The Agribusiness Council (ABC) is a nonprofit/tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization founded in
1967 following a White House meeting between President Lyndon Johnson and Henry Heinz II,
chairman of Heinz Foods Company. ABC's primary purpose is to promote more effective U.S.
agribusiness engagement in global agricultural markets through trade and investment. ABC
provides a range of start-up services to groups interested in organizing agribusiness
associations - briefings, association business plans, mailing list development, staff
training, access to national and international databases, and links to ongoing specialized
ABC committees and other state councils.
In 1989, The Agribusiness Council initiated
the state agribusiness council formation project (S/ABC) as part of a broad effort to
strengthen ties between grassroots agricultural interests and their allies in the
"food system." Bipartisan support from thirty senators and representatives in
the U.S. Congress helped launch the project. The S/ABC aims at forming new agribusiness
associations at the state/local levels and linking them to the wider network of existing
counterpart associations modeled after the Council. The network includes several overseas
agribusiness associations and thus provides unique marketing and contact development
potentials for participating companies, universities and associations.
Alaska and Hawaii have no Councils at present.
A PROPOSAL FOR STRENGTHENING
THE STATE AGRIBUSINESS ASSOCIATION NETWORK
SummaryThe Agribusiness Council (ABC)
seeks funding to expand and refine its management/training programs which
assist in the formation of local/state voluntary membership associations
for the advancement of private sector-led solutions on issues affecting
the agro-food system. These nonprofit associations would be designed
around more successful state councils and ABC. Committees and programs,
particularly on international trade/development, will take advantage of
ABC’s global network and database. ABC support services and guidance
will enable the nascent associations to achieve independence and
sustainability, while forging new links for global food security.
In 1993, ABC initiated the state agribusiness counterpart project
(S/ABC) as part of a broad effort to strengthen ties between grassroots
agricultural interests and the agro-allied "food system."
Bipartisan support from some thirty senators and representatives in the
U.S. Congress, beginning several years earlier on related ABC programs,
confirmed high-level interest and helped launch the S/ABC project. ABC
president N.E. Hollis traveled extensively in twenty-five states
conducting workshops and making presentations to local audiences
interested in starting their own agribusiness associations. Most of these
visits were made on invitation with expenses covered by local organizers,
universities, and/or interested state government agencies.
As a result of these workshops, ABC, in cooperation with
local organizers, has formed four state councils with another six
underway. Interest in the S/ABC concept is strong and fueled by a growing
realization in agriculture that government services and programs are being
phased out – and more cooperation will be needed if U.S. agribusiness is
to compete effectively in the global marketplace. In certain ag sectors
consolidation of association interests make more sense (i.e., local seed,
feed, agchem, and fertilizer associations may not have "critical
mass" to maintain separate offices). Other nascent ag groups
representing new technologies/uses may not have sufficient numbers to
provide full service/issue coverage to their constituents. Moreover, as
agriculture becomes more complex within this historic transition, there
are numerous emerging issues which simply transcend an individual ag group’s
grasp. For example, agro-environment, food safety, ag education,
international trade, ag transport/destruction/ag research/new
technologies, renewable energy and agriculture, ag finance and others
reflect issues which involve numerous sectors within the food system.
Traditional ag groups are often ill-equipped to handle
multidisciplinary issues. Responses are negative, defensive and not
well-crafted to win general public sympathy, or to provide
science/experience-based information. With rapid declines in membership,
many ag groups are increasingly reliant upon check-off funds and direct
subsidies received from government. The result is increasingly reflected
in a "bunker mentality" which is unhealthy for the ag sector at
large. New communication channels needed for expression are sorely
required to enable the majority of successful farmers, who are actually
quite sophisticated businessmen, to project their ideas and solutions. At
stake, in no small measure, is the future of world food security.
