“We’re in an era of American agriculture where you can’t just sit back. You have to agvocate.”
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue spoke those works poignantly — and almost pleadingly — to a room full of FFA students Wednesday at the National FFA Convention in Indianapolis. Perdue was moderating a session of the #SpeakAg Dialogues, where young people in ag from around the country were encouraged to comment on some key issues in the industry and to ask questions to an expert panel consisting of Gunner Greene of Iroquois Bio-Energy Company, Dr. Jennie Hodgen of Merck Animal Health, and Zach Kinne of Cargill.
After beginning with a communication exercise in which the students were paired with fellow FFA members who they didn’t know, Perdue told them how important it is to converse with people in informative and effective ways. The exercise has real-world applications, in a world with many varying viewpoints.
“You’re going to have to learn to interact with people who weren’t in FFA, don’t know farming, and don’t know what you’re about,” the ag secretary said.
The centerpiece of the session was texting poll the room took asking whether arable land in America should be prioritized for animal feed, human food, or fuel. Considering the primary missions of the three panelists, you can probably expect where this was going.
But even so, it went deeper than that.
There was genuine interest in the intersection of feed, energy, and food in the agriculture sector. Each aspect, it was shown, plays off another.
“We have the ability to feed ourselves, to feed our animals, and to feed our vehicles. That’s a tremendous resource,” Greene said.
Hodgen noted that agriculture sectors have more in common with one another than they do differences. This community — and yes, agriculture across this nation is a community — doesn’t have to pit an end-goal of food vs. fuel. “It’s much more than that,” she said.
Kinne, part of international-focused Cargill, delved into the expanded picture that agriculture has become, one that is trying to feed 200,000 new mouths a day globally and where free trade and the economics of doing agriculture right are vital — as is staying on top of the changing landscape.
“The pace of change will never be slower than it is today,” Kinne said.
The ag secretary summed up the hour-long session by pointing to three key pieces that will greatly affect the success of agriculture down the road: soil science, precision agriculture, and biotechnology. From there, he said, agriculture will continue to grow.