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Young Farmer & Rancher feature // Skylar Shirley: "Just one thing"

Skylar Shirley is the twenty year old daughter of Troy and Sandy Shirley. Originally from Conrad, she now calls Dillon home while attending the University of Montana Western. She and older brother Will have been involved in agriculture from a young age; they were members in 4-H, FFA and CYF&R. Skylar is currently the president of Collegiate YF&R, the secretary for Rodeo Club, a member of collegiate Stockgrowers and a student senator on campus. She plans to attend law school upon graduation from UMW.

This year I attended the “Show Me” Young Farmers and Ranchers Leadership Conference in Kansas City with the Montana Farm Bureau. This is the second time I have attended a Farm Bureau’s YF&R National Conference. Last year we learned about the role that education plays in agriculture. This year I focused on the advocacy sessions. As a current student at the University of Montana Western where I study Communications, these classes will not only help me in my future, but now as well.

As a college undergraduate it is easy to forget the importance of advocacy. We often get caught up in the everyday life of a busy student, forgetting to take the time for the important things like advocating for agriculture. We take naps between classes instead of posting a quick post about the benefits of using technology in farming and ranching.  Take the time to share one thing each day about the importance of a rural lifestyle.

Advocating for agriculture often leads to having to tackle tough topics. Johanna Miller talked about how to handle this in her session Tackling Tough Agricultural Topics. She told us that the first rule is to take a deep breath and stay calm, you can’t do your job if you get defensive. Each day, we scroll through our news feed on Facebook watching cute videos and catching up with friends. Miller advises using social media platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, as a tool to advocate.

Benefits of using social media to advocate are endless. You become a valuable resource by reaching people worldwide. In her session, Social Media Basics, Lyndsey Murphy talks about shortening the disconnect between farm and table. She told us to let your personality shine through, it makes you seem more realistic and relatable to your readers. Photos, resources and questions are most received posts. Murphy says the best time to post is between the time you get home until you go to bed, but remember engagement is more important than likes, quality vs. quantity.

When advocating for agriculture transparency is important. Share experiences and stories; humanize the production of agriculture. Talk about food instead of commodities. Your stories need to appeal to the consumers, show them that we are more than producers, we are farmers and ranchers. Demonstrate commitment, shared values and common grounds in order to be relatable. Always take time to acknowledge questions and concerns, they’re not criticism but often people looking for guidance. Instead of defending past actions, focus on improving the future. Always validate facts. Audiences are skeptical, be truthful with them.

You don’t have to have a blog or a website dedicated to your own farm or ranch, just use what you already have. Take a picture of what you’re eating that night for dinner or your kids helping dad feed. Show a collage of the growth of your garden or your branding day festivities. It doesn’t have to be a huge start, share with your family and friends first. Use your everyday life to promote your lifestyle. You don’t have to start with the controversial issues such as immigration, GMOs, vaccination or animal welfare, you just have to start.

Join the Montana Young Farmers and Ranchers May 20-21 in Lewistown, Montana for the 2016 Young Farmer & Rancher Tour. For more information, visit the event Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/events/240397499638356/ or register online at www.mfbf.org