A Year Of Learning

Well, it’s the last column of the year, and I find myself writing this as I sit alone in a hotel room at the end of yet another event. This is my third morning here, and I am just now realizing my window provides an amazing view of a pink and orange sunrise over palm trees and extravagant coral buildings here in St. Petersburg. If I was still 19 years old, I could open the window and hurl a baseball into Tampa Bay, but I never really got closer to it than I am now.

As I get older I find myself lamenting it more when I miss opportunities to stop and smell the roses. Duty so often calls and when responsibility sits square on your shoulders it can be difficult to break away. But there’s a lot of value (and there should not be any guilt!) in taking time for a little fun amid the work.

It’s been a year full of learning and lessons for me, as I’m sure it has for you. Here are some random thoughts from me on the past year.

Think about your business. I was sitting at the CropLife America meeting with industry expert Ron Farrell, and we got to talking about future planning, and whether retailers are prepared to sustain their businesses in the long-term.

Ron finally looked at me and said, “Paul, retailers don’t spend near enough time closing the door, turning off the phone, shutting off the e-mail and just thinking about the business. Every retailer should be dedicating six hours a week to doing nothing but thinking about the business.

I have been working on it, and it is hard to do. Ron says he does a lot of that thinking in the car between appointments. Maybe the hardest part is not feeling like you are wasting time not doing actual “work.” But if you’re at the top of the management food chain, no one else is going to do that thinking for you. City people are dumb. Alright, dumb is a really strong word. But I have had some recent frustrations talking to people in my urban metropolis who have absolutely no clue where their food comes from, and who put all their faith in the words of people who extoll organic.

I find myself getting angry at chefs and dieticians who go on TV and insist that the only food that matters is organic and locally grown, leaving watchers with the message that anything less is destroying your body.

It makes it all the more important that all of us make an effort to share our positive stories about the work we do. I do my best here in Cleveland to represent agriculture — I would encourage you to do the same.

Food Inc. Lied! Tami Craig-Schilling, director of technology communications at Monsanto, gave an inspired speech here at the Ag Gateway Conference on sustainability in agriculture. But perhaps the most memorable part of the talk was when she mentioned her encounter with the producers of the anti-agriculture movie “Food Inc.”

“When they say Monsanto refused to work with them I can assure you, they are not telling the truth,” said Craig-Schilling. “Because I got the e-mail.”

Conversely, the producers refused an invitation to come to Monsanto, as well as the chance to meet real farmers at the annual Commodity Classic conference.

Hope you had a fruitful year, and I wish for you a relaxing and enjoyable holiday season!

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