Inspirational speakers who specialize in preaching to the choir of agricultural producers and professionals are a dime a dozen, but one guy I’ve seen a couple times lately, most recently at the annual meeting of the National Alliance of Independent Crop Consultants, really gets the crowd fired up. He is Bruce Vincent, a third-generation Montana logger, who tells rural professionals to speak up for themselves and their communities.

He asks for commitment by audience members to be proactive in contacting state and federal legislators about environmental issues; to help educate those without connection to rural occupations about where food, feed, fiber and “all their stuff” comes from; and to unite their efforts in ways that their voices will not be ignored or minimized by activist organizations.

Vincent usually starts out explaining how urban people take a vacation into rural America and fall in love with what they see, hear and feel. These visitors want to preserve this pristine image forever, and it isn’t hard for activist environmental groups to harness this desire for a fantasy world by lobbying to stop anything that might change the fantasy.

To extrapolate further from what Vincent says, these urban people, who live with more technology than they could imagine 10 years ago, want rural America untouched by technology such as biotech crops, renewable fuels processing facilities or dairy herd confinement. But additionally, these people and their activist organizations claim the old ways of doing things by rural residents are bad for the environment, too. It is an almost a no-win situation for the farmer and rancher.

Vincent points out how people are secondary to vegetation and wildlife when legislative directives, regulatory decisions and activist causes are enacted. He recounts how an “expert” with the Wildlife Service came to Vincent’s small town and explained how grizzly bears were going to be reintroduced into the forest because of the Endangered Species Act, and how Vincent’s home was in the middle of the relocation of area.

Vincent claims that rural populations are basically disposable or don’t count because there are so few today compared to urban voters. Politicians aren’t concerned about the way rural people live nor do they understand the importance of the jobs done by rural Americans.

Some of the activist groups that fuel the fear of technology in agriculture or new scientific findings of how our planet can be maintained are living in the past. As Vincent points out, some of the activist environmental groups are still adhering to mission statements and founder beliefs of 50 years ago. The leaders are more concerned about maintaining their own salaries than accomplishing worthwhile, common sense, and reasonable change.

Vincent usually includes three take-home points. Each of them requires similar action by the audience members if they want things to change in Washington, D.C., and at the state level.

First, he says, “Democracy works, but it’s not a spectator sport.” He says people have to get involved and let their legislators know what is important and why.

Second, he says, “When people lead, leaders follow. If you don’t talk to your leaders about how to protect your industry, you’ll be protected right out of business.”

And third, he says, “The world is run by those who show up.”

Rural Americans must identify those policymakers who understand the issues of agriculture and are willing to lead the battle for agriculture and then support them with every voice possible.

“You have got to show up,” Vincent says. He talked about “showing up,” other than talking to legislators, and included such things as editorials in the newspaper, Chamber of Commerce membership, city council meetings, county supervisor meetings, contact with regulatory agencies, use of social media such as blogging, assist local educators to inform students about rural lifestyle, etc.

Including a line item in your company business plan for “activism” is a directive from Vincent. Set aside one hour per week from your business, not family time, to show up and be involved in preserving the American rural culture.

Opposition to environmental activists has to come from the grassroots and has to be articulated in as many ways and from as many people as possible.

By Richard Keller, AgProfessional editor