Are You an Ag Catalyst?

Posted November 3, 2015

If I remember general chemistry correctly, a catalyst speeds up a reaction. Think grade-school volcano. Fill the volcano with baking soda, pour in a little vinegar and LAVA. Well, carbon dioxide gas bubbles.

When applied to a person, Merriam Webster says that a catalyst is “a person or event that quickly causes change or action.” In agriculture, these people may cause an instant sensation – like the Peterson Farm Brothers – or their work may continue to cause a positive chain reaction for a long time – like Dr. Norman Borlaug.

However, the world is filled with not enough catalysts and too many inhibitors. The opposite of a catalyst, an inhibitor “slows down or prevents a particular chemical reaction or other process,” according to Merriam Webster. An ill-informed protest of a field trial, overly burdensome legislation that would only increase paperwork, a misunderstanding of a scientific process.

In agriculture, we perhaps stayed neutral in the reactionary conversation around food for too long. But, the 2015 Ag Catalyst conference on October 19 and 20, sponsored by AdFarm, brought together several examples of catalysts that encouraged all of agriculture to join in sharing their stories and creating a few reactions of their own.

But one must understand how stories work before effectively sharing their own. Vance Crowe, director of millennial engagement for Monsanto, introduced the audience to memes. Not necessarily just the ones found online, but a way for humans to compress complex information – like how production agriculture works – into simple constructs they can understand. For example, he showed a simple video from The Farmer’s Life that used an unmanned aerial vehicle to show the small amount of glyphosate compared to the amount of ground to which it is applied. 

Ron Green, founding director of the KC digiSTORY Center, explained that putting data like this into story form makes it more relatable. He would know about putting lots of meaning into not a lot of words. After all, he worked for Hallmark Cards for 32 years.

“Story is data with heart,” Green said.

Each person in agriculture has their story to share. Jodi Oleen, director of consumer outreach for the Kansas Pork Association, said each person simply has to “find their bacon.” Lindsay Sankey, creator of Jean’s Boots Blog, reiterated that inspiration is all around, just to listen when it speaks.

Andrew Campbell, dairy farmer from Canada, learned that lesson well when he embarked on the #farm365 project. His goal was simple – share a picture from the farm every day for one year. However, the response became complicated quickly when protestors and dissidents co-opted the conversation for their own anti-agriculture purposes. Happily, he reported that the protestors eventually faded, except for semi-regular comments, in comparison to the number of other farmers who joined the movement and a growing audience that is learning about all kinds of farming operations around the world.

The conference also included techie insights into techniques to better share stories through local marketing, search engine optimization, new apps and even unmanned aerial systems. But, speaker after speaker encouraged all of agriculture to become an ag catalyst and share their own stories to a consumer audience that increasingly removed from the farm.

After all, as Ron Green said, “The saddest story is the untold story.”