Thursday, February 16, 2012


There's an old saying that goes something like this:  "Those who can do, those who can't teach, and those who can't teach are guidance counselors."  Might have made that last part up, but it works.

If you eat, you're involved in agriculture.  If you wear clothes, you're involved in agriculture.  If you drive a vehicle, you're involved in agriculture.  Each of us interacts with agriculture every single day, multiple times per day.

Agriculture it seems, is under constant assault from someone or something.  Animal rights activists, environmental activists, herbicide resistant weeds, rising fuel/labor/insurance/input costs, floods, droughts, regulations, taxes, and bureaucrats -- just to name a few.  Being an activist isn't a bad thing.  I'm an activist.  I'm just on the opposite side most of the time of those people and groups listed above.

Here's the rub though.  Less than 2% of the population is involved in production agriculture (the ones actually producing the stuff you eat, drink, and wear).  And, we're repeatedly told that by the year 2050 we will have to produce more food than we've had to in the past 10,000 years combined (or 5-6,000 if you hold to a really young Earth view).  The obvious question for me then becomes - 'How are we expected to remain efficient at doing our job when we are being handcuffed at every turn?'

The way I see it, agriculture is in a public relations battle, and is getting its butt kicked.  Part of the blame can be directed on basic ignorance of the issues.  Part of it can be directed to well funded organizations like HSUS or PETA with slick, pull at your heart strings ads.  But also, part of the blame needs to be directed at farmers themselves.

Farmers do what they do, because, well, they are good at it.  They do it because they love it.  And they do it because most other people can't.  What we're not always good at is engaging with the general public, public relations campaigns, or talking to the media.  The days of unengagement are over.  That ship has sailed, never to return.  Gone are the days of sitting around the local co-op or coffee shop talking amongst ourselves about prices, dirt, and the weather.  We still need to talk about these things, but the scope of our audience must broaden, else I doubt we, or much anyone else, will like the results.

I don't like complainers.  And I feel like I've done a fair amount of complaining in this post, so right now I'm not liking myself all that much.  Farmers aren't usually complainers--whiners maybe--but not complainers.  They have a can do attitude.  I mean seriously, what other profession drops a 100 grand into the ground (literally) and then prays for the right amount of sunshine and rain with the high hopes of recouping expenses and making a profit, in order to it all over again the next year at 150 grand?  Now that's an optimistic, prayer driven bunch of folks.

Decisions are going to be made.  Laws are going to be passed.  Debates are going to be held.  Where does American agriculture want to be?  We can engage, become involved, and share our side of the story, or we can let someone else tell it for us.  Farmers can point fingers, shift blame, and curse the government, but at the end of the day, who do we want telling our story?  A story will be told, just don't act surprised if it's one you don't like or agree with.  Where were you?  Why are you farmer, letting someone else tell it for you?

I've watched churches, schools, businesses, and governments deteriorate and weaken to the point of uselessness because limp wristed wimps failed to engage.  I understand the thought line of picking our battles.  I get that.  But it seems to me that food and food related issues isn't one of those secondary issues we toss aside for clueless nitwits to decide upon.  When the price of bread, milk, and eggs rises at the grocery store, or fuel rises at the pump, where has the farmer positioned himself in the discussion when the consumer or policymaker starts asking why?  Look, you may disagree with everything I've said.  That's fine.  But defeat me in the arena of ideas.  At least there we can have a discussion.

There's another old saying something like "Get off the bench (or out of the bleachers) and get in the game".  We have a sufficient number of armchair quarterbacks.  You know what I'm talking about.  People who like to sit on the couch at 4 in the afternoon still wearing their pajamas, screaming at Tom Brady to throw it, or something like that.

Are farmers going to get in the game?  Are we going to be engaged and proactive?  Or, will we sit by idly, even naively, ultimately rendering ourselves irrelevant in our own profession in the arena of thoughts and ideas?