The following blog post was submitted to us by Glen Groth, a family farmer in Ridgeway, Minnesota who has dairy cows and raises corn & soybeans. Glen has become active on social media (@GrothFarms on Twitter) and has seen various conversations that make him want to speak up about the things he knows to be true.
When I think of ways to improve my family farm, the first things that come to my mind are based on what I know. I know planting corn at the right time will give me the highest yields. I know changing the oil on the tractor must be done on time or I face a big repair bill. I know keeping the cows well-fed, clean and comfortable gives me more milk in the tank. I know I must watch the markets so I can sell my crops at a profitable price in order to have the financial means to carry on my family’s farming legacy.
There are many consumers that do not know what I know, but having taken a renewed interest in the American farmer, they want to lend a hand. The consumer places a high value on the idea of the traditional family farm and they want to do what they can to maintain that piece of Americana. Unable to help with mundane daily decisions and tasks on the farm, a growing faction of concerned citizens, calling themselves “foodies” and “locavores”, among other cute titles, have taken it upon themselves to alert farmers and the public to a whole host of catastrophes in the making. Following the guidance of writers from both coasts and small groups of disenfranchised farmers in between, these people are using social media to warn of corporate greed, corrupt politics and widespread disregard of biological principals. If we in agriculture are facing such certain doom, why then are farmers like me ignoring these seemingly dire warnings?
It’s simple. I focus on the things I am certain of on my farm based on a lifetime of experience. The apocalyptic visions of others are based on ideas that are far less quantifiable. These alarmists make claims that certain production practices are unsafe for the environment, consumers and farmers themselves. I often cannot prove these claims to be true or false. But I do know that the production practices of which these people speak generally provide an economic, lifestyle and risk management benefit to my farm.
Others worry about consolidation among agribusinesses for some potential to influence market fundamentals and cause financial strain to farm families. Again, I cannot disprove any of these theories, but I do know that patronizing businesses who give me the best products, prices and service will benefit my farm no matter how big those businesses are.
One of my “favorite” allegations is that American agriculture has been taken over by massive “corporate farms” who have run farm families off of the land and laid waste to rural communities. I can’t prove that the trend to larger farms is the best course for agriculture to follow. But, I do know that I will have to milk more cows if I want to have a farm with skilled employees so I can enjoy a weekend off every now and again. I know I have to farm more land if I want to cash flow the latest crop production technology that will allow me to produce higher yields with less fuel and fertilizer. Most significantly I know that most young farmers like me will keep growing their operations for the same personal satisfaction and sense of accomplishment that is desired by professionals in other lines of work.
The folks raising the alarm about problems that, well, are not real problems, do not deserve our scorn. Their heart is in the right place. They want clean water, healthy food and profitable farms and vibrant rural communities. I haven’t met a farmer yet that didn’t want these things as well. But being removed from the daily realities on the farm, these well meaning folks have come to believe that they are offering a helping hand to farmers they view as victims of a food, fiber, and fuel production system that is critically flawed. Farmers have faith in American agriculture even though we know that our industry is far from perfect. Focusing on the facts before us and not getting caught up in the hyperbole of those with too much time on their hands will always be the path forward for successful farmers. That much I know.