It began this month when Nebraska’s Attorney General Jon Bruning made a controversial grant. The $100,000 grant went to a group that is a strong advocate for agriculture and is called We Support Agriculture. This group was created by the Nebraska Farm Bureau (FB).
The controversy has many sides, but the main point is that this money came from Nebraska's Environmental Protection Fund. While nobody denies that the grant as funded is geared to achieving the goals of the fund, the problem is that it was awarded to an agricultural group, and obviously agriculture and the environment are not two words that can be used in conjunction by many in the environmental movement. This goes against the general mantra, which is that activist groups hold and that is environmental protection and agricultural are seen as having cross purposes.
The main thrust of the opposition, at least from the environmental groups, is their general aversion to agriculture and their opposition to tying agriculture and environmental responsibility together. There, of course, is some interesting political dynamics going on.
The Farmer’s Union (FU) and FB have always been antagonistic. The FB is the larger, more powerful organization, and tends to be more conservative in its outlook than the FU. In the last couple years, the FU has increasingly moved to the left, making the chasm wider than ever before. FU, of course, is incensed about FB receiving funding, as are the groups that FU has increasingly aligned itself with. Then, you throw in the fact that Attorney General Bruning is running for the Senate, and you have the age-old Republican/Democrat debate.
The Republican vs. Democrat component is expected and really isn't surprising. Republicans would have tried to make an issue if a Democratic Attorney General would have made a grant to HSUS. The fact that our own industry has weighed in on the side of environmental and consumer groups aligned against agriculture because of internal power struggles is not new either, though this trend is disturbing and has been occurring frequently of late.
It's probably past time that producers reel in their organizations in this regard. We can disagree with others in our industry but we should never forget the big-picture issues of doing what's right for our industry.
Lastly, the fact that these grants have routinely gone to groups aligned against agriculture doesn't mean ag and a pro-environment stance are incompatible. In fact, what's telling is that this is an issue at all in a state like Nebraska. It's important to remember that nobody is questioning whether the money being granted is to be used for the purpose intended; it's merely that since the group receiving it was tied to the powerful Nebraska FB, it should be excluded from receiving it.