How Do You Talk About GMOs?

As part of our “How do we talk about that?,” series, Elizabeth Held shares how she talks about GMOs.

President Barack Obama signed the new federal GMO labeling bill law recently, so GMOs are back in the news and so are myths about them. This makes it even more important than usual to talk with consumers about why farmers chose to grow GMOs.

soybeans-330248_1920While there are animal GMOs, this post will focus on plants.

Genetic modification is a sophisticated plant breeding technique that allows scientists to manipulate certain genes in order to improve the plant some way. GMOs are plants developed with this process. Some examples include virus resistant papayas and insect resistant corn.

This process actually affects fewer genes than traditional plant breeding techniques.

GMOs are completely safe for human and animal consumption. More than 1700 studies have shown GMOs are as safe for humans to be eaten as traditionally bred crops.

GMOs have increased yields and profits, while decreasing pesticide use. A 2014 study found “on average, GM technology adoption has reduced chemical pesticide use by 37%, increased crop yields by 22%, and increased farmer profits by 68%.”

GMOs help farmers make use of environmentally friendly practices. GMOs make it easier for farmers to practice conservation tillage, which helps keep carbon in the soil. Additionally, because insect-resistant crops require fewer pesticide sprays, farmers need less fuel for sprayers. According to PG economics, “In 2012, this was equivalent to removing 27 billion kg of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or equal to removing 11.9 million cars from the road for one year.”

GMOs and organic can coexist. Maryland farmer Jenny Schmidt writes, “Coexistence is an extremely manageable situation and happens more often than you are lead to believe by the media. We practiced organic, conventional, and biotech farming systems simultaneously for 7 years and continue to do specialty seed production which still requires the same level of management to ensure purity. That’s all coexistence is, management and planning.”

It is important farmers have access to all kinds of seeds. As Shannon Seifert said in previous “how do you talk about that” post, “ When we choose our seeds for the growing season, we have a wide variety of traits to choose from: height, grain yield, forage yield, digestibility, drought resistant, standablity, tolerance to insects, resistance to herbicides, etc.”

Do you grow GMOs? How do you talk about them with consumers?

Elizabeth Held is a director at the White House Writers Group, where she advises food and agriculture clients. 

Why Do I Agvocate: Elizabeth Held

What is your role in agriculture?

My job is to help farmers and ranchers tell their story. I like helping people find their voice and figure out how to contribute to all the crazy conversations going on about ag today.

What was your inspiration for becoming an agvocate?

Seeing how much misinformation there is about agriculture really pushed me to join the conversations and to help others do the same. There are so many communication tools for farmers now. I try to match the write person with the right method.

What is your favorite part about being an agvocate?

I love it when I’m able to change how people view food and farming. Things like GMOs, pesticides and animal antibiotics can sound scary to consumers, but when we’re able to explain how and why they’re used they become a lot less frightening.

What is the most challenging part of being an agvocate?

I find it really hard to deal with the fear-mongering anti-agriculture activists promote. There’s no need to fear your food! We have the safest food supply in all of human history, thanks to modern ag tools.

What advice for other farmer/ranchers who would like to become more involved in agvocacy?

Tap into the AgChat Foundation and other networks that exist to support you. There’s a lot of resources available for farmers looking to get into agvocacy, use them! I’m always happy to answer questions and others at the AgChat Foundation are too.

What is your biggest takeaway or memory from an AgChat event or Twitter chat?

When I attended my first AgChat conference in 2015, I was blown away by just how awesome everyone in this community is. Everyone involved with AgChat is passionate, kind and dedicated to supporting ag. They’re some of the coolest people I know.

What does the AgChat Foundation mean to you?

The AgChat Foundation is a great group. In addition to supporting farmers and promoting agriculture, AFC has also helped me make friends. Last year at the conference, I met Rhonda Bode Stoltzfus, the writer of the awesome IowaMeetsMaui blog. Rhonda has since become one of my favorite people and we were able to hang out last time she was on the east coast.

Elizabeth Held is a director at the White House Writers Group, where she advises food and agriculture clients. 


Why Do I AgVocate? – Kyndal Reitzenstein

What is your role in agriculture?

My role in agriculture is to inspire, teach and show what we do as agriculturists. It is important I do my best to describe how farmers create, care for and treat our nation’s food. My responsibility is to show society how important agriculture truly is in our everyday lives and the impact it makes on our nation as a whole.

What was your inspiration for becoming an agvocate?

