Ag Issues Forum: Looking For Connections

For the past eight years, select visitors to the annual Commodity Classic show who’ve shown up early have had the chance to attend the Ag Issues Forum. Hosted by Bayer CropScience, the Forum typically covers many of the key topics and issues facing agriculture. In 2013, this included consumer activism, global food trends and sustainability.

“Ag Issues Forum is a signature event in U.S. agriculture,” said David Hollinrake, vice president, agricultural commercial operations marketing for the company. “It brings together leaders with wide-ranging interests and viewpoints to discuss, and gain understanding about, agriculture’s vital stake in a fast-growing world.”

In kicking off the 2013 event, moderator Frank Sesno, director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at The George Washington University, echoed these sentiments, pointing to the industry’s lack of a positive public image as a key problem. “I’ve had the chance to speak with many of this event’s speakers,” said Sesno, “and the one theme I’ve heard over and over again is how there exists a disconnect between agriculture and the public.”

Speaker Michelle Payn-Knoper, author of the book “No More Food Fights,” emphasized this very point by actually breaking a small plate before beginning her presentation. “I did that to make you realize that the plate is indeed broken between the farm and food sides of the public,” said Payn-Knoper. “It’s a very real challenge for us in agriculture to talk about ourselves because we think that we are too busy taking care of our crops and livestock to do so.”

But folks in agriculture need to speak up for themselves, she said. “The reality is for agriculture that if your voice is not in the conservation somehow, someone else is probably speaking on your behalf,” said Payn-Knoper. “But we need to speak and try to connect on the senses with the public when it comes to making decisions on their food.”

Bee Concerns

Another key topic discussed at the 2013 Ag Issues Forum was the health of America’s honeybee populations, particularly when it comes to addressing Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). At present, there are several different theories on the causes of CCD, which include viruses, parasitic mites and chemicals (although there is no consensus cause among researchers).

Even though this affliction of honeybees dates back to the 1860s, said David Westervelt, apiary inspection assistant chief, Florida Bureau of Plant and Apiary Inspection, it has become particularly troublesome during the past six years. “In 2012, it looks as if approximately 40% of the country’s bee colonies were lost,” said Westervelt. “In Florida, our losses were slight, only around 25%. But in the Midwest, it looks like 80% to 90% of the bee colonies were lost, in part because of the severe drought that took place.”

To educate agriculture about this issue, Bayer CropScience has launched a mobile Bee Care Tour unit, making stops across the Corn Belt this spring. “Through our mobile Bee Care Tour, Bayer will foster interaction directly with supporters of bee health across the country to heighten discussion, increase awareness regarding good stewardship practices and encourage the sharing of ideas,” said Robyn Kneen, Bayer CropScience bee health project manager.

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