New CEO Spells Out NAWG
Goals to Help Wheat Growers
New Farm Bill is Job #1, but other objectives are on the horizon
Daren Coppock has been on the job almost six months
as the new chief executive officer of the National Association of Wheat Growers. The former head of the Oregon Wheat Growers League was named last summer by the NAWG board to succeed Jack Eberspacher,
who accepted a position with the Agriculture Retailers Association.
Coppock, 35, assumed the reins of NAWG as debate on a new farm bill began to heat up. Recently, Coppock found time to answer questions to help members and prospective members learn more
about the direction and issues of NAWG, and how the organization plays a role in the success of wheat farms across the country.
What prompted you to move your family across country from Oregon to become CEO of the NAWG?
There were several things that attracted me to this position. First was the
opportunity to work in the center of the industry’s advocacy efforts in Washington. Decisions made in the nation’s capital have a significant impact
on our farmers’ ability to thrive – not just federal farm programs, but also environmental regulations, trade, tax policy, monetary policy, and others.
Serving wheat growers as the CEO of their national association is also a major career milestone.
Beyond the professional attractions were personal considerations. My wife Mechelle and I actually made a list of pros and cons for moving to DC; pros
included the job, the cultural attractions of the Washington area, the chance to experience something new, and the fact that our two children are young
enough that this move would not be traumatic for them. Some of the cons included the summer heat and humidity of Washington, traffic, and leaving the rural setting of eastern Oregon for the bustle of the big city.
One of the other big pros is the people you work with and for; those factors are the greatest contributor to job satisfaction as far as I’m concerned.
NAWG has an outstanding group of officers in the chairs, a very positive and energetic Board, capable state associations, and a talented staff in Washington.
What skills do you bring to the NAWG that you believe will help the organization and its members?
I consider a couple of “intangibles” as considerable personal assets I can
contribute to NAWG. One of those is a very strong relationship with our state association members and their executives, on whom we rely for contact with individual members and “wheat-roots” advocacy with
Congressional offices. I came from the ranks of the state executives, which allows me to see issues from their point of view, and I also bring relationships with those people into the job.
The second is also a relationship issue – the fact that I was born and raised on a wheat farm. Much of my education came from the school of hay bale
handling, combine overhauling, working fields and cattle, and extensive involvement in 4-H and FFA growing up. These experiences provide a very
strong common frame of reference with the farmers we represent, and allow me to connect with them when visiting in the states, and also allow me to empathetically represent them in Washington.
What are the key issues and priorities for American wheat growers, as you see them?
NAWG has policy guidance on hundreds of topics that our committees and
our board review at least once each year, but only a few of these items emerge as priorities each year. At the present time, our organizational priorities include:
• Passage of a 2002 Farm Bill
• Passage of Trade Promotion Authority
• Maintaining and expanding the progress made on sanctions reform
• Ensuring that necessary prerequisites for consumer acceptance and segregation are taken in the eventual release of biotech wheat
• Declassifying karnal bunt from a quarantine pest to a market issue
• Agricultural appropriations, including federally-sponsored research programs
• Working to restore some balance and common sense to the broad blanket of environmental regulations
When we are fully staffed in our government affairs department, we can begin to engage more fully on issues aside from the farm bill. Some of those
areas include efforts to identify opportunities for value-added market niches, and hopefully bring more coordination and financial support to value-added research in wheat.
Several of these issues, as well as the ongoing need to expand market opportunities, span the various organizations in the wheat industry, so part of
my job is making sure that we’re communicating and coordinating with U.S. Wheat Associates, the Wheat Export Trade Education Committee (WETEC), the Wheat Foods Council, the Wheat Industry Research
Committee, and others in the food chain.
What is the NAWG doing, or going to do, to address these issues?
We have people, either growers or staff, engaged in each of the priority
areas mentioned above, and there are tangible results in many of those areas. A shining case in point is the farm bill legislation passed by the House
of Representatives recently, which is nearly identical to the farm bill proposal floated by NAWG in early 2001. The structure of the House bill is the
same as the NAWG plan. These things don’t just happen… they are the result of intensive work by staff, officers, and states with the members and
staff of the House Agriculture Committee. We’re now engaged in a similar effort in the Senate.
What things do you think the NAWG has done well as a grower organization? What things can it do better?
NAWG has some good stories to tell from its lobbying activities over the
past several years. In addition to the recent farm bill work, NAWG has succeeded along with other farm groups in securing critical emergency
assistance to producers for multiple years. These efforts are extremely dependent on work done by our state affiliates and local members, and
that’s one area where we hope to upgrade our capacity. One example of that is our redesigned web site, www.wheatworld.org. This is one tool we
are using to provide information to members and the public, and also to streamline our advocacy efforts. Our communications function plays an important support role here.
