By MEGGIE I. FOSTER
CHESTERFIELD, Mo. — When Katie Pratt was in FFA many years ago, she jotted down her life goals, one of which was to become the voice of American agriculture. Much to her surprise, that bigger-than-life dream is now within her grasp as she is currently one of the nine finalists to serve as the official Face of Farming and Ranching.
“I knew early on that I had a passion for this industry,” said Pratt, a corn, soybean, and seed corn grower from Dixon, Ill. “Years later, here I sit with the opportunity to achieve that goal – to help serve as a unifying voice for agriculture.”
The U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance (USFRA) announced the finalists of the Faces of Farming and Ranching program, a nationwide search launched earlier this summer to help put real faces on agriculture, during the Food Dialogues, a panel discussion on food and biotechnology issues in New York last week.
The nine finalists represent a wide spectrum of agriculture production from every corner of the United States including Pratt, Chris Chinn, a pork, cattle and grain producer from Clarence, Mo., Will Gilmer, a dairy, hay, silage, small grains and ryegrass farmer from Sulligent, Ala., Daphne Holterman, a dairy, corn for silage, and alfalfa farmer from Watertown, Wis., Brenda Kirsch, a ryegrass, hazelnut, straw, wheat, green beans, squash and crimson clover farmer from St. Paul, Ore., Eric McClam, a fruit, vegetable and honeybee farmer from Columbia, S.C., Tim Nilsen, a poultry producer from Wilton, Calif., Bo Stone, a corn, wheat, soybean, hog, cattle, strawberries and sweet corn grower from Rowland, N.C. and Janice Wolfinger, a beef cattle producer from Morristown, Ohio.
“I’m so excited that farmers are coming together with one voice,” said Wolfinger, a finalist from Ohio, who blogs about her life on a cattle farm at www.fortheloveofbeef.blogspot.com “I’ve taught agricultural education for 11 years so this is a great fit for me. Except with this program, someone will help direct the journey to some of those tough questions from our consumers.”
“Janice has proven herself as an effective spokesperson for America’s farm families,” said Elizabeth Harsh, executive director of the Ohio Cattlemen’s Assoc. and Ohio Beef Council. “She has shared her daily life on the farm with the world through her blog and has been quick to volunteer through the Ohio Cattlemen’s Assoc. and Ohio Beef Council, supporting consumer outreach. We are fortunate to have her representing Ohio’s beef industry.”
More than 100 applications were received from passionate, dedicated farmers and ranchers from across the nation, with only nine selected as finalists, according to USFRA. The winners will become the face of agriculture, and will be tapped to share stories and experiences on a national stage to help shift conversations about food production and set the record straight about the way we feed our nation.
“I really try to make the connection back to our consumers, but most of my circles are already connected to food production,” said Wolfinger, a graduate of the Ohio State University, who owns a cow-calf operation in Ohio and a cattle feedlot in central Nebraska with her husband, Jake.
“I feel as if I don’t have the audience and the opportunity to really connect with consumers.
This opportunity would help kick start many of those conversations with folks I wouldn’t otherwise have contact with.”
According to Pratt, who farms 5,500 acres of row crops and Wyffel Hybrids seed corn with her husband, Andy, his parents, Mike and Sue Pratt and brother and sister-in-law Peter and Emily Pratt, it was a family decision, but one that made good sense.
“It would be honor to serve as a trusted source of information for the food and agriculture industries,” said Pratt, who graduated with a journalism and agricultural economics degree from Truman State University in Kirkville, Mo. “Agriculture is so diverse, to have one unifying voice seems ridiculous in one way, but I can tell you that I will serve as a face of what’s good and right in food, fiber and fuel production in the United States.”
Pratt said that the application process began earlier this summer with each candidate submitting a video and essay application describing efforts that were made to reach consumers to share the story of agriculture.
“The nine candidates selected reflect the extent of diversity in agriculture across the nation,” said Bob Stallman, chairman of USFRA and president of the American Farm Bureau Federation. “These exceptional farmers and ranchers can bring the reality of farming and ranching to the forefront for consumers, mainstream media and influencers to develop a relationship and learn more about how food gets from the farm or ranch to their plates.”
The winner of the USFRA Face of Farming and Ranching will be determined partly by popular vote at www.fooddialogues.com
Voting began on Nov. 15 and will close on Dec. 15. Consumers, farmers and ranchers have been asked to vote for who they believe best represents those across the country who work to bring food to the table.
“This would be such an educational opportunity to learn about various aspects of food protection with the understanding that we are all working toward the same goal just in different manners,” said Pratt.
In addition to the public vote, a panel of judges will interview and evaluate the finalists to help determine the winners of Faces of Farming and Ranching. Winners will be announced in early January 2013.