the environ- mental side, he referred to a story on climate change in The Economist magazine that pointed out the benefits of modern technology in agriculture and that if we were still using 1960s tech- nology, we would have had to clear an amount of land the size of Russia to produce enough food. Like soldiers, to whom he means no disrespect with this observation, those in agriculture do things that most people don't want to do in order to provide a safe, abundant food supply. "America is still strong be- cause we can still make our own food," he said. "We handle anhydrous, pesti- cides, fungicides, herbicides and insecticides. We have an abundant supply that keeps us secure and you can have whatever you want. What we do is not always pretty, but you want us to do it." He closed with a simple message for the masses that he has trademarked and placed on t-shirts and bumper stickers. "Agriculture – because starvation sucks." Mixing comedy with insights gained from years of observation, Damian Mason addressed the Kansas Grain and Feed Association's annual meeting April 15 in Wichita. Photo by Donna Sullivan A change in the discussion necessary to win argument for ag On Friday, April 11 the Governor's Water Vision Team shared input received so far with the Kansas Water Authority. This was the first time the KWA and attendees heard input from the stakeholder meetings that have been held throughout the state to date. "The purpose of the workshop today was to define the major issues, priorities and ideas that will be used by the Vision Team to develop a first draft of the Vision," Tracy Streeter, Kansas Water Office Director. 'Over the next four to eight weeks the Vision team will be taking the guidance provided today to serve as the basis for the initial draft." The team shared that while thousands of comments have been received, there have been many consistent themes and priorities shared by stakeholders to be ad- dressed in the Vision. Attendees participated in a facilitated discussion related to the four following themes: Water Management, Water Conservation, Technology and Crop Varieties and New Sources of Supply. Secretary of Agriculture Jackie McClaskey encouraged Kansans to be prepared to provide comment and direction during the next phase of the development of the Water Vision. "To this point nearly 8,000 Kansans have participated in over 140 meetings," Mc- Claskey said. "As the first draft version is completed, the Vision Team will be host- ing meetings throughout the state in June and July for public input of the preliminary document. The Vision Team wants feedback and direction on the themes and priori- ties that are being established today." Over 150 people participated in the workshop including members from the Kansas Water Authority, Kansas State Board of Agriculture, Governor's Cabinet, Basin Advisory Committee Chairs, Ogallala Aquifer Advisory Committee, Reservoir Advisory Committee, State Conservation Commission Board and the Governor's Council of Economic Advisors as well as members of the general public. For additional information on the documents presented go to http://agri cul- ture.ks.gov/about-ksda/wat-er-vision For more information about the Governor's Call to Action for a 50-Year Vision and a list of upcoming meetings input, visit www.kwo. org. Defining major priorities and ideas for the first draft of the water vision

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