Focus on the three Vs

Pork Congress keynote speaker shares success tips

DES MOINES — Not long after Americans were expressing gratitude and enjoying a hearty Thanksgiving dinner last November, some MSNBC employees were less than thankful for rural Americans and the farmers who produced the ingredients for those Thanksgiving meals.

On Nov. 25, MSNBC producer Kyle Griffin tweeted, “By 2040, about 70 percent of Americans are expected to live in the 15 largest states. They will have only 30 senators representing them, while the remaining 30 percent of Americans will have 70 senators representing them.”

MSNBC host Joy Reid followed up with her own commentary about the rural minority, tweeting that rural Americans are “the core threat to our democracy” and “will continue to have disproportionate power over the urban majority.” She suggested that Gerrymandering reform and “the abolition of the Electoral College would be a start” to fix the issue.

“Really?” asked Matt Rush, former New Mexico Farm Bureau chief executive officer and keynote speaker at the 2018 Iowa Pork Congress in Des Moines. “We’re the backbone of America. We’re what this country was built on. Do you think this might mean we need to start telling our story?”

Too many Americans associate rural residents with the famous American Gothic painting, he added.

“That’s how they may define us, but in reality, they don’t even know us,” Rush said. “They don’t understand what we do, or, more importantly, how this impacts them.”

Success tips for the future of farming

Meeting this challenge isn’t always easy, especially in an era of extreme animal activist groups and digital communication where information — and misinformation — can spread almost instantaneously.

“Ever feel like people are constantly pushing our buttons?” asked Rush, who grew up on a ranch in New Mexico and now resides in Texas. “We have to handle this and do our jobs along the way.”

Handling these issues means embracing the three Vs, Rush said.

“These are three things we have to do if we’re going to be as successful in the future as we have in the past.”

The three Vs

The three Vs include:

1. Viable. While farmers practically defined the word “viable,” that doesn’t mean they can rest on their laurels, said Rush, who shared a story from a grain buyer he met in Germany.

“That buyer said, ‘I’m going to tell you something you Americans don’t want to hear. If you don’t make a crop, Canada will, South America will, or someone else will. In 30 days I can have anything I want on the planet,'” Rush said.

Remaining the supplier of choice isn’t a given in today’s competitive global marketplace, he added.

“Do you think we’ll have to become even better to remain the leader? Yes.”

2. Valuable. Iowa has 87,000 farms and ranks No. 1 in the nation in corn production, pork production and egg production, according to 2016 data from the National Agricultural Statistics Service. What’s more, Iowa continues to be a global ag leader, from soybeans to red meat production to the total value of ag exports.

“Does this make Iowa valuable?” Rush asked. “It definitely does.”

3. Visible. While Iowa agriculture is more valuable than ever, today’s farmers face obstacles that Rush’s father and grandfather couldn’t imagine.

“They never would have believed that the American people would forget where their food and fiber come from,” Rush said. “Plus, our opponents are more vocal than our advocates. That’s why we need to remain visible and tell the story of the greatest industry on earth: agriculture.”

This means sharing how Iowa farmers produce a safe, affordable, abundant food supply.

“People need to know who we are, what we do and why it matters to them,” said Rush, who offered this poem to share his perspective.