Category: Executive Notes (page 1 of 2)

By The Numbers

August 21st 2017 will be remembered by many in Oregon for the total solar eclipse we experienced.  As for me, I’ll remember that day by the numbers.  My wife Lisa and I gathered two other families from our suburban neighbourhood, including five children under the age of twelve, and drove fortyfive minutes to our family farm in Amity.  The intent was to give everyone the best view of a once in a lifetime event by camping out in the middle of a field.

We arrived at the farm about three p.m. on Sunday the twentieth. We immediately pitched five tents, ate three beer-can chickens and devoured twenty s’mores.  We slept about six hours, conveniently being woke up by the volunteer fire department siren at two a.m. and the neighbor’s dog regurgitating a chicken bone at four-thirty.  After the news helicopter did a flyover at five-thirty I trekked five hundred feet to the house and made five cups of coffee.  We passed the rest of the morning with breakfast and talking about what to expect with the eclipse.

Shortly after nine, with the ISO-approved eclipse glasses in hand, we began to watch the moon slowly overtake the sun.  About every five minutes I would look up and ask myself what percent of the sun was covered and when it would start getting darker.  What amazed me was how bright the sky stayed even though more than ninety percent of the sun was behind the moon!  As totality occurred I couldn’t help but feel a surreal and awestruck sense that I had never felt before.  Standing in the middle of a valley and seeing a three hundred-sixty degree sunset is something I won’t soon forget.  Everyone in the group was in a strange elevated state of giddiness.

One of the mothers thanked me with great enthusiasm for inviting them to the farm and said she hadn’t had so much fun in forever! I didn’t think much of it at the moment, since after the eclipse I thought it would be a good idea to put in a half day’s work. I took off toward St. Paul, which is normally a thirty minute drive.  Three hours and two road closures later I arrived at work.

Reflecting on the eclipse and traffic-o-geddon, it wasn’t the three hour drive that stuck out to me.  It was how much power the sun had with only a tiny percentage of energy getting to earth.  It reminds me of the power that two percent of the US workforce has as it engages in agriculture, and how rarely the other ninety-eight percent has a chance to spend one day on the farm like that suburban mother and her two children.

That’s three people, and yet that one day shared with them had a huge impact.

Regardless of whether it’s a cosmic event like the eclipse, a planned Adopt a Farmer tour or a barn dance, people with limited farm exposure are more open to seeing the power of farming when they’re on the farm.  My new goal is to get all of my urban acquaintances on the farm—one visit at a time.  The farm has tremendous power! Maybe we owe part of it to the sun.

Jeff Freeman, President

Until We Meet Again

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Nearly 11 years to the day that I accepted the Agri-Business Council of Oregon Executive Director position, I notified the Oregon Aglink Board of Directors of my resignation. I have accepted an opportunity to become the CEO of Oregon Hazelnut Industries. This new challenge excites me, and I am more than a little humbled that I was selected for the position. None of it would be possible without the support I’ve received from so many people.

We’ve accomplished a lot over the past 11 years, and it’s all because of the dedicated people I’ve had a chance to work with. That dedication showed during the interview led by Dick Severson, who was the volunteer president of the Agri-Business Council of Oregon for three years. His passion was evident throughout the process, but a bond was already starting between Dick and I during that interview. Oregon State was about to play in their first-ever College World Series championship against North Carolina. Near the conclusion of my interview Dick got serious, looked me in the eye and said “this is the most important question of the interview… who are you rooting for tonight?” I got serious, looked him in the eye, and said “I am wearing a powder blue tie for a reason. Go Ducks!”

Somehow I still got the job.

Outside of the executive committee, Dick was the first person I called to notify about my transition. More than a decade later, despite a serious battle with cancer that he beat down, he still sits on the Aglink board and is an active Adopt a Farmer participant. That’s dedication.

