Impact. Influence. Innovate. Those themes resonated during the Montana Farm Bureau Summer Conference at the Heritage Inn in Great Falls June 7-9. The Summer Conference is a time when advisory committees meet to discuss current agricultural issues and concerns, and surface ideas for policy development.
Members received great ideas of how to “Influence” consumers by using social media. “The great thing about social media is that you aren’t hindered by living 100 miles away from everyone,” noted Johnna Miller, director of media and advocacy training, American Farm Bureau Federation. “Social media has really leveled the playing field. People trust people with social media. Whether you use Twitter or Facebook, social media is a networking event.”
Miller suggested adding advocating for agriculture to your chore list. “It’s important for people to hear how your farm or ranch will be directly affected by a piece of legislation,” she explained. “It’s critical to show your connection with your animals and explain why you love what you do as a farmer or rancher.”
The “Innovate” workshop featured John Helle, a Montana Farm Bureau member and Dillon sheep rancher, and updates on precision agriculture by Jon Knokey with John Deere. Helle uses source-verified wool from his sheep to produce Duckworth clothing, a line of comfortable wool garments. He shared how he got involved in this value-added business, the process of turning raw wool into cloth, and how the business has developed.
Knokey explained how John Deere has adapted to changing times. “Our company changed from horse-drawn tools to mechanization in the 1920s through today with guidance and telematics, and using cloud date precision farming,” Knokey said. “We believe ag fundamentals are strong and there will continue to be global growth. However, our company now understands that not everyone needs a piece of equipment with all the modern precision farming technology and we are working to produce what those customers want.”
The “Impact” workshops featured a panel of Sen. Rick Ripley, Rep. Christy Clark, and Rep. Jeff Welborn providing insights for constituents who are trying to be more effective when communicating with their elected officials. They told the group that establishing relationships with legislators before and during the session is important to effective communication.
“If you’re not communicating with your legislator and researching the issues before session begins, you’re behind the eight ball,” said Rep. Christy Clark. “Don’t just ask me to vote on a certain bill; tell a story, show me how it’s going to impact you.”
The workshop also featured Matt Bitz, a program specialist with One Montana. Bitz presented information on two projects his organization is currently working on. The Common Ground project is a collaborative effort among ranchers, farmers, conservationists and sportsmen to address rising tensions between hunters and private landowners in Montana. The project strives to create a better hunter by offering an adult hunter education course with emphasis on how hunters should approach private landowners, what they can expect when hunting on private lands and more. The Montana Way project focuses on created a manual of ‘best practices’ for out of state landowners purchasing farm and ranch land in Montana.
Thursday tours included Prairie Heritage organic farm, the Giant Spring Fish Hatchery and the Mighty Mo Brewing Company.
“Prairie Heritage Farm was especially interesting, as the young family explained that growing organic vegetables and having a Community Supported Agriculture business works well for a small acreage in central Montana,” said Northwest Counties Farm Bureau member Jack Lake. “Obviously controlling weeds while trying to grow organic crops has proved challenging, but it was good to see the Cowgill family developing innovative ideas to keep their small farm viable.”
Source: Montana Farm Bureau Federation