Recently I was in Washington, D.C., and when I got out of a meeting, I texted a friend who was meeting me for lunch, or at least I thought I was texting that friend. Instead I ended up texting another acquaintance. I blame it on my lack of tech savvy, a scratched-up screen and Verizon but, my mix up was because I was not paying attention.

The text was a simple one, it went something like; “Just got out of my meeting on trade, ready for dinner.” The person that got the text knew I was in D.C. We had been texting earlier. His response was. “I don’t know how you do it. I don’t want to have anything to do with that place.” Honestly, I can’t remember what my answer was to him at that minute. However, later that week I did have a chance to talk face to face with him.

I simply asked my friend, if I don’t meet with officials in D.C. about trade, who does? Everyone I talked to that day about trade valued the opinions and ideas of a farmer and before that day had heard only from people inside the Beltway. I promise you, if those of us in the real world with boots on the ground don’t make our voices heard, someone else will fill the void and they may or may not have our best interests as a priority.

I am not immune to this either. I have my opinions on climate change and global warming, and we will leave it at that. My typical reaction is to just growl and then ignore anything I hear on the topic. Recently I was sharing my opinion on the matter with a friend who does not agree with me on the subject and works in agriculture.

When she brought up the topic, I dismissed it and said I wasn’t even going to dignify it with a response. What she told me next really hit home. She said, “OK so you don’t agree with it. We can debate that all day. But to say that you don’t even want to discuss it is doing more damage than you might think.” She went on to explain that by not being at the table I and most others in agriculture are allowing the activists to win.

My friend went on to remind me that by sticking our head in the sand and just ignoring the discussion allows others to have free run is not a good idea. By not being present for the discussions we are without a voice in making decisions that could very well affect our bottom line and eventually our future.

Those of us in agriculture have this tendency to be a bit passive aggressive when it comes to difficult subjects. We tend to think if we ignore the problem it will go away. We hold on to this belief that by talking about something we disagree with, we are giving it more publicity and therefore doing more harm. Even worse, we have this bad habit ignoring those who might be difficult or disagreeable. We like to live in our own little world.

I get it, I like being left alone. My favorite thing about visiting Washington, D.C., is the morning after I get home when I am alone feeding cows. I am here to tell you that we must change our approach. We cannot allow for decisions to be made that will affect how we do our job without having a seat at the table. If we are not present and we don’t like what is done, then we have only ourselves to blame. Not the activists or the politicians. The activists were doing their job and the politicians were acting on the information they receive.

I go back to something my mother told me when I was a kid. If you don’t like how something is done, then work to change it. That is what we need to do in agriculture. We need to stop complaining about how things are done and dig in to help change it. We need to make sure that we have a seat at the table when topics that affect us are discussed.

After all, do we want somebody who truly believes that the way to cut greenhouse gas is to eliminate cattle making decisions? We snicker at the idea, maybe even get mad about it but the reality is that more and more people are starting to consider it because those of us in agriculture choose to ignore the madness and allow the activists to have the only voice.

I am not saying we all need to make a trip to D.C. although that might not be the worst idea. We do need to make sure that agriculture has a voice representing our best interests and our point of view at every discussion that takes place, whether we agree or not. That is why it is important for each of us to take up our cause. Just make sure you check double check before you hit send on that text.

Glenn Brunkow is a fifth-generation farmer in the Northern Flint Hills of Pottawatomie County in Kansas. He was a county Extension agent for 19 years before returning to farm and ranch full time. He can be reached at glenn.brunkow@midwestmessenger.com.

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