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By Edith Munro
When Gordon Wassenaar first welcomed visitors to his test plots 30 years ago, he never expected it would evolve to hosting visitors from more than 70 foreign nations and Americans from all walks of life.
For every crop of corn and soybeans he’s raised since then, he’s also raised countless people’s understanding and appreciation of modern U.S. agriculture.
“We had good friends who brought German, Japanese and other groups to see the test plots, and things just grew from there,” says Wassenaar, the Prairie City, IA, grower who’s worn out a world map with the push pins for all the teams he’s hosted.
“Gordon is able to get to the meat of issues and talk about their ramifications,” says Bob Watts, a sales executive who visited the farm as part of Torch Club’s 2008 national convention. “I know that people who have little ag background get a lot from his comments. He’s enlightened people and cleared up a lot of misconceptions.”
Dick Gallagher, chairman of the Iowa Corn Promotion Board (ICPB), says Wassenaar is a great ambassador for U.S. agriculture: “He’s down to earth and tells it the way it is. I think he exemplifies our agriculture at its best.”
That’s been especially evident in Wassenaar’s leadership on the biotechnology debate. An ICPB director when the StarLink issue erupted, he was quick to see the importance of educating non-farmers about biotechnology.
By 2003, the U.S. Grains Council (USGC) was bringing 50-70 world officials – scientists, regulators, media representatives – to his farm each year to see what biotechnology in action does for agricultural productivity.
After years on the American Soybean Association board and the ICPB, he also serves on NCGA’s biotechnology working group today, traveling to Europe to talk with EU growers, journalists and consumer groups about biotechnology and hosting groups on his farm.
What keeps him going? “I believe intelligent people are willing to come to your place and listen,” he says. He cites a Kenyan woman at one of the biotech workshops who had a lot of questions. “When she left home, she was anti-biotech and now she told me she was pro-biotech,” Wassenaar says.