She’s leading out loud
DAYTON – Some say each action in a person’s relationships with others is like a brick. Each brick can either be used to build a foundation or a wall.
As the Iowa Soybean Association’s New Leader Award winner, Kellie Blair said she is using her bricks to build a foundation of trust between farmers and their non-farm friends.
“Agriculture is the root of everything in life,” said Blair, 30, who farms with her husband, AJ, near Dayton, where they raise corn, soybeans, hogs and dairy calves. “I want to help people gain a greater understanding and respect for farming.”
The New Leader Award, presented by DuPont Pioneer, recognizes an ISA member’s involvement and commitment to promoting the soybean industry and agriculture.
In addition to her work as an agronomist with The Maschhoffs LLC environmental department, Blair writes her “Home Again Finnegan” blog to share stories of her family’s farm, where she and her husband are rearing their two children, Wyatt, 4, and Charlotte, 2.
Maschoffs LLC is one of the largest family-owned pork production networks in North America.
The Blairs have also hosted farm tours, including the 2013 Soyfoods Council’s Iowa farm and food tour in July, which included leading food bloggers, cookbook authors, dietitians and other key influencers.
“Like most farmers, we want to be the ones to tell our story, instead of letting someone else tell it,” said Blair, who volunteers with Common Ground, which connects consumers with the farm women who grow their food. “That means inviting people out to our farm and letting them see everything that’s involved.
“Plus, the tours help us gain a better understanding of consumers’ concerns.”
Blair’s humility and quiet confidence attract those who want to learn more about crop and livestock production in Iowa, said Carol Balvanz, who served as mentor to Blair and her fellow classmates in the ISA’s 2013 Ag-Urban Leadership Initiative.
“Kellie is a positive, energetic young leader,” Balvanz said, “who sees the big picture of agriculture’s value to Iowa’s economy and environment.”
Balvanz said she was impressed by Blair’s presentation to state legislators and media who visited the Blair farm during the ISA’s Environmental Discovery Tour in October.
“Kellie was excited to talk to a non-farm audience,” Balvanz said, “about the technology and economics involved in modern crop and livestock farming.
“Her sincere commitment to her family’s future in production ag makes her an outstanding spokesperson for all of agriculture.”
Rooted in the land
Blair’s interest in agriculture began when she was growing up on her family’s Century Farm near Pisgah in western Iowa.
As a high school student, she considered a medical career, but decided she wanted to work outdoors.
“I knew I wanted to work in agriculture,” Blair said, “but I didn’t realize how deep this passion ran.” She cites her parents, grandparents and husband as her biggest influences.
After earning her bachelor’s degrees in forestry and agronomy from Iowa State University in December 2006, Blair accepted a job with The Maschhoffs.
As a certified crop advisor and technical service provider with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Blair covers western Iowa, providing technical assistance to The Maschhoffs’ production partners, from writing swine manure management plans to assisting with neighbor relations.
Blair also plays a key role in her family’s farming operation, where she and AJ custom-feed hogs and background Holstein dairy calves for a dairy near Salix.
The Blairs also raise corn and soybeans with two neighbors, Don Sandell and Ivan Hollman. The Blairs include a wide range of conservation practices in their operation, from no-till and strip-tillage to cover crops that limit erosion and enhance soil health.
“We care about soil and water quality, and we think it’s important to take a voluntary approach to the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy,” Blair said. “This is a very important opportunity for farmers to show that we don’t need legislation to make changes, and that we are willing to help improve water quality.”
During the 2013 Environmental Discovery Tour, the Blairs highlighted their use of technology to manage nutrient applications and protect water quality.
“We wanted to show that our farming operation is constantly changing,” Blair said, “as we learn new things and look for ways to improve.”
Speaking up for ag
As she tells agriculture’s story, Blair isn’t afraid to share her perspective on hot-button issues like genetically modified organisms, which have sparked questions at farm tours and social media conversations.
“People are asking about GMOs and labeling, so I emphasize how GMOs help us protect water quality by letting us use reduced tillage and fewer chemicals and pesticides,” Blair said.
Farmers have countless opportunities like this to speak up for agriculture, added Blair, who looks forward to leading the way.
“It’s a huge honor to receive the New Leader Award,” she said. “It means I have a lot of work to do, but I’m motivated to build on our successes and do more.”
To learn more about Blair and follow her blog, log onto homeagainfinnegan.blogspot.com.