|It was quite a sight - 92 tractors - one from each county in Indiana, chugging their way through downtown Indianapolis on their way to the Indiana State Fair. It was all part of the 150th birthday celebration of the fair. The purpose was to draw attention and visitors to the fair.
The unanticipated consequence was to bring out the city folk by the hundreds to gawk and point at the old iron. Farm equipment, old or new, always draws a crowd of people who, for the most part, have no idea what they are seeing. There was a time when all we in agriculture wanted was for people to appreciate the role we play. Today we want and need them to do much more.
Today agriculture needs not only recognition from those outside of our industry, but also active support. That active support will only come with understanding, as well as appreciation. The public must understand the importance of agriculture to their economic, as well as their dietary, health. They must come to understand the link between the economic well being of farmers and the well being of the general economy.
Consumers need to see the link between the quality of life in rural areas and the quality of life in the city. This level of understanding may begin with a tractor parade or seeing farm animals at the fair, but it cannot end there.
It will take proactive and creative efforts by the agriculture industry to engage and educate people where they live. Grassroots efforts are underway across the Midwest to work with local community leaders to counter the prohibition of larger livestock operations. It is time to take our message to the street, and to the zoning commission, and to the county council.
A good example of this is what Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels has been doing. Recently he told a group of several hundred Hoosier ag leaders that he regularly brings up agriculture when talking with big city officials and urban constituents. He said he stressed the interdependency of urban and rural and how agriculture is a major economic driver of the entire economy. It is rare for an elected leader to have this level of insight, but even more rare for one to make it a major issue.
Yet, that is just what needs to happen: agriculture must become a major issue. This is what led me to start my own radio program focused exclusively on making Indiana agriculture a major issue.
Hoosier Ag Today will début in early September on radio stations across Indiana. This series of daily programs will fill a void in farm broadcasting. Instead of just offering lip service, Hoosier Ag Today (www.hoosieragto day.com) will provide in-depth coverage of Indiana agriculture. This will be done with a team of reporters - all located in the state and familiar with the issues and the individuals important to Hoosier agriculture.
By making Indiana agriculture a major issue on the airwaves, we will initiate a discussion between farm and non-farm citizens about the needs, and value of a dynamic and growing agriculture industry.
This effort, however, cannot be the exclusive realm of political leaders and farm broadcasters; the rural and agricultural community must be involved in this effort.
As one farmer told me recently, “We have to put this on the front burner and turn up the heat.”
This farm news was published in the August 23, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.