Category: Executive Notes (page 2 of 3)

Farmers Reap Tax Benefit from Donated Food

curtis-sawyer-750x750BY CURTIS SAWYER, CPA

No one wants to see hard grown crops go to waste, but surplus crops happen. Fortunately, a recent tax law change has created an opportunity for farmers to support their communities by donating surplus crops to hunger relief organizations in exchange for a charitable donations tax deduction.

What is the potential benefit for my farm?

Cash basis growers can now deduct 50% of the fair market value of donated food to qualified organizations.

How does the charitable donations tax deduction work with my surplus crops?

A special rule permits an enhanced charitable contribution deduction for food donations to qualified organizations. The deduction is the lesser of:

  • twice your tax basis of the donated food, or
  • your tax basis plus one-half of the appreciation (the difference between fair market value and tax basis).

Cash basis growers have not previously been able to benefit from the food donation tax deduction since their basis is zero (because they do not record inventory costs), but Congress recently passed legislation permitting cash basis taxpayers to elect to deem the tax basis as 25% of the fair market value of the donated food.

What food qualifies for the charitable donations deduction?

The food must be “apparently wholesome”, which is defined by the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act as “food that meets all quality and labeling standards imposed by Federal, State, and local laws and regulations even though the food may not be readily marketable due to appearance, age, freshness, grade, size, surplus or other conditions.” The description is intentionally broad to ensure food that might be a little unattractive or nearing the end of its life will not go to waste.

What organizations qualify to receive my food donations?

The recipient must be a qualified tax-exempt organization, and the food must be used for the care of the ill, the needy, or infants. Your local food bank most likely qualifies, and there are also many hunger relief organizations willing to accept donated crops.

Is there a limit to the food donation tax deduction?

The deduction cannot exceed 15% of your net income for the year. If you cannot use it all in one year, it can be carried forward for future use.

How do I claim my charitable donations tax deduction for donated crops?

To claim the deduction, the receiving organization will need to provide you a written statement confirming the donated food will be used exclusively for the care of the ill, the needy, or infants. This statement will need to be in hand by the tax return filing date.

Additionally, the following information should be maintained for each donation:

  • Description of the food
  • Name and address of organization receiving the donation
  • Date of donation
  • Fair market value of the food on the date of the donation, and
  • How the fair market value was determined (comparable sales, etc.)

For example, say Aldrich Farms is a cash basis farm growing vegetables. As harvest comes to a close, Aldrich Farms has an abundance of green beans. The green beans have a fair market value of $100,000 and no tax basis because all costs to grow the beans have been expensed along the way. The bumper crop has buyers at capacity, and Aldrich Farms is short on storage so instead of paying to store, sell, transport or dispose of the excess, Aldrich Farms reaches out to the local food bank to see if they have a need for the green beans. The local food bank happily accepts the donation and provides Aldrich Farms with the necessary documentation to support the deduction. Come tax time, Aldrich Farms takes a deduction for $50,000 (50% of the fair market value), which assuming a 40% tax rate, results in a tax savings of $20,000.

If you have excess crops and are looking to take the next steps in earning a food donation tax deduction, please reach out to our Aldrich Agribusiness team. We are here to talk through all of your donation considerations and can even help you find a hunger relief organization.


“Okay, Google…”

Mallory Phelan Resized Maybe you’re the one in five people who utter those words in order to search for information online every day. With more than 3.5 billion searches every day on Google alone, there’s a good chance you’re at least one of the four-fifths of people typing into that search bar. More than half of us make these requests from the palm of our hand on our mobile device. We live in a world with access to more information than any humans have ever had. People are using artificial intelligence to answer questions about the world, including the where, when, why and how of their food production. Gone are the days of pulling the encyclopedia off the shelf or relying on generational knowledge for answers.

Consumers have access to websites with inaccurate information about agriculture, documentaries with strong but hidden biases, and inescapable fear-based marketing tactics in advertisements and on food labels. All of this adds pressure and guilt to the choices that consumers make regarding their food.

