On a cold and wintery day during the 94th annual meeting of the American Farm Bureau held in Nashville at the Opryland Hotel this month, I had the honor to sit right up front during their closing general session to hear two men speak on two totally different subjects that caught my attention in two totally unusual ways. I know that is a lot of “twos,” but each man covered their subjects in ways that captivated my attention to the point of making me want to do something after they spoke. One gave me concern and the other gave me encouragement. I must say I appreciated the encouragement much more than the concern.
The two speakers were retired astronaut Mark Kelly and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Each man did an outstanding job in delivering their addresses, which were totally in different arenas of discussion, but allowing each the responsibility to bring their audience a lot of information.
Secretary Vilsack was warmly received by the more than 6,000 farmers from across the nation who had traveled to our capital city to meet and formulate policy on agricultural issues that would affect the agricultural communities in every hamlet around our land. Of course, the Secretary’s number one topic dealt with the passage of a five-year farm bill. Vilsack said he and the department would continue to push for passage of a new farm bill replacing the extended 2008 bill with hopes of retaining a strong and viable safety net. He said these were key components of the legislation and are provisions related to reforming credit, conservation programs and continuing the country’s commitment to enhancing trade.
He went on to say that equally critical to the future of farmers and ranchers is regaining the clout rural America once had. One way to do that is by building strategic alliances in rural America, but not limiting relationships to those in agriculture. “We have to extend beyond talking to ourselves,” Vilsack said. “We must embrace diversity.”
All of this I agree on with the Secretary and so did the other Farm Bureau folks sitting in that room that afternoon. The Secretary used several examples on how we can reach out to other groups, but one example he used I think he could have left on his desk up in Washington. The example he used that I had in question dealt with the American Egg Board and HSUS. He said, “And frankly those who are engaged in constructive engagement, they shouldn’t be faulted for doing so. Now I know that there are not too many fans of the Humane Society in this room. But egg producers thought it was in their best interest to avoid fifty different referendums, fifty different sets of rules. So they sat down with folks and they reached common ground. After all, isn’t that what we’re asking our Congress to do? Isn’t that what we’re asking our political leaders to do? To sit down and make common cause? I think the egg producers have the right idea. Now, the issues may be different for different types of producers. But we need to be constructively engaged at all times and conversations. We may not find agreement. But I think we will substantially reduce those who oppose farming and substantially reduce the reach of those and hopefully be able to get enough proactive activity that results in a five-year bill.”
The agreement made between those two groups wasn’t common ground or a compromise in my opinion and the example was not a good choice for the group he was speaking to. He could have just as easily said something unflattering about our mothers and gotten less head shaking by those in attendance. A lot of those present wondered why that example was used at all.
I keep wondering why is it that it is always the farmer who has to compromise and give in when someone doesn’t like what farmers have been doing. I agree, we have to embrace diversity, but we don’t have to roll over and play dead either. Sometimes you would like to see the other side offer a compromise rather than demands.
After the secretary, retired astronaut Captain Mark Kelly spoke to the group as the keynote speaker and reminded his audience to “deny the existence of failure.” That was a little different direction from compromising. In a recent news release it reports that Kelly is one of America’s most experienced pilots and has logged more than 6,000 flight hours aboard more than 50 different aircraft. His experience includes 375 aircraft carrier landings, 39 combat missions, more than 50 days in space and service as commander of the space shuttle Endeavor’s final mission. He is a prostate cancer survivor and the husband of former Congressman Gabrielle Giffords who survived an assassination attempt in 2011. “How good you are at the beginning is not a good indicator of how good you can become,” Kelly said in his speech.
The former astronaut summed up his talk best when he said, “Be passionate, be courageous, be strong, and be your best.” Those words seemed to describe today’s agriculturalists. They are passionate in what they do, they have to be courageous to battle what they have to fight for, being of smaller numbers they must remain strong and they are the best in the world. Compromise is the term they really have trouble with and feel it is over used.
– Pettus L. Read is editor of the Tennessee Farm Bureau News and director of Communications for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org