Not everything in my personal life has gone according to plan. A couple years later it was apparent that my marriage was not going to survive. It’s funny where you can find solace at a time like that. When things were looking bleakest I had to drive to Baker City to present at the Oregon Cattlemen Association’s summer meeting. Bill Levy was a new executive committee member then and agreed to make the trip with me. You really get to know somebody when you’re stuck in a car together for 6.5 hours, and I’m sure Bill got much more than he signed up for on that trip. I’ll never forget his sage advice and willingness to listen. Bill continues to be an important sounding board for me to this day.

 A few years later my son was born. Obviously, a lot in life had happened between divorce and a newborn. We’ll have to catch up over some great Oregon hops if you want the whole story, but it was a life-changing event to be 40 and dad for the first time. As I was trying to figure out how to be a dad, my own father was losing his battle with muscular dystrophy. It was an emotional time for me, but Amy Doerfler, Molly McCargar, Terry Ross and others were always there checking in on me. When dad finally lost the good fight, the outpouring of support and flowers was overwhelming to both me and my mom who had never met these amazing people.

Over the past decade we’ve done some pretty cool things. Some of those accomplishments include changing name of the organization, launching the Adopt a Farmer program, creating the “I am Oregon Agriculture” campaign, developing a successful social media platform, and nearly quadrupling attendance of Denim & Diamonds. None of it happens without some very talented people I’ve had work for me. Mallory Phelan, Julie Schiele, Julie Pederson, Danielle Meyersick and Misty Kaihani in particular. When you work in a small office you get to know people on a more personal level. Not only are these ladies extremely dedicated to their craft, they are kind, generous and giving human beings that made coming to work every day a fun environment to be around.

This organization is positioned well for the next executive director to take it to even greater heights. Not because of anything that I’ve done, but because of the people who care about the mission, the industry and each other. It really is a family.

Today, much of my life revolves around the cutest 5-year-old on the planet. The other night he was adamant I watch Winnie the Pooh with him before I put him down for the evening. At one point in the episode, Pooh said: “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” I couldn’t say it any better. Thank you so much for the past 11 years.

 

 

 

Geoff Horning, Executive Director

Paying it Forward

By Mitch Lies

(also read Dedicated to Ag Advocacy about Agriculturist of the year winner, Brent Fetsch)

Brent Fetsch, Oregon State President of Northwest Farm Credit Services, has long been an advocate for paying it forward, a term for giving back popularized by the 2000 movie “Pay It Forward.” By some estimates, he’s been doing so since he started at Northwest Farm Credit Services in 1987, two weeks after he graduated from Oregon State University with a degree in agricultural economics.

Through his work at the 16,000-member lending cooperative, Fetsch has helped farm and forestry operators maintain strong balance sheets and vital natural resource operations. And, as a long-time volunteer for charitable organizations and agricultural-based entities, Fetsch has distinguished himself as a dedicated contributor to rural America.

Fetsch, who once interned for Oregon Aglink (then the Agribusiness Council of Oregon), has been named winner of Oregon Aglink’s 2017 Ag Connection Award.

“I am flattered and humbled to win this award,” Fetsch said. “But I want to stress that, while I’m the guy who gets to go up on stage and receive the award, the connection I have with agriculture and rural American has been nurtured by a great many folks, including my parents, my FFA advisor in high school, my grandfather, my Oregon State University professors, my fabulous coworkers at Northwest Farm Credit Services and the farmers that I worked with over the years.”

Fetsch grew up on a small farm outside of Pendleton, and although his grandfather sold the farm in the 1980s, in some respects, he’s never left it.

“Farming is in my blood,” he said. “I worked for my dad and area farmers when I was young. I was active in FFA, and FFA is still important to me. I try to support that on a pay-it-forward basis. I feel like I got a lot out of it. It enriched my life tremendously.”

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The 1982 Oregon FFA

At Northwest Farm Credit Services, Fetsch most recently served as senior vice president of operations and chief information officer at the co-op’s headquarters in Spokane for four years, before taking the helm of the Oregon lending and insurance team in January of 2015.

