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Bold farm leaders drawing ‘line in the sand’

Farm leadership styles are evolving; more assertive leaders are drawing ‘a line in the sand’

During my 39 years as a farm journalist in the West and Midwest, I’ve interviewed many agricultural leaders with various missions.

One of the strongest leaders I’ve known was Caledonia, Mich. dairyman Elton Smith, the state Farm Bureau president. In the early 1980s, he stood his ground on several hot-bed, media-stirred issues, including anti-agriculture groups trying to ban the use of the plant growth regulator Alar.

Alar was in part used by Michigan apple growers to keep fruit red and firm for storage. Some groups believed Alar caused cancer. Some scientists claimed a person had to consume thousands of pounds of apples per day grown using Alar to possibly get cancer. Smith led agriculture’s defense and brought commonsense to the debate.

Farm leaders yesterday and today can conduct business on the quiet side and can be quite effective via behind the scenes negotiations. Also, there are those who are operate more vocally and aggressively to achieve organizational objectives.

More and more leaders in the West are taking the latter route – bolder, louder, and more outspoken. Why? I believe this is in part driven by the impact of extreme environmental groups and the internet.

Farm leaders continue to confront extreme environmentalists, who the latter in some cases believe the Delta smelt fish and other creatures are more important than humans. Some support the belief that all water should be tapped to save the half-inch long fish. It doesn’t matter if agriculture has enough water to feed and clothe people since humans are viewed as secondary. Agricultural leaders should address the importance of water for everyone's well being.

Environmental groups are also tapping the internet to share other anti-farm musings. Farm leaders are fighting back on their own organizational websites while urging their respective memberships to harness social media and other effective outreach. 

Two western farm leaders who have become bolder and jumping headfirst into highly controversial issues include Joel Nelsen of California Citrus Mutual and Roger Isom of the California Cotton Ginners-Growers Association and Western Agricultural Processing Association. These effective leaders, and others, are strong managers for agriculture, unafraid to push hard for agriculture’s well being.

Indeed, farm leadership is crucial to agriculture's success. More assertive leaders are drawing ‘a line in the sand’ to stand up for agriculture on a wide array of issues.It's a management style that's gaining traction.

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