Be The Advocate

“I wonder who will speak for agriculture now?”

My good friend, Ford West of The Fertilizer Institute, spoke these words during our PACE Advisory Coun­cil meeting this past October in reference to the death of Dr. Norman Borlaug earlier this year.

I think the most immediate answer to that question is “no one.” Who in the world has the credentials to serve as a spokesperson with the same level of credibility as Dr. Borlaug? He did everything in his power, virtually right up to his death, to champion modern agriculture practices. But that voice — beyond the power his work and his influence continues to have through the initiatives and the people that carry his torch — has fallen silent.

It’s terribly unfortunate timing, as modern production agriculture continues to take body blows from extreme environmentalists bent on taking us back to the ox and cart. Then there’s the current regulatory, legislative, and judicial climate which, at least nationally, is hostile to production ag. Somehow, the whole of our work has become a problem in need of solving with, heaven forbid, all-organic production.

And that IS what they want — there is no final victory, no pragmatism, no sun-setting for any of these groups. They feel they have a license to exist until every pesticide is banned and we’re spreading nothing but poop across the Heartland.

Dealing with such delusion had been a minor annoyance to many of us, but given the times in which we live, I am encouraging all of you to take a stand. Perhaps none of you single-handedly saved 1 billion lives like our friend Dr. Borlaug, but together, working with your grower-customers, you have fed a billion-plus souls with safe, abundant, and affordable food. Despite our humble inclinations about the work we do, we should not put this shining light of a story under the bushel basket. It’s a story that needs sharing.

I know it’s hard because I deal with it, too. I live in suburban Cleveland, and on our community Web site and message board, there is often lots of ranting going on about food safety, biotech crops, and the evils of “big ag” as they like to call it. There are only a half-dozen or so true zealots who will post, so I have taken it upon myself to poke holes in some of the nonsense that would otherwise get legitimized by silence.

Why? The Lurkers. These are the people who go to these boards to check out what’s going on and get a lay of the land on an issue. On our board, when you post, you get a count of the number of times the post is viewed. If the first post gets, say, 50 views, and after I respond there’s 300, there’s 250 or so lurkers who’ve at least gotten an alternative view of the story.

Lurkers also attend public meetings and don’t ask questions, read papers and don’t write to the editor — thousands, millions of passive participants in democracy that you can influence, and feel good about influencing.

So who’s going to speak for agriculture? Who will take up the burden of Dr. Borlaug’s departure? The answer is each and every one of you.

Share your communication and advocacy success stories with me at paul@croplife.com and we will highlight them in CropLife® magazine and on www.croplife.com in 2010. Happy New Year!

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