The job may be tougher than we think

I’m sitting here, scratching my head, wondering how challenging the whole job of consumer outreach by aggies might actually be. Why? Well, this morning I was sent a newspaper article by a dairy farmer in Wisconsin, an article demonstrating the whole job of talking to consumers about what we do may be a bit tougher than we think.

The article appears to be a letter to the editor, written by someone apparently responding to an article in the local paper about hunting. The writer opined that all hunters should be ashamed, and that folks should only eat meat “from the store where it was made. No animals harmed.”

I was immediately reminded of a graduating senior I once interviewed as a candidate for a government affairs job, this person being the product of a fine and very expensive DC university. When I asked the candidate about his attitudes about animal rights, vegetarianism and so forth, he allowed as he was a meat eater and had no problems with farming and ranching. However, later in the interview he admitted he did have a problem with raising animals for their skin. Seems this young man believed meat was the byproduct of leather production,not the other way around.

I’m hoping these two incidents are the exception to the rule. If they’re not, we’ve got to seriously rethink this whole messaging thing.


A colleague of mine this week ranted about the “lack focus at USDA,” how the White House couldn’t get the subcabinet jobs filled, how all President Obama cares about is organic vegetable gardens and on and on.

She reacted none too nicely when I disagreed with her, my point being it’s only about 90 days since the new Administration came to town and that, knock wood, there’s yet to be an ag crisis that to test the still-slim executive ranks at USDA.

But as I thought about it, the reason my friend and colleague thinks the way she does is that this USDA continues to be a mystery to many in agriculture. Most of the folks at USDA — with only a couple of exceptions — are new faces in town, or in some cases, faces not seen for nearly a decade. The known entity at USDA is Secretary Vilsack, and only because 1) he was governor of Iowa, 2) he ran for president, and 3) he’s been shouldering the load pretty much alone since day one.

Now that we’ve got a Vilsack chief of staff and a deputy, a press secretary, several “senior advisors,” a deputy secretary and at least a couple of subcabinet types in place, maybe the secretary’s office might consider some outreach.

It’s all about good will. In administrations past by this time the new secretary and his team would have held meet-and-greet sessions with the constituencies of the department. Folks would not have to chase the secretary for an appointment — sucking up his valuable time — just to get the measure of the man, his team and their policy thinking. Constituents would have at least an impression not molded by press reports because they would have met him and talked with him at a meeting of consumer groups or the meat industry or the crop production side of the industry.

These sessions, focused on a particular constituent segment interest, allow questions to be asked, answers given, debate engaged, and allow the secretary to hear first hand what certain of his constituents care about. Saves a whole lot of time and frustration on both sides of the equation. No one likes to hear the secretary doesn’t have time to hear their message; the secretary doesn’t need grumbling on the streets because folks don’t think he’s accessible.

Such meetings cost nothing, and they generate a whole lot of good will.


Have a splendid holiday weekend!

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