The 2023 National Council of Farmer Cooperatives was recently held in Orlando, Florida from February 8th– February 10th. This year’s theme was “Strategy and Action: Thriving in a Disruptive Ag Landscape.” The event kicked off with opening remarks from Chuck Connor, President and CEO of National Council of Farmers, Jon Doggett, former CEO National Corn Growers Association, and Hunt Shipman, Principal and Director for Cornerstone Government Affairs.
Keeping with the theme, the group began the discussion with addressing a hot button issue— ‘How do we deal going forward?’ meaning how do we take the various disruptions from the past three years we’ve faced and are continuing to face and plunge forward. “We have an obligation to turn people’s views around and get back to the times of being able to share the bread,” explained Jon Doggett. “The political changes are going to come from elected officials in the primary races, and we need to start understanding that.”
The USDA has reported rural America is drastically shrinking, with much fewer farmers in their representative districts. For example, in the state of Iowa in the 1960’s there were 6 representatives for the state, now there are only 4. In order to stay relevant today, we must start by telling America what we’re doing for them! Mr. Shipman asked the audience if it’s really enough for America that at the end of the day everyone’s got to eat? Knowing this is something we worry and think about is not enough to drive a vote, we must continue the dialogue and keep it in the minds of the people for a lengthy period of time.
A very valuable point was articulated by Mr. Doggett, “We can’t educate consumers, we market to them, so what are we doing for them? We must provide the information they’re looking for, as well as advice to navigate co-ops in farming. We must quit thinking of labeling and bring in new people and perspectives, embracing where we are today.”
The panel concluded their session opener with the importance of making connections and understanding your audience, validating those connections to meet people where they’re at. Shipman left the group with a very proactive thought, “Don’t try and fit in just to check a box, deal with the core issues that are coming at us, remain engaged at the highest levels and really get involved.”
This is very fitting for each of us. There will also be a place to get involved and engaged to be proactive. Let’s take the opportunity to reach out to our friends, neighbors, and colleagues to thrive in disruption.