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Farmers Look for Common Ground with Consumers

One farmer who is listening to consumers and reaching out is Valerie Plagge of Latimer, Iowa. She and her family grow corn and soybeans and raise hogs. A 31-year-old millennial herself, she has three kids under 4 years old and a fourth on the way this year. “I also classify myself as a foodie. I love to try new foods and cooking techniques,” she says.

That common ground she has with consumers led her to start her own online blog called Corn, Beans, Pigs, and Kids, where she shares life on the farm and information about how they grow crops and raise livestock. She’s affiliated her blog with other women farmers at a website called CommonGround, a project of the United Soybean Board and the National Corn Growers Association.

Plagge hopes her generation of young farmers can be the one to bridge the gap. “Young farmers are technology-savvy and have more resources to communicate with a nonfarm audience than ever before,” she says. 

“I started blogging four years ago to build connections with others. When food issues arise and someone wants more information, I want them to trust me. I believe there is a movable middle that we can influence. 

“I also know there are some who are extreme in their views, and we’ll probably have to just agree to disagree,” she says. 

Agriculture as a whole is doing a better job of listening to consumers, she believes. “We understand we can’t just ignore their interests. We need to make sure we are giving consumers correct information so they don’t fear their food,” she says.

Lewis Bainbridge has a different angle. The Ethan, South Dakota, soybean farmer is the former chair of the United Soybean Board’s oil committee, which has a 10-year project to convert 25% of soybean acres to a high-oleic oil variety with a healthier fat profile. The group aims to reclaim market share lost to olive and palm oils. 

“It’s totally in response to consumer demand,” he says. “Farmers are getting more tuned in. We used to provide a product and tell consumers, ‘Here it is.’ Not anymore.”

The new soybeans are genetically modified. Bainbridge sees an opportunity for farmers to win over consumers about GMOs. “Up to now, they’ve only seen the benefit to growers,” he says. “This crop can benefit everyone.”

Luke Smith of Rochester, Indiana, says his family and some neighbors are expanding acreage of the high-oleic soybeans. “We are listening. I just wish there wasn’t so much misinformation out there about food and how we grow it. If it’s posted online, people believe it whether it’s true or not. It’s difficult to listen to sometimes.

“We need to be ready to share our story. Sometimes, we’re not very good at that, but we are getting better,” he says.

This article is part of a series titled "Meet Your New Boss: The Millennials." 

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