ISA Chief Officer, Strategy & Brand Management

(Photo: Iowa Soybean Association / Joclyn Bushman)

Ditching labels

October 1, 2023 | Aaron Putze, APR

“Corporate farmer.” “Environmental polluter.” “Mega-producer.” “Greedy.”

If you’ve spent any time working in ag, you’ve likely heard one or more of these labels lobbed by some to describe farmers. If you’re a farmer or serve these dedicated families, you take umbrage to the generalizations, and rightfully so.

Young people aren’t immune to labels, either. “Lazy,” “narcissistic,” “disengaged,” and “entitled” are popular descriptives to paint a picture of Generation Alpha (those born after 2000). Just like the inaccurate portrayals of farmers, the broad characterization of today’s youth and young professionals is misguided.

I was reminded of this fact during a recent engagement with Leadership Iowa University (LIU) participants.

LIU group with Aaron Putze

A program of the Iowa Association of Business & Industry, LIU bridges the gap between school and career by connecting several dozen emerging leaders with a multitude of Iowa professionals while introducing them to diverse careers and experiences. The Iowa Soybean Association is a proud LIU sponsor. It’s one of several strategic partnerships ISA maintains to engage influencers about the relevance of soybeans and the farmers who grow and market them.

This was my sixth opportunity to speak to LIU. Each event has been rewarding but this year’s lively discussion, held on the second floor of George’s Pizza in uptown Pella, raised the bar.

The LIU class included students from Des Moines Area Community College, Drake University, William Penn, Central and Loras Colleges and Iowa and Iowa State Universities (to name a few). Students were focused, knowledgeable and inquisitive. They peppered me with questions about uses for soy, the reach of Iowa agricultural exports and increasing adoption of farming practices to reduce carbon emissions and improve soil and water quality.

One student eagerly provided details about research she’d completed on soy-based fuels. Others offered stories about just-completed internships that brought them closer to farmers. They inquired about career opportunities in agriculture and related fields. More than a dozen students handed me their business cards with a promise to connect via LinkedIn or Facebook.

Understanding the connectedness of agriculture, these students may call on these networks down the road for employment leads upon graduation.

It was dusk when we adjourned. As I traveled Highway 163 westward to my home in Waukee, I marveled at the brilliance of the sunset and the waves of golden tassels and fields carpeted with soybeans passing by. I also reveled in all that had just taken place: the smiles and high fives from students, their thoughtful questions and genuine desire to learn more about a soybean industry that sustains life, nourishes livestock, poultry, dairy and fish, fuels trucks, buses, trains, and planes, and warms homes.

I found myself reenergized about my chosen profession of serving farmers. And I was reminded why I relish being a member of team ISA. We intentionally seek conversation with all audiences. We engage with those who have a sincere interest in what farmers do and welcome questions about modern farming (check out We ignore labels and appreciate meaningful conversations. We’re passionate and enthusiastic about the world of soy and the lives it benefits.

And make no mistake, that passion and enthusiasm is contagious and will benefit agriculture and the soybean industry for generations.