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President Bush recognized the sixth annual Farm Journal Forum for its timing and leadership by making his first major farm speech at the Nov. 27-28 gathering. The president saw the program focus, "Stand Up America: Secure the Heartland," as a timely rallying point for the nation's war on terrorism and an opportunity to outline his approach to farm issues before the broad base of key leaders who traveled to Washington, D.C., to discuss agriculture's readiness.

Bush called for U.S. leadership in trade and a "generous, but affordable" farm bill.

In addition to the war on terrorism, he reserved his strongest rhetoric to support the conversion of crops to fuel - a striking stance in light of his oil business background.

"I want to thank the Farm Journal Forum for emphasizing the importance of ethanol and biofuels," said Bush. "These fuels are gentle on the environment. They are fuels that can be renewed year after year, and fuels that can expand our farm economy. These fuels are made right here in America, so they can't be threatened by any foreign power."


This year's Forum posed special challenges to the Farm Journal team as well as the president. Due to the continuing threat of terror, neither party could announce Bush's attendance until the day before. But preparations had been underway from the moment the events of 9-11 were assessed by CEO Andy Weber and Farm Journal Media senior management.

While organizations nationwide canceled their autumn gatherings in the face of continuing terror alerts, the Farm Journal team scrapped the original "Farm Economy at a Crossroads" theme in favor of one on food security.

"We decided that there could not be a better time or place to hold the Forum than now in Washington, and to turn it into a rallying point for agriculture," Weber said in his opening remarks at the Forum.

Preparation called for Farm Journal to apply the principles of its program to the planning process. Editor Sonja Hillgren's telephone, fax and e-mail campaign required her to gather extra attendee information for security purposes. And security measures at the J.W. Marriott Hotel "were the highest I have seen in my career of covering Washington," she said.

Even anthrax affected planning as the communication pipeline from Hillgren's office to that of Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., shrunk to e-mail and a single telephone shared by staffers when the Hart Senate Office Building was contaminated. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick's staff had responded tentatively to Hillgren's invitation. But his work on a new trade round in Qatar, under unprecedented security, delayed his confirmation until the Friday before the event.

Other eminent speakers included Roberts, Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christine Todd Whitman, former Central Intelligence Agency Director James Woolsey and former Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman.

From the private sector, speakers included Hendrik Verfaillie, president and CEO of Monsanto; Richard Foster, vice president of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation; Ellen Kullman, group vice president, DuPont; Pat Gruber, vice president of Cargill-Dow; Ken Parnell, vice president of Wal-Mart; and Doug Magnus, chairman of the United Soybean Board.

Farm Journal donated a share of registration fees to their ongoing support of the Widows' and Children's Fund of the New York firefighters, in honor of Farm Journal Regional Sales Manager Sue Lee, whose husband is a New York City firefighter who survived 9-11.

"Hosting President Bush at the Forum was a highlight of my career," said Weber. "Sonja Hillgren and I were able to have several minutes offstage with the president before I introduced him to the Forum. I was the most impressed by how he was transformed and the intense emotion in his eyes in response to Sonja's compliment about Laura Bush's public role since 9-11. It said as much about the man as anything." AM

Earl Ainsworth is the former editor and publisher of Farm Journal magazine.

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