Stepping up to Tackle Challenges Farmers Face

Chris Chinn_MO Dept of Ag
Like other national policy leaders, Missouri Dept. of Agriculture director Chris Chinn looked at ways to reduce and update many rules and regulations facing Missouri farmers. Watch the video above for more details. ( Missouri Dept. of Agriculture )

When Chris Chinn moved into her office at the Missouri Department of Agriculture, she had to make a mind switch from farmer to policy influencer—suddenly there was an opportunity to do more. She spent a lot of time with her staff searching out the main issues facing Missouri agriculture.

Settling on four key areas, they developed the MORE Strategic Vision to feed more, reach more, connect more and empower more. (Watch video above for more information.)

“In the state of Missouri, one in five Missourians is food insecure. In agriculture, our primary job is to feed people,” Chinn says. “Making sure that Missourians have affordable food for all families is the foundation of our feed MORE pillar.”

Chris Chinn
Missouri Director of Agriculture Chris Chinn is actively involved hearing from farmers across the state. One of her strengths is being able to communicate agricultural issues to those outside of the industry. (Photo: Missouri Department of Agriculture)

Reaching more consumers and regaining their trust is key, she adds. “We’re becoming two or three generations removed from agriculture today. Our reach MORE pillar aims to bridge the gap between urban and rural communities.”

Most of the public doesn’t realize pig farmers work closely with veterinarians and nutritionists to design diets and health care plans for their animals.

“There are a lot of big terms we use in the hog industry that fellow pork producers understand but the average person doesn’t,” Chinn says.

Missouri was one of the first states to pass a law prohibiting the misrepresentation of meat that is not derived from harvested livestock.

“We want to reach out to consumers and help them understand food terminology and labels and what they mean,” she says. “The difference [between] non-organic and organic is just a method of production. The nutritional value is the same. We’ve got to get people to trust farmers again and understand we’re eating the same food they are. It’s safe to feed to their families.”

Before transitioning to her new role at the Missouri Department of Agriculture, Chinn’s main responsibility was on the family’s hog farm and feed mill.

Three programs on one computer ensure feed is processed and delivered, and barns are comfortable for their animals. It’s a critical system that relies on broadband internet, which is not always reliable in her area.

“It is vital to today’s farmer to be able to access the internet, whether it’s through tech support for their computers, manuals on their tractors, market information, GPS mapping, you name it—agriculture is using the internet today,” Chinn explains. “But more than 60% of rural Missouri does not have access to high-speed internet, so that puts our farmers at a competitive disadvantage to farmers in other states.”

It’s critical for young farmers, she adds, that are willing and able to use new technology to return to the family farm.

As this also aligns with President Donald Trump’s infrastructure agenda, Missouri is currently working with state and federal agencies to coordinate resources to bring broadband connections to rural residents as part of their connect MORE pillar.

Chris Chinn
Director Chinn hosted Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to an event in Kansas City in 2017, just days after his confirmation. With two large urban cities in the state, Kansas City and St. Louis, it's important to connect consumers and farmers. (Photo: Missouri Department of Agriculture)

The fourth pillar is designed to empower more of Missouri’s farmers and ranchers to be able to do what they want to do, and that’s farm, she adds. “Sometimes that means getting government out of their way. Sometimes that just means listening to them so that you have a better understanding of what you can do to help them.

Chinn is taking that message to her counterparts at the Department of Natural Resources, where laws and regulations affecting farmers originate. While some might look good on paper, they don’t play out well in real life.

“Every farmer wants to follow the regulations, they want to improve the environment, but they have to be able to afford to do it at the same time,” she says. “Sometimes those changes take a while to implement, until [they] can afford to do that upgrade.”

In today’s world, you don’t just walk into the bank, ask for a loan and receive approval in a day, she adds—it takes time, records and a business plan. All of these factors should to be taken into consideration before putting new rules or regulations in place, she says.

Some of Missouri’s regulations were outdated or didn’t apply anymore. In a year’s time, the department has reduced regulations by 25%—“they weren’t just wordsmithing, they actually were going to make a difference,” she says.

 “I ask my employees every day: What can we do to be able to say yes, and help that farmer out?” Chinn says. “If they’re out of compliance, let’s help them get into compliance instead of being heavy handed.”

This is second in three-part series. Read: