Back

Farm and Food File
July 8, 2019

Share

When you've been in the ag journalism game for almost 40 years, few things surprise you. Floods, droughts, market crack-ups, political crockery, price fixing: none of it is shocking anymore.

And, yet, on June 21, the Washington Post published a farm-based story that made even this graybeard marvel at how tone deaf and superior-sounding rural politics has become to much of the non-farming nation.

Even more startling was the reader reaction to that growing tone-deafness. Within four days of the piece being published, nearly 5,000 readers posted online comments; almost all were soaked with contempt and sarcasm for the featured farmers, who farm 15,000 acres in South Dakota, and by association, rural America in general.

In fairness, the farmers and others quoted in the story only related what almost every farmer and rancher has thought or said this troubled year: it's getting tough out here. How they said it, though, undermined almost every ounce of empathy readers might have had for that message.

It began with one farmer noting "This trade thing"-Mexico, in this instance-"is going to kill us." Next, more tough-minded, toughly worded quotes tumbled out as the farmers and their rural neighbors listed their worries and explained their views:

Then came the swift and searing replies. Here's a sampling of the more printable comments:

In contrast, the number of farmer-defending comments were too few to count. When one does appear, responding readers pummel the defender and the argument.

So what's going on here?

Part of it is simply piling on. Angry, Trump-bashing non-farmers see a chance to vent against "rich" farmers and they willingly join the rising chorus.

The bigger part, though, is more troubling: American farmers and ranchers have a growing problem with today's younger, better educated, more influential generation of eaters who are unafraid to challenge Big Ag's views on GMOs, trade, politics, global warming, and the scornful pats on the head-rather than real answers-they receive to their serious questions about quality, cost, and consequences of today's farm and food policies.

As such, the almost automatic, guaranteed political support farmers and ranchers once received from the public is quickly draining. Political divisions, now steeped in today's unbridled rhetoric, have split most of the remaining support along widening rural/urban lines.

Farmers and ranchers are, of course, free to reject the Post story as liberal or elitist and its reader comments as biased or uninformed. What can't be dismissed, however, is that almost 5,000 people reacted angrily to a story told through the voice of rural America.

If that means anything, it means that American agriculture has a bigger problem than either weather or trade, and this one won't be solved by turning inward or telling others to butt out.

The Farm and Food File is published weekly through the U.S. and Canada. Past columns, events and contact information are posted at www.farmandfoodfile.com.

Share

Regular Size Farm News