NAWG also revamped its committee process three years ago, and the new structure is working well in allowing us to involve our board members more
actively in policy work. The key to our continued success is to insist on bottom-up policy development, and involving all of our states and directors where they have impact for the whole industry.
As you well know, when wheat growers join their state wheat associations, they also automatically become members of the NAWG. Let’s say I’m a nonmember. What would you say to prompt
me to join my state’s wheat growers association?
There are many important reasons why we need individual farmers, and why they need us and their state association. Why do we need member
involvement? First and foremost, the personal relationships between local producers and their elected representatives is vital for our effectiveness. We
saw one example recently when N.D. grower and NAWG Domestic Policy Chair Al Skogen came to town to visit with the N.D. Senators. He was able to have private one-on-one meetings with his Senators, and discuss
details and priorities for NAWG’s interests in the farm bill. Both Senators Conrad and Dorgan have considerable roles to play in Senate Farm Bill
development, and those kinds of personal contacts from constituents are priceless.
Leaders from the state associations don’t just happen; someone makes a commitment to contribute time to his/her state association, and often ends up
playing a critical role in either state or national legislative efforts. Secondly, we also need active member involvement to ensure that the policy positions
we take truly reflect the interests of our producers. The quickest way to destroy a farm organization is to depart from the wishes of the members;
conversely, determining those interests and remaining true to them assures our continued strength, effectiveness, and relevance.
Why do farmers need to belong? Non-members miss out on quality and time-sensitive information that their state associations provide, often with our
assistance, via newsletters, e-mails, and educational meetings. They also are unable to have input to wheat industry policies, priorities and activities. In
many cases, state associations provide membership benefits to their members – everything from group rates on workers compensation insurance, to software purchases and proprietary marketing information on
Perhaps most importantly, only by engaging in their state association can they tap the collective clout of the organization to deal with problems,
whether it’s a cross-county loan rate inequity or truck inspections with their state department of transportation. Membership in a state association also
opens doors to leadership training programs offered free of charge by NAWG and our corporate partners.
There are also non-business attractions to membership – one farmer remarked to me recently that when all the work is done, the thing you take
home with you from working in an association is the friendships you form with fellow producers around your home state and across the country. From local state conferences and area meetings to the annual Wheat
Industry Conference, which will be held at Disney World in January, being active in wheat associations provides an opportunity for combining fun and education for the entire family.
What alliances and partnerships do you see the NAWG developing or continuing?
There are four types of alliances that we currently have, and are priorities for continuing and strengthening. These include relationships with our state
affiliates, with other wheat industry organizations, with other farm groups, and with our corporate partners. We will also look for opportunities to
create mutually beneficial relationships with others to advance NAWG’s goals and priorities.
Do you anticipate any change in direction for the NAWG?
I’m not sure whether this classifies as a change, a refinement, or a
continuation – but I firmly believe that NAWG’s reason for existence is our advocacy function with Congress and the Administration. That’s why we
were founded in 1950, that’s why our Foundation owns an office on Capitol Hill, and that’s where the greatest payback for our members can be found.
We’ll be involved in lots of industry issues, but advocacy will always be our core business.
Let’s look into the future. What’s your vision of the NAWG and the U.S. wheat industry in 2010?
Several years ago, NAWG and U.S. Wheat leadership worked on a
strategic plan and identified what were called Critical Success Elements. They included:
• A system to harness global information into marketable knowledge
• Thoroughly understanding customer needs, intrinsic value of wheat, end-use product requirements, and benchmarking competition to drive industry profitability
• Establishing global alliances up and down the food and information chain
• Making the industry more adaptable to changing customer needs and technologies
• Fostering trust and communication between producers and industry
• Dynamic education endeavors with consumers provide common understanding
• Developing new industrial uses, replacing finite resources with renewable ones
• Research and development is directed from a global perspective through alliances
• Earning the respect of society through environmental stewardship, food safety, nutrition and food security
• Rising standards of living worldwide increase the demand for wheat
• Producers becoming proficient at managing risk to their operations
• Capitalizing on ways to utilize wheat to improve human and animal nutrition in cooperation with USDA and others
Short-term concerns have pulled our focus away from the long-term priorities, and I’m hopeful that our Board will be able to spend more time
considering the future after the farm bill. The vision is still relevant, and gives us plenty of projects to pursue.