A Dangerous Trade Off

Without question, these are extra-ordinary times. The nation is suffering from its worst economic downturn since the 1930s. From agriculture’s perspective, USDA is projecting net farm income — the lifeblood for grower-customers — will drop from the high $80-billion-range in 2008 to a mid $50-billion-mark.

Naturally, this state of the world has caused myriad ag-oriented businesses to pull in the reins and horde cash. Many have cut back on their expenses as a result, including advertising/marketing and trade association dues/involvement.

This kind of reminds me of what happens with homeowners during an extended drought. They typically stop watering the lawn and trees when the prospects for rain seem slim. Trouble is, when the drought ends, the lawn comes back rather quickly. A tree once dead, however, stays dead.

As with a water drought, economic droughts also end. Similar to the lawn/tree analogy, advertising/marketing dollars usually come back into the market very quickly. Trade association dues/involvement? Historically, that generally takes more time to recover.

Let me go on record as saying that cutting trade association involvement could have some very serious consequences in the long run. This is particularly true given the current state of uncertainty in the nation’s capital.

A quick glance at some of the issues currently making the rounds in Congress proves this point: Climate change, controlling emissions, reducing carbon footprints, protecting water quality, and energy needs. And many of these outcomes are all the more difficult to predict, say observers, with the extremely polarized agendas of Democrats and Republicans in play.

“I have followed ag policy in Wash­ington for over 40 years,” says Dr. Barry Flinchbaugh, professor of agricultural economics at Kansas State University. “I’ve never seen it more partisan and more mean-spirited.”

In this legislative climate, Dr. Ste­phen Johnson, former US EPA administrator, says it is very important for agriculture to be informed and involved in the legislative process. “The only way for ag not to be subject to regulations —and ridiculous regulations —is for you all to help get legislation that makes sense passed,” says Johnson. “Make sure you are taking part in the legislative process.”

Flinchbaugh agrees with this view. “There’s an old adage in the political world: You can either get into the tent and spit out or stand outside the tent and spit in,” he says. “If you do that, you will get spit on. We’ve got to get into this tent and help development this legislation.”

When it comes to being involved in Washington, trade associations are the easiest way for our industry to have its voice heard. The heads of these groups are skilled at protecting our industry from potentially harmful legislation. Given the evidence, now would be a very bad time to stop supporting trade associations and take our chances that lawmakers will do the right thing.

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