Telling the Farming Story

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

For their first duty as Minnesota Corn Growers Association “Agvocates,” Michaela Bengtson, Nick Peterson and Kevin Welter found themselves at a pig farm and at a tannery–they were with 40 other young people for the annual Minnesota Agriculture Ambassadors Institute, held this year in Red Wing, enjoying field trips to area farms and other points of interest.

“It was so much fun,” said Michaela Bengtson, 20, who will be a junior at the U of M this fall. “The wonderful thing about the Ambassador Institute is that I come to it with my dairy background and then I get to meet so many people from different agricultural backgrounds. We toured the Shafer Farms, which is an amazing pork operation, and then we toured the tannery for Red Wing shoes–there are so many facets, not only in farm production, but in all the ways our products get processed into things people need and use every day.”

Kevin Welter, 19, became interested in working as an MCGA Agvocate when he heard a 2011 Agvocate, Greg Tusa, talking about it. He learned from Greg one of the main responsibilities for Agvocates is reaching out to the general public with positive messages about farming, using social media.

“I have both Twitter and Facebook experience, and I’m looking forward to using these to help promote agriculture,” said Welter. “At the Ambassador Institute and with other experiences MCGA provides for us three Agvocates, we’ll have reliable information to share with the consumers. Another key piece of the story is knowing that agriculture is all related–as we meet people involved in all these different areas like pork or dairy or corn, we learn that we can all work together to accomplish our goals and that makes the voice for agriculture stronger.”

Welter grew up on a hog and crop farm in Stewartville. His parents have been active in corn and pork organizations and were recognized by U of M Extension as farm family of the year in Olmsted County for 2008. Welter is impressed by the range of activities MCGA supports, including a personal favorite, the SuperMileage Challenge.

“I participated in the SuperMileage Challenge when I was in high school–I was on Stewartville’s team the first few years they participated, starting in 2009,” said Welter.  “I’m looking forward to working with corn growers when they help out with SMC, and I’m also looking forward to being at FarmFest with MCGA–I’ve been there every year for the past four years.”

Welter will be a sophomore this fall at South Dakota State University, Brookings. His area of study is ag business with an accounting minor, with an eye to becoming a banker at an agricultural lending institution. Bengtson is an agricultural education major and will be a junior this fall at U of M. She hopes to teach high school agriculture classes. Nick Peterson, 20, will also be a junior at the U of M, and majors in applied plant science with a minor in soil science.

Peterson is spending the summer as an intern for Winfield Solutions in Alexandria.  The firm is a branch of Land O’Lakes, and provides seed and crop protection products, as well as technical expertise, through affiliated coops. Peterson’s experience there will dovetail nicely with being an Agvocate. His main responsibility will be helping organize events and communicate with attendees at the Land O’Lakes ‘Answer Plot’ locations near Alexandria. The Answer Plot program collects data on agricultural products and practices at a wide variety of plots across the Midwest.

Peterson found the Ambassadors Institute keynote speaker, a representative of the Minnesota Pork Board, to be very informative.

“He told us that the best way to interact with consumers is to connect with them on values,” said Peterson, who grew up on a crop farm near Clear Lake. “When talking about farming, for instance, we can talk about how it’s a family business, and people connect to that idea immediately in a positive way.”

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