MCGA Agvocates, 2010-11: Mercedes Lee

One idea that really impressed Mercedes Lee at Minnesota Agricultural Ambassadors Institute is the notion that everyone connected to farming needs to pitch in to educate the broader public about agriculture. Individual efforts can fuel a major change in public perception, she believes.

 “If we think other people can advocate we can get lazy—we all need to step up and join in the effort,” said Lee, 19, who is going to be a sophomore at North Dakota State University in Fargo this coming year. She said, “If I do this, maybe I can convince someone else to advocate in their own way. Each person has their own effect. If we all do it in our own way, together we will be able to affect the big picture.”

 Lee was selected to join MCGA’s Agvocates program this spring, along with three other college students. It is a yearlong series of trainings, leadership experiences and networking opportunities, all wrapped together with a scholarship towards their education. Each student is pursuing a degree in some aspect of agriculture.

 The NDSU sophomore is pursuing a double major in crop and weed science and in management and communications

 Lee said, “My goal is to be either a sales agronomist or go into seed sales. I’d like to work with farmers, with the seed dealer and the seed company and be the middle person for all three different entities.

 The two parts of her degree program are aimed at outfitting her with the full set of skills that are needed in an agribusiness career, she feels.

 “My goals are that I would be able to, at the same time, have the knowledge in agronomy, but also to know how to talk with people, going to talk with farmer,” said Lee. “I’ve seen where people in these roles don’t know how to communicate, they don’t know how to learn what the farmer really wants, and this leads to frustration and real problems. I’d like to be the person the farmer could go to, to get what they need, and also be the one who can communicate about new seed traits and let producers know what’s happening in the industry.”

 So, as an MCGA Agvocate, Lee will be traveling to events like FarmFest, to help with outreach to the public on behalf of corn producers.

 That’s not all she’s doing this summer. She’s also putting in hours as an intern for the AsGrow DeKalb division of Monsanto. In that role she divides her time between crop scouting and developing a research project and presentation that involves interviewing crop producers who have planted several new Monsanto varieties, including RoundUp ™ Ready-To-Yield (Generation 2) and VT Double Pro, a variety stacked with two genetic traits that protect against corn borer.

“The key when you advocate is to represent the whole agriculture industry,” said Lee, who grew up on a crop farm, and even after her family sold it when she was nine years old, she continued to stay connected to agriculture by raising sheep. “Advocacy is mostly about getting knowledge to people—things that we people who live the farm life take for granted. When I look out on the field and say ‘oh that’s wheat, I know what it’s used for, how it’s processed, what products it becomes. And the person in the cities sees the flour on the shelf in the store and it’s just there—they don’t have that knowledge of everything that went into producing it. Sharing that knowledge can really open their eyes and help them see farming from the farmer’s point of view.”

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