As I begin this year as President of Oregon Aglink, I’d like to thank the membership, board, and executive director for the privilege to serve the agricultural community in this role. My overarching goal for the year is to learn as much as possible about the risks and opportunities farmers are faced with and find ways to help weave them into the educational and communication platform that is Oregon Aglink.
As producers, we’ve all seen the change in perception that the 98% of society has about the 2% that is engaged in agriculture. Change is familiar territory to ag producers, and their ability to identify and capitalize on it demonstrates our resilience and ingenuity. We’ve all dealt with change in the form of regulation or marketing dynamics of our crops. Many of these changes have a concrete and straight forward cause and effect.
A good example of change that I’ve seen over the decades is associated with one of my favorite events growing up on the family farm in the Willamette Valley. When harvest was winding down and the seed was in the barn, the excitement of field burning was in the air… literally. Getting the word from the local fire chief that burning one of your fields was a go set into motion people and equipment that transformed fields with tons of hay and chaff to a clean black slate to begin again with next year’s crop. The cultural practice had significant benefits to the crop and farmer.
The side effect of burning was obviously a temporary compromise of air quality due to the smoke it generated. My guess is that this side effect was perceived as a negative among valley residents who had no connection to farming. The fate of field burning was sealed on August 3rd, 1988 when a tragic fatal automobile accident occurred on Interstate 5 due to smoke and the lack of visibility. The state regulated field burning by phasing out the practice.
This left growers, industry professionals, and academics the challenge of finding new ways to replicate the agronomic value of field burning. Through research, trial work and good old farmer ingenuity, seed producers solved the challenge dealt to them by this regulated change. The challenge was clear and apparent. Farmers are great at solving these types of concrete problems with pragmatic science and economic discipline. Someone throws up a hurdle and we see it and react.
Fast forward 30 years and think about the risks and opportunities that exist for farmers today. What would happen in today’s society if the tragic events of August 3rd, 1988 happened today. How would our chosen profession be viewed and perceived? I’ve always held the belief that farming is a noble profession. Not every person classified as the 98% has the same reverence for the profession that provides the food and fiber that sustains them. Oregon Aglink serves as an organization to close the gap on any misperceptions. It’s here to communicate and educate what, how, and why we farm.
I highlighted field burning because, in my mind, it was a great example of reacting to a clearly defined risk and challenge. It’s a great testament to the industry’s problem solving abilities. Now it’s the time where I toss you some food for thought. Is our industry great at proactively innovating when risks and change are continuous, unclear, fragmented, and subtle? How good are we owning and promoting the realities of farming to our non-farming members of society? Is our radar up to identify these subtle and progressive changes and meet them with a mind-set of proactive innovation?
Traditional thoughts of what innovation looks like might take the shape of what happened in reaction to field burning’s exit: a clear and timely change-management to a challenge. I’d like to raise the awareness that some of today’s risks to agriculture require a constant, long-term mind-set of innovation. The innovators on the front line of our industry today that are communicating, educating and bolstering positive perceptions aren’t university stalwarts with PhDs but strong voices such as Brenda Frketich @NuttyGrass, Shelly Boshart @BoshartDavisAg, Marie Bowers @MarieB41, Molly McCargar @FarmerMolly9, Robert Saik @rsaik, Oregon Farm Bureau @OreFarmBureau and Oregon Aglink @oregonaglink.
Innovate every day! It’s a new year and a changing world.
Jeff Freeman, Oregon Aglink President