Missouri Agriculture director focuses on industry's future at ag banquet

Missouri Department of Agriculture Director Chris Chinn listens as she chats with Connie Burch and Michele Hopson during Tuesday night's First Bankers Trust Ag Banquet at Town and Country Inn and Suites in Quincy. Chinn was the keynote speaker at the banquet. The Ag Banquet also honored the Farm Family of the Year, Agribusiness of the Year and Ag Educator of the Year featured in The Herald-Whig's Farm and Field publication. | H-W Photo/Jake Shane
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Mar. 6, 2018 9:45 pm Updated: Mar. 6, 2018 9:51 pm

QUINCY -- Chris Chinn draws some comparison between her work on the family farm and as director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture.

"Every day is different," Chinn said. "You can make out a plan, but you never know what will come up and change your day."

The fifth-generation family farmer from Shelby County was the featured speaker at Tuesday night's First Bankers Trust Ag Banquet at Town and Country Inn and Suites. Chinn was appointed to the Agriculture Department's top job in January 2017.

In that role, Chinn has continued what she's done for years to tell agriculture's story -- to an even broader audience -- and to help people follow in her footsteps.

"It's all about bringing the next generation back home to the farm, making sure we have strong rural communities for kids to come back home to," Chinn said in an interview with The Herald-Whig. "My kids, Conner and Rachelle, are who motivate me every single day. We hope those two kids have the ability to return back to the family farm if they choose."

One key in achieving that goal is the department's new MORE strategic initiative, its first in many years, to feed more, reach more, connect more, empower more.

"One of the biggest things we lack in rural America is access to high-speed internet," Chinn said. "Kids go to college, learn to use technology, come home and don't have access to the internet to improve the family farm."

With 1 in 5 Missourians food-insecure, and 1 in 3 in rural communities and schools uncertain where their next meal is coming from, the department and the state's farmers and ranchers want to make sure people have affordable and abundant food.

"We have to do a better job of raising awareness. We are great at producing food. We have to do a better job making sure people understand why we need food choices," Chinn said. "One other thing we've always paid attention to is finding and maintaining new markets, both domestic and international. That's something we're always looking out for, making sure our farmers and ranchers have a place to sell the products they're growing."

Chinn emphasized the important connection between farmers, ranchers and consumers -- especially as agriculture, like every other industry, continues to change and misconceptions can rapidly spread through social media.

"Thanks to technology, farming looks really different today than 50 years ago. We encourage farmers to talk about the changes they're making, why they've grown, why the equipment has gotten bigger," she said.

"But I want people to know that farmers and ranchers are the same today as farmers and ranchers 50 to 60 years ago. The values are the same. Farmers eat the same food they raise for consumers. They want to make sure it's a safe product for their family and consumer families, as well."

It's been an exciting year, Chinn said, with challenges and successes for the department and Missouri agriculture. The department hopes for a more successful growing season in 2018 after logging more than 300 complaints in 2017 tied to dicamba, and it also hopes to amend or eliminate 25 percent of the state's more than 4,800 restrictions on farmers and ranchers after a review.

She's traveled to the four corners of the state, but she still gets home to the family farm every weekend to pay the bills.

"It's important for whoever sits in the seat of the director of agriculture to know what it's like to make sure bills get paid on the farm," she said. "It helps me understand the challenges facing fellow farmers to do the best job for our farmers and ranchers."

Focusing on the MORE initiative also helps guide the department's efforts.

"You can do too many things and not do them well. Farmers are notorious for that. We get ourselves overextended," Chinn said. "We want to make sure our employees are offering meaningful service to the people we are supposed to be representing and serving. We want to make sure we're feeding more Missourians, reaching more Missourians, connecting Missourians and empowering Missourians."


The First Bankers Trust Ag Banquet also recognized:

The Quincy Herald-Whig Farm Family of the Year – the Marilyn Moore family of Camp Point.

The Quincy Area Chamber of Commerce Agribusiness of the Year – Sullivan Auctioneers in Hamilton.

The Larry Fischer Ag Educator of the Year – Dawn Weinberg, University of Illinois Extension agricultural literacy coordinator in Hancock County.