While he had no idea he would still be with the lender/insurer when he started 30 years ago, it turns out he did have a good idea of his career choice even back then.

“I remember showing up at Oregon State knowing in advance that I wanted an agriculture and natural resources economics degree,” he said. “I was always interested in keeping track of the income and expenses from raising and selling livestock.

“So now here I am, trying to help our customers grow their agricultural enterprises through Northwest Farm Credit Services. It is such a rewarding place to work,” he said. “I love that all we do is work with agriculture, the food and fiber industries, and rural communities. I love that I am supporting industries that mean so much to me.”

Northwest Farm Credit’s commitment to agriculture can be seen in many ways, including the formation of a program for young farmers that has grown to encompass 1,400 customers. Called Ag Vision, it addresses what has become a significant issue in agriculture, the aging of the farm operator.

“The average age of the farm operator today is 59, and it keeps going up,” Fetsch said. “There is going to be significant change in ownership in the years ahead. So, one thing we’re doing to help address that is a special program to help young, beginning and small farmers get a toe-hold in agriculture.”

In the program, farmers who are less than 35-years old, have been farming for less than 10 years, or have less than $250,000 per year in gross sales are eligible for low-interest loans, often with reduced or waived fees. The program includes an educational element that Fetsch said is critical to its success.

“We put on seminars. We encourage them to get outside training through Oregon State or a community college,” he said. The program gives credits, which can be used to earn reduced interest rates, for attending educational seminars.

To date, the program has extended nearly $540 million to participants.

As for Fetsch, his commitment to the health of agriculture is evident in many ways. Fetsch serves on the board of the Oregon FFA Foundation. He serves on the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences Dean’s Council and meets regularly with OSU College of Forestry Dean Thomas Maness to provide support where needed. He also serves as treasurer of the Oregon Food Bank, joining a long list of Northwest Farm Credit Services leaders on food bank boards throughout the Northwest.

During National FFA Week, Fetsch (far right) and his colleagues wore t-shirts and jackets from their days as FFA members and officers

“It is a natural stewardship activity for us, given that we at Northwest Farm Credit Services work with the people that grow the food,” he said. “And we have such an abundance here in the Pacific Northwest and in Oregon, particularly, that it is hard for me to fathom why a child would go to school hungry.”

Also, he said, his service on the Oregon Food Bank Board of Directors offers an opening that he embraces: “It is an opportunity for me to engage with the Portland metropolitan area and share a rural perspective when the opportunity arises, one person at a time.”

 

We Are An Industry In Transition

Farmers don’t age gracefully. Being successful in agriculture requires a strong will and an independent mind. It is why most farmers work 40-plus years toiling in all sorts of extremes, and the stress, long hours and crazy weather conditions wear on a body. Let’s face it, most experienced farmers and ranchers look more like Joe Pesci than Sean Connery. However, it’s not the look of most farmers that concern me. It’s the fact that there are so many farmers who look alike.

The statistics tell us that the aging agricultural community could be the most pressing challenge our industry faces, beyond even water, pesticides, labor and land use. According to data from the 2012 USDA Census of Agriculture (a new one is scheduled to be surveyed in 2017), the average farm operator in the United States is 58.3 years old, up from 57.1 in 2007 and 54.9 years in 2002.

Closer to home, the numbers are even more stunning. In September of 2016, the Oregon State University Center for Small Farms and Community Food Systems partnered with Portland State University to release a report on the future of Oregon’s agricultural land. Here are some nuggets from that document:

  • 60 years was the average age of Oregon farmers in 2012, compared to an average age of 55 in 2002 and 50 years in 1982.
  • 24 percent of all Oregon farmers in 2012 were beginning farmers, down from 32 percent in 2002. Although 15 percent of beginning farmers are under the age of 35, nearly half of beginning farmers are aged 45 or older.
  • Farm operators aged 55 and older control 64 percent of Oregon’s agricultural land, or 10.45 million acres, which could change hands in the next 20 years.

