Category: Executive Notes (page 2 of 2)

A Golden Celebration

geoff horning1966.

The “8th Wonder of the World,” the Houston Astrodome was built.

The first episode of Star Trek airs.

Pampers created the first disposable diaper.

Ronald Reagan entered politics for the first time – eventually being elected Governor of California.

My parents started dating.

And, Marion T. Weatherford, an Eastern Oregon wheat farmer, led a small group of agricultural supporters to create the Agri-Business Council of Oregon.

Honestly, I have no idea if a specific event inspired Weatherford to create our association. I do know he understood a schism was forming between rural and urban Oregon and he wanted to create an organization that could have an open conversation with his neighbors in Portland, Salem, Eugene, etc.

Over the first 49 years the Agri-Business Council has pulled off some pretty revolutionary things. Did you know ABC was one of the first organizations to ever do grocery story food sampling? If we could get Costco to give us royalties for that concept we wouldn’t have to put so much effort into fundraising!

We were very political at one point. In fact, both Representative Stafford Hansell and Senator Mike Thorne served as president of the Agri-Business Council of Oregon WHILE they were in office. Today, we leave the politics in the very capable hands of the Oregon Farm Bureau and other agricultural associations.

ABC sponsored pig races have been held in the streets of downtown Portland, and a kissing booth was built to raise funds during the Northwest Ag Show. I have been trying to convince the current ABC Board of Directors to participate in a similar booth at Denim & Diamonds, but if I push too hard I fear they’ll make me kiss the pig.

As an organization, we’re about to turn 50. We’ve become more mature as an organization. If not, I’d win that debate with the board and a kissing booth would be at every event we attend. Like a fine Oregon Pinot Noir, we continue to evolve.

At Denim & Diamond next month we will start a year-long celebration highlighting the efforts we’ve made over the past 50 years, and we’ll talk about a barn dance we’re planning for next August to celebrate our golden anniversary.

With that said, our focus is not on the past but on the future. Big changes are ahead. Announcements will be made at Denim & Diamonds in November, but at our core we’ll still be doing what Weatherford set out to do in 1966. We’ll just skip the part where the executive director kisses the pig.

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Geoff Horning

From Revolution to Evolution

geoff horningLooking into the mirror and seeing your blemishes is usually an easy endeavor for most people. When you have a face for radio like I do, that’s an easy mission to accomplish. What’s more difficult is publicly admitting those blemishes.

Four years ago the ABC Board of Directors took a look into the mirror, saw its blemishes, and publicly declared that we were not doing a good enough job fulfilling our mission. Worse, there was no clear cut focus or direction.

A strategic planning session was scheduled. Frankly, the first one was a mitigated disaster. A facilitator was hired and, despite impeccable credentials and valued references, we walked away after two days feeling like the only thing we had accomplished was holding hands and singing kum-ba-yah.

It may have been the defining moment for the Agri-Business Council of Oregon, though, as a revolution was underway. Over the next several weeks some very difficult decisions were made:

Oregon’s Best Contests – a program that ABC had sponsored at the Oregon State Fair and county fairs throughout Oregon for two decades was cut.

An association health insurance program that was a significant revenue stream for the association was sold.

Several other projects that distracted from the mission were also cut.

When the revolution was complete, the only programs still standing were our safety and workers’ comp program, our road crop sign program and continued support of Ag Fest.

Rising from the ashes, though, was the birth of two programs that have invigorated the staff, the board and the industry support of the Agri-Business Council of Oregon. The Adopt a Farmer program is receiving recognition throughout the Northwest, and organizations from other states are inquiring about ways they can implement a similar program in their regions. And the “I am Oregon Agriculture” campaign, in conjunction with the development of the www.oregonfresh.net website, is putting the face of our industry in front of those who have questions for our farmers and ranchers.

Last month, the ABC Board of Directors and some key contributors to our efforts met for another strategic planning session. The conversation this time was not about lighting a torch, but about building upon the momentum we’ve made.

Over the past four years we’ve worked hard to lay a solid foundation, and perhaps we’ve even put up a beam or two. But, we’ve still got a lot of work ahead of us before we’re a completed unit. While the primary focus will remain on building upon the programs we’ve recently established, there are also some exciting new ideas in development which will be unveiled in the months ahead. None of this would be possible without your membership. You’re a part of ABC’s evolution.

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Geoff Horning

War of the Words

geoff horning“You should be ashamed of yourself for caring more about the cows in Asia than the hardworking people in Portland.”

That is the PG version of an anonymous voicemail I recently received from somebody who was upset with my benign quote in an NPR interview. The focus of the interview was the impact of the labor strife at West Coast ports on agriculture. My sin, verbatim: “The problem with the hay component is that the dairies or the beef producers or whoever wants that hay and straw in the Asian market – they have animals they need to feed. And if their customers are not receiving their product, they’re going to start looking for other avenues to get that product.”

I suspect that the person who took the time out of their day to look up my phone number and place the call was less concerned about agricultural practices, and more concerned with her job, or that of somebody close to her. But, that’s not always the case.

