I was struggling to find a topic for this article when my wife inadvertently gave me an idea. She teaches middle school home economics and her students rotate each semester. During the fall semester, they do some projects with pumpkins because it is timely for Halloween and Thanksgiving. Some of her new students wanted to know if they would get to do the pumpkin projects in the spring semester. How many fresh pumpkins are available January through May? This story exemplifies one of the huge problems facing farming and ranching - a lack of knowledge or understanding and the corresponding disconnect by those who are not involved in production agriculture.
Farmers and ranchers have become a huge minority! Approximately 2 percent of the U.S. population is involved in farming or ranching. Of that number, more than half are small operators. Therefore, less than 1 percent of our population is truly engaged in farming. The majority of our population doesn't know when, where or how their food gets to them. They expect it to magically be there when they need it. Obviously, more than 1 percent of the population is involved in getting food to the consumer, but how many of them know that most of our vegetables and numerous other crops are planted in the spring and harvested in the fall? And how about the food animals? Do they know that cows have one calf per year and that milk cows freshen only once a year? What about the seasonality of pork and egg production? I think you are getting the picture. Production agriculture has some giant hurdles.
How can such a minority survive? I think we need to study how others have been successful in advancing their causes. Generally, they have:
- been dedicated to a purpose;
- been very persistent;
- been very vocal to draw attention to themselves or their issues;
targeted a small number of key issues; and
- raised money very aggressively.
I am not advocating that we employ all of the actions and methods that some minority groups have used; however, I think there are lessons to be learned. Unity is a key issue. The time has long since passed for squabbling and bickering within the industry. We need to seek common ground and work together to accomplish meaningful goals.
The general population is far removed from farms and ranches. There is a wide gap in knowledge, understanding and perception between production agriculture and the general population. The public doesn't understand that fertilizer, pesticides and biotechnology are good things when used properly. They have watched too many movies and listened to too many slanted "news reports" that are based on emotion and fear rather than facts and science. Many children don't know that beef comes from cattle and think that milk and eggs originate at the grocery store. They think cereal comes from a box without realizing that it was grown on a farm. We must become advocates of agriculture. We have to do a better job of telling our story and explaining our position, or we may not have a story to tell.
How can you effectively impact this situation? Become more active in producer organizations. Be a member of the local, state and national organizations that represent you. Go to local meetings and have an influence on what is happening regarding issues and policy. An organization has a difficult time representing you and your views if you are not a member or fail to participate in the process. Learn the issues - be informed and proactive. Engage people you encounter in your daily life. Tell the good things about agriculture and know the facts. Avoid being negative or argumentative as this generally hurts your credibility and the industry. Be dedicated to purpose and avoid coming across as unintelligent or hotheaded. We can sometimes be our own worst enemy. Strive to represent what is right with farming and ranching, not what's wrong with it.