So, we’re getting older. The younger generation isn’t coming to the party, and there’s about to be a huge transition of land.

With the escalating value of that land, no wonder it’s difficult to energize the industry with young farm owners. Thanks to strong land use policies, the farm land isn’t likely to be paved over for a strip mall, but what we are seeing is venture capital and large corporations being introduced into Oregon’s ag mix more and more. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but Oregon agriculture is currently comprised of 97 percent family farms, and that statistic is going to change. Being family dominated resonates with an urban populace, and as the percentage of family farms dwindles the louder a misinformed public is likely to become.

More than half of Oregon’s farms are likely to change hands over the next decade. As an industry we don’t have the luxury of debating this issue for the next five years before we take action. We need to start implementing programs now that help our farms and ranches to successfully transition from one generation to the next.

Every operation is different and has its own set of circumstances. There is no cookie cutter program that will benefit the masses. However, there are strategies that every family-owned farm operation should consider.

Father Time is responsible for that Joe Pesci complex, but with the proper planning you can ensure the legacy of your farm or ranch operation through the next generation.

 

 

 

Geoff Horning, Executive Director

REAL Oregon

Warren G. Bennis, the founding chairman of The Leadership Institute at the University of Southern California, and widely considered a pioneer in contemporary leadership studies, said, “The most dangerous leadership myth is that leaders are born—that there is a genetic factor to leadership. This myth asserts that people simply either have certain charismatic qualities or not. That’s nonsense; in fact, the opposite is true. Leaders are made rather than born.”

If leaders are truly made rather than born, are we developing good leaders within Oregon agriculture? Before you answer that question, I’m not asking if we have good leaders within Oregon agriculture. Certainly we do. I could fill pages with names of distinguished leaders within our industry that I admire. But, are we developing them or are they getting those attributes from other resources?

Honestly, the answer is subjective and nuanced. One of the strengths of Oregon agriculture is the diverse number of associations and commodity commissions that represent our industry. Trade associations, in particular, have historically been leadership breeding grounds. While there are still organic leadership development elements in every association, the reality is that today most associations are made up of people who already possess certain leadership skills that are necessary to complete certain objectives.

Despite having great leaders throughout Oregon agriculture, I’d argue we’re not developing these leaders. Their leadership training is coming from other resources. Leadership development is a strategy and culture that needs to be nourished. It requires focus and a little fertilizer to help it grow, and not simply the loudest person talking bull…

A leadership development strategy defines the goals and expectations for leaders. It also defines the key capabilities, competencies, and experiences of a successful leader. They are not the same for every person or organization, but those definitions drive leadership selection, outcomes, and for the associations within Oregon agriculture it will help with program development. Managed in this strategic way, leadership becomes more than simple lip service for the industry.

So, where do we go for this leadership you ask?  Great question.

At the urging of a couple of growers in Malheur County a little over a year ago, OSU Extension agent Bill Buhrig started contacting agricultural representatives throughout Oregon about the creation of a natural resources leadership program. It’s not an original idea. After all, natural resource leadership programs exist in 38 other states, and Oregon even tried to launch a program at the turn of the century that didn’t quite get off the ground. Bill was persistent, and in short order had a steering committee in place representing 18 agriculture, fishery and forestry entities.

Throughout 2016 this group worked diligently to lay the groundwork for REAL (Resource Education & Agricultural Leadership program) Oregon. REAL Oregon is a leadership program that will bring future leaders from agriculture, fishing and forestry together to learn leadership skills and gain a greater understanding of Oregon through a series of statewide sessions. The mission is simple, but complex: Build natural resource leaders who make a difference for Oregon.

The first class is scheduled to begin in November, but this spring they’re accepting applications in what is hoped will be a competitive process.

The urban/rural divide in Oregon is real. The chasm feels like it’s getting exponentially larger. There is a lot of talk about bridging that gap, but it too often feels like a bridge to nowhere. Oregon’s natural resource community needs a legion of polished leaders who can both listen and represent our interests. As an industry it’s our responsibility to develop that army.

