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Put in my place

By Holly Martin

I spend much of my time during conventions in our High Plains Journal booth. Such was the case at last week's Commodity Classic in Kissimmee, Fla.

It's a chance to see many of our subscribers and visit about what's going on in their neck of the woods. We discuss the weather, the crops and whether Trent Loos has offended anyone lately.

But one morning during Commodity Classic, the Journal booth had a different kind of visitor. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack stopped. As any good reporter would do, I jumped at the chance to introduce myself, hoping to get a question or two into the conversation.

He was on to me.

He politely shook my hand and smiled, then 3.7 seconds into our conversation his attention quickly turned to my 15-year-old son, who accompanied me on this trip.

"Who's this young man?"

I introduced him and just like that, I was done--put in my place by the highest ranking agricultural official in the U.S. government. Well, I guess I know where I stand when there's a young person to schmooze.

It was a fantastic opportunity for Campbell. And it was at that time I praised 4-H for teaching him how to speak up instead of letting his normally introverted nature take over. They talked about Campbell's desire to be a part of the agricultural industry when he grew up. And, as any good politician would do, Vilsack didn't miss the opportunity to talk up the programs USDA has available to young farmers and ranchers. And then he moved on. It was only a quick chat and there were many others wanting the attention of the secretary.

But I wish Campbell and I would have had just a little more time with him. It was quite an honor for both of us to meet him. Just an hour earlier, we heard his speech to the entire delegation at Commodity Classic.

Maybe you'll remember a different speech he gave in December, when Vilsack said rural America was becoming less and less relevant. Many farmers and ranchers took offense. During his Commodity Classic speech, he took the opportunity to refine his comments.

"I want to make sure that people understand the message I tried to convey," he said. "It wasn't that rural America is not relevant. It is absolutely relevant," he said, "I would argue that it is one of the most relevant places in America. What I said was that its political relevance is in question. That's different. Political relevance is the ability to get things done in Washington."

It made me think. Because Campbell has grown up on a farm and goes to school in a town of 800, does that make him less relevant than another high school freshman from Kansas City, or Chicago, or Atlanta? I don't think so. And I don't think Vilsack does either, considering he dropped me like a hot potato to speak to him.

To follow Vilsack's train of thought, however, because Campbell is growing up where he is, he is less relevant to Washington.

I realize he's my kid, but that bothers me. And I'd venture to say it bothers you too.

Maybe that's the wake-up call Vilsack was going for a few months ago, and just didn't use the right words. Or maybe he did. It certainly got my attention.

But we shouldn't squabble over the words he used. What we should do is take a very hard look at why my son, and the rest of the young people who make up the future of agriculture, are not important to Washington. Let's not let that happen.

Food on the table of every American is a luxury we've enjoyed for long enough that it is no longer an issue to most consumers. But if regulations and politics get in the way of our ability to produce that food--at the expense of farmers everywhere--that comfort could soon be gone.

Each and every one of us needs to make a commitment to talk about the agricultural industry and why it is important to all Americans--not just the kids growing up with mud on their boots and the land in their hearts.

It's a message we need to convey. Now.

Holly Martin can be reached by phone at 1-800-452-7171 ext. 1806, or by email at hmartin@hpj.com.

Date: 3/11/2013

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