NYAAC’s 2024 Scholarship Recipients

May 2, 2024 | Announcements

NYAAC received nearly 20 applications this year for their Animal Agriculture Advocacy Scholarship! Of those, two were selected to receive $750 to support them while continuing their education.

This opportunity is open to New York residents who will be actively engaged in a college education, either as a first-year college student or beyond OR non-NY residents attending an NYS University as a full-time student; majoring in an academic program related to Production Animal Agriculture; Agriculture Education, Agriculture Communications, Agricultural Business, Animal Science, or similar.

Part of NYAAC's mission as an organization is advocating for animal agriculture. By offering opportunities to young people in the industry, future advocates are supported and encouraged to continue their efforts.

This year, NYAAC added a question to the application, asking those who applied to describe a challenge facing the animal agriculture industry and how they would advocate for change. This year's recipients, Elsie Donlick and Lilly Mills answered this question extremely well.

Here are their responses – 

Elsie Donlick: I feel that the biggest challenges facing animal agriculture today is the competition of foods made from plant based alternatives, animal welfare concerns, and environmental concerns. Whether this be the competition of plant based beverages or lab grown beef, production animal agriculture faces some big challenges with keeping consumers interested in their products. 

While anyone involved in agriculture knows the benefits of real, farm raised animal food products, it can be challenging for some consumers to see this perspective. Additionally, consumers are becoming increasingly more aware of where their food comes from, and want to know that it is raised sustainably and the animals are cared for properly. Therefore, I feel that it is important for consumers to be informed about the health benefits of foods produced from real animals, how animals are really cared for on farms, and what farmers do to care for the environment. 

To create a more informed consumer who feels confident and comfortable buying foods made with real animal products, I hope to be able to have conversations with people about the benefits of foods made with animal products and what actually happens on farms. I also want to be able to help debrief some common misconceptions about animal welfare. 

In the future, I hope to be able to advocate for animal agriculture by having conversations with people about the science that supports the health benefits of real animal products. 

By continuing my education in a science field, in addition to learning about production animal agriculture, I want to be able to learn more about the science of why real animal foods are better than plant based or lab grown alternatives and how farmers stay environmentally sustainable. I hope to be able to share on social media or through everyday conversations with people about the benefits of animal agriculture to them and the world. 

Lilly Mills: The largest challenges facing animal agriculture today include a declining number and increasing average age of animal producers, combined with consumers who are now two to three generations removed from the farm that demand complete transparency of their food production. 

It is imperative that those of us involved in agriculture at any level are advocating through many different platforms so our practices can be better understood. 

According to the 2022 US Agricultural Census, the average age of animal producers in the United States is 58.1 years old, an increase of 0.6 years since the 2017 Census.  In addition, there are 1.9 million farms and ranches (down 7% from 2017).  What does this mean?  There are fewer direct producer voices to advocate and tell agriculture’s story.  

Having a producer discuss their own operation and how they care for the cattle, land and people is powerful.  It is therefore important to engage a larger percentage of younger producers to advocate.  The 2022 Census also shared that the number of producers under age 35 was 296,480, comprising 9% of all producers. The 221,233 farms with young producers making decisions tend to be larger than average in both acres and sales.  This group of younger producers represents 0.08% of the US population!  These are the voices that we need to show up, speak up and step up to advocate and share our messaging via several platforms, including in person events, social media and in print. 

Getting the next generation of animal producers to take the lead on advocating for agriculture will be imperative because our consumers have had less exposure to farms. Instead of reminiscing with a consumer about working or visiting their parents or grandparents farm, we are now faced with consumers who can’t remember visiting a farm or are at least three generations removed from “the farm life.”  The consumers who do remember visiting a farm know that farm probably doesn’t look like the farm they drive past today, which is larger, has more equipment, more cows, manure storage and technology.  There is a fear that the farm of today looks like a factory.  

Our consumers also demand to know exactly how animals are managed.  Thus, having producers do short video clips of their farms to explain the why behind animal, land and people management is critical to build trust with a consumer who doesn’t have any farm experience. 

Utilizing social media, in person (come meet your farmer at the fair!) and print can help share and multiply our agricultural messages since there are fewer producers to advocate.

"We are very proud to help and support these two young ladies as they begin their collegiate journeys and continue to advocate for animal agriculture!" – Hannah Johnson, NYAAC Communications Manager