Country Corner

Organize against the storm

It's time for agriculture to unify in its own defense

You'll see on the last page of this magazine that MFA's president and CEO, Bill Streeter, has cataloged what looks to be a perfect storm against the interests of agriculture. Given that you receive this publication, his concerns are probably yours as well. Agriculture is increasingly at risk from those who either don't
understand it or, indeed, would have it diminished.

It may seem tangential, but Streeter's outlook on the passing scene reminds me of my time a decade ago in the UK on agricultural tour with Missouri's ag leadership program, Agricultural Leadership of Tomorrow.

We were working our way from that isle's bottom to top and back again when we stopped at a country fair. The fair was a cross of your county fair, a farm show and an amalgamation of hunting enthusiast groups. At the fair was a strong contingent of people who belonged to an association called the Countryside Alliance. They'd gathered to agitate against a proposed ban on fox hunting. The alliance was familiar. Its members could just as well have been people you know in Farm Bureau, your local Soil and Water Conservation District and a batch of commodity group members.

The alliance had gathered to oppose lawmakers in London, who,  pushed by animal rights groups, had unified the urban vote toward a hunting ban. The tradition of fox hunting with bugle, hound and steed had been turned into a campaign of class envy. It was the perfect storm for the fox hunter.

Arguments against the ban and its outcomes seem familiar for today's farmer and rural residents stateside: there would be job losses; there would be good dogs put down; there was an assault on tradition; it was a slippery slope.

I bring up the UK's proposed fox hunting ban, which was passed and is law today, because I so vividly remember the hound keeper at the fair. He'd brought his fox hounds to the event and released them among a group of school children. The dogs ran out, tails wagging and tongues lashing. These hounds gladly soaked up the childrens' giggling affection and received an unparalleled petting. It was a lovely scene. So, yes, the hound keeper's goal was reached. He showed his dogs to be perfectly well-behaved creatures.

He proved his dogs ranked somewhere below savage monsters. It was top-notch public relations. Yet the ban was passed, and not long after, he was an outlaw and his dogs worthless and a burden. I bring this up to illustrate that tradition can fail. It can be usurped. Common sense becomes nonsense through different eyes. And agriculture, which up until recently was held in high esteem even by non-farmers, can be influenced by outside agendas.

Streeter's points on page 28 are valid. It's hard to look in any one direction and not see a threat to life on the farm. We ought to take seriously any moves toward cap-and-trade, the trashing of Capper-Volstead and a increasingly radical EPA. In fact, we ought to organize against all of those things.

The UK's Countryside Alliance was a diverse group of what we'd call farmers and ranchers along with members of the ag industry and hunting groups. They coalesced to stave off an emotional group of anti-hunters, animal rights groups and what I call the detached urban vote. And they failed. I'm not sure they ever had a chance.

These days in Britain, it's a fight over badgers. Badgers are a reservoir for tuberculosis that can move into cattle herds. And farmers want to organize a badger cull to help protect livestock. But badgers are cute. And cute lobbies better than alliances of farmers or anyone else that would threaten a bright-eyed badger.

A couple weeks ago, a new coalition of ag groups was formed. It's in its infant stages right now, but the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance aims to represent a wide swath of agriculture and rural residents. It's a big-tent group with the intent of representing more than a few branches of commodities or ag special
interest. And it should be interesting to watch.

Hopefully it can become a unified voice for agriculture. If so, it will be unique. Aggies have been cursed too long with a tendency toward fratricide. We can no longer afford such infighting or making enemies among ourselves.

In fact, if you stand up for what you believe and your way of life, you'll find that you have had plenty of enemies all along. 

You'll get this magazine deep into an election season during which much of the political chatter has concerned "new movements" and "tectonic shifts."

Let's make one of them be a new cooperation among all groups and members of agriculture. If the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance fails in doing that, we need to build one that can.

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