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Most Americans celebrate the latest innovations when it comes to their smartphones, cars or shiny kitchen appliances. Anything goes if it makes life better, right? Not necessarily.

When it comes to innovation in food production, public skepticism has reached a fever pitch, particularly around the issue of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), despite overwhelming scientific consensus that GMOs are safe. 

Now, with $3 million allocated as part of the recent government funding bill, the Food and Drug Administration plans to launch a public outreach campaign regarding the benefits of agricultural biotechnology and biotech crops. The government understands the importance of biotechnology, as well as the confusion and angst that surround it – and hopes that embarking on a communications campaign, in some way, will help effectively bridge the gap.   

How do the agriculture and food industries find themselves in a place where advancements aren’t celebrated like the new Wi-Fi, touch-screen refrigerator door panel? Largely because of the way they’ve traditionally approached the conversation.

For example, when farmers talk about “efficiencies” and “productivity,” it falls on deaf ears. The public sees those messages as self-serving. Sure, the farmer takes advantage of technology to make more money, but what’s in it for me?

Whether it’s a government agency, a farmer or food company executive, engaging in conversations about the benefits of biotechnology for people, animals and the planet is what resonates in the context of our ethical obligation to do what’s right. And there’s plenty to tout.

Genetically modified seed allows farmers to produce more food, on fewer acres of land, using fewer resources, making farming more sustainable.

Scientists are creating genetically modified foods that contain nutrients to help fight disease and malnourishment. 

By simply blocking a protein, we can help pigs become resistant to one of the deadliest swine diseases in the world, preventing animal suffering and premature death. Who would oppose that?

Food and agriculture also tend to resort to “educating” consumers with facts, figures and science under the assumption that the more information they provide, the more likely consumers are to understand and support biotech. That strategy alone doesn’t work.

While facts and science can’t be discounted, research from The Center for Food Integrity shows that finding common ground – and communicating with a focus on the shared values that connect us – is what earns trust. It’s the approach that our research demonstrates can have impact with those who are skeptical of biotechnology – even those who are unsure why other than it symbolizes “big ag,” which they inherently mistrust. 

Communicating shared values is three-to-five times more effective when it comes to earning trust than the default information dump. In fact, when we’ve provided study participants with information alone on a controversial food topic like GMOs, without the ethical underpinning, it simply galvanized their opposition.

Communicating the “why” makes for a more meaningful conversation.    

With a growing population and finite natural resources, the challenge to produce more with less while protecting the environment is real, and advances in biotechnology are one tool to help us get there.  

Connecting with consumers to gain broader acceptance of important innovations is not out of reach. We know from our research that the opportunity exists. The question is, will policymakers and the food system seize it and commit to a long-term, values-based dialogue to earn public trust? Our planet and its people will be better off for it.

Terry Fleck is executive director of The Center for Food Integrity, a not-for-profit organization that helps today’s food system earn consumer trust. This article originally appeared in “Morning Consult.”

The Wyoming Agriculture in the Classroom (WAIC) Bookmark Program continues to be a powerful way for students across the state to share an impactful agriculture and natural resource message with their peers through amazing artwork.

WAIC is thrilled to see the participation numbers rise this year. The contest is open to students in grades 2-5 across the state. This year, WAIC received a record number of submissions, with over 3,000 entries and all 23 counties participating.

The 11 finalists were invited to Cheyenne for a day to meet Gov. Mead and enjoy a luncheon celebration, followed by an agricultural canvas painting. We appreciate the opportunity to share photos of the students and their artwork over the next few weeks for all to see the talented work of our youth.

The increase in the Bookmark Program participation is just the first milestone to come for WAIC this year. We are hard at work planning for the Wyoming Stewardship Project. Educators from across the state will join WAIC and the Wyoming Department of Education this summer to continue revising and writing units for classrooms. This project has the opportunity to truly make a shift for our students in their understanding and engagement in the future of our state. The mission is for students to gain an understanding of Wyoming’s vast resources and become informed citizens, capable of serving as stewards for Wyoming’s future.

The Bookmark and Wyoming Stewardship Project are just two examples of the profound work WAIC is committed to. Our progress is Wyoming’s progress and we are truly grateful for all the support across the state. Thank you to all those who are helping us make a difference!

Over the next 10 weeks, photos of students with their bookmarks will be found in the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. For more information on WAIC, visit waitc.org.

Wheat harvest is the culmination of a year’s worth of hard work and prayers. As the big day approaches, farmers contemplate many questions. What is the yield going to be? Is the quality going to be good enough to avoid discounts? Will the price go up or down? At the same time, on the other end of the supply chain, their customers are pondering many of the same questions. 

Every year, U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) sends a group of farmers selected by state wheat commissions to tour a region of the world and gain a better understanding of what customers want and need. Earlier this month, three U.S. farmers traveled to Mexico, Haiti, Ecuador and Chile, including Rachael Vonderhaar, a wheat farmer from Camden, Ohio and secretary of the Ohio Small Grains Marketing Program; Eric Spates, a wheat farmer from Poolesville, Md; and member of the Maryland Grain Producers Utilization Board; and Ken Tremain, a wheat farmer from LaGrange and member of the Wyoming Wheat Marketing Commission. Shawn Campbell, deputy director of USW’s West Coast Office, led the team and was joined by overseas staff based in the USW Mexico City and USW Santiago offices.

“I wanted a better understanding of the full supply chain logistics from my farm to Latin America,” said Vonderhaar. “The trip was a big commitment of time and energy away from our farming operation but necessary to understand the buying decisions of millers.”

Spates added, “I hoped to learn about international wheat trade and what USW does, and I was not disappointed.”   

