Shannon Rust sat at her kitchen table, looking through material from the Oregon Wheat Growers League and the National Association of Wheat Growers. She has been a member of both for many years.

"I believe that, as farmers, we've got to have a voice in legislative and other matters," Rust said. "The Oregon Wheat Growers League is made up of farmers. The league gives us a voice in Salem and Washington, D.C."

Rust believes so strongly in the value of speaking up that she flew to St. Louis recently to take part in a six-day Wheat Industry Leaders of Tomorrow program, sponsored by NAWG and Monsanto Co., an agricultural chemical producer.

"The sessions provide training in being a more effective voice for the wheat industry," Rust said. "I really believe in it."

Rust and her husband, Tim, farm 11,000 acres of irrigated and dryland wheat between Echo and Lexington with Rust's parents, Frank and LaVonne Mader. Rust's background includes a degree in public relations and community service from Eastern Oregon University.

"Farmers make up less than 2 percent of population today," Rust said. "If we want to keep on, we have got to learn how to present our side to the media. We have to take the time to try to enlighten people about what's really going on."

Rust and the other nine wheat farmers attended sessions on identifying and developing their personal skills, media relations, farm and food policy and pending farm legislation. The visit ended with a tour of Monsanto's biotechnology research center.

Sessions on personal skills and media relations focused on presenting material in a variety of ways, how to talk to media representatives and building a reputation as a reliable resource by providing accurate information.

Barry Flinchbaugh, a professor of agricultural economics at Kansas State University, spoke on how policies are made in society, and how farmers can influence them. Daren Coppock, NAWG's chief executive officer, and a Pendleton native, spoke on the progress of the Farm Bill through Congress and its amendments.

The workshops included a mock lobbying session and a presentation on maximizing the influence of agriculture through the Internet.

"Even our legislators are visiting blog sites to find out what people are thinking about issues," Rust said. "The ag community needs to be able to navigate the Internet to get their story out."

After a week or so at home to digest the experience, Rust talked about the three most critical issues she sees for the wheat industry.

"The first is the high cost of fertilizer and fuel. These wheat prices are great right now, but as with any commodity, you see the pendulum swing. It will be very detrimental to farmers if wheat prices drop again, but the cost of inputs stays high," Rust said.

The second critical concern is the unresolved Farm Bill.

"Third is that with such a small percentage of the people being farmers, a lot of people don't understand farm issues. When they vote and when they become legislators they don't have farming's best interests in mind, because they don't understand farming," Rust said.

She believes that's why it's important for someone like her to make her voice heard.

"I think the WILOT program will give me more confidence. The trainers were good, and I'm more confident in my understanding of the issues and my ability to communicate," she said.

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