Can Agriculture Speak With One Voice?


How many of you have been at an agricultural meeting and heard the phrase, “the industry needs to speak with one voice.” At first glance this would seem like a very plausible and likely strategy but lets really think about this and analyze it.

Do you really think that the cattle lobby will ever really see eye to eye with the grain farmer. What about the lack of common interests between grape growers and lentil growers? This is a huge industry that has a ton in common but the reality is that within the industry we have many differences that are not possible to ignore.

For example, corn growers want the highest price for their grain that they can get while feedyards are looking to pay as little for the corn as they can.  It is easy to pass this off as a small issue but the reality is that this simple kind or division of interest becomes very difficult to set aside.

This whole thought process became very apparent to me when I heard an industry outsider talk about it.  I was listening to Jeffery Simpson, a columnist with the Globe and Mail discuss his views on the economy and politics.  During the question period a person in the audience asked how agriculture could be better at “speaking with one voice.”  Mr. Simpson snapped back very quickly with,”Its impossible.  Having agriculture speak with one voice is like trying to get the media to speak with one voice.  Its just never going to happen”

I thought that this was very interesting and had some really foundations in truth.  Can you really see TMZ or collaborating and lobbying with the Wall Street Journal.  If you really think about it, agriculture is no different.  The ag industry has a hard times getting cow-calf producers, feed yards and packers to agree on the day of the week, never mind the context of a fair and equitable value chain.

I think that we should focus more on a collaborative voice instead of just one voice.  A collaborative voice does not necessarily agree on everything but it is still heard by people external of the industry, like government.  For example, feeders and ranchers can speak collaboratively to the government about the concern of packer consolidation.  Speaking with one voice could be difficult because there are different interests in the argument once you drop below 30,000 feet.

There are examples of agriculture speaking with one voice but that is usually within the context of common interest.  For example, the Grain Farmers of Ontario is a merger of the corn, wheat and soybean growers of Ontario.  The objective is that they will speak with one voice as grain farmers.  The situation works because corn, wheat and soybean growers are not in conflictive business settings with one another.  One side is not trying to buy something from the other.

I really believe that too many times we pretend to have this common interest on internal ag-issues that is not necessary possible and it slows down our ability to get things done.  I agree with Mr. Simpson that speaking with one voice is impossible but I do believe that certain situations do provide the environment to speak collaboratively.

What do you think?

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