American AgriWomen's Drive Across America visits Kansas

American AgriWomen's Drive Across America visits Kansas

Five-month education and advocacy tour stops in Manhattan; national president says women's voice is strong

Any woman in America can tell you that celebrating your 40th birthday and looking good is reason to celebrate.

So, it stands to reason that American AgriWomen would pull out the stops to celebrate 40 years of giving recognition to the role that women play in American agriculture.

Current AAW President Sue McCrum, along with other AAW leaders are engaged in a five-month "Drive Across America" to celebrate their organization's birthday and advocate for agriculture.

KANSAS VISIT: Susan Metzger, left, with the Kansas Department of Agriculture, stands with American AgriWomen President Sue McCrum in front of the specially wrapped pickup that is making the Drive Across America, a five-month education and advocacy tour celebrating the organization's 40th birthday.

On Thursday, the drive came to Kansas, where McCrum was joined by Kansas AgriWomen preJean Goslin, AAW vice president of communications Lynn Woolf, Kansas Department of Agriculture representative Susan Metzger, representatives of supporting organizations including the Farm Bureau. Farm Credit and members of the media  for a special Kansas event at the Wheat Innovation Center in Manhattan.

The Kansas stop comes about six weeks into the Drive, which was launched from Maine on June 3. So far, the Drive has traveled to events in Maine, New York, Washington, D.C., West Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Drivers are now in Nebraska and Iowa as well as in Kansas.

McCrum spoke briefly to guests at the Kansas event, about her family's fifth-generation commercial potato farm near Mars Hill, Maine.

ADDRESSING GROUP: Kansas Wheat Program Assistant Jordan Hildebrand addresses American AgriWomen's Drive Across America during their Kansas visit on Thursday.

"Members of my family have lived on this same family farm since 1886 and we are still living I the same house and drinking from the same well that my ancestors built on that farm," McCrum said. "In all those years, with all the times we have sprayed our potato fields, that well has never become contaminated. That's because we know the rules of spraying crops safely.  Farmers go to school to learn how to do that, unlike urban consumers who can go buy those same spray chemicals and use them without bothering to read anything on the label."

She also spoke of the current wave of concern about pollinators and the role that pesticides may play in the loss of bees.

"In reality, the population of bees is on the rise," she said. "There are more bees now that there were a few years ago."

She added that her family farm, Penobscot McCrum Potato Farms, has a 20-year history with the same beekeepers, who bring hives within 100 feet of their fields every year.

"I guarantee you that they wouldn't still be bringing those hives if we killed their bees," she said.

She said her experience so far on her travels is that consumers are mostly receptive to the message that the farm women are offering -- that American agriculture, even commercial agriculture, producers safe, affordable, high-quality food.

"There is a breakdown that shows about 10% of the population has made up their mind and no amount of sound science or education will change their mind. There is another 40% that like to know where their food is coming from and how it is grown. The final 50% of the population just wants to feed their families."

She said she is fielding fewer and fewer questions about GMOs, an indication that perhaps consumers are beginning to understand the science and are less concerned about GMO safety. And she sympathized with wheat growers and the current fad against gluten.

"It wasn't that long ago that everybody was saying potatoes are bad for you," she said. "Now, we are back on the healthy less. These things are cyclical."

McCrum said more and more women are taking a decision-making role in farming operations and are learning to think of themselves as farmers. Women have always taken a strong role, but we didn't consider ourselves the farmer. That was our husband. That is slowly changing."

She said that more than 65% of the agriculture students at the University of Minnesota are women.

"That's because women are smart and they understand that agriculture graduates. There are about three jobs for every graduate with an agriculture degree," she said.

So far, on her trek, she said she has learned that "we live in a great nation."

"I have seen some of the most beautiful crops ever," she said. "And Michigan…I don't know where I've been, but I had no idea how huge the fruits and vegetables production in Michigan is. It is second only to California in fruits, vegetables and flowers."

Prior to the event at the Kansas Wheat Innovation Center, members joining the Kansas leg of the Drive Across America visited the ranching operation of Chris  Wilson just east of Manhattan. Wilson is a past president of AAW.

The group also toured the Wheat Innovation Center and got a chance to learn about the cutting edge research conducted there.

Over the coming months, the specially wrapped pick-up truck will be visible on America’s highways, interstates, city streets and backroads, McCrum said. The tour will end up in October where the group will be holding its annual national convention in Maine.

In addition to McCain Foods USA, the Drive Across America is being sponsored by Bayer CropScience, Penobscot McCrum, the Renewable Fuels Association, Syngenta, CCI Marketing, CoBank, Valebt USA, Freestyle Productions, and Sunrise Agricultural Associates.

Agri-Pulse Communications is media partner for the Drive.

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