By: Amantha Hons
The temperature in the Arizona desert was nearing 90 degrees on Friday morning and the dry breeze felt like someone had pointed a hair dryer in your face. My group and I stepped off the charter bus into the sandy soil of a jalapeño pepper farm, the rows of bright green plants a stark contrast to the reds and browns of the desert landscape behind them.
We gathered around the farm owner, Rob Knorr, as he talked about the new processes and technologies he had installed in his fields, while laborers slowly picked peppers by hand behind him, each hoping to earn a couple bucks for every handful of their harvest. My friends and I laughed as we picked peppers and bit into them, hoping the farmer wasn’t joking about the “no-heat” jalapeños he was growing. It really was a perfect start to my weekend, standing in the middle of the desert to learn about agriculture.
For the average college student, a typical summer weekend probably doesn’t include touring jalapeño farms in the middle of a desert. It also doesn’t include going to courses that teach you things like professionalism or how to integrate social media into your communications plan, and it definitely does not include business casual dress. This is, however, how I spent my weekend at Ag Media Summit.
Ag Media Summit is an industry-wide conference held each year for agricultural communicators. The event, a joint meeting of the American Agricultural Editors’ Association, the Livestock Publications Council and the student group, Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow, focuses on professional improvement and industry networking. I attended the conference for the first time this summer with a few members of my Texas A&M University ACT chapter.
The annual conference, held in Scottsdale, Arizona this year, draws about 600 people, all interested in agriculture and media. The conference kicks off with an industry tour to area farms and agriculture production companies, like the Knorr jalapeño farm. Over the next three days, attendees immerse themselves in professionalism sessions, guest lectures on media topics and skills, business meetings, luncheons and elaborate dinners. I attended sessions that focused on creating and evaluating social media plans, rebranding a company and publication, integrating content across multiple platforms, and judging photography.
Though I attended as a student, many of the attendees of Ag Media Summit are members of the media industry. They come from agricultural companies or publications, or they are representing a trade organization like the American Agricultural Editors’ Association or the Pork Council. These industry members come to the conference to learn new skills and to find new information to take back to their businesses.
One of the largest events of the conference is an Info Expo, where industry leaders and companies set up booths for the chance to interact with conference attendees, especially editors and media representatives looking for their next story scoop.
Jessica Reese was at the expo to represent the company Vermeer, where she works as a brand manager for the hay and forage equipment producer. She thinks that Ag Media Summit is a chance for her company to engage with the media and develop relationships with them.
“The folks here are the ones who tell our story, both to farmers and ranchers around the world and the greater public,” Reese said. “We use this conference to build relationships, to network and to make sure that we know who the right person is to share the information that we think the public needs to know.”
Coral Graszer, an account manager with the public relations firm Karwoski and Courage, attended the conference to help promote her client, Kinze Manufacturing. Graszer said that she likes to meet all the students and new talent that attend the conference each year. “We’re coming in and people are really interested in the industry,” Graszer said. “Students are going to be the ones who are shaping it, so we love to get to be here and chat with them.”
Each year, students from across the country attend Ag Media Summit as representatives of their ACT chapters. ACT holds a business meeting at the event, but the highlight of the conference for students is the chance to mingle with industry leaders and build new connections and skills to take them into their career.
Katrina Buerger is a senior studying ag communications at Texas A&M and attended the conference for the first time this year. She said the biggest takeaway from the conference was the advice and stories from other professionals in the industry.
“As I get closer to reaching the end of my college career I have begun to stress about how to find a job, where to look, when to start applying,” Buerger said. “I don’t even have a clear idea of what I want to do. By being at this conference you are opened up to the opportunity to learn about the diverse jobs available in our industry and you are also able to easily network with those professionals and have some of your questions answered.”
Hannah Miller, a recent graduate from Texas A&M and former National ACT officer, has attended the conference many times and thinks that networking is the most important thing you can do at Ag Media Summit. “Never take the opportunity to network at Ag Media Summit lightly. The conference allows for so many easy networking opportunities, it’s practically impossible to not meet someone new,” Miller said.
Tom Brand works with the National Association of Farm Broadcasting, another ag media organization that helps students make industry connections, and supports students getting involved in their industry during their college career. “It’s such a networking opportunity and you never know where some of these connections might take you in the future,” Brand said.
Kyle Schmidt joined ACT during his time studying ag communications and journalism at Texas A&M. “I believe that every student in the college of agriculture should join at least one organization that focuses on professional development within their respective industry,” Schmidt said. “It gives them an opportunity to network with other students that have similar interests. The agricultural industry is one big community and organizations like ACT bring us closer together.”
“Being in ACT gave me the opportunity to ask questions to people working in the career field I wanted to be in,” Miller said. “It allowed me to understand how vast opportunities are within agriculture communications, which is something I didn’t always understand.”
Buerger comes from an agriculture background, but was surprised at how many diverse job opportunities there are in the ag media industry.
“It is more than writing articles and taking photos. You are opened up to a whole world of jobs that anyone can do,” Buerger said. “If you want to dive deep in to agriculture you can work for the various seed and equipment companies. If you want to work from a government standpoint you have USDA and other boards that focus on specific areas of agriculture.”
Emmali Pankonien, a junior ag communications student, also attended the conference and was impressed by the diversity of the ag media industry.
“Working in the beef industry is my dream job, but the agriculture industry is so diverse. Sometimes I get so focused on the beef industry and forget about all the other job opportunities there could be,” Pankonien said.
“If you’re like me, you love agriculture but you also enjoy the opportunity to learn about other things, so maybe working for a firm that allows you to work with a variety of different clients is your fit,” Buerger said. “I think by learning about the job opportunities out there and how diverse the jobs are, it has helped me to reevaluate what I want to specialize in after I graduate, which in turn, allows me to have a better idea of where to search when looking for jobs.”
Ag Media Summit, or any opportunity to build connections with peers or leaders in your industry, is an invaluable experience. Students and professionals alike agree that networking and learning more about your industry can really widen your sphere of knowledge and further your career. It’s important to be involved and active in your industry, and for the ag media sector, Ag Media Summit is the premiere event.
“Whether you’re a student or a professional in the industry, you never stop learning and the best way to gain information about your industry is to meet and talk with other professionals in your industry. ACT and AMS are both great ways of doing so,” Buerger said.