Bennis spent his career making leaders out of ordinary people. While only in its infancy, I believe this program can have the same impact for Oregon’s natural resource community. The program outline is in place. The resources to launch the program are there as well. The most important element for the success of the program are the people who become a part of it. For specifics about REAL Oregon, I encourage you to visit their Web site at www.realoregon.net. If you’re feeling really courageous, complete the program application to be a part of the first class. We need you.

 

 

 

Geoff Horning, Executive Director

 

The Electoral College vs Popular Vote

The dirty secret about Oregon Aglink the magazine is that the deadline for my column is weeks before you’ll read it. Coming up with fresh column ideas can be challenging, especially in today’s world when a hot topic has the shelf life of a snow flake in Phoenix. Take this column, for example. While we’re not a political organization, it’s hard not to have politics at the top of mind during election week. This morning the entire conversation revolves around the protests throughout the country because Donald Trump was elected president.

While the weak minded are focused on vandalism and physical and mental intimidation, many scholars are pointing to the fact that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. Their form of protest is to demand change away from the Electoral College that determines who wins a presidential election. They want the popular vote to determine the winner.

On the surface, I can reason with that frustration and even welcome the rational. I just whole heartedly disagree with it.

In order to appreciate the reasons for the Electoral College, it is essential to understand its historical context and the problem that the founding fathers were trying to solve. They faced the difficult question of how to elect a president in a nation that:

  • Was composed of 13 large and small states jealous of their own rights and powers while suspicious of any central national government
  • Contained only 4 million people nationwide, or basically the population of Oregon
  • Concerns were rampant that states with larger population bases would create a dictatorship

Why were these questions discussed? Let’s look a little deeper. Virginia, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts represented 41 percent of the population in 1776. Can you begin to see how founders in the other 10 colonies were a little leery of the bigger colonies? This was especially true of the largest colony, Virginia, which represented nearly 25 percent of the nation’s population. The founding fathers were determined to find a more equitable system that allowed all 13 colonies equal input.

It’s a system, by and large, that has worked well.

The popular vote, which is used in most state-wide elections? That’s up for debate. Especially in States such as Oregon that have primarily one metro area.

In 2016 Oregon surpassed 4 million people who reside in the Beaver State. Roughly the same population as the original 13 colonies combined. If we pretend that Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington Counties are the equivalent of the three highest populated “colonies,” we find that these three counties represent 44 percent of Oregon’s population. Multnomah County is our “Virginia,” representing nearly 20 percent of the population.

Dennis Richardson was just elected Secretary of State in Oregon. He is the first Republican to win a state-wide election since Jack Roberts was elected Labor Commissioner in 1994. In most cases the Democratic candidate has won with relative ease, primarily because they dominate the three counties previously noted. Democratic principles are usually stronger in metropolitan communities, whereas Republican principles are usually stronger in rural communities.

This is why rural interests are not represented well in state-wide elections. For the purposes of an example only, Hillary Clinton took 52 percent of the popular vote in Oregon and Donald Trump took 41 percent. Rightfully so, she earned the 7 electoral votes from Oregon. However, if you look at the county-by-county breakdown, Clinton took only 8 of 36 counties in Oregon.

What’s my point? Oregon has a significant urban-rural divide. Most of that anguish is built around local politics, often forced upon rural communities by their urban neighbors. What if Oregon had its own version of an electoral college where each county had a larger say in how an election turned out?

I realize this is never going to happen, and even if it was entertained it would be skewed to where the larger population base would still have a greater say. However, if such a system did exist I do believe that our state-wide officials would probably give a little more than the current lip service they give our rural communities. Stronger dialogue would occur that would create solutions rather than build larger chasms between urban and rural populaces. And, that’s something to think about.

