The ‘contact sport’ US agriculture needs to play harder

With a turn of a phrase, agricultural leaders at a recent meeting charged farmers and agribusiness personnel to dive harder into one of the country’s toughest sports.

With a turn of a phrase, agricultural leaders at a recent meeting charged farmers and agribusiness personnel to dive harder into one of the country’s toughest sports.

Across the board, the speakers at the Southern Crop Protection Association annual meeting Nov. 6-7 said now is the time for U.S. agriculture — farmers and agribusiness industry in unison if possible —  to standout and actively communicate with consumers and policymakers of all flavors.

Riffing off the main theme of the SCPA meeting, “It’s in your hands,” speakers included American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall (the meeting took place in Duvall’s hometown of Greensboro, Ga.), Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Gary Black, Mississippi Commissioner of Agriculture Cindy Hyde-Smith, CropLife America CEO Jay Vroom, SCPA President Steve Williams (Albaugh LLC), SCPA Executive Director Jeff Cassaday and several other agribusiness leaders.

Pointing to new White House leadership and what looks to be a shifting regulatory attitude toward agriculture, the time is now to make a cordial but forcible charge to tell consumers and policymakers, “Yes, that’s right,” or to say “No, that’s wrong, and let me tell you why it’s wrong.”

All speakers alluded to it, but perhaps Gary Black, Georgia’s agriculture commissioner, turned the phrase best when he called public ag policy discourse a tough "contact sport." He held up his mobile smart phone and said the best way to play that game is "in your hands." The contacts of local, state and federal representation should be in your phone, he challenged the audience. Call. Email. Text. Do all three. Do all three and maybe still do the ol’ go-see-in-person trick play, too.

In many ways consumers and policymakers are confused about modern agriculture — from GMOs to organic labeling to gluten-free water to milk-free chickens — they often don’t even know they are confused. There is an unfortunate irony today: Average consumers still hold U.S. farmers, individually speaking, in the highest regard, but at the same time those consumers cast critical eyes on the methods in which their food gets made, or how farmers should run farms. Consumer opinions are swayed by groups that do not necessarily hold U.S. agriculture in the highest regard.

True, many who spoke at the SCPA meeting get paid full time to represent and champion, at least in part, the U.S. agriculture industry or farmers, and they are charged to stand on the scrimmage line of the contact game, rallying the troops, sparking the base, or kicking some [email protected]# as needed. They carry their mantles enthusiastically well. But if a policymaker can look over the shoulder of someone positively representing agriculture’s interests and see behind them more like-minded folks staunchly standing, well, that contact has a memorable punch — carries more weight.

We’ve heard before the mantra Get involved. It’s nothing new. My cynical side tells me why bother; it won’t make a difference. But then my practical side says, it couldn’t hurt and why not give it a try.

A whiff of the air indicates a turning point is coming for U.S. agriculture soon, if we’re not already at the crossroads, and that sense is not due solely to the volatile political dialogue that crams our TVs and minds. Seems over the last few years, we’ve taken a deep political and social breath in regard to agriculture in the U.S. It’s time to blow that breath out and guide which way the wind blows. A lot can be gained, or a lot can be lost.

If you have an opinion on where U.S. farm policy, regulations or politics should go now or in the future, don’t just follow the discussion. Get involved in it. There’s a passel of people who don’t share your opinions or sentiments toward agriculture, or your farm, and they know well how to play the contact sport.

Good luck. Take care, and thanks for reading.

A side note: If you didn’t know, SCPA is considered the primary organization representing the crop protection industry and related trades in the South, including 95 percent of the firms that manufacture, formulate or distribute crop protection products in 15 southern states.

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