It is our responsibility as an industry to make sure there is factual information about farming and ranching at the top of those search results when people do ask questions.

According to a 2015 Oregon State University Extension study, less than one perfect of Oregon’s population are principal farm operators and only four percent of the population work on farms. Thanks in part to this disconnect, we are at a point in time where people will pay money to visit farms all across our state because the farm or ranch is something novel, desired, and significant in their 21st century lives.

While there are fewer farmers, the way people learn and connect using technology means that the days of farming and ranching in isolation are fading fast.

On one hand, the public wants to feel connected to agriculture, arguably now more than ever. On the other hand, if real farmers and ranchers don’t show up for the conversation with the public, someone else will. Unfortunately, in that scenario, you might not like how that “someone else” portrays what you do to feed the world.

This is where Oregon Aglink comes in.

We fulfill our mission by communicating the many stories of Oregon’s farmers and ranchers, whether straight from the farmer’s mouth on Adopt a Farmer field trips and classroom visits or via a blog post on Oregon Fresh. Our social media pages are populated with information about farms and ranches in Oregon, including stories hosted on our website from more than forty of our members.

We’re always looking for more stories to feature on our site and social media, so if you aren’t quite ready to make a Facebook page for your farm or ranch and commit to regularly sharing your story there, let us help. It’s a quick and easy process – just contact one of our staff members to get started. We would love to help share your story about your part of Oregon agriculture.

If people are asking Siri, Alexa, and Google for their answers about farming, we need to make sure there is an ample amount of accurate information at the top of those search results.

Consumers will find an answer one way or the other. With our input as an industry, we have a better chance of that answer reflecting our reality and our priorities here in Oregon.

Member Feature: Bobbi Frost of Harrold’s Dairy

These are the sorts of images you’ll find on Bobbi Frost’s Instagram feed, which she maintains as part of her social media for Harrold’s Dairy in Creswell, OR. She’s the fourth generation working on the farm that her great-grandfather started in 1946. The fifth generation, formerly just daughter Max, got a new member in November when Bobbi and her husband Patrick welcomed baby girl Bo.

An Instagram feed that alternates sunlight, silage, and her small children provides what Frost says “the average consumer wants to see and still can’t believe happens every day.” That’s valuable stuff in the age of damaging online campaigns about agriculture. And yet this doesn’t feel forced or scripted as a strategy. These are snapshots of her daily life and, in spite of keeping a Facebook account, it’s Instagram she finds relaxing.

Her ease on social media and use of smart phone apps around the farm made her the face of the “Millennial Dairy Farm” in a Slate article in 2014, and yet it’s inaccurate to pin Bobbi Frost as notable only for her age and her smart phone.

While the Instagram feed looks effortless, she’s equally adept with other outreach: visiting classrooms and hosting field trips as part of Adopt a Farmer, writing testimonies to the state legislature, and joining the Oregon Aglink Board of Directors in 2017. The outreach, of course, begins with her work at the dairy.

Her career kicked into gear as soon as she obtained her bachelor’s degree in animal sciences. “When I graduated from OSU in 2011, I was fortunate to have a family that was ready to welcome me with open arms into our business,” she says. By the following fall, her family bought more cows and soon took on a neighboring farm that added 300 acres. “That purchase has probably been the biggest game changer.”

With the added herd and acreage, the farm has dialed in a new rhythm for their days and seasons. The 350 cows are milked thrice-daily now, instead of twice, making for some added labor but less stress on the herd between sessions in the milking parlor. The family works between 900 and 1000 acres each year for their forage needs and additional grain.

“We grow a lot of grass mixtures for forage: fescue, orchard grass, and clover type mixes,” she begins, “we also grow all our own corn silage and double crop most of that ground with annual rye as a cover crop.” Barley and wheat make up most of their grains, with husband Pat using almost half of it for their own brewing. “We are also using forage oats as part of a crop rotation, with the goal of adding alfalfa to the mix sometime in the next 12 months.”

