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Betty Wolanyk discusses importance of speaking out for agriculture at South Texas Farm and Ranch Show

By ALLISON MILES
Oct. 27, 2010 at 5:27 a.m.
Updated Oct. 28, 2010 at 5:28 a.m.

Chandler Elementary School third-grader Arin Williams sets her eyes on a dairy cow, Sunshine, while her handler hooks up the apparatus to milk the cow. The Pasture to Pyramid program had various booths to educate children about farming culture.

MORE INFORMATIONBetty Wolanyk, chief operating officer for Ag Literacy Works, suggested these reads:"The Man Who Fed the World" by Leon Hesser

"The Skeptical Environmentalist" by Bjorn Lomborg

"The Tree Farmer" by Chuck Leavell and Nicholas Cravotta

The United States has been an agriculturally illiterate society since the 1960s, Betty Wolanyk said Wednesday. That brings a lack of understanding of the industry and leaves agriculture open to attacks from environmental and animal activists.

Wolanyk, chief operating officer for Ag Literacy Works in Barker, N.Y., presented "Speaking Out For Agriculture: Why?" at the South Texas Farm and Ranch Show, where she urged agriculturists to educate the public.

Today, more than 100 activist groups, with a combined budget of more than $600 million, target modern agriculture practices, Wolanyk said. They intentionally create misinformation in hopes of driving change and often have agendas.

Such groups come together with a surprisingly uniform message, that the facts do not matter, she said.

"They don't care if they're giving children misinformation," Wolanyk said. "What they care about is that their agenda is fulfilled, that they accomplish their goal. They don't care how they do it."

Groups target all ages and forms of communication, she said; explanations of their messages find their way into everything from comic books and videogames to textbooks and movies.

In the movie "Chicken Run," for instance, the animals' homes look like Nazi concentration camps, she said. And in "Bee Movie," the insects take humans to court to fight for the rights to their honey.

"These people are very good at what they're doing, and they're hiring the best," Wolanyk said. "They take advantage of people's ignorance, and they're making it personal."

Wolanyk encouraged farmers and ranchers to do their part to get correct information out there.

Work together and educate both yourself and others, she said. Speak out, tell your story and find out what is being taught in area schools.

At the very least, agriculturists should donate to a cause that will help get their messages across.

"Agriculture can no longer sit back and do nothing," Wolanyk said. "Because they're telling your story in the way they want it to be heard. And you're the bad guys."

The challenge is to take the message, and get it out there, said Jeff Nunley, executive director of the South Texas Cotton and Grain Association and member of the farm and ranch show board.

Nunley noted that 2009's show included a presentation by Dennis Avery, who discussed issues surrounding climate change and biofuels. Farm and ranch show luncheons have recently been "going against the dogma," he said with a chuckle.

Victoria County rancher Billy Hill, who attended the luncheon, said he thought Wolanyk's message was important.

"I was surprised," he said. "I didn't realize people had so much activism going on against the people who feed them."

He said it has him re-evaluating his spending.

When he sells animals at auction, $1 per head goes toward beef advertisement. After Wolanyk's speech, however, he said he might consider spending more.

"People are misinformed," he said of the industry. "And the lies are just getting bigger."

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