My inspiration for becoming an agvocate is my family and the atmosphere that I surround myself in. I have grown up on a farm where we wake up in the morning and tend to our animals. Sometimes this is an all day task. It is hard to explain how much the agricultural industry has done for me and my family. It has allowed me to become involved in livestock judging and receive numerous scholarships to help me pay for college. My inspiration is the opportunities that await me and others in the agriculture world and it is my duty to agvocate about the industry that has done so much for me.

What is your favorite part about being an agvocate?

My favorite part of being an agvocate is working with kids. I enjoy helping young kids get involved in agriculture and helping them realize that their hard work pays off.

What is the most challenging part of being an agvocate?

The most challenging part of being an agvocate is dealing with the anti-agriculturalists. I understand there are some people out there that do not believe in what we do, which is how this world keeps spinning. It is hard for me to fathom that, but I know if I keep staying positive about what we are doing, then there is bound to be progress over time.

What advice for other farmer/ranchers who would like to become more involved in agvocacy?

My advice for other farmers and ranchers who would like to become more involved in agvocacy would be to take baby steps at a time. Start off with a small goal that you have and keep working your way up to what is comfortable for you. It is hard to wake up in the morning and think of all the things that you use daily that do not involve agriculture. But, it is easy to list all of the things that you use daily that do involve agriculture. Any involvement in agvocacy is tremendous for our industry. The more we get the word out about what we are doing, the better.

What is your biggest takeaway or memory from an AgChat event or Twitter chat?

My biggest takeaway from viewing Twitter chats is to always keep an open mind about who your audience is and how they may view things. Not everyone has the same views on some of the topics being discussed, so it is very important to always stay neutral and never get defensive about other viewpoints.

What does the AgChat Foundation mean to you?

The AgChat Foundation is an organization that I have a lot of respect for. They provide connections between farmers and agricultural enthusiasts to help explain our role in the world to the rest of society. The foundation provides numerous conferences throughout the year providing information and facts about agriculture. The AgChat Foundation also uses social media to reach out to consumers and farmers. Personally I think it is amazing to have an organization that stands for agriculture and believes in describing the importance that it portrays to the world.


Kyndal ReitzensteinKyndal Reitzenstein is from a small, rural community in Kersey, Colorado. She grew up on a cattle operation where her family primary raises Angus cattle. Her parents, Mark and Kaye, and brother, Austin work as a family raising cattle and competing around the nation showing cattle and pigs. She is currently a senior at Oklahoma State University where she is majoring in animal science and agricultural communications. Kyndal plans on graduating in December with hopes of continuing on to graduate school and study animal reproduction.

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I scream, You Scream, We all scream for Ice Cream


By Jenna Kilgus

Earlier this month, I gave a tour of my farm to twenty pre-school aged children from a local day care. I asked them, “What’s your favorite dairy product.”

Unsurprisingly, I received an enthusiastic, loud and simultaneous answer: “ICE CREAM!!”

July is National Ice Cream Month. I love to celebrate and I’m guessing almost all Americans do to. Whether it’s chocolate, strawberry or vanilla, most people love ice cream.

It’s a favorite treat on my farm for two reasons. One, because it is cold and perfectly refreshing after a long day of baling hay, and two, because our farm has an ice cream machine!

The soft serve machines runs Monday through Saturday in our little on-farm country store. That’s right. My three kids have daily access to ice cream. They’re the most popular kids at school because their mom brings ICE CREAM to school for their birthday treats.

We started making soft serve ice cream mix on our dairy farm in 2009, when we took a leap of faith and built an on-farm milk-bottling creamery. We decided we needed to diversify our operations and increase our income in order to bring two more family members back to our family farm full time.

After traveling all over the Midwest, researching what draws consumers to country stores, quickly realized we needed two things: a viewing window where visitors could watch the milk bottling process, and something yummy for them to snack on while they watched, so we bought an ice cream machine.

Today in our creamery, fluid milk is our primary product, but we still make 10 gallons of ice cream mix per week. It doubles to 20 gallons in the hot summer months when our ice cream cone sales go up.

Our little soft serve machine gets a good cleaning once a week, and then we change the flavor. We always have vanilla, but also switch it up. We rotate between the old favorites – strawberry, chocolate, caramel – and throw in some new flavors: pina colada, egg nog, watermelon, root beer, and our customers’ current favorite, lemon. In total, we have more than 15 flavors of ice cream that we rotate between.

Looking out my kitchen window while washing up our supper dishes, I usually see a family or two, sitting on the front patio of our store, enjoying the fresh country air, and an ice cream cone. What can be more enjoyable than a trip to the county, visiting a farm, and getting a taste of what those hard working cows can produce!