Frost’s husband was an unexpected addition to the farm team. “Pat was a history major and part of the Naval ROTC” she says. After 3 years as a Marine Corps officer, including a tour in Afghanistan, he returned to Oregon with no immediate plans to farm. As Frost puts it, though, “he came home during corn silage season and I was short a couple truck drivers.”

These days, Pat handles the dirt-farming side of the operation, leaving Bobbi and her father to take care of the dairy and its cows. However, Pat’s transformation “from a suburban kid to a farmer in his own right” doesn’t mean that Bobbi is one to shy away from learning new skills.

“The cows and crops come a little more natural to me,” she says. “I have never considered myself a mechanical person, and there was never any part of my formal education that said “this is how all this works.” So when something breaks down in the middle of the night or when she’s by herself, there’s nothing to do but dig in and figure it out.

Frost is quick to credit this spirit of pushing forward to the generations that worked the dairy before her. “The option to be part of a healthy family business is one of the greater gifts I have ever been given,” she says, and it’s a gift she doesn’t take lightly in the face of challenging futures for dairy.

“It seems to be one of those times where we are going to have to button down and endure. My ultimate goal for the dairy is to have a business that, when the time comes, is viable enough that my girls can choose whether or not they want to farm.”

With two children under the age of two, she admits, “that’s obviously pretty far into the future.” It’s never too early to start thinking about the future of the farm, though, just like it’s never too late to give credit to the past.

According to Bobbi Frost, when it comes to willingness to plan ahead and push through the uncertainty: “I am lucky enough to be the recipient of four generations of that kind of thinking.”





A Creed of Our Own

IMG_1301For those of you who didn’t make it to Oregon Aglink’s most recent Denim and Diamonds fundraiser, please mark your calendars for November of 2018 to join your fellow agriculturalists.  The event is great for reconnecting with people you haven’t seen in years and meeting new people passionate about agriculture.  For me this year’s reintroduction was not an old face or name from the past but a verse of words that many of us could once repeat from memory.

Brent Fetsch, this year’s Ag Connection award recipient, artfully weaved the Future Farmers of America Creed into his time on stage.  Hearing each paragraph brought back memories of FFA activities and the students, teachers and parents all involved in the organization.  The creed, as Brent pointed out, was written by E. M. Tiffany in 1928 with timeless clarity to convey foundational beliefs.

The FFA Creed

I believe in the future of agriculture, with a faith born not of words but of deeds – achievements won by the present and past generations of agriculturists; in the promise of better days through better ways, even as the better things we now enjoy have come to us from the struggles of former years. 

I believe that to live and work on a good farm, or to be engaged in other agricultural pursuits, is pleasant as well as challenging; for I know the joys and discomforts of agricultural life and hold an inborn fondness for those associations which, even in hours of discouragement, I cannot deny. 

I believe in leadership from ourselves and respect from others. I believe in my own ability to work efficiently and think clearly, with such knowledge and skill as I can secure, and in the ability of progressive agriculturists to serve our own and the public interest in producing and marketing the product of our toil. 

I believe in less dependence on begging and more power in bargaining; in the life abundant and enough honest wealth to help make it so–for others as well as myself; in less need for charity and more of it when needed; in being happy myself and playing square with those whose happiness depends upon me. 

I believe that American agriculture can and will hold true to the best traditions of our national life and that I can exert an influence in my home and community which will stand solid for my part in that inspiring task.

As an FFA student these words always seemed like more a memorization project rather than a belief system.  It’s probably been 25 years since I’ve heard the creed in its entirety.  I found the message simple, refreshing and moving. The FFA creed is a living connection to a set of beliefs and an organization engrained in millions of alumni.

Creeds, beliefs, pledges and individual opinions are fuel for social media banter in today’s society.  Kudos to E.M. Tiffany for crafting a timeless creed that holds up 89 years after he put pen to paper.  The creed has held together a collective of individuals based on their common beliefs.  As members of Oregon Aglink what is our collective creed?  I believe

Still have a few minutes? Follow this link to watch a video on how E. M. Tiffany came up with the Creed. 

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


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.”


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 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

Older posts Newer posts

© 2018

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