 

 

 

Geoff Horning, Executive Director

The State of Portland, and the Oregon National Park

geoff horning oregon aglinkHere’s the good news. By the time you read this column it will only be a couple more weeks before all the political vitriol will come to an end for another cycle. While I’m sure we’re going to elect the perfect President in November (sarcasm people), I’m far more concerned about some of the political posturing happening right here in Oregon.

Oregon has long been a bastion of activist activity. Some of it has been good for the environment and the economy, but much of it has been an over reach by an urban community out of touch with their rural neighbors.

Having grown up in Reedsport, I was surrounded by a proud community with a strong local economy thanks to International Paper and a robust forestry industry. Almost overnight I witnessed fear and anger as eco-terrorists entered the community, spiking trees and heralding the plight of an owl that nobody had even heard of. Some 30-odd-years later the Spotted Owl still hasn’t recovered, the Barred Owl thrives and a once proud community sits in economic shambles.

Many of those activists who strolled into town to demonstrate were from Portland, Eugene, Seattle and other urban destinations. Thankfully it was before the internet, or I could only imagine how many more would have come into town without a lick of forestry experience and told all the locals who spent generations caring for the forest everything they were doing wrong.

Reedsport is hardly the only rural community in Oregon that has been uprooted by larger urban populations who think they know better than the locals. It’s just one example that happens to hit close to home. While most in Oregon are currently debating the damage that will occur with the passing of Measure 97, my past history has me keeping a close eye on the furthest corner of the State and a push by activists to turn a large section of Malheur County into a Designated Monument.

Look, I’m okay with conservation. I believe it’s not just a good thing to do, but it’s our obligation to ensure a balanced ecosystem for future generations. I love to fly fish for trout and spend a lot of my “pleasure” time doing so. In fact, just a couple weeks ago I spent a week in the backwoods of Yellowstone, dancing around grizzly bear to fish one of the best trout fisheries in the world, the Lamar River. I LOVE National Parks.

Yet, I’m mortified that a legion of activists, mostly from other parts of the country thanks to KEEN Footwear, are making headway in turning the Owyhee Canyonlands into a Designated Monument. If successful this effort would significantly impact local ranchers from grazing their cattle. Why are they pushing for this designation you ask? The primary reason noted by the activist community is “it’s important to have areas like this for people to explore and love.”

Here’s the thing. They already can! Not only is this area designated as public lands that people can enjoy, there are also 5 National Parks or Monuments that already reside in Oregon, totaling 207,360 acres. There are more than 85,000 acres within 153 State Parks in Oregon. That doesn’t include the public lands along the Oregon coast, or the National Forests that reside throughout Oregon. That’s a lot of area for people to “explore and love.”

This designation will basically accomplish one thing, which is to restrict the cattle industry from thriving in a region that is already struggling to economically survive. Such a designation would devastate an entire area with no benefit to the greater society. It’s like watching my childhood manifest itself all over again. This time, though, I hope common sense prevails.

Denim & Diamonds is next month. The highlight of the event for me is the awards ceremony, but the purpose of the event is to raise money for our Cultivating Common Ground campaign. Engagement and education of our urban neighbors is our only option. We still have plenty of room, and we’d love to have your support. Every penny helps. Otherwise, we’ll soon live in the State of Portland, while everybody just visits the Oregon National Park.

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Geoff Horning, Executive Director

Labels Matter. Unless They Don’t.

geoff horning oregon aglinkMy first reaction was one of relief. Then it was the fear of the unknown and then even a little bit of depression. Of course, the depression may have been a result of the lackluster performance of the Oregon Ducks on the gridiron.

My life changed forever on September 8, 2015. During the previous two weeks I had lost nearly 20 pounds of muscle mass. I felt fine, or so I thought. But, I was shrinking and it was starting to scare me. I was convinced I was dying of cancer. At the urging of friends I decided denial was the incorrect path and went to the doctor.

