Use of social media to engage with consumers will be one of the primary themes at the upcoming American Agri-Women convention. The opening event is a “tweet and greet,” a session of Twitter training that will involve reaching out electronically to friends across the hall or across the country
By Candace Krebs
BC Democrat Online - Las Animas, CO
By Candace Krebs
Posted Oct. 29, 2012 @ 11:00 am
By Candace Krebs
Posted Oct. 29, 2012 @ 11:00 am
» Social News
GOODLAND, Kan. — Last year, one of the oldest state chapters of the American Agri-Women hosted the national convention in Wichita, Kan. This year, the upstart Colorado Agri-Women, formed three years ago next month, plays host to three days of tours and presentations headquartered at the Renaissance Hotel on the east side of Denver.
It isn’t unusual to see a young chapter take on the association’s largest event of the year, one longtime member said.
“Oftentimes the newer chapters have the most of energy and enthusiasm,” observed Jean Pettibone, a retired grain farmer from Kanorado, Kan., and a nearly 40-year member of the organization.
She will join hundreds of farm women from around the nation as she heads to Denver for the gathering Nov. 8-10. Organizers expect many of the attendees to spill across the border from Kansas, which has a well-organized and active chapter dating back to the mid-1970s. Others are likely to come south from Wyoming, which formed a chapter for the first time last spring.
While numbers in many farm organizations have dwindled, several theories exist for why American Agri-Women remains vibrant and is still adding new chapters.
Farming is increasingly open to women seeking to gain a toehold in the profession, Pettibone theorizes. “They have more freedom to choose what to do for careers today,” she said.
Modern technology on the farm is also a great equalizer. Pettibone has one neighbor whose most reliable hired man is a woman. She brings along her reading for the hours she spends on a GPS-equipped tractor dragging a 36-row planter. Automated bulk loading means even that part of the process doesn’t require heft and brawn.
Brad Smith, sales manager for the American Implement John Deere dealership in nearby Goodland, Kan., agreed. “More farm wives are helping the farmers, in part because it is so hard to find help,” he said.
In addition, as older farmers retire and a new generation takes over, it is the wives who often bring much-needed computer, accounting and office management skills to today’s increasingly large and sophisticated farms, adds Josh Dechant, Goodland branch manager at the neighboring Frontier Co-op, where corn harvest is in full swing. “I think more of them are involved from a marketing and decision-making standpoint,” he said.
Many of these agriculturally-engaged women, young and old, are seeking a fraternity they can call their own.
“We’re used to going to an awful lot of meetings that are all men,” Pettibone noted. “Some of us are intimidated about speaking up, although some of us are not,” — here, her tone of voice maked it clear she falls into the latter category — “but it does give us an opportunity to discuss issues, grow our confidence and go out and talk about these things.”
Reached at her farm north of Ordway, Colo., where she was finalizing banquet plans for the convention, Janell Reid suggested the level of interest in the organization was driven by a sense of urgency about the future of farming. She believes women are simply responding to being in an industry that is increasingly under threat.
Reid plans to take over the Colorado chapter as president next year, a volunteer position that serves without any assistance from a paid staff.
“I have a 34-year-old son, and all he’s ever wanted to do is farm,” she said. “I just feel strongly that I’m willing to go to Washington and be involved in all of these issues so he can stay here and do what he loves.”
Looking back on history, Pettibone recalls the concerns of an earlier era that created the impetus for the organization in the 1970s: diesel fuel prices that had ballooned from 25 cents a gallon to $3; calls for banning beef; and overzealous regulations on truck farms in some parts of the country. From that description, things haven’t changed much in the decades since.
“Those women back then thought, hey, somebody’s got to say something about this,” Pettibone recalls. After gathering in Wisconsin, they chartered their new group the following year, in 1975.
Pettibone read a news article about the first convention, held in Kansas City, and thought the group sounded interesting. She’s been a member ever since.
Tweeting and greeting
Use of social media to engage with consumers will be one of the primary themes at the upcoming convention. The opening event is a “tweet and greet,” a session of Twitter training that will involve reaching out electronically to friends across the hall or across the country, Reid said.
Reid, who has a blog of her own, said one of the big challenges for farm women is carving time out of busy schedules to write regular posts. In addition, even in her area, cell phone service remains spotty.
But women of all ages recognize the importance of social media as a communications tool and want to learn more about it.
“As we all know, social media is where it’s at right now,” said Pettibone, who has farmed with her husband in both Kansas and Colorado for many years. (They now rent out their land.) “It’s a way to have a voice and reach younger people. I have a new phone, and I barely know how to answer it. But fortunately, we’ve got some young members who are willing to bring us ‘old fogies’ along.”
She’s inspired by the “I’m a Farmer and I Grow It” parody video that went viral earlier this year. Members of Kansas Agri-Women met during the Kansas State Fair in September with the Peterson brothers who attracted instant fame after making the video on their farm near Salina, Kan. Their creative approach probably did more for agriculture than any number of conventional attempts to sway public opinion, Pettibone said.
Some of agriculture’s best-known advocates will be featured speakers during the convention, including Troy and Stacy Hadrick of Faulkton, S.D., and Miss USA 2011 Teresa Scanlan, of Gering, Neb.
Early registration, which includes spousal tours of Denver-area attractions, ends on Friday, Oct. 26. But Reid said anyone interested in attending is welcome to register at the door. Full information is available online at www.AmericanAgriwomen.org.