In Mexico, the team found the largest importer of hard red winter (HRW) and soft red winter (SRW) wheat, an advanced milling industry and a well-funded association dedicated to constant improvement of the country’s baking industry. On average the past five years, Mexico has imported 4.4 million metric tons (MMT) of wheat annually, of which 70 percent is U.S. wheat.

However, thanks to competitive pricing and low ocean freight rates, the United States is facing increasing competition from Canada, Europe and the Black Sea region. The customers the team met also expressed concerned about U.S. political rhetoric on the future of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

“It is important to keep our legislators aware of our buyers’ needs,” said Tremain. “Trade with our partners is vitally important and necessary for good relationships.”  

The visit to Haiti, the least economically developed country in the Western Hemisphere, was a major learning experience for the team. Haiti imports 134,000 metric tons (MT) annually, 57 percent of which comes from the United States, with the remainder sourced from Russia, Canada and Mexico. Haiti is an underdeveloped market, but with a population of 10 million people, it is growing. The team got a firsthand look at the challenges USW overseas staff face in their efforts to promote U.S. wheat exports there. 

“I was most surprised by the poverty in Haiti,” said Spates. “The conditions are emblematic of the varied and challenging places USW works, and yet, Haiti is a market with great potential to import more U.S. wheat.”

In Ecuador, the team observed the country’s democracy in action as its citizens voted for its next president. Ecuador imports 710,000 MT of wheat annually but only 33 percent comes from the United States, a marked difference compared to neighboring countries.

Ecuador is a former favorite of the now defunct Canadian Wheat Board, which aggressively defended its market share there. Now USW representatives are working diligently to demonstrate the increased value to be found in U.S. wheat. A highlight in Ecuador was the tour of a cookie plant.

“We received many compliments on U.S. wheat quality,” said Vonderhaar. “But the buyers are definitely aware of weather issues that affect quality from year to year and are very clear about their expectations for clean wheat.”

The journey’s final leg was to Chile, a country with a highly developed milling and baking industry constantly working to guarantee they receive the highest quality wheat at the lowest price. Chile imports an average of 845,000 MT annually, of which 45 percent comes from the United States. Major competitors include Canada and a resurgent Argentina, which is rapidly becoming a major exporter again since its government removed wheat export tariffs last year. The team met with several millers in Chile who were excited to show off their mills and quality laboratories.

The team members returned home with a greater appreciation for the nuances of overseas demand and USW’s activities to foster increased demand for their wheat.

“I am impressed with and appreciate the strong personal friendships USW people have built within the region, said Vonderharr. “I want to make sure we are growing wheat that our Latin American millers and bakers demand.”

“USW has a complicated job promoting wheat around the globe as some customers are very receptive to their efforts, and some less so,” said Spates. “Hearing the millers emphasize the need for quality certainly reinforced my commitment to producing high quality wheat.”

“We have a responsibility to share with other farmers what we learned about the kind of quality our buyers expect from the United States,” said Tremain. “USW is vital in the promotion of our product.”

The team will report to the USW Board of Directors later this year. To see pictures from this USW Board Team trip, visit facebook.com/pg/uswheat/hotos/?tab=album&album_id=1371981406158081.

As I look back on 2016, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for the opportunity to work alongside you and serve as your American Farm Bureau president. I am proud of the work our nation’s farmers and ranchers do day-in and day-out. I am equally proud of how our state and national Farm Bureau staff work just as tirelessly to ensure farmers and ranchers can continue to feed and fuel our country and the world for generations to come.

When I addressed you for the first time as your American Farm Bureau president in Orlando last January, I committed to working with you all to solve the problems facing agriculture – and that’s just what we’re doing.

This year, I’ve had the privilege of visiting 33 states – and counting – across our great country to meet with Farm Bureau members face-to-face. Each region, every state and all types of agriculture have unique challenges. I have been heartened by one common thread – a reminder of just how critical the reforms Farm Bureau is fighting for are to rural families and farm businesses.

Looking ahead to 2017, we see a clear need for regulatory and tax reform that frees farmers and ranchers to keep their businesses running and gives them flexibility to invest in their local economies. We need to put a stop to regulatory overreach that threatens to put a chokehold on farmers. We need greater access to markets around the world and a stable, legal workforce to ensure we continue leading the world in agricultural production. But none of these reforms will happen if we don’t unite around the table and speak up. 

As I’ve traveled our great country, I’ve been reminded time and again of how much we can accomplish when we learn from our differences and work together.

America’s farmers and ranchers aren’t defined by our struggles. We’re defined by what we do best. We lead, feed and fuel the world.

We didn’t take up the work of farming and ranching because we expected it to be easy. While agriculture is our business, it is also our calling. We are called to take up this work out of love for our family and our neighbors. It’s a mission we take seriously because we believe we’ve been given a unique task to care for the land and animals entrusted to us by our Creator. We have a responsibility to consumers as we grow the highest quality food, fiber and fuel while protecting our precious natural resources. We must continue to earn consumer trust as we strive for continuous improvement in everything we do.

The great story of American agriculture is one of hard work, ingenuity and passion, and it’s a story best told by the folks who live it. Farmers and ranchers made their voices heard in 2016, but we need to keep telling our stories if we want to be at the heart of shaping the policies that will impact our businesses and way of life. The close of one year ushers in new goals for the next, and I am confident that working together through Farm Bureau offers us that common platform for progress. During this new year, I will continue to learn about your challenges and your triumphs, and like 2016, I look forward to hearing many of your stories face-to-face.

Vincent “Zippy” Duvall, a poultry, cattle and hay producer from Greene County, Ga., is the 12th president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.