If there is one thing I’ve learned while working in agriculture, it’s that farming is a high-frustration field. Cattle farmers are frustrated because beef is sky high at the grocery store but dirt cheap at the sale barn. Grain farmers are frustrated because they have to haul their soybeans all the way to Georgia to the nearest soybean processing plant, increasing transportation costs. Blackberry farmers are frustrated that the wholesaler refuses so-called “overripe” berries just to keep the supply down, sticking farmers with tractor-trailer loads of perfectly-fine and highly-perishable berries. Poultry farmers are frustrated because their integrators keep forcing them to upgrade their houses, for no other reason than to keep them in debt and leveraged to the hilt. Farmers’ market vendors are frustrated by Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods and the .75 cent gallon of organic milk at Aldi.
And what ties all the farmers together is a general frustration–that everyone else is oblivious to their particular frustration, that they’re left to shoulder these problems alone amidst an unsupportive, if not hostile, public.
Maybe not unsupportive in words, but certainly in deeds–at least when it comes to politicians. If I had a dollar for every time I heard a politician talk about how their granddeddy was a farmer, how they love farming, how we need farmers, I could probably afford to farm. But if there is a second thing I’ve learned in my time in agriculture, it’s that even a light-weight politician will produce more steaming heaps than a full-sized cow.
And I say this knowing we need farmers to engage in the political process. Where I live there are no farmers on the planning board, board of adjustment, or county commission. The deck is stacked with realtors, lawyers, and a few general wackos, the latter of which are most likely to commiserate with the plight of farmers, but I’m not sure we want the guys who tote their AK-47s into Dollar General to be the face of modern agriculture.
Only 2% of the population farms anymore, which is a miniscule number to begin with, but by the time the warring factions within the 2% get done pillorying each other, then the collective voice has been pummeled down to a whimper. All this is to say we need young well-spoken farmers–small, big, conventional, organic–to get involved and at least try to get along sometimes, otherwise I’m afraid we’re just whimpering into the wind.