Peterson: 'We've got to make sure we're connecting' to wheat growers
By MATTHEW WEAVER
In Dana Peterson's eyes, farmers in the West are leaders. They have had to deal with an expanding regulatory climate at both the state and national levels.
"Those farmers in particular have a front-row seat on what's happening along these regulation-type issues," she said. "Being from the Midwest, we've been somewhat insulated from those issues."
As the new CEO of the National Association of Wheat Growers, Peterson has moved to the forefront of those issues. She started Jan. 20.
Peterson told the Capital Press she expects to learn a lot from farmers in the West and looks forward to meeting with them to discuss how they deal with the proliferation of regulations.
"I think they're probably leaders in adaptation to this new regulatory environment the rest of the country is starting to see," she said.
Peterson replaces Daren Coppock, who left in December to become CEO of the Agricultural Retailers Association.
She took the job because she saw an opportunity to serve wheat farmers across the country. As a wheat farmer's daughter from north central Kansas, she understands many issues from a farmer's perspective, she said.
Peterson was most recently producer policy specialist at Kansas Wheat, which includes the Kansas Wheat Commission and Kansas Association of Wheat Growers. She had held that position since 2005. Before that, she was on the wheat growers staff.
There, she communicated with farmers about political issues nationwide and in the state capitol, analyzing that so farmers could determine the potential impacts.
"I think that preparation at the ground level really helped me be a good candidate in this position, because I do understand that policy-making perspective from the grassroots level," she said.
Washington Association of Wheat Growers President Brett Blankenship, an Adams County grower, served on the national association's committee that hired Peterson. He said the committee evaluated candidates' relationships with the wheat industry, enthusiasm for promotion and demonstration of management skills.
Peterson rose to the top of the list based on the good reputation she built during her time at Kansas Wheat, he said.
"The most important thing is she has a wheat background," he said. "She's quite familiar with the importance of wheat and wheat markets."
Peterson hopes to continue the open lines of communication and clearing the way for the introduction of wheat biotechnology, both initiatives Coppock pursued.
She considers new interest in the development of wheat to be the most positive thing she's seen in the last year. The increased infusion of research dollars makes her optimistic about the direction the industry will head during the next decade, she said.
Agriculture needs to track all of the various issues, including environmental regulations such as those governing dust and clean water, and determine how the industry will adapt.
She welcomes farmers' opinions.
"With the shrinking number of farmers, we've got to make sure we're connecting and touching a higher percentage of farmers than we have in the past," she said.