A referee blows his whistle and runs up to a basketball player. Then another does the same, then another, and another. Suddenly the players are surrounded by dozens of refs blowing whistles and waving their arms. It’s chaos. 

Then the voice over: “The reason you wouldn’t want 99 referees making rules to play basketball...is why Iowa can’t afford 99 counties making rules to raise livestock.

“We need only one set of tough and fair rules to protect our air and water, jobs and income.”

It ends with a logo and the words: “Our Future’s on the Table.”

That commercial, and two others, are running on television airwaves throughout Iowa.

Who’s behind it? The Iowa affiliates of the egg, turkey, pork, corn, soybean and beef associations along with the Farm Bureau Federation, Agribusiness Association and the Iowa Department of Economic Development. The group is known as Ag Initiative 2000.

Imagine that, all those agricultural groups working together. And in Iowa no less ù long considered the most “traditional” ag state in the nation. Well, there’s no question the Iowa folks are doing a very untraditional thing here.

Why are they doing it? Because our future is on the table.

The folks at Iowa’s economic development department know the state’s meager unemployment rate will keep new businesses from putting down stakes. So, the goal is to grow what they have.

The initiative’s mission is “to help Iowa become the world’s leading producer of value-added agricultural products.” Note the words “value added.” That’s the hook. That’s what sets this attempt apart and could just make it sell to the rest of the state. 

Produce the goods, process the goods and market the goods all based from within Iowa. That’s what value added means. It also means “better jobs, higher personal income, new businesses and a stronger tax base,” says David Lyons, Iowa’s economic development director. A strong message ù a message that focuses on the state and all its citizens, not just agriculture.

Iowa agriculture now performs at only one-third of its value-added potential. “An Iowa State University report shows there’s a five-fold increase in dollars generated ù dollars that stay in Iowan’s pockets ù when counties process livestock products instead of just grain,” says Lyons.

If Iowa can increase its national market share by 1 percent in each livestock category over the next 10 years, the net gain in gross income to the state would be $644 million, say Iowa State economists. And it would add 20,000 new jobs. Another strong message.

Initiative 2000 is driving home other points like: The ag industry provides two out of every nine jobs in Iowa, making it the state’s second largest employer. Of those ag jobs, 62 percent directly relate to livestock.

Still, words are just words unless  people pay attention.

The most unique link in this chain is the Ag Value Growth Foundation, headed by out-going governor Terry Branstad. The foundation’s mission is to drum up enough dollars to keep Ag Initiative 2000’s programs alive.

It’s curious that a governor not vying for re-election would back such a cause. But then, that’s about the only time a politician could effectively get involved. He has nothing to gain, but he has nothing to loose either.

His visibility and connections are critical to keeping a program like Ag Initiative 2000 viable long-term.

The foundation paid for the television adds. Other materials like speaker kits are in the hands of ag leaders out in the field. What lies ahead will depend in part on Branstad’s fund-raising abilities.

One thing is certain, this must be a long-term commitment. Too often, groups devise campaigns to influence a specific legislative process. While that may create immediate awareness, it doesn’t truly educate anyone.

Other states and pockets of pork producers are putting together public relations campaigns. The Farmers for Fairness campaign in North Carolina is into its second year now. Illinois has a plan on the drawing board. And some Minnesota producers are working their message across the state. 

This month at Pork Forum, delegates will discuss environmental issues and programs and whether to change the National Pork Producers Council’s name. All of those things reflect or affect your industry’s image. A national image campaign isn’t on the docket unless brought forth from the floor.

Perhaps these kinds of programs are most effective coming from within a state. We’ll have to see how Iowa fares.

Only the future will reveal whether Ag Initiative 2000 will make a difference, but at least Iowans aren’t sitting back watching their future pass them by.