Members of the National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) and other agricultural groups need to partner to increase their communications with consumers and the public on food- and agriculture-related issues, said NGFA Chairman John Heck, senior vice president of The Scoular Company, during his address at the 45th annual Country Elevator Conference and Trade Show.
The 2016 Country Elevator Conference and Trade Show, conducted Dec. 11 – 13 at the Chicago Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile, is the single largest gathering of country elevator personnel. This year’s meeting attracted more than 700 members from the grain, feed, processing and export industry.
During his keynote remarks on Dec. 12, Heck outlined several potential themes emerging in the NGFA’s new long-range plan, which currently is under development. Among several priorities, the new plan likely will emphasize the importance of proactive communications on food and agricultural issues with consumers, noting the impact on the supply chain.
“The facts we have access to aren’t always known by, and sometimes don’t resonate with consumers…[but] it’s the facts that have to be communicated,” he said.
Mitch Dawson, chairman of NGFA’s Country Elevator Committee and director of grain operations at MFA Inc., Columbia, Mo., echoed Heck’s sentiments in comments during the conference.
“The internet and social media have made it difficult for consumers to know what is truth and what is fiction when it comes to our food,” Dawson said, noting that each person in agriculture has a responsibility to convey the benefits of commercial agricultural production and marketing to the public.
“Agriculture is our job, our careers…and it better be your passion. If not, you’re probably in the wrong career field,” he said. “We need involvement from each of you.”
When it comes to other priorities for 2017, Heck noted that NGFA is working to provide extensive input to President-elect Donald Trump on legislative and regulatory issues, particularly regulatory excesses that should be rolled back during the early months of the new administration. Trade also will be a high priority for the NGFA with the incoming administration.
“One of our early priorities is to begin a constructive dialogue with the Trump team on ways to improve and modernize trade agreements – starting with the North American Free Trade Agreement – in a way that reinforces the importance of two-way trade and preserves the many positive aspects of trade agreements for ag,” Heck said.
In addition, the NGFA chairman highlighted the challenges for the industry when it comes to the commercialization of agricultural biotechnology traits. While very supportive of the technology and the benefits and efficiencies it brings to modern production agriculture, the NGFA continues to urge technology owners to obtain foreign market approvals before new traits are planted on a commercial scale so as to avoid trade disruptions.
“Frankly, one of our hurdles has been to convince farm and commodity groups that appear willing to accept the short-term risk of prematurely planting biotech traits before they are approved in world markets,” Heck said. “We need to do a better job of informing those growers of that risk.”
Regarding new gene-editing technologies that are making their way into the market, Heck said obtaining some international regulatory coherence with other countries on how and whether these traits will be regulated is imperative.
“We simply can’t allow the same kind of disparate regulatory treatment to occur with these new gene-editing techniques as happened with transgenics,” He said. “The market disruption could be catastrophic,” he said.
Finally, Heck reminded attendees that the NGFA will continue in its mission to provide proactive safety education and training outreach to the industry. Regional Grain Handling Safety Seminars in partnership with State and Regional Grain and Feed Associations will continue in 2017 to further disseminate a strong safety message. In addition, the NGFA will continue its partnership with State and Regional Grain and Feed Associations and state feed regulatory agencies to conduct training for the industry on compliance with the Food Safety Modernization Act.
The 2016 Country Elevator Conference featured expert insights into biotechnology, the agricultural economy, and generational differences in the workforce, as well as a variety of educational sessions geared toward facility operations, merchandising and management. For more information, click here.
Dawson summarized some of his points about effective communication in this video message.