Twenty-seven years ago, I started my career in ag lending, fresh out of college and on the heels of the 1980's farm crisis. Back then, almost every person I knew either farmed, grew up on a farm or had close relatives who farmed. The general public seemed to always have positive feelings towards agriculture – an almost romanticism based upon wholesomeness, goodness, and family. The evening news seemed to always have a weekly segment on farmers' economic challenges, weather woes, or just a feel-good piece.
Today, agriculture is more or less absent from the national discourse. Even in rural America, many people know more about what’s going on in Iran or the UK than they know what’s going on with the farmers down the road, or what’s going on in your bank. While we are more connected, there is a growing disconnect among a lot of people about the agriculture segment of our economy. That disconnect extends to some public policy makers, elected officials, and regulators.
To those of us that are involved in agriculture, we reminisce about days when people cared or understood ag. We’re distraught when the public just doesn’t “get it” or even worse, when activists launch social media attacks on the very industry that feeds them. The recent Fair Oaks video is proof of that.
If we’re going to help our neighbors, regulators and elected officials understand agriculture, we all need to do our part and be active advocates for our industry. We cannot afford to complain to ourselves how people don’t understand ag; we cannot live in our own echo chamber, telling each other how things have changed.
Being an advocate for agriculture and ag banking is each and everyone’s responsibility. The WBA recently asked member banks to name an Advocacy Officer to help shepherd advocacy efforts within each bank. You need to find out who that person is, and ask them to help be an advocate for ag banking. Pick up the phone and talk to your elected officials about what’s going on in your industry. They will listen, and you will build relationships that will produce fruit for many years. And take that one step further – be an active advocate for ag in your own communities by talking with people who aren’t connected to ag, letting them know the challenges, accomplishments, and the future of agriculture and ag banking. We can all step up our game in being more vocal advocates for our industry all the time, to everyone.
Jeff Gruetzmacher is senior vice president at Elroy-based Royal Bank in Lancaster and serves as the WBA Agricultural Bankers Section Board Chair.