In a society where the vast majority of Americans either know nothing about agriculture or get what they do know from the unrealistic online game “FarmVille,” advocating for agriculture is going to top the to-do list of the next generation of young leaders.

Leaders from South Dakota Farm Bureau delivered some encouragement and practical advice to FFA members recently during a Career Development Event held on the campus of SDSU.

Renae Gebhart, who ranches with her husband and his family near Meadow, S.D. and is a graduate of Farm Bureau’s “Partners in Agricultural Leadership” training program, advised the students to become advocates for agriculture – regardless of whether their future careers are in agriculture or not.

“You represent the future of agriculture, whether you intend to be a farmer or rancher or something else,” Gebhart told FFA attendees, citing the fact that only two percent of Americans are directly involved in agriculture. Even if today’s students pursue a different career path, they can stand up for agriculture by speaking up for America’s farmers and ranchers who are in the vast minority.

Social media is the most convenient way to advocate for agriculture and presents an opportunity to reach large numbers of people with only a few clicks. Statistics on social media use are eye-opening to its potential: There are 500 million Facebook users, 1 million of whom log in every day. On YouTube, now the second largest search engine, 89 million people will watch 1.2 billion videos today.  In the photo below, Gebhart shows members of the Clark FFA an ag-related video on YouTube.

“One post on Facebook could plant a seed,” Gebhart encouraged. “It’s so important to tell your ag story, and social media is a great way to do that.”

The adage “a picture is worth a thousand words” is especially true in social media. Farm Bureau encourages FFA members to share pictures via social media of what they do every day on their farms and ranches. Even something they consider very ordinary – like baling hay, feeding livestock or harvesting grain – might be completely new and very fascinating to someone outside of agriculture.

Gebhart outlined other tips for online advocacy:
- Use social media regularly
- Set a goal of 1 hour per week of ag advocacy, or 2 ag-related posts or tweets
- Make your content relevant and compelling
- Use hashtags, such as #farm365
- Share or retweet positive agriculture content

“Put your passion to work,” Gebhart advised. “If you didn’t have passion, you wouldn’t be wearing these blue jackets.”

To conclude the advocacy workshop, Bonnie Dybedahl with the South Dakota Farm Bureau showed some of the materials available for FFA chapters to take into their communities, including two professionally produced videos: SDFB’s “First at Scene Training” (F@ST) video helps prepare people for how to respond safely at a rural accident scene, and its new wheat video shows wheat from the kernel in the field to the foods at the grocery store.

In addition, Farm Bureau’s “Book in a Bucket” education kit, which Bonnie is demonstrating in the photo below, is convenient for teachers or youth leaders because it delivers an ag lesson – complete with core standards curriculum and corresponding props – all in one five-gallon bucket with a lid. FFA chapters, 4-H leaders and elementary teachers are encouraged to contact South Dakota Farm Bureau if they are interested in any of these materials.

“People are more and more removed from agriculture, and they need to know about what we do,” Gebhart concluded, encouraging FFA members to join Farm Bureau and others in the campaign to bring first-hand, positive ag information to the non-ag audience.