During a time of many regulatory unknowns, advocacy reoccurred as a theme at the 2017 annual meeting of the National Alliance of Independent Crop Consultants (NAICC). In a keynote address, Bill Buckner, CEO and president of the Noble Foundation, gave four steps to be an advocate: gain knowledge, seek innovation, form collaborations and find a platform. After five days in St. Louis, NAICC members could check all boxes.

Gain Knowledge. Many discussions centered on potential regulations impacting the agriculture industry.

“Today’s policy landscape will be more unpredictable,” says past NAICC president Dan Moser, a consultant with Centrol Inc.

Looking ahead, Buckner advises the group to stand firm with open ears and eyes.

“Tighten the cinch strap on your saddle, but don’t hold on to the saddle horn,” he says. “Agriculture will need us to be balanced, quick, assertive, clear-headed and calm. Every year, someone emerges wanting to know more about the way we farm.”

Seek Innovation. With three tracks of breakout sessions, members learned about technology, business management and regulations. The expo had more than 60 companies discussing their latest products, technologies and services.

In the process of seeking innovation and applying it, Buckner says don’t be afraid if the first attempt doesn’t succeed.

“We need to try novel solutions to old problems,” he says. “Failure is expected. Fail fast, and move ahead.”

Ag consultants have valuable experience. However, today’s challenges  are different from those in the past.

“When my generation started as agronomists, our focus was to help farmers grow crops profitably, and that’s a big enough concern on its own,” says incoming president Steve Hoffman, who is president of InDepth Agronomy in Wisconsin. “Now our job description has expanded to include soil and water conservation, food safety and sustainability of our food production system. We all take that burden and accept it.”

However, he notes the greatest challenge is not having the tools to increase production while decreasing environmental impact. Rather, it’s the large influence on agriculture from outside marketing forces.

“Insecticides are safer to pollinators than ever before but blamed. Consumers have information at their fingertips, but do they have the whole story? We need to tell our side of the story,” he says.

Form Collaborations. “It’s impressive to think about what we can accomplish when we work together,” Hoffman says.

He notes that members of NAICC include crop consultants, researchers and quality assurance professionals.

“Many of us have strong relationships with federal agencies and land-grant universities,” Hoffman says. “And no one understands the local and national issues better than our members. When we put our heads together, we can move mountains.”

Find A Platform. The 39th annual meeting was the most well-attended in the organization’s history. It included 76 new members and first-time attendees. The NAICC works to bring together its members and connect the boots out in the field to events with policy makers.