The S/ABC will generate leadership and program benefits by
providing regularized assistance to local organizers in the complex task
of establishing a free-standing state or local agribusiness council. The
S/ABC will improve the climate for cross-sectoral problem-solving through
specialized committees and facilitate action through voluntary,
not-for-profit councils. S/ABC will provide training in the establishment
and management of agribusiness "umbrella" associations, as well
as help groups to link up with the existing network of counterpart
associations. Results will include increased information flow and contacts
on new ag/food technologies to and from the grassroots to decision-makers.
Formed after a White House meeting between President Lyndon
Johnson and Henry Heinz of Heinz Food Company in 1967, ABC has developed
considerable experience in starting/assisting counterpart agribusiness
associations at home and abroad. In 1995, ABC sparked the formation of an
indigenous and independent agribusiness association in Poland – now
boasting more than 300 members with offices in several cities, including
Warsaw, the capital. In the United States, ABC has jumpstarted state
councils in Illinois, Florida, Washington State, and West Virginia in
recent years, with others underway. In some cases, the process proceeds
rapidly; in others, such as Poland, the formation project can take up to
five years. Much depends on the comparable levels of local enthusiasm and
resistance of more traditional groups to endorsing the S/ABC’s
Method of Operation
S/ABC would utilize funding to develop a training kit and a
directory of existing state councils as needed tools for the expansion of
the network. Depending upon available funds, S/ABC would also undertake
additional training visits and the design of a computer-compatible
database access with existing councils, which would enable the freer
exchange of information and contacts between state councils themselves and
via the national ABC to the overseas network.
Future Direction of Activities
S/ABC will also undertake to organize a national meeting of all
state agribusiness association leaders with the aim of increasing
cooperation and database link-ups on key issues affecting agro-food
S/ABC is partially supported in its work by voluntary
contributions from leading agribusiness and ag-allied firms involved in
different specialized/transcendent issues. For example, Walt Disney
World/Epcot (new ag technologies), Boeing (geospatial information systems
for ag/forestry applications), Deere (world food security summit),
Seafirst/Bank of America (ag credit), SSA, Harborside Refrigeration (ag
transportation/distribution), Harbor Branch Oceanographic
(aquaculture/mariculture), Great Western/ConAgra, and many others. S/ABC
needs untied funding support for training and other work which is not of
priority interest to corporate donors, yet vital for project success.
S/ABC will be financed through grants and private endowments as
its programs reach further into the "food security" arena.
Private funding will be essential to maintaining program independence from
individual companies and/or government. Some funds can be generated from
events and agreements with newly established state/local councils. $75,000
is targeted in 2000-2001.
ASSUMPTIONS FOR STATE AGRIBUSINESS COUNCILS
The following constitute assumptions underpinning the
growing state agribusiness council movement:
agriculture. Increasingly, private enterprise will be making its own
decisions regarding what to plant and process for a world market.
The private sector will need to strengthen its own marketing and
info-gathering networks to perform in the 21st century.
Agriculture in general, and U.S. agriculture in
particular, are in transition, undergoing a revolution and radical
down-sizing at the same time.
New kinds of issues/challenges cutting across
agriculture and the food system will require new types of solutions
and coalitions working for agriculture’s interests.
Agriculture and its traditional organizations are
increasingly on the defensive and not well understood as urban
populations grow and influence shifts from the countryside to the
Traditional ag groups – organized along producer,
sector and geographic lines – are often unable to grapple with
modern challenges effectively; and they resort to ad hoc
coalition-building which is costly, slow and lacks continuity after
As agribusiness becomes more specialized and sector
groups splinter into smaller units, "critical mass" is
lost and difficulties arise in developing cohesive positions even
around issues where broad common interests can be found.
Effective coalition-building requires more
framework, more "association discipline" to provide
agricultural interests with "critical mass" and
continuity. This favors a loose, but more formalized underpinning
Traditional ag groups are shrinking in number as
their respective bases thin out, resulting in reduced political
influence, and access to global market development opportunities.
