For an editor of a certain age, an unsettling moment arrives as you consider what to include in a retrospective column. Mostly because you realize that you are getting old. Such a moment came, sharply, today as I did mental math to pinpoint the year I joined AAEA. If my math is correct, it was 1995.
I was a cub reporter for the Missouri Ruralist at the time. My editor, Larry Harper, was a longtime member and past president of AAEA. Harper didn’t tell me about AAEA as an option for professional improvement; he presented it as more of an expectation. He also encouraged me to become actively involved on AAEA member-led committees. I’m glad he did.
Just like Harper said it would, joining AAEA made me a better editor. He had told me that AAEA would put me in direct contact with the industry’s top performers and introduce me to new ideas in agriculture and publishing. Harper didn’t go so far as to say, “You’re a dumb kid, new to the industry. Being around competent people who are willing to share their expertise is something you could use.”
He would have been accurate in saying it, but Harper was skilled in the art of understatement.
By the time I had put in 15 years on committees as a member and leader, I was honored to be in line for president in 2011. And I was lucky, too. While AAEA had endured its episodes of membership and financial challenges over the years, it had found a solid formula, and 2011 was on the front side of an upswing in agricultural markets and farm income. It’s always going to be an inverted pyramid, this business of communicating to farmers. The rest of us wobble with the pitch of the base. I was fortunate to serve when the tailwinds from success on the farm propelled the entire industry.
A look through the notes and agendas of 2011 showed we moved to gather historical information to celebrate this 100th anniversary. We set an ambitious goal for membership levels to peak at the same time. There was also an informal discussion about the moniker American Agricultural Editors’ Association falling short of describing the organization’s evolution. I pitched the idea of a name change into full discussion, figuring a one-year president with no sweeping agenda needed at least some abuse from the membership.
In the intervening years, we discovered that 2011 was in a time our trade now sometimes calls The Second Golden Age of Agriculture. And time proved that anything anomalous enough to earn a name as an economic phenomenon can fall as quickly as it arose. More recently, we discovered that Black Swan events like COVID-19 can foil the best-laid plans for a 100th anniversary. Meanwhile, we continue at pace in an industry adjusting to a technology-driven fundamental change in how we communicate. These are not calm waters.
No matter the challenges of the day, though, the Ag Communicators Network has a sound mission, and a reason to push forward another 100 years. It has a devoted membership and a characteristic that, somewhere along the way, I began to call camaraderie among competitors—a spirit among colleagues to push for excellence in the industry. That spirit and the friendship it kindles is something we should cherish.
And, it’s probably something a dumb kid new to the industry could use.
Steve Fairchild is the Director of Communications with MFA-Incorporated.