You might be hard pressed to find a lobbyist for an $88 billion industry who appears just as comfortable wearing blue jeans as a suit.
Compared to banking or manufacturing, agriculture is a most accessible of industries. Those who labor in it and those who provide leadership are just as likely to be found at a church basement in Atchison County as a swank restaurant in Washington, D.C.
It’s also a very decentralized business model. There’s no CEO of American or Missouri farming, just everyday producers of varying sizes. It helps, though, to have someone who can represent these different interests and advocate for them in a way that lifts all producers and agri-businesses.
For the last 10 years, that person was Blake Hurst. As board president of the Missouri Farm Bureau, Hurst found himself in a position to advance the interests of all rural Missourians who need better transportation and better broadband. They counted on Hurst and Farm Bureau to ensure that the state’s prosperity and vitality extends beyond a couple of metropolitan areas.
Hurst, who farms near Westboro in Atchison County, provided a strong voice for small farmers, corner businesses on Main Street and the larger farm operations that extend to every corner of the state. He stepped down from his leadership position at Farm Bureau this month.
Census data would show declining rural population, but the state remains home to nearly 95,000 farms that fuel an $88 billion ag industry. During Hurst’s tenure, Missourians passed “freedom to farm,” which enshrines the importance of farming in the state Constitution. The state’s farm exports grew to exceed $2 billion a year, despite trade wars, floods and droughts.
It’s less about the numbers and more about the presence that agriculture gains in the halls of power in Washington and Jefferson City. Those who live in cities aren’t shy about telling farmers how to do their business, but do they ever stop to ponder what it takes to make sure that shelves and restaurants are filled with bountiful, affordable foods?
Americans spend 6.4% of their personal income on food, the lowest rate in the world. This, as much as anything, might be a testament to the success of the American way of growing food and raising livestock.
Hurst spent 10 years advocating on behalf of an industry that is low in number but massive in output and importance. When you think about it, that’s no easy task.
His success in promoting the interests of agriculture and rural Missouri wasn’t just to the benefit of agriculture, rural Missouri or the 134,000 families that belong to Missouri Farm Bureau. It was to the benefit of all of us, those who live in cities, suburbs, small towns and farms.