At Sante Fe High School in Alma, Director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture, Dr. Jon Hagler spoke to a room full of farm families and FFA members at the Santa Fe Agri-Leaders kickoff meeting. Having just eaten a meal catered by the local FFA chapter, he was not donning his signature cowboy hat, but brought his humor.
The slogan for Alma, a town of just over 400, is "The Cleanest Town in America." Hagler says this could be true. Why? "It's the people, and it's the school," he says. "The fact that this many people showed up when you've got a ball game, a rival game down the road." This kind of commitment is something he says more organizations could use. "They're committed to this school. They're committed to agriculture," he says. "You don't see that in every organization."
Hagler recalls visits to other countries, like China and Russia. "The one thing when you travel to those countries, the relationships we have here in the U.S., you start to appreciate more," he says. "The one thing they wanted to ask was how does that system work?"
He is referring to not only the commitment the community has, but also land grant university research combined with extension, which can't be found in other countries. "If somebody wants to get into agriculture, they're on their own. There are Universities doing plenty of things, but they're not tied to the farmer," he notes. "It's that network you really start to appreciate."
Partnerships with other countries are another benefit of visits. "Forging those business relationships really makes a difference," Hagler says. "If you're not selling as much here, you need to sell more abroad." He notes the recession over the last several years. "Agriculture was the only sector of the economy that continues to do well," he says. "We saw exports expanding and growing. We saw farmers investing in technology."