Education, stress are prominent topics at luncheon

Farmers and others related to agriculture listen and take part in an Ag Advisory Luncheon put on by Jones County Extension and Outreach in February. (Photo by Pete Temple)
Pete Temple
Express Sports/Ag Editor

     Common agricultural concerns about education and communication, as well as emerging topics such as mental health, stress on the farm and assistance for beginning farmers; came to light during an Ag Advisory Luncheon in February.

     Jones County Extension and Outreach sponsored the event, which drew about about 30 people as part of an ag advisory group who are connected to agriculture in one manner or another.

     Greg Walston, county Extension program director for Benton County, moderated the event, which was one of a series of meetings designed, he said, “to help Extension do a better job meeting needs.”

     Three previous ag advisory meetings, Walston said, covered opportunities and needs in agriculture. At the Monticello meeting, Walston went around the room and asked each person in attendance to offer what they feel are priority areas in the industry.

     The theme of education, both in terms of educating students but also the media and the general public, came up often.

     “We need to implement some more outreach within the high schools as far as ag issues are concerned,” farmer Dominic Hogan said, “just to get kids familiar with what we do in the industry and why we do things the way we do them.”

     Abby Jaeger, who is involved with the Jones County Pork Producers but also works at Kirkwood’s Jones Regional Education Center in Monticello, offered another variation.

     “There is a need for employment in agriculture, and making sure that those kids who grew up on the farm know there are other opportunities, off their farm but in farming,” Jaeger said.

     Monticello hog farmer Renee Adams encouraged Extenstion to “get that ag education out there more. But then I also think we need to get the community to understand about the finances of agriculture. Not just the truth about where their food comes from, but also the finances. That’s a new thing we have to do as farmers, be educators.”

     Walston added, “It seems like we’re getting farther and farther away from knowing what’s going on in farming. The risk-to-reward thing in agriculture is so tremendous, and a lot of people don’t get it. It’s our job to make them more aware, because we’re their neighbors and they need to know.”

     Jones County Economic Development director Derek Lumsden offered a different side to the communication question.

     “I would say ag education (is important),” Lumsden said, “but both ways. There is a lot that farmers can learn about things that are happening, too.”

     The event broke in to three smaller groups, one at each table, and each discussed more ag issues before bringing a report back to the larger audience.

     Extension farm and agribusiness specialist Ryan Drollette’s table discussed mental health and stress factors related to farming, including finances, finding qualified help, and truth in reporting on the media side.”

     While Extension frequently has meetings for farmers on a variety of topics, Drollette said it is doubtful people would attend a meeting dealing with financial or mental stress, not wanting to let a neighbor know that they are having trouble.”

     “We do the large group meetings, but the next step is, how do we help the individual,” Drollette said. “Do we maybe do a night of ‘speed dating,’ and sit down with an individual and do the one-on-one work in a more organized fashion?”

     Assistance for beginning farmers also was a recurring topic. The idea of a networking group for them came up.

     “I’m passionate about taking care of our beginning farmers,” said Cindy Dirks, a Wyoming farmer who also serves on the Jones County Extension Council. “It’s very stressful, and very hard for young families, understanding the financing and how to get the financing. It’s a real challenge.”

     Other topics that arose included women in agriculture, diversification in farming, and the use of technology to get agriculture’s message out to more people.



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