NAMA Member Passing

Written by NAMA on Friday, December 22, 2006 , 11:10 am

Sonja Hillgren Downs, 58, a renowned journalist who specialized in farming and agriculture, died of a brain tumor Tuesday at home in Center City.

Under the byline of Sonja Hillgren, she broke such stories as the Reagan administration’s plan to count ketchup as a vegetable in school food programs, and the farm crisis in the early 1980s.

Growing up in Sioux Falls, S.D. – in a home where politics was breakfast conversation, her father, Ralph Hillgren, was a newspaperman, state legislator and farm owner – she gravitated to farm journalism early in her career.

After graduating from high school in 1966, she attended the University of Missouri, earning a bachelor’s degree in 1970 and a master’s degree in 1972, both in journalism.

Sonja then went to work for United Press International, covering the Maryland statehouse. In 1978 she began covering agriculture in the UPI’s Washington bureau.

She established a reputation in the agriculture community, longtime friend and colleague Marcia Taylor said, for her reports on the plight of farmers after an overseas grain embargo was established during a time of record harvests. Thousands of American farmers defaulted on loans and lost their farms.

At one point, Sonja rode with a convoy of angry farmers aboard tractors who later encamped on the Mall just outside the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

It was while at UPI that she wrote about the Reagan administration’s plans to consider ketchup a vegetable, said Chuck Abbott, a former UPI colleague.

After working for UPI for over a decade, she joined Knight Ridder Newspapers’ Washington bureau, before joining the Farm Journal in 1990.

She came to Philadelphia in 1995, when she was named editor of Farm Journal, which was founded here in 1877.

In 2004, she was named senior vice president/editorial for Farm Journal Media, the parent company of Farm Journal and several other agriculture magazines with a combined circulation of more than 800,000. As a media executive, she continued to be deeply interested in government, writing policy articles and Viewpoint columns for the Farm Journal and directing the annual Farm Journal Forum in Washington.

She was president of the National Press Club in 1996.Sonja had two brief marriages. Her first husband, Ralph Hill, died 15 days after their marriage in 1980. She married Bruce T. Downs in September, 2006. The couple had met at an Irish pub in Center City on July 4, 2005. “We talked for hours,” he said. “The time flew by. It was magic for both of us.”

She enjoyed attending the theater and classical music concerts and was active with several charitable organizations, including Philabundance. She called herself a fiscal conservative, her husband said, but was a liberal on social policies.

Sonja was a member of the Chesapeake NAMA Chapter since 1996.

In addition to her husband, Sonja is survived by a sister, Annette Bray; a brother, John Hillgren; and several nieces and nephews.

A funeral service will be at 11:30 a.m. today at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Center City. Burial will be in Hills of Rest Cemetery, Sioux Falls, S.D.

Memorial donations may be made to Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, 1904 Walnut St., Philadelphia 19103.

Wishing You Happy Holidays

Written by NAMA on Monday, December 18, 2006 , 11:42 am

Christmas TreeIn honor of the Holiday Season, the NAMA Office will be closed December 25 through January 1. We will reopen on January 2, 2007.

We hope you have a safe and happy holiday season and we look forward to seeing you next year!

It’s Time to Think Big!

Written by NAMA on Monday, December 18, 2006 , 11:42 am

Think BigThink Big! Live large! The 2007 Agri-Marketing Conference, April 11-13 in Dallas, will stretch your imagination and open doors to innovative ideas. You’ll be better equipped to embrace change, growth, and new business opportunities. This year’s conference will challenge you to step out of the box, take new risks, help you achieve success – professionally and personally – and to revitalize your life!

You won’t want to miss the Opening General Session featuring a magical, thought provoking key note address by the Wizard of Ads, Roy Williams. His presentation titled, “The Wizard of Ads Reveals the 12 Most Common Mistakes in Advertising – and the Secret Formula for Success!” will teach you the 12 things not to do when developing a marketing campaign. He will then show you how to capture the hearts and minds of your customers with creative communications tips and techniques. We’ll also honor this year’s recipient of the Agribusiness Leader of the Year Award.

Then on to the Second General Session with keynote speaker, Scott Deming, presenting “The Brand who Cried Wolf – Deliver on your Company’s Promise and Create Customers for Life.” Once you’ve created the “brilliant” marketing communications strategies, how do you create the ultimate customer experience? How do you affectively build your brand and turn your customers into evangelists for your products? This session will also recognize the NAMA Marketer of the Year and the recipients of the NAMA Leader Awards.

Watch your inbox in January for the 2007 Agri-Marketing Conference & Trade Show brochure or keep checking the web site at, for the latest conference details.

To register for the 2007 Agri-Marketing Conference visit,

Company Web Site Link Update

Written by NAMA on Monday, December 18, 2006 , 11:39 am

We will be updating the Member Company Web Site page of the NAMA web site. Even if your company is already listed on the web site, we ask that you submit the information again to ensure we have the correct link on our web site. Please complete the on-line form at to send your company’s link to NAMA to post on the web site.

We appreciate your help!

Get Your Nominations In Today!

Written by NAMA on Monday, December 18, 2006 , 11:39 am

The deadline for submitting nominations for the Agribusiness Leader of the Year and the NAMA Marketer of the Year is one month away. Submit your nominations to the NAMA office by January 19, 2007. Both awards will be presented at the 2007 Agri-Marketing Conference & Trade Show, April 11-13 in Dallas.

George ThorntonAgribusiness Leader of the Year
George Thornton, President & CEO of Agriliance LLC, was presented with the Agribusiness Leader of the Year Award, NAMA’s highest honor, at the Opening General Session of the 2006 Agri-Marketing Conference & Trade Show in Kansas City.

Thornton joined Agriliance in 2001 and spent his first 12 months traveling throughout the country, listening to dealers and growers share ideas on products and services they most value in a supplier. With a clear understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing the company, Thornton set clear goals for the organization, motivated his teams and gave them the resources needed to achieve a dramatic turnaround in every facet of the company’s business.

The Agribusiness Leader of the Year award honors an outstanding leader in agribusiness, education, government service or other related areas. Solicited from senior level position holders in private, public or academic service, nominees should exemplify excellence in agribusiness by their significant contributions to the industry. Nominees do not need to be NAMA members.

If you would like to nominate someone for the Agribusiness Leader of the Year award, please fill out the nomination form on-line now at or download the Agribusiness Leader Nomination form in an Adobe .PDF format by visiting,

Tom DavisNAMA Marketer of the Year
Tom Davis, Group Publisher of Meredith Corporation’s Men’s Brands, was presented with the NAMA Marketer of the Year award during the Second General Session at the 2006 Agri-Marketing Conference & Trade Show in Kansas City.

Davis had the foresight to envision the major shifts taking place in the way information is distributed and consumed by readers. Not only has he continued to reinvest in Successful Farming magazine with a major redesign, but he has also been alert to the power of the internet by viewing Agriculture Online (Successful Farming’s online presence) as a profit center of its own, capable of a presence both supportive and supporting of print, but also able to function at another level entirely.

The NAMA Marketer of the Year award is the most prestigious honor awarded to an active member of the association and honors outstanding accomplishments in the field of agri-marketing. Nominees are solicited from agribusiness and related companies with overall marketing and/or sales responsibilities. Nominees must be NAMA members.

If you are interested in nominating someone for the NAMA Marketer of the Year award, please fill out the nomination form on-line now at or download the NAMA Marketer of the Year nomination form in an Adobe .PDF format by visiting,

For more information on these awards and to see past winners, visit,

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