Last month I attended two very different events. First was the Pheasant Fest and Quail Classic, the world’s largest gathering of upland hunters and conservationists. Next was the Commodity Classic, a farmer-focused convention led by some of the country’s biggest commodity agriculture groups. Despite their differences, I was encouraged to see many common themes that we can build upon as we work on next generation agriculture and conservation policy. Here are six takeaways:
- American exceptionalism is alive and well. In his Commodity Classic speech, USDA Secretary Vilsack told a cheering crowd that agriculture is at the center of the American success story—because just 1% of the population farms, the rest of us are free to fulfill our individual passions, talents, and appetites more so than in any other nation. Likewise, sportsmen proudly serve as the lynchpin of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. Sportsmen pay for conservation, management, and enhancement of species and habitat so that all Americans can enjoy wild resources, unlike in many countries where hunting is restricted to people with wealth, private land, or other special privileges.
- We must tell our stories.People are drawn to hunting and farming by stories, a shared heritage, and traditions passed down through generations. However, the average age of farmers is going up (it currently stands at 58), wild lands are disappearing, and conservation funding is perennially at risk. We must recruit new farmers, hunters, and anglers if we want to remain number one
- Quality gear is essential. Whether it’s guns, dogs, tractors, or satellite systems, the quality of a sportsman’s or farmer’s gear can make or break their season. It’s probably why I saw adults act like kids in a candy store, both when snuggling an eight pound Deutsch-Kurzhaar puppy and eyeballing a 120-foot wide John Deere planter.
- …but it all starts with soil. If your native top soil is gone or damaged, you’ve lost your ability to grow anything for food or habitat. Even water quality and flood control in our cities are affected by farmland soil. These days, everyone—farmer, hunter, rural or urban—is paying attention to soil health.
- The humble insect could drive the future of conservation. One-third of human food depends on pollinator species populations which are threatened by habitat loss. Farmers and conservationists are taking notice. The good news: what’s good for bees and butterflies is good for birds, and we can expect to see a number of innovative approaches to pollinator health in the next few years.
- Sportsmen and farmers agree: a successful Farm Bill is based on partnerships. Together we helped pass and implement the 2014 Farm Bill, and whether there will even be another Farm Bill may hinge on our shared ability to conserve habitat while keeping farming profitable. We will need to work together now more than ever. It’s heartening to know that we all share some common ground.