Molly McCargar, current ABC president, was asked to be a farmer’s voice in the most recent GMO labeling initiative that was voted down in November. During the campaign, her credibility was repeatedly chastised by opponents despite the fact that she is a multi-generation farmer. Late night hang ups and death threats were popular ploys as well.

Whether it’s a labor strife, GMO legislation or numerous other issues facing Oregon agriculture, the common thread with the heightened level of anxiety is the response to a reactionary discussion. Rarely does this level of vitriol come from a proactive engagement. That’s why as an industry, it’s imperative that we have ongoing conversations with our urban neighbors.

Every industry is vulnerable to crisis, but few generate the passion that agriculture does. Everybody eats and more people every day want to know where their food comes from and the measures taken by the producer to ensure that the food is safe.

The advent of the internet has made it easy for everybody to find information that fits their preconceived notions. The days of playing ostrich are gone. We are an industry in crisis. Without a proactive crisis communication plan Oregon’s producers risk more than just a damaged reputation, but urban-based legislation that will negatively impact their bottom line.

The basic steps of effective crisis communication are not difficult, but they require advance work to minimize damage. The slower the response, the more damage is incurred.

The Agri-Business Council of Oregon is trying to do its part. We communicate with our urban neighbors on several different platforms, but our most effective conversation with long-term results lies within the Adopt a Farmer program.

While the focus of the program is to emphasize the critical scientific components that allow producers, regardless of production method, to feed the world, the ancillary benefits of the program are the relationships forged with an impressionable audience. It’s much easier to have a conversation with students open to learning than it is with adults who have preconceived opinions that are often inaccurate. The program is being received in such a positive light that Susan Duncan, a recently retired Beaverton science teacher of more than 30 years wrote us in a letter:

“The Adopt a Farmer Program has been the highlight of my career, both in the experience of teaching and the years I spent providing environmental education. It is a partnership between teachers and farmers who understand how important it is that students learn observation skills and economics, as well as problem solving and engineering.”

The Adopt a Farmer program is touching lives and leaving an impression. Each spring we start recruiting producers who would be interested in being “adopted.” To learn more about the program feel free to contact me, and also take a moment to watch this video: http://oregonfresh.net/videos/adopt-a-farmer/. As an industry we have to become more proactive in telling our story. We represent the most important industry to the human race and the best people in the world. It’s time that got more recognition. Please help me by speaking up and telling your story.

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Geoff Horning

Executive Notes: Pop Culture’s Influence on Ag’s Future

geoff horningIn the 1940s and 50s, comic books were blamed for corrupting our children. In the 90s, rap music was blamed for everything from school shootings, to violence towards women, to the promotion of gang culture. And more recently, video games have been scapegoated as the source of America’s fascination with violence.

Often, members of these scapegoated communities will argue back with similarly misguided rhetoric. Many will say something like, “I’ve been playing video games since I was 3 and I didn’t turn into some violent ghoul.”

But this statement is only half correct. Of course an entire medium cannot be trivialized into being inherently good or bad, but the statement also seems to suggest that the things that define our culture (video games, movies, TV etc.) have no effect on how we behave as a culture.

And how can that be true? How can something people engage in so closely and passionately have no influence on people and how we think?

Recently I attended the Oregon Society of Association Management annual conference and Shelly Alcorn with Alcorn Associates Management Consulting made a very compelling presentation about pop culture’s impact in telling our message.

Pop culture isn’t just for entertainment anymore. The Internet has vastly increased our media consumption habits. A recent Business News Daily report indicates that the average American spends 23 hours a week emailing, texting, and using social media. That represents 14 percent of the total time in a week. And for the record, that’s not just kids. That’s all ages.

If you think this has no impact on agriculture, you’d be wildly mistaken. It’s common knowledge in politics that the person/issue with the biggest war chest is going to win the election. Thanks to a groundswell of support via pop culture channels that is no longer true in agriculture. And, you don’t even have to leave Oregon to see the results.

During the Jackson County initiative this past spring proponents of the ban on GMOs raised $411,739, while opponents of the ban raised $928,764. Such a discrepancy should indicate that the opponents of the ban would win in a landslide. A landslide did happen. Nearly 66 percent of the voters approved the ban.

Though Measure 92 failed, a similar phenomenon occurred.

I realize that GMOs are a hotly debated issue right now, but why? It’s not like one day everybody got up and decided that they no longer liked their chocolate chip cookies. It’s more than simple coincidence that the issue started coming to the forefront as social media started to explode.

When you spend 23 hours a week taking in our latest pop culture craze you are going to start following subjects that interest you. Food is something that interests everybody in one way or another, and it’s a subject that draws people in. We have an opportunity still to be at the forefront of that conversation, and the one thing we better have learned from Measure 92 is that it’s far less expensive to be proactive than reactive.

So, I implore you to get active on social media. Help tell our story. Don’t tell people what to think. Engage them. Talk to them. Learn about their concerns and have a conversation.

If we don’t, somebody else will. And, well, you know we can believe everything we read on the Internet.

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Geoff Horning

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