What do politics and agriculture have to do with each other? A lot. And unfortunately not all farmers/growers/producers realize this. Agriculture is a complex web of connected parts — there are growers, suppliers, researchers, educators, consumers, consultants, etc. that all depend on agriculture. I’ve met many a grower who just wants to put his/her head down and work hard on their own farm. I understand that. Most growers are hard workers who spend a lot of time in their fields, on their tractors, and other tasks that consume a lot of time. They are probably from farm families that have done the same thing for decades.
The world is different now than it was decades ago. Agricultural lobbying is very powerful, but not all crops are equally represented. Plus, powerful commodities in one state may be underrepresented in another. Thus, the onus really falls on individual growers and state-based grower organizations to make their voice heard in politics. They must know who the political power players are and get to know them. They must be vocal about their needs and concerns. So, how can this help?
I speak from the university side of things, but I have seen the effects of becoming politically active. Once upon a time (when I worked in Oklahoma) the grape growers organization was a fledgling group without any political influence. But, in six years time, they went from being an afterthought to gaining legislature to fund research, they met with and made wine for the Governor, and they have raised the reputation of their product (along with many other good works). Their political savvy helped the OSU program through obtaining more grant funding. No longer did funders say, “The industry is small and we don’t know how much interest there is in this work”, but rather, “Grapes are an important part of our funding expenditures”.
I see similar things here in Mississippi. When I first arrived I applied for 2 specialty crop block grants through the MDAC, one for blueberries and one for grapes. Both were declined. One comments from the review committee on the blueberry grant said, “…there were concerns that adequate information is currently available for Mississippi blueberry growers”. Really? A comment on the grape proposal review said, “…the committee did not know how many growers were interested in grape production.” Now, of course, there are limited funds to go around, but I believe these proposals would have faired much better if blueberry and grape growers made their needs known to political entities that direct these funds.
The power of a collective voice is substantial. So, I encourage everyone who is concerned with their business and their industry to become more politically savvy. Certainly the research, extension, and education done on many crops depends on it.