Amanda Radke, a cattle rancher and professional speaker from Mitchell, South Dakota, signs one of her books during the MN Ag Expo Wednesday. Radke gave the keynote address, encouraging producers to spread the word to consumers about what they do to protect their farms, ranches and livestock.Pat Christman
MANKATO — Amanda Radke says American consumers are increasingly being fed misleading information about “evil things” livestock producers and farmers do to their animals and the land. It’s led to a number of voter-approved initiatives and state laws aimed at animal protection that she says overreach and cause a variety of unintended problems for producers and consumers. “We can help to better inform consumers,” Radke, a cattle rancher and professional speaker from Mitchell, South Dakota, told attendees at the MN Ag Expo at the Mayo Clinic Health System Event Center. Radke said the pandemic highlighted the need for ag producers to shift their mindset and create new opportunities by working more directly with consumers. And, she said, farmers and ranchers must resist getting defensive, angry or striking out at critics, even though they’ve been put on the defensive through reports in the media and on social media. “You have to think about whether someone is buying the almond milk (at the grocery store) instead of milk because we (acted) angry.” Radke said farmers often don’t feel comfortable engaging with critics and consumers and talking with them about how producers care about their livestock and land. “You need to get out of your comfort zone. You need to meet the consumer in their heart.” She said that during the pandemic, many livestock producers began selling directly to consumers, giving them some supplemental income during a rough financial time. And the connections created more conversation and understanding between producers and consumers. Radke recounted how the pandemic upended life on the ranch she and husband Tyler operate as they raise four young children. Like 80% of farm families, Radke supplements their income with her professional speaking and selling ag-centered books she writes for children. Early in 2020, Tyler — against his better judgment — bought his “dream tractor” on an online auction. “I said, ‘How are we going to pay for this?’ He said, ‘Oh, you have all those speeches lined up, we’ll be fine.’” The next month the pandemic hit and her speaking engagements for the year dried up. “One night I broke down. I thought everything I worked for was gone,” she said. But an invitation to speak of something “inspirational” at an online conference spurred her to look for optimism amid the unsettling pressures of the pandemic. The result was a renewed effort to connect with consumers about the value of agriculture via her blog and in person. Producers, she said, should start by being “a light in your own communities” and working to change hearts and minds about ag and what producers stand for. She also focused on how producers can sell food directly to consumers and to look for ways to help alleviate the food insecurity in a nation where one in four children go to bed hungry. As foster parents, who cared for a dozen foster kids since 2019, Radke said they saw firsthand what food insecurity looked like. Several of the foster kids were always worried about getting enough food to eat and when their next meal would come. She said the experience made her think more about the role farmers and ranchers have in helping get food into the hands of those who most need it. “In agriculture, we can be a solution to a lot of the problems in society.” The MN Ag Expo returned to an in-person event this year after being virtual last year. The Minnesota Corn Growers Association and the Soybean Growers Association each hold their annual meetings and fundraisers during the expo, which continues Thursday. All proceeds from the expo fund MSGA’s efforts in promoting farm-friendly policy.
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