From the nightly television news to video streams via the Internet, one needn't look far to find agriculture in the headlines. Unfortunately, the stories often show an unflattering and misinformed view of the industry.
But Troy and Stacy Hadrick, fifth-generation ranchers from Vale, SD, are speaking up to debunk those mistruths and teach others to do the same.
In 2006, the Hadricks formed Advocates for Agriculture (www.advocatesforag.com), and they've been making presentations to farm and ranch groups about the importance of telling agriculture's positive stories ever since.
“No one is going to tell our story for us. We [people in agriculture] need to do it ourselves,” Troy says.
A lesson learned
The realization came from their botched experience with the media.
After graduating from college in 1999, the couple returned to the family Angus ranch operated by Stacy's father and uncle — Ed and Rich Blair — in western South Dakota. Stacy began her career as an Extension educator, while Troy worked on the ranch.
In 2002, the Blair Ranch was featured as part of The New York Times “Power Steer” article authored by Michael Pollan. Pollan's premise was to purchase an Angus calf from the Blair Ranch and follow it through the production chain to a feedlot and packing plant. Troy was Pollan's primary source at the ranch.
Troy says he was excited about sharing the real story of raising cattle on a ranch through this nationally respected publication. But when the article was published, Pollan appeared to have his own agenda and depicted the cattle industry as abusive, inhumane and with no regard for the environment.
Troy says, “The most deflating thing was that we thought we had a great opportunity to tell positive things about the beef industry, and then it wasn't presented at all how we expected.”
As a result of the article, the Blair family — and the Hadricks — lost a lot of faith in the media and received many negative phone calls from animal-rights people.
“It took at least two years before it wasn't painful,” Troy says.
Stacy adds, “Wherever we'd go, the ‘Power Steer’ article seemed to come up.”
But also during that time, in the back of their minds, were thoughts on turning that negative media experience into a positive one.
A fellow industry advocate and speaker, Trent Loos, also encouraged them not to hide from the experience, but to share with others how important it is to get the true information about agriculture to the public.
And to convey the positive message of agriculture, Troy and Stacy realized that real producers are the ones who must deliver the story — not a biased New York Times reporter.
Thus, the Hadricks formed Advocates for Agriculture and adopted the mission of “promoting ag one story at a time.”
Through their presentations, they emphasize that one person can make a difference. Stacy says informing and educating consumers is as simple as “each of us talking to one person about our own story in agriculture.”
She adds, “Farmers and ranchers don't have to become professional speakers. You can talk about the ag industry and what you do at the grocery store, the post office and your local school, or sitting next to someone on an airplane. It's about making that connection with consumers — so they realize you raise the food they eat.”
Troy also emphasizes that real stories about agriculture are what matters. “We want people in ag to realize we all have a story worth telling. Other than our experience with The New York Times, what we do on our ranch isn't any different than other ranchers.” He says the important message to convey is how ranchers care for their livestock and land — and ultimately produce the safest food in the world.
“Our industry is never going to compete with the big budgets of groups like the Humane Society of the U.S. or People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. But where agriculture can compete is in sharing real stories — that's where we will win the fight,” Troy says.
He continues, “It's easy for people to throw stones at agriculture, but when you are a real person with a real story, people can't argue with you about your story. We've learned you're not going to change the mind of someone who wants to argue, but if you can get people to start questioning some of the misinformation so they go looking for the right information — that can make a difference.”
Looking forward, Stacy says the agricultural community must also recognize that “we're all in this together,” and work together to support and promote ag. She points out that everything from fruits, vegetables, crawfish and vineyards is agriculture.
As well, she says many people with a connection to ag aren't working the land, but we all should accept the responsibility to speak up on behalf of the industry. “We need a unified voice in talking to legislators and consumers,” she says.
To assist in their mission of educating others about ag, the Hadricks developed a website and blog, which Troy updates almost daily. He calls out stories that feature misinformation about the industry or require more attention and advocacy by agriculturists, as well as spotlights positive stories occurring within ag.
In the future, Troy and Stacy hope to take their presentations about agriculture to more consumers and youth. They also have plans to utilize the Internet more through podcasts and possibly a “Year In The Life On The Ranch” feature on YouTube.
When asked what they hope to have accomplished five years from now, Troy says, “Ideally, we'd be out of a speaking job, because everyone is out there telling ag's story.”
Kindra Gordon is a freelance writer based in Whitewood, SD.
The courage to speak
Both Troy and Stacy Hadrick were blessed with the gift of gab, but they credit much of their speaking ability to past experiences and leadership training through the Farm Bureau's Young Farmers and Ranchers program.
In 2004, they were honored with the National Excellence in Agriculture Award from the American Farm Bureau Federation.
The couple delivered their first presentation, “The Real Enemy of Agriculture,” in 2006 at the South Dakota Women in Ag Conference. Their speaking engagements have grown primarily by word of mouth and have taken them to almost 10 states since then.
Stacy says, “We have fun when we're speaking. We have different strengths, and we work well together.”
The duo says the positive feedback and that feeling of making a difference fuel them to continue speaking. Troy says, “We hope we are making our industry better.”
This year, Troy stepped back from his daily involvement with the ranch to pursue developing Advocates for Ag. It was a difficult decision, but the couple says they realized how important telling ag's story was. “Sometimes the things you do off the ranch are just as important,” Troy says.
They still live on the family operation with their three children: Teigen, 5; Olivia, 3; and Reese, 1. When not on the computer, Troy might be found ultrasounding cattle or helping out where needed on the ranch.
Troy concludes, “At the end of the day, we're just people in ag.”