There’s little debate that Jay Vroom, the recently retired President of CropLife America, arrived in Washington, DC, in 1989 amidst a whirlwind of change.
This was 10 years ahead of my start here at the magazine, but the oral history that’s been imparted to me, along with a glance back at some back issues of the magazine, paint quite a picture.
I spun the time machine back to October 1986 and found an editorial written by Charlotte Sine, longtime editor of this publication, titled, “Will NACA Make the Right Turn?” The editorial essentially encapsulated a speech given by Carl Kensil, outgoing Chairman of the National Agricultural Chemical Association (NACA), forerunner to CropLife America.
Rather than the usual milquetoast sign-off speech typically delivered by a departing association leader, Kensil launched into a laundry list of needed change at the association. Among his key points was endorsing significant resource investment in its public affairs program.
Sine wrote: “NACA is at a crossroads in public affairs, Kensil declared. ‘The direction we take may come down to one of two choices: providing enough financial and other resources to assure our message is heard, or stop spending because our signal is too weak.’”
Kensil continued, “While the public may be reluctant to accept more scientific education, there are some messages we must try to get them to understand.”
Sine concluded, “Yes, NACA is at a crossroads in its public information program. The direction it takes will impact far beyond its membership to all of agriculture.”
Stop me if this all sounds familiar. Anyway, slide the time machine a couple notches to 1989, and you find the industry mired in the “Alar Scare,” which served to codify pesticide opposition and demonstrate the giant chasm between scientific and emotional arguments with consumers and food.
It was under this shadow, among many other challenges, that Vroom took over. And working with his chairmen and leadership over the decades, the communication and public affairs aspects of the association’s work vastly improved and can be marked as one of several important accomplishments over which Vroom presided.
However, as we all know, the work is far from done, and the challenges are once again growing. The recent sweep of membership consolidation will impact financial and professional resources from member companies at a time when resources are greatly needed. Regulatory and legislative issues and challenges from Endangered Species to Clean Water and beyond will need ongoing shepherding.
And, hot off the presses, the court’s $289 million judgment against Monsanto regarding glyphosate delivers a potentially enormous blow to the industry from both financial and public perception standpoints.
As Chris Novak takes over for Vroom, he will have the benefit of a strong, seasoned team on his side. He has experience with taking organizations through uncomfortable but necessary change.
It’s a comfort, if a dubious one, to know that we’ve been here before and survived. Here’s wishing Chris all the best as he leads CropLife America through some likely difficult times ahead.