Scarcity: Insufficiency or shortness of supply

Opportunity: a situation or condition favorable for attainment of a goal

Advocacy: the act of pleading for, supporting or recommending

Having been involved on a staff level with state and federal politics over most of my professional career, I still spend a fair amount of time paying attention to national and local politics. And now as a farmer in southeast North Dakota, I pay special attention to how these issues affect my business and life as a farmer.

Not to worry as you read, I won't be discussing or debating particular policy issues in this column - at least for the time being. However, I would like to share some thoughts and start a discussion on why it's important for us as farmers and more widely us living and working in small towns and rural areas to pay attention and be involved.

This article begins with definitions to some terms that I believe will play a prominent role in our lives as farmers and ranchers, as well as our non-farming neighbors in the years ahead. To begin this conversation, think about where we as an agricultural community fit within our larger society in general.

In the 1950s, when my grandfather was just beginning to build the farm that I now call home, just over 12 percent of the U.S. population was actively involved in farming. Today, with a growing overall population and a shrinking rural population, that figure is less than 2 percent. Thinking about these numbers and what they mean for us as farmers and rural America in general brings three words to mind: scarcity, opportunity, and advocacy.

In the halls of our local, state and federal governments, elected officials are met with an increasingly challenging set of circumstances in developing policy and budgets. Considering the population numbers mentioned above, it's clear that many of the decisions on these important issues will be made by officials with little or no connection to agriculture and rural America.

Economics in politics is commonly defined as the practice of allocating scarce resources amongst a list of unlimited demands. Simply put, there is not enough to go around. Farmers and farming communities will see this play out prominently in the next several months as the U.S. Congress begins the process of developing a new farm bill. Much of the work of writing this legislation will be done by legislators on the agriculture committees that have a longstanding commitment to ag issues. They will work hard to incorporate programs and policies that can keep our farms and communities strong. However, when it comes to passing this legislation into law, this work will have to rely on support coming from a majority of congress that is far removed from our farms, fields, feedlots and pastures.

This brings about an opportunity - an opportunity for advocacy. Maybe now more than ever we need to be involved as advocates for agriculture. And there are ample opportunities to do so. You can do this on your own by staying in contact with your local elected officials. Remind them that you're paying attention so that when they are faced with a difficult decision in Washington or Bismarck, they remember the citizen and voter back home.

And you can do this in large numbers as well. There are countless groups and associations in North Dakota and on the national level as well that have a constant presence in Washington and Bismarck, speaking up for farmers and ranchers on these important issues. These groups are most effective when their membership is strong and active.

Take this opportunity to have your voice heard.

Editor's note: Gackle is a third-generation farmer in Kulm, N.D., and former staffer for Gov. Tim Pawlenty.