Traditional ag groups will resist supporting
proposed "umbrella" efforts, and may attempt to sabotage,
until it is clear that (a) their own policies and membership will be
strengthened, (b) "umbrella" will not supercede or
interfere with their lobbying activities, (c) "Umbrella"
will provide incremental benefits justifying support. Thus,
traditional ag is inclined to "fence-sit" in early
development stages which can allow "fresh ideas/people" to
flow into the formation of "the umbrella."
Individual managers of traditional ag associations
(as distinct from their "practitioner" members) and other
"ag elites" usually feel threatened by the emergence of a
new ag "umbrella" association, and their concerns should
Major ag producers and agribusiness companies may
also adopt a "wait and see" posture since they rely upon
#9 for advice and are often quite bureaucratic, with individual
executives practicing "risk aversion." Their early
avoidance of commitment/participation offers the emerging
"umbrella" leadership a unique chance to attract new
people/ideas. If the statutes are created with a sensitivity to the
inevitable power dynamics of "big agribusiness," the new
organization can emerge as a truly balanced one with a
grassroots constituency linked to urban, agro/food-allied interests
which can forge new links for the state’s food system as a whole.
Modern telecommunications and transport technology
allows the emergence of these type of ag organizations – with
private sector, nonprofit foundation – for the first time.
Networks without the component of association trust are
already becoming dysfunctional, but properly managed association
association-based networks, with counterpart groups domestically and
abroad, have a great future since they can provide business benefits
and share problem-solving ideas among members.
Associations in agriculture have specialized
requirements and governance mechanisms based upon character and
trust which can serve them well in the competition for resources
and ideas. Associations have comparative advantage over certain
public sector activities and could supplement government in a era of
Agricultural advisory groups, often staffed by state
and federal agencies do not provide a level playing field, or
channels for constructive criticism or change, which could benefit
the food system as a whole and/or inspire general public confidence.
Private enterprise is willing to finance nonprofit
organizational "umbrella" programs to supplement state and
federal functions IF they are able to participate and
influence activities of associations in a meaningful way.
Agribusiness councils are well-positioned, with a
growing national network, to introduce programs to enhance the image
oaf agriculture and the professionalism of all links in the
"food system" working together – above the age-worn
frictions and suspicions which will continue at the various economic
pressure points in the value-added, distribution and retail end of
Agribusiness councils are well-positioned, with
links to a growing international network of counterpart groups, to
introduce cost-effective market development and information
programs, which build upon human nature/desire within association
channels to meet and build ongoing activities based upon presence,
mutual respect and shared interests in the globalization of
agriculture and the parallel search for world food security.
Agribusiness councils are well-suited, with a
broader scope of activities, to attract support from
non-agricultural industries which depend upon the agro-food system.
For example, banks, transportation, natural resource, power
companies, food retailers and restaurants – all have important
links to the producer community – and appreciate a chance to
improve communications. They also value the opportunity to help
reduce infighting within ag groups and thus, "help ag to help
As signaled in the Freedom of Farm Act, recently
signed into law, government is phasing out
There are other points which can be added, and some will
prompt argument in different locations, depending upon the state and its
existing ag organizational structure. The important message is simply that
we can be better! While facing the challenges of the rapidly changing
economy and society of the 21st century, characterized by the
globalization phenomenon, we must do better with the God-given
resources of our agriculture and overall food system. New ag
organizations, such as agribusiness councils, will not be a panacea for
agriculture’s many problems, but their emergence reflects a search for positive
action. With a demonstrated track record, agribusiness councils have
an important edge: they work!
Since the process of formatting effective nonprofit
associations is a specialized one, often requiring time and plenty of hard
work, there is a premium on ACTION. There will be inertia to overcome and
hostility from elements of the "dug-in" status quo, so let’s
not waste any more time. It is our destiny to succeed in the 21st
century, especially in the agribusiness arena, so let’s get up to the
front on the double-quick, and work together!
State Agribusiness Council Network Project
c/o The Agribusiness Council
P.O. Box 5565
Washington DC 20016
TEL: (202) 296-4563