Family Feature: Maine and Chianina Junior Nationals | June 17 – 24

feature piece from Kyndal Reitzenstein

Grand Island, Nebraska hosted the Maine and Chianina Junior Nationals this year. Exhibitors from all across the nation participated in numerous contests and shows. The Higgins family from Auburntown, Tennessee, competed at junior nationals. I was lucky enough to talk with Allison and Amelia about their operation and how advocating for agriculture plays a role in their families operation.

Tell me a little bit about your family/operation.

Our farm is located in Auburntown, TN, approximately 50 miles east of Nashville. We have about 65 IMG_6788registered Chiangus cows and a handful of Angus dams. We started raising Chiangus cattle in 1986, and our brother, Andy, began showing in 1995. Our family has been active in the Chi industry ever since then.

How many years has your family been showing?

Allison- My first show was the DeKalb County Fair in 2002 when I was 8 years old. I attended Chianina Junior Nationals in 2004 when I had reached the minimum age required, and I haven’t missed one since then. At 22, this year was my thirteenth and last Junior National. I’m sad to see my junior career come to an end, but working consistently toward my goals over the years has allowed me to be competitive on a national level. That’s something I could only dream about when I started showing!

Amelia- My first show was the Wilson County Fair in 2003 when I had just turned 8 years old. I had attended Junior Nationals in 2003 and 2004 to watch my siblings show, but the first Junior Nationals I actually exhibited a heifer at was in Richmond, IN, in 2005. As Alli said, we have shown at every Chianina Junior National since. It’s kind of fun to look back and remember where the Nationals were each year and remember the first time I even won a class. At that time, I never imagined I could possibly win the whole show in 2014!

What has showing done for your family?

Allison- Showing cattle has shown me the value of perseverance and hard work. Washing heifers day after day can get a little tiring, and there were some days I definitely wanted to be doing something else. However, I knew that if I ever wanted to be successful, I had to be diligent. My brother and his example have taught me almost everything I know about cattle and shown me how important relationships with others in the industry can be. I’ve met tons of amazing people and traveled through a majority of the United States by showing cattle. I’m so thankful for the opportunities I’ve been presented as a result of being involved in the cattle industry.

Amelia- Along with the wonderful attributes of the cattle industry that my sister described, I was fortunate enough to serve on the American Junior Chianina Association Board of Directors for four years, giving me even more opportunities to grow and develop with my personal life, as well as professional. Attending Youth Beef Industry Congress in 2012 allowed me to meet young leaders in other breeds across the nation and develop relationships with them. Learning to work with our board and making influential decisions in our breed’s organization taught me the value of thinking through and analyzing situations before coming to a conclusion. The experiences and lifelong friends gained in the cattle industry are truly irreplaceable.

How have you inspired young exhibitors to keep showing or get involved?

Allison- I’ve always tried to be a good example to young exhibitors and encourage them to work hard and be persistent towards their goals. I’ve done demonstrations at Middle Tennessee State University Beef Camp that teach the kids everything from setting up their stalls at a show to proper hair grooming to showmanship skills and technique. I hope that they’ve learned from me that if you want something badly enough, you can’t be lazy in trying to obtain it.

Amelia- As my sister and I come to the end of our show careers, we are sad that our time is almost over, but we have started teaching our 10 year-old cousin the ropes of showing cattle. He has always had a strong desire to be involved with livestock, but since he doesn’t live on a farm, it is difficult for him. His first show was a small cattle show at the high school a couple of years ago, but this year is the first year that he will be old enough to show at Tennessee 4-H Beef Expo, so we are preparing him for that now. He is usually a fast learner, but we try to encourage him when he isn’t sure how well he is doing. I hope he stays involved for many years to come.

What do you love most about the agricultural industry?

Allison- The values and lessons I have learned through agriculture are something that could never be taught in a classroom. When I would tell the other kids in elementary school about all the work that goes into living on a farm and showing cattle, they didn’t understand why I would want to spend so much time laboring over it. Today, some still don’t understand the role that agriculture plays in their lives. I love being a part of an industry that impacts every single person on the planet, whether they realize it or not.

Amelia- This summer I am interning at Tennessee Beef Industry Council, and a reoccurring theme we always seem to talk about is how much we love the people in the beef and agriculture industries. We all in the industry share a love for agriculture, and it seems to make each other better to understand. I can’t pinpoint exactly what it is, but there is just something about the people in this industry that I just love.

We would like to thank the Higgins family for their time dedicated to the AgChat Foundation!