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Jonathan Knutson visited Washington, D.C., for the annual convention of the North American Agricultural Journalists. (Jonathan Knutson/Agweek)

6 things I relearned in D.C.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — I'm here in Washington, D.C., for the annual convention of the North American Agricultural Journalists, the professional group for U.S. and Canadian ag journalists.

Many Agweek readers belong to professional organizations or commodity groups, and they understand the benefits of events like this one. Listening to knowledgeable speakers, meeting policymakers, rubbing shoulders with people who share your concerns and interests — the benefits are many and real.

I've learned many new and important things, some of which will be featured in future Agweek stories. But I'm also being reminded of stuff I first learned at previous annual conventions. Here are a few things I'm relearning:

Politicians and their staffs work hard. You may disagree with their positions, you may question their sincerity. But you can't honestly deny that our elected officials — and the people they hire — put in long, demanding days. Yes, they knew what they going into when they ran for office and when they applied for staff positions. That doesn't change how hard they work.

The Upper Midwest isn't exactly prominent here. Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota are mighty important to most Agweek readers. Not to D.C. residents. For example, my pleasant, efficient taxi driver — who asked me at the airport where I'm from — was clearly stumped when I said I live in North Dakota. After a long pause, he asked, "Do you have many taxis there?" I answered, "No, we don't have enough people to have many taxis."

Washington doesn't revolve around agriculture. Ag dominates my life. It's important, even dominant, in the lives of most Agweek readers. And, yes, it's important to some folks here in D.C. But many of our elected officials have little understanding, and even less interest, in agriculture. That doesn't make them bad or stupid; it means they represent states and districts where ag isn't particularly important.

Sure, you can argue that ag is important to everyone, that a safe, affordable food supply is vital to our country. But a vast number of topics and economic sectors are vying for attention here, and many of them are important, too. Ag won't get as much attention as you and I think it deserves. Nor should it. Just as mining or manufacturing shouldn't get as much attention as people involved in those sectors want.

Individual farmers and ranchers make a difference. Yes, this is a complicated, complex place. But farm organizations and commodity groups do influence ag policy here — and those groups and organizations rely on their members. So pick a commodity or issue that's important to you and join a group that promotes or defends it. Whether it's at the state level or here in Washington, you can make a difference.

Eventually, you might come to hold leadership positions. I've just been installed as 2018 national president of our group, after previously serving as national vice president and Midwest regional vice president. Hey, if I can do it, you surely can, too.

Agriculture is as interesting as ever. Science and technology continue to change and evolve. So do tax laws and trade policy. There's always more to learn. The details can be complicated, but nobody can accuse ag of being static or boring.

Washington is a nice place to visit, but ... . I'm enjoying my time here. It's benefitting me personally and professionally. But my North Dakota home, humble as it may be, is the place for me. It will be good to get back.

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