One of the attributes of farming that is prized by farmers is self-reliance. Until recently, this characteristic of farmers was born of necessity. Farmers found themselves working far from town and, if there was a problem, they were the only ones around to fix it. Today things are different. If you have an equipment problem, a mobile phone call to your dealer can have him logging into your equipment remotely, diagnosing the problem, and sometimes even fixing it. Farmers can now track markets and weather around the world with their tablets from the front seat of their trucks. Not only has technology reduced the need to doing it all yourself, the problems we are facing in agriculture now requires a different approach.
Some of the biggest challenges farmers face today cannot be solved by individual effort but only by a well-planned group effort. Regulations, from federal EPA mandates to local zoning board rulings, cannot be effectively addressed individually, but only as part of a large group.
Farm groups are not new. The Grange was formed in 1867 as an agricultural advocacy group. Then came Co-ops and Farm Bureau, organizations offering financial benefits to farmers who banded together. Organizations representing specific crops formed to foster improvements to the production of those crops and to expand markets. Checkoff programs pooled farmers’ investments in new research, product development, and market promotion. But, changing times require a new approach, one that will stretch even more the concept of self-reliance.
The coalition is the new model. This is a group of very different groups who share a common goal. While agriculture still has strong political muscle, the fact that farmers represent such a small segment of the population means we need help in getting our message out. On issues like clean water, property rights, trade, biotechnology, immigration, taxes, and a host of others, we have the same goals as a very diverse group, many of whom we have not worked with in the past. Yet, finding ways to work with these groups is crucial to our success.
This approach is relevant, not only in Washington but in your local county seat. There are organizations in your area who you may have not worked with in the past. But, if you share some common goals, the time to connect is before you have a crisis. As John Donne said, “No man is an island, Every man is a piece of the continent.” Agriculture is something that touches many people and many sectors of our society and economy. Building coalitions with some of the groups we touch is vital for all of our survival.
By Gary Truitt