Good news. It wasn’t cancer. The diagnosis, however, shocked me. I was active, ate modestly healthy and certainly wasn’t obese by any definition. Still, my blood sugar was so high my doctor suspects that if I had remained in denial, they would have found me in a coma within a couple of weeks. The diagnosis: type 2 diabetes, likely triggered by an allergic reaction I had earlier in the year to an antibiotic for a sinus infection.

Though I knew a few people with diabetes, I really didn’t know anything about the disease other than “don’t eat sweets.” Oh, how simplistic and incorrect that statement is.

I’ll be honest. I’d never paid attention to labels before. To me they were all just a marketing ploy. Now, before I purchase anything I’m looking for specific things such as carbohydrates, fiber and sodium. Is it really whole grain, or has it been processed and simply labeled as a wheat product? What’s the serving size? Does it have good fat or bad fat?

I’m lucky. In a very short amount of time I was able to get my diabetes under control through diet and exercise. Still, every single time I eat or drink something I have to pay attention and know these answers. My life literally depends upon it. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.

I’m not alone. There are hundreds of legitimate health reasons why people need to pay attention to the food they consume. The label is an important tool that helps us live healthy and productive lives.

Labels matter. Unless they don’t.

Millions upon millions of dollars are being spent throughout the United States in an effort to ensure our food is labeled if GMO technology is being used. Huh? What? I’m perplexed. Other than fear of not understanding, am I missing something?

In fact, I’m insulted. I need accurate food labels to maintain my health. Telling me it’s a Genetically Modified Organism literally tells me nothing at all. GMO is a term used for a process and not a specific product. It has multiple applications. If I wasn’t informed, I would think that it’s a specific product that I need to watch for. An unscientific study on my Facebook page indicated exactly that. Or worse.

Consumers who don’t want to eat genetically modified foods can already buy non-GMO food, which is clearly labeled and has become a thriving niche industry. Heck, on a recent trip through my local Fred Meyer garden center I stumbled across their marketing of GMO free herbs. Seriously? But a growing chorus says that’s not enough: Critics of GMOs want all food that uses genetically modified ingredients to be labeled as well, despite the lack of scientific evidence that the distinction carries any difference.

In recent weeks, in order to comply with a Vermont law that requires labeling by July 1, major food manufacturers like ConAgra Foods, General Mills and Kellogg’s amongst others announced plans to label food items that have GMOs, despite being opposed to the Vermont legislation. They argue that a federal standard, not a patchwork of state laws, should be the norm.

While I can understand their decision, I disagree wholeheartedly. As somebody who now understands the importance of knowing what’s in his food, a GMO label of any kind is not providing me with any beneficial information and is simply creating an atmosphere of fear at a time when we’re going to need science more than ever to feed the world. The epidemic of scaring people about their food may have larger consequences than the diabetes epidemic sweeping across America.

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Geoff Horning, Executive Director

Oregon Agriculture Needs to Be More Proactive

geoff horningWhen it comes to being a fan of sports, I’m a pessimist. After 44 years of second place finishes, I expect my heart to be broken. I tend to live the rest of my life, though, as an optimist. A belief that common sense will rule the day. Listening to the political debates and testimony on the 400+ bills in Salem’s “short” session, I’m starting to think that common sense is being thrown out with the baby and the bath water.

Many of the issues have no impact on your ability to produce the food and fiber that are basic needs of everybody, but so many of them have unintended consequences that I fear we’re driving the family farmer out of business.

Oregon Aglink has taken great strides over the past several years to tell your story. Others, such as Oregon Women for Ag, Oregon Ag Fest, Farmers Ending Hunger, to name just a few, are doing a magnificent job of telling your story as well. It’s not hard to find positive publicity for an industry that is still the very foundation of this State.

Are we making progress? Absolutely. If you sit down and have a conversation with the majority of Oregonians I think you’ll find most are very respectful, almost reverent about the lifestyle and important role of local producers.

