Taking a stand: Former Miss America defends agricultureWritten by Saige Albert
Scanlan addressed the 2012 National Institute for Animal Agriculture Annual Conference in Denver, Colo. on March 28, looking at the challenges facing agriculture.
“You all know better than anyone the types of attacks that are being focused on agriculture from all directions,” commented Scanlan. “We have to present a united front to address these challenges.”
Some important numbers
“Here are some numbers that apply to agriculture,” Scanlan started. “The average age of the American farmer is 57. ‘It will soon be up to the next generation to pick up the mantle, produce our nation’s food and fiber, and manage the risks that are inherent to agriculture,’ said Agriculture Secretary Vilsack in July 2011.”
Scanlan also noted that the average age of the principle farm operator has increased roughly one year in each census cycle – from 50.3 years old in 1978 to 57.1 years in 2007.
“The majority of farm operators are between 45 and 64,” she mentioned. “One hundred thousand new farmers will be needed in the upcoming years to replace the aging workforce.”
The Urban Institute also marked that 25 percent of farmers have extended careers, and ag workers make up over 25 percent of the 65 and over workforce, said Scanlan.
She said, “We need to continue to pass down agriculture through the generations and make sure that it is strong and thriving.”
Focused on food
Scanlan explained that, during her year as Miss America, she focused on visiting a number of groups and organizations, including elementary schools, to talk about nutrition.
“I would ask what kinds of foods were healthy, and I’d hear fruits or vegetable called out a lot,” she said of her trips. “It was only in the Midwest that kids would yell out, ‘Steak!’ or ‘Beef.’”
She also joined forces with a group called The Hand That Feeds Us, which works to lobby for agriculture and for public advocacy.
“Working with them, I was able to realize the role that I can play to work toward agriculture,” she noted. “I have seen that, in society in general, we are in a great place.”
Media attention, commented Scanlan, isn’t always positive, but it’s still attention.
“My generation is focused on what is behind their food and where it comes from,” she said. “The only problem is it’s the wrong information.”
“I feel like we are at a positive place right now where we can really move forward,” Scanlan commented. “People today are interested in where their food comes from; it’s just a matter of telling the other side of the story. We have that opportunity, and the door is wide open.”
Scanlan added that politics and regulations have also become a huge concern for agriculture.
“I think our most important role is to be an advocate on the political side to help politicians understand what helps and what is not needed,” she said. “Only one quarter of one percent of the federal budget is dedicated to agriculture, and they are trying to cut that further.”
Scanlan added that, though she is only 19 and has limited experience with budgets, “If we were trying to cut spending in my family, the first thing to cut would not be food. Food is the first thing I set aside money for. It’s a necessity.”
She also noted that, when the nation’s economy thrives, agriculture – the lifeblood of the nation – has been strong as well, and by cutting agricultural funding, economic problems will only be compounded. Scanlan added that politicians also tend to burden the agriculture industry with unnecessary laws and regulations.
“I think we can all agree that politicians like to make silly laws, and the ridiculous laws that apply to agriculture are more serious,” she said, specifically marking laws regarding the environment as concerning.
“Everyone wants to help the environment,” Scanlan mentioned, “and I believe that farmers and ranchers are the highest tier of environmentalists.”
She continued, noting that farmers and ranchers work to care for their animals, the land and the environment because it is their livelihood.
A service industry
“Service is thinking of the needs of others, and that is what this industry is all about,” said Scanlan. “This industry is all about thinking about what we can continually do to protect and serve others, always find ways to improve what we do, to never be satisfied with good enough and to not give up but to always be thinking of ways to do more.”
At the same time, she recognized that many involved in the agriculture industry won’t be around to see the future, or 9 billion people on the earth, yet they continue to improve the industry.
“It’s about paying it forward to the next generation, and I truly appreciate it because it affects the next generation so dramatically,” Scanlan commented. “That is why we must continue to stick together to do more and constantly improve to protect agriculture as we know America today.”
Miss America 2011
Teresa Scanlan, a Gerig, Neb. native, was only 17 when she was crowned Miss America in January 2011, and said, “Being part of this organization creates an incredible platform for your voice to be heard fro the issues you truly care about.”
Scanlan spoke at the 2012 National Institute for Animal Agriculture Annual Conference in Denver, Colo. on March 28.
“Being 17 years old from a small town in Nebraska, my sphere of influence was so very limited,” she commented. “I have had the opportunity to have a larger impact than I ever imagined possible, and I want to use that to benefit agriculture.”
“I found that many in the industry are very hard working, very quiet, very humble and take care of everyone, while everyone else is attacking and jumping on them from all sides,” Scanlan said. “It’s my job to make a fuss. Someone needs to be there to be loud, make a fuss and make people listen. And I will continue to make a fuss as long as I can.”