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Tell your story and tell it straight
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By John Schlageck, Kansas Farm Bureau
Several hundred young farmers and ranchers from across the Sunflower State will gather in Wichita Jan. 27-29 to learn more about leadership and hone these skills. As these young Farm Bureau leaders continue to grow and progress in their chosen profession, many will step forward to voice their opinions, to say what’s on their minds and stand up for their beliefs – to make a difference.
It’s not always easy to stand up and voice your convictions. It’s certainly easier to go on about your daily business, do nothing and let someone else do your talking for you.
Leadership is not easy. I believe Sam Rayburn, Bonham, Texas, who served as Speaker of the House under eight different American presidents probably said it best in one of his addresses to Congress.
“Leadership is that intangible quality in an individual that makes men do better than themselves; which makes men dream greater dreams and perform braver deeds.”
Yes, in order to tell their story, whether it be about farming, ranching or any other business, these young leaders must cultivate a working relationship with the media while using every means of social media to tell their story.
The following tips can help you tell your story – a story that only you as young crop growers and livestock caretakers can tell in your own words and from your own perspective.
To begin with, you must provide those outside the farm and ranch gates news with substance and provide them legitimate news about agriculture.
Using agriculture as an example, if you’re a farmer you could talk about the practice of minimum tillage to save the land and water. Begin by talking about leaving crop residue (stubble and stalks) in place to hold this soil and moisture in place where wheat, corn, milo and soybeans can utilize it.
Farmers incorporate this practice beginning in April when they plant seeds for the next season’s crop. The sprouts shoot through the soil saving cover, and in turn save soil and moisture.                 
Ag producers will resume this ritual in about another month as they begin spring planting of fall crops. Yes, there is plenty to tell about this conservation practice. As a farmer, it you choose to tell this story, remember to focus on who will hear your story.
Avoid using self-serving material when telling urban and suburban public about your farming operation or a specific agricultural issue. Talk instead about the meat and potatoes of the issue and downplay promotion of yourself.
Just as important as what you say or write about is the relationship you foster with your local and regional media types. Invite them to your farm/ranch to share with them how you go about planting corn, feeding cattle or better yet how you care for them.
Give your media contacts your home or cell number. Reporters always appreciate knowing where you can be contacted when they need a quote concerning a breaking agricultural story.
Cultivate urbanites by befriending them on your Facebook site.
Never stick your head in the sand when a difficult situation occurs or bad news hits. As a spokesperson for agriculture, do your homework. Seek additional information and resource people knowledgeable about a controversial issue.
Provide factual information to media types and those you’re in contact with via social media. If you run away from bad news, the media and your social media network will remember this the next time you come to them with good news.
If you want success in telling your story, respond quickly to inquiries from those in the news media. Remember it’s all right to say, “I don’t know,” when you can’t answer  questions. But always offer to find the answer and follow up promptly.
Establish first-name relationships with the media in your community. Never hesitate to contact a reporter if you come across a story that may interest those in your town and enlighten them about your profession. Members of the media will remember your thoughtfulness.
Above all, remember that trust is the most important ingredient in any relationship, and this includes the media too. If you’re ever caught in a falsehood, your credibility and future relationship with that person may be damaged forever.
John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.