But (there’s always a but), those same Oregonians typically shrug their shoulders at the issues and challenges facing our industry. It’s not because they are mean spirited or even ignorant. They truly do trust you to feed their family. It has much more to do with the fact that they are so consumed with their busy lives that they don’t take the time to know what’s going on outside of their small community. They don’t care about the things that impact your ability to produce their food and fiber.

What they do learn comes from sound bites and social media. And, guess who has the funding resources and the loudest megaphone to dictate that message in Oregon? It’s definitely not the natural resources community. That leads to poor legislation and a constituency that thinks good things are happening because “it feels like the right thing to do.”

Research conducted by Oregon Aglink is very clear. The general public trusts the farmer more than anybody in the food chain. If I’m out telling your story by myself, you might as well hire a used car salesman to do my job. My credibility with the general public isn’t much better. Why? Because it’s perceived that I’m a hired gun only out for a paycheck. That’s not true, but perception is reality.

The good news is that Oregon Aglink is focused on making you the face of Oregon agriculture. Throughout 2016 we’ll be running a series of television commercials in Portland, Eugene and Medford. The entire focus of the “I am Oregon Agriculture” campaign will be about making a connection with Oregonians that local agriculture is made up of 98 percent family farms. With farm families telling that story.

The Adopt a Farmer Program, now in 47 schools and reaching almost 5,000 middle school students throughout Oregon, was specifically designed with the idea of connecting those students with one particular farmer throughout the school year. An emphasis of the program is putting a focus on the people and families who make up the farm.

Will these programs have instant impact? Probably not. We’ve got to play the long game, but to do that we need all of you to become more proactive. Get involved. Tell your story through us, or through one of the other great organizations that represents you. We have to make you the face of our industry before the family farm becomes extinct.

Oregon Aglink

geoff horningEven simple change can be difficult. I had a friend in college who simply couldn’t function if she didn’t have a specific type of pen to write with. Perhaps she was onto something, as today she’s one of the most successful persons I know both professionally and personally.

How difficult is change? I just texted her to inquire about her pen of choice. She sent me back a photo of her holding that same pen. Some things change, and some things stay the same. I can’t help but laugh at this little idiosyncrasy even today.

Now imagine changing a brand that is 50-years-old and has name recognition throughout the industry. It’s not a decision that comes lightly, or without more than a few conversations. It took us nine years of discussions before we pulled the trigger, but times are changing, and so are we.

At Denim & Diamonds, ABC President Molly McCargar announced to the more than 550 present that the Agri-Business Council of Oregon is now officially doing business as Oregon Aglink.

Why? While the decision is complex, the answer is fairly simple.

When the Agri-Business Council of Oregon was founded in 1966, our industry was still revered by most people, even those who live in Portland, Eugene and Salem. They may not have understood natural resources, but they appreciated and respected the work that was being done. Even in urban settings, being a farmer or rancher was a very noble profession. Agri-business was a term universally respected.

Today? Outside of natural resource circles, not so much.

Agri-business is looked at through a lens of distrust by most Oregonians. Research conducted a couple years ago by the Agri-Business Council of Oregon showed that those in urban centers trusted the individual farmer, but agri-business was not trustworthy, and in fact was deemed as corrupt and almost evil.

Now imagine being members of the Agri-Business Council of Oregon. Our spokespeople are the very farmers and ranchers who are universally beloved and respected. Yet, when representing a link between producers and the consumers – the name of the organization was getting in the way of the message.

The Adopt a Farmer program provides our industry with an awesome opportunity to have in-depth conversations with students, teachers and parents. Many of the conversations revolve around pesticide application, the debate surrounding GMO technology and the safety of our food. The depth of their questions are sincere. Rarely with a hint of malice. They just want to be informed.

More and more people want to know where their food and fiber comes from, how it was produced, and even the famous Portlandia skit isn’t too far off. Some do want to know what the name of their chicken is that they’re about to eat. When having that conversation the board of directors decided it’s time to soften our presentation. We want to be that trusted link for the consumer to come to. We want to be that comfortable pen that you can’t live without.

We are the Oregon Aglink.

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