Talking Tough – 4 Tips for Advocating for Agriculture

Story by Melea Reicks Licht

Image contributed

Martha Smith is good at getting her point across. So good in fact, her skills earned her a national title, a new truck and recognition on the floor of the Colorado Senate.

Smith (’04 ag business, international ag) won the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Young Farmers and Ranchers Discussion Meet in January in Nashville, Tennessee. Her prize included a new Ford truck and her national title earned her a tribute from the General Assembly at the Colorado State Capitol on January 31.

“Martha was an outstanding representative for Colorado and for young farmers and ranchers across the country,” says Chad Vorthmann, executive vice president of the Colorado Farm Bureau. “It is talented people like her who will lead the agriculture industry into the next generation and help us continue to feed people around the world.”

Smith, who was raised on a sixth-generation family farm in Lexington, Virginia, is an area business manager for the Channel brand of seed for Monsanto in Kansas, Colorado and Wyoming. She’s held several positions with Monsanto since graduating from Iowa State including work as a seed quality supervisor in Michigan, operations supervisor in Hawaii and director of government affairs in the southeastern U.S. just prior to her current role.

Smith says it’s the people that draw her to Farm Bureau conferences and contests.

“I appreciate the opportunity to dig into the issues impacting agriculture and hear different views from around the country. But, it’s really about the network you meet while competing and hearing other perspectives. I wish there were more forums for that in agriculture,” Smith says.

Smith credits her Iowa State agricultural business mentors emeritus professor Jim Kliebenstein and professor Ron Deiter with leading by example.

“Dr. Kliebenstein’s ability to listen and to make a point was a great example to me. I grew up on a cattle farm. I was all about cows. Jim encouraged me to check out the grain industry in such a positive way. He showed me how to disarm someone in a very safe way and challenge them to think differently. Thanks to his suggestion I’m where I am today,” Smith says. “Dr. Deiter is almost the exact opposite. He’ll flat out challenge you. Their two different styles, and their passion really stuck with me.”

An effective advocate for Iowa State, Smith is a member of the college’s young alumni program—the Curtiss League— and serves on the board for the Iowa State University Alumni Association Club in Denver.

“Iowa State and Farm Bureau are how I make connections after corporate relocations,” Smith says.

Smith offers a few of her favorite tips for engaging in productive discussions:

1. NETWORK “Don’t be afraid to reach out to people even if you don’t know them well. Connect with experts to learn about their areas of expertise.”

2. LISTEN “Make sure everyone’s views are heard. That moment of vulnerability could result in greater good for the discus- sion, project or the entire company. If I’m sitting at a table and everyone agrees then
I know someone is missing from the table.”

3. EMPATHIZE “Take a step back and try to understand the other point of view. When I was a lobbyist I spent a lot of time trying to understand the other side. You won’t connect with them if you haven’t figured out why they think the way they do.”

4. VOCALIZE “It’s all about learning and building consensus while being prepared to be challenged. Challenging isn’t always negative.”