By Daren Coppock, ARA president and CEO

The Agricultural Retailers Association (ARA) is well on its way to implementation of its new strategic plan, approved by the board at the association's annual conference, Nov. 30-Dec. 2, 2010. I'd like to share with our members and supporters what we're doing, where we're headed, what's changing and what will remain the same over the next few years.

Priority One: Public Policy
During our planning process, the most consistent message we heard from our membership was that ARA needs to maintain its focus and aggressive work in the public policy arena. ARA has done very well in this area and none of the changes will do anything but strengthen our policy work.

We have important initiatives underway at the moment on issues like the Hours of Service Exemption for agricultural drivers; a congressional fix to the 6th Circuit Court decision that will require Clean Water Act permits for otherwise-legal pesticide applications; reauthorization of chemical facility security rules; court actions against EPA's attempts to expand its regulatory reach by stipulating numeric criteria for fertilizer; renewal of the tax credit for security investments at facilities; and EPA's proposal for Web-distributed pesticide labels. The largest concentration of our staff and energies will remain focused on public policy issues for our members.

As a way to expand our input and member engagement in policy issues (and others), ARA opened participation in most of its committees and its policy working groups to any ARA member. In prior years, only board members had been able to serve on the committees; now we're able to get our members' subject matter experts directly involved in guiding ARA policy. As a result of this effort, 26 people from outside the board are serving on one or more of our committees, and 45 people from outside the board are serving on one or more task forces and work groups. If you have individuals in your company that you would like to have involved in our working groups or committees, please let us know; a description of the committees and their responsibilities can be found in the "About Us" section of our Web site.

Member Services
The biggest area of new work for ARA considered by the board is in developing unique and valued services for our members. ARA's new Mission Statement calls on us to advocate and influence, and also to educate and provide services. So, we're building some capacity to be able to provide these services.

The first one is already up and running — ARA's new and vastly improved Web site. New features of the site include the ability to search our online resources by keyword, so if you're looking for something on a specific topic, you won't have a difficult hunt to find it. I tested the site by searching for the term "nutrient" and got a list of 67 relevant documents in about five seconds. The site also allows our members to monitor and participate in discussion groups on topics of interest, and even create their own forums. We've started some online discussions with our new Technology Working Group and Communications Committee, and there's also an "Ag Open Discussion" general discussion area that's open for any topic participants want to mention.

Other services will be developed and offered to ARA members, that will use three primary criteria to evaluate potential offerings:

  • Is it a service that ARA members need and are unable to get elsewhere
  • Is it a service that ARA is the best-positioned to offer
  • Does it make economic sense to the association and its membership for ARA to offer the service.

For those of you who have read Jim Collins' classic book "Good to Great," you'll recognize his Hedgehog Concept in these three criteria. Our Member Services Committee started this process at our February meeting, and you'll be hearing more from us on this in the coming months. We'll be soliciting your input on ideas, so please share your thoughts with us when the question comes.

Our annual conference will continue to be a member service on which we focus substantial energy. This year's meeting is shaping up to be informative and provocative from the content point of view, and will be held at the beautiful Boca Raton Resort & Club the week after Thanksgiving. Watch your mail and e-mail for more details, but go ahead and mark the dates now! Our partnership with Purdue University for the ARA Management Academy will also continue and strengthen, and we'll look at offering other educational opportunities through meetings, publications (like our NH3 safety book), or Webinars.

We're also involved with the Retail Council of the Ag Gateway organization, which is using e-business solutions to solve some of the transactional pain points for retailers. Among the projects we’re involved in there is an effort to standardize and streamline state fertilizer tonnage tax reporting, and another one that would standardize the reporting of seed trait and treatment data for license compliance and inventory management purposes.

It's Who You Know
One of the key tasks the board gave us, through strategic planning, was to strengthen alliances with related groups. Since last fall, we have exchanged ex-officio board seats with CropLife America and The Fertilizer Institute to keep us all better informed; coordinated extensively with TFI and CLA on issues of mutual interest like numeric nutrient criteria and Web-distributed labeling; begun the process of strengthening our ties with state agribusiness associations by actively participating in their meetings, initiating a state executives' roundtable at the annual ARA conference, and identifying a state relations liaison within ARA; established contact with several coalitions working on sustainability issues and promoting the overall image of modern agriculture; and serving in a leadership capacity in a number of Washington-based ad hoc groups like the Ag Nutrient Policy Council and the Agribusiness Club of Washington.

As you can tell, it's an exciting time to be part of ARA. We'll keep you updated on progress as we move forward, and I look forward to hearing from you on how we're doing.

ARA Mission
ARA advocates, influences, educates and provides services to support its members in their quest to maintain a profitable business environment, adapt to a changing world and preserve their freedom to operate.