Hagler emphasizes importance of agriculture and sees strong future for industry
Laramie – At the 2013 AgriFuture Conference, Jon Hagler, former director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture, emphasized, “Unless someone is on a hunger strike in a nudist colony, agriculture is affecting them right now.”
The AgriFuture Conference, held Oct. 8-10 in Laramie, focused on the future of agriculture and how young adults are important in the future of the industry.
“Agriculture is vital in everything we do,” Hagler added. “Agriculture feeds, fuels and clothes the entire world, and it impacts our lives in every single way.”
Hagler further noted that the industry continues to grow and evolve.
“Agriculture is evolving all around us – not just here but across the globe,” he said.
“We have to continue to ride the wave of technological change and change in general,” Hagler said. “Agriculture has come so far and continues to evolve.”
He also noted that technology and change must be embraced, whether the changes impact social structure, policy or technology.
“We have come from a mule and plow to the laser-guided precision equipment that farmers use today,” Hagler explained. “We went from wild guessing in fertilizer application to utilizing soil science and mechanical technologies to biotechnology.”
However, the younger generation interested in agriculture, he said, has a good grasp on technology and understands the intersection between ag and technology.
“The future of agriculture is going to be increasingly technologically advanced,” he continued. “This generation understands that more than any.”
“The second key for the future of agriculture will be connecting to the broader audience,” Hagler mentioned. “Only 1.5 percent of Americans live on a farm or ranch. The other 98.5 percent are disconnected by one, two or three generations from agriculture.”
Fifty years ago, he added, everyone lived on a farm, raised some of their own food and knew about agriculture. Today, the picture of American society is very different.
“If we define ag as only the men and women who produce our food, the industry is narrow,” Hagler said. “But if we define it as the men and women who consume our food, it is a global industry.”
The increasing demand for local food and niche markets, while a relatively small portion of agriculture, provide an opportunity for two-way communication between producers and consumers, Hagler added.
“We can see the advantage of farmers’ markets,” he noted. “Consumers want to hear the farmer’s story. We can broaden the scope of agriculture to help relate it to the consumer.”
By involving consumers increasingly, lines of communication will be opened, and producers can more clearly convey their messages.
For example, Hagler noted that he worked to make agriculture more available in the public eye by establishing a small farm in front of the Missouri Department of Agriculture building during his time as director.
Additionally, he noted that the establishment of a garden opened the door to talk about the importance of food, use of pesticides and values of agriculture.
“We also established a 10,000 garden initiative,” Hagler commented. “Young people, older people and everyone in between got involved, and we hit 10,000 gardens faster than we ever imagined.”
The connection between gardening and agriculture, he noted, provided an avenue to connect with a broader audience.
“Connecting to the broader audience is key in the future,” Hagler emphasized. “We need the chance to convey our message.”
Hagler also marked leadership as an important aspect in the future of agriculture.
“Leadership matters,” he said. “It matters that elected officials understand and appreciate the importance of agriculture, and it matters from the federal level to the local level.”
Being proud and able to stand up for the industry are both very important for the future of agriculture.
“We have great groups and some national leaders of organizations who are wonderful, but they can’t do it on their own,” he said. “Grassroots membership has to be involved.”
Future of ag
Agriculture, Hagler added, is important for the future of every country in the world.
“There is not a country in the world that can defend itself if it can’t feed itself,” he said.
He added, “When the American farmer does well, America does well. Schools and small businesses flourish, and Main Street comes alive.”
“If we want to see the future of agriculture,” Hagler commented, “we have to be the ag evangelists of the future. We have to be ambassadors for the industry.”