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Communication is a key for farmers of the future

A Lee County farmer was invited to share her story of farming during the Oregon Rotary Rural/Urban Day program.

Growing up on a farm Katie Pratt, Dixon, said she did not realize what values she was learning.

"I now appreciate the lessons learned as a kid and I have a love of the land," she said.

Pratt was selected by Farmers and Ranchers Alliance as one of four individuals in the nation to serve on the first Faces of Farming & Ranching.

"It is because of FFA and 4-H that I became involved in farming and the US Farmers and Ranchers Alliance," said Pratt. "We have brought farmers together. The crop guys and livestock guys. The farmers and ranchers are not telling the story of agriculture. The goal is to give farmers and ranchers the tools to get the conversation started."

A conversation is needed so everyone understands what a farmer does and the only way to address concerns is through talking, she said.

"The goal is to put farmers in front of people," said Pratt. "I learned that everyone shares the same concerns farmers do about labeling and how we feed everyone."

Another topic addressed through talking is the fact that farmers are also consumers.

"When you walk into the grocery store do you find yourself thinking 'should I buy this product. I heard Dr. Oz say X, Y, Z.'  Do you find yourself thinking?" said Pratt. "People will ask questions about how food is produced.  Questions are okay. I have questions too.  I raise corn, I don't raise carrots and broccoli. I want to know that the farmer raising the carrots and broccoli that I buy at the supermarket is doing the best job to give me a safe product to bring home to my children. We all have the same questions."

Thinking about where food comes from is important for everyone.

"I walked into a fifth grade class and talked about pizza," Pratt said. "Think about what goes on pizza and where it comes from."

During the class, world hunger, biotechnology, and urban sprawl were all discussed just by thinking about a pizza, she said.

"Those kids brains were moving 100 miles a minute," said Pratt. " I find this inspiring."

Pratt said new technology adopted by farmers and the food processing industry has made it possible for consumers to enjoy an abundance of high quality and safe food products year round.

The use of new technology has increased yields, caused land to be used more efficiently, and has vastly improved the environmental impact, she said. 

"It is necessary for farmers to consider conservation. Maybe some of the fringe land should not be in production," said Pratt. "We must farm the land we know we can raise things on without adding too much to it and destroying our natural habitat. What we are finding with technology is we know we can grow more with less."

Pratt used an apple to show how little of the earth is available for agriculture use. The apple was cut into a small 1/32 piece and the peel removed.

Each American farmer produces enough food for 144 people which is a dramatic increase from 50 years ago.  As the world population increases there will be an even greater demand for food and fiber produced by the American farmer.

"We need to go into warp speed to get to where we need to be," she said. "That is why we have to talk about it. As farmers If you are not comfortable talking that's okay but when you are on the farm do the best job that you can do."

Change is coming to farming and farmers, and consumers will need to address the changes, Pratt said.

"There is a market for all sorts of farming," she said. "We have the opportunity to make choices, but I need the choice to farm the way I want to farm. When you say the word organic a bell goes off.  You think it is healthier, better, but this has not been proven. Biotechnology can save so much."

With bio-technology, many consumers do not know what genetically-modified means. Pratt said some people call it a chemical process and "franken-food."

"By having one-on-one conversations and making a connection is needed," Pratt said. "I also have been in situations where 'corn is evil.' They talk about corn syrup. There is a lot of misinformation out there. Just tell your story. We are not experts on everything. You need to be an expert on what you do on your farm."

Pratt and her husband Andy raise corn and soybeans and have made it a point to be experts on what they produce.

They also know where there products go.

"As a corn farmer people do not come to my farm to buy directly," she said. "I have a connection to the consumer. When my corn goes to Clinton there is a connection for me."

Pratt said she only realized recently that she is directly connected to the consumer.

"When you walk into a grocery store you get in and get out. I did not stop to think about the meat in the meat counter, and the produce, and cereal box," she said. "There is a family where that calf began before it was sold to a finisher and so on and so forth. We may not be as connected directly as we were in the past but I do believe we can make the connection. It takes a change in our mindset as farmers and consumers."

She said smaller farmers with specialty crops and a niche market have a great opportunity to explore.

These farmers can sell at local fairs and farmers markets, but in the end they are farmers, Pratt said.

"I am going to support their rights to grow food and I hope they support me as well," she said. "We are all in it together."

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