National Agriculture Day is officially run by the Agricultural Council of America. The primary focus of ACA is to “conduct the National Agriculture Day Program which occurs in March of every year.” ACA is a not-for-profit (501-c-6) organization and maintains the ACA Education Foundation which is an educational foundation (501-c-3) organization. These organizations are supported through a management contract with the National Agri-Marketing Association (NAMA). Funding comes from companies, associations, foundations and individuals. In short, National Ag Day is owned by what some refer to as “big ag”. All of the members of the ACA board of directors come large corporations, co-ops, farm organizations, and big ag media companies. All of this gives National Ag Day credibility, financial sustainability, and political clout. It also makes Ag Day a rather exclusive “good old boys” club.
The values of the ACA are laudable and general enough to garner support from all areas of the food system: “understand how food and fiber products are produced, appreciate the role agriculture plays in providing safe, abundant and affordable products, value the essential role of agriculture in maintaining a strong economy, and acknowledge and consider career opportunities in the agriculture, food and fiber industry.” These are values that everyone involved with or interested in food, fiber, and energy production should support. Yet, some of the sharpest and most vocal critics of agriculture are not part of the Ag Day celebration.
For all the talk of having a dialogue, there is still very much an “us vs. them” atmosphere in agriculture today. The “dialogue” that takes place on social media is caustic and vitriolic. Tweet a message about GMOs or post a positive statement about animal agriculture on your facebook page and you will soon be hit with messages calling you a murderer, a despicable human being, or (even worse) an apologist for Monsanto. While the US Farmers and Ranchers Alliance has been successful in bringing together opposing viewpoints for public dialogues about food and agriculture, for the most part there has been little dialogue between groups on major food issues. Food Tank, a web site that promotes sustainable and environmentally sensitive agriculture, does not even list Ag Day on their events calendar. A quick survey of the web sites of many of the sharpest critics of farmers also turns up no mention of National Ag Day.
The National Resources Defense Council did sent out a press release promoting an Ag Day event focused on reducing food waste, a cause that fits in well with the goals of National Ag Day. Yet, from the looks of things, NRDC and the ACA are not on speaking terms. While some efforts are being made by traditional ag groups to reach out to those who are opposed to modern agricultural methods, the reception has been less than warm. When a few ag companies tried to attend a New York Times sponsored food event last year, they were turned away. Many groups that support organic, non GMO, small farm, and local food production view large farms and agribusinesses as the enemy. Many have “it’s our way or no way” philosophies. For some groups, this is because these positions are very financially lucrative.
Yet, at some point, this demonization of “big ag” and the trivialization of the food movement needs to stop. There will need to be an acceptance of diversity in food production and an acceptance of the other side’s right to exist. National Ag Day could be a point where divergent groups come together and say agriculture — all agriculture — is important. National Ag Day could be a celebration of the American farmers, large and small, organic and biotech. Such a move could give consumers more confidence in all aspects of their food supply, and that benefits everyone.
By Gary Truitt