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Talk about food issues

I’ve been urging farmers for
three decades to make food issues a main entree on the communications menu.

“The importance of people in
agriculture communicating their own message can’t be overemphasized,” I said.
“Time and again, it’s been proven that farm folks are their own best
spokespersons.”

But farmers took their seat
at the table for granted. Their top-notch food products would send a message,
right?

Then a funny thing happened
while farmers were raising higher-yielding crops and leaner livestock:
Americans woke up to the significant role agriculture plays in the U.S., the
world, and in the future of the planet. Many don’t understand – or like – what
they see.

The importance of speaking
out is more urgent today than when I first delivered that message. Fortunately,
there are more resources than ever before to help producers promote their
contributions to food, fiber, and energy.

National Ag Week

National Agriculture Week,
March 13-19, is a great time to spread the word. The 2011 theme is American
Agriculture: Your Food, Your Farmer.

Order an Ag Day media kit
for print and online from the Agriculture Council of America, or you can
download logos, background information, public service announcements, and print
advertisements. Visit the Web at www.agday.org or write to Agriculture Council
of America, 11020 King Street, Suite 205, Overland Park, KS 66210.

Many schools across the U.S.
show the “On the Farm” video and DVD series during National Ag Week. Chris
Fesko, a Skaneateles, New York, dairy farmer and former teacher, creates and
produces the series (

www.fesko.com

).

Fesko says she once took a
chicken into a Rochester, New York, school for National Ag Day. “I told the
kids surprising facts, such as a hen doesn’t need a rooster around to lay
eggs,” she says.

As farmers and farm groups
prepare for National Ag Week, here are three big-picture talking points:

1. The need for farmers to
feed an expanding global population.

2. The responsibility to produce
safe, affordable, and nutritious products.

3. The commitment to
maintain a sustainable production system that protects soil, water, and air.

Farmers also can dish about
the following new items on the food and nutrition menu.

• Food safety reforms sought
by consumer groups for the past decade are now law. The law gives the Food and
Drug Administration new authority to demand recalls and to require importers to
certify the safety of foreign products.

The legislation is a positive step toward reducing
growing consumer anxiety. Safe food is good for business, and Congress needs to
provide full funding.

• New nutrition labels for
40 of the most popular meat and poultry cuts will begin January 1, 2012.
Nutrition facts panels will be on labels or available to consumers at the
point-of-purchase.

• The Child Nutrition Act
recently passed is the first update of federal school lunch nutrition standards
in 15 years. Sodium will be cut, and whole grains, vegetables, and low-fat milk
boosted.

Just as farmers share food
facts with consumers, they must continue to update their consumer IQ.

In the online Choices
magazine, Helen Jensen, Iowa State University professor of ag economics, lists
these five trends driving changes in beef production:

1. Increased income levels
in dual-income families and related lifestyles.

2. Marked change in obesity
and associated health concerns and costs.

3. Slowed population growth
and changing demographics.

4. A more ethnically diverse
population with different food preferences.

5. A noticeable change in
how markets distribute and sell food to large retail food stores, specialty
stores, and farmers markets.

Ag efforts to engage in
civil dialogue must be on-going. Balancing consumer concerns with production
realities is a challenge but not a conversation-stopper.  

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