Saying “Thanks” Might Be Worthwhile In Countering Negative Perceptions of Ag

Editor’s note: Kelvin is wearing his farmer hat in sharing these Thanksgiving thoughts.

Living at the mercy of many forces out of our control (both in nature and markets), it’s easy for us as farmers and people involved in agriculture to get caught up in sharing about our misery and misfortune. Whether it’s too much rain or too little rain, low prices or a high tax bill, not enough yield or not enough bin space, some of us can probably find a way to complain about it (or maybe it’s just me.)

While we may find some consolation in telling others about our misfortunes, and there are certainly times where it’s appropriate to ask for help, to make a stink or to correct misconceptions, how does this complaining sound to people not involved in farming? How is it perceived by the other 98 percent of the population who we depend on to buy what we grow and who vote for politicians that determine how we farm?

I remember feeling offended when a high school teacher told us that farmers’ problems are usually exaggerated, that words like “disaster” and “crisis” should be taken with a grain of salt when used by farmers and organizations representing them. “Unlike other business owners, farmers will just whine and go to the government for help,” he said.

As someone who farms, it’s concerning when I hear those same sentiments from non-farming friends now, wondering why some farmers complain about a poor crop or low pig prices and yet they drive new trucks and live in large houses.

If you live in a farming community, chances are you’ve also heard these broad, ill-informed perspectives. And think about when agriculture gets coverage in national media — whether it’s bee health, flooding or using the wrong name for BSE, the reports skew toward negativity.

Not to get all warm and fuzzy now, but in a world where the ag community is trying to build awareness, credibility, and relationships with the public, are there unintended consequences from complaining? Have non-farmers grown tired of it? Never mind the public, there are cases where farmers are fed up with other farmers whining.

The ag sector is filled with passionate people excited about their accomplishments and living inspiring stories. There are many examples of success (however you define it), where families are thriving despite difficult conditions, and businesses are adapting to challenges that once seemed insurmountable.

So while there’s a time and place for expressing anger or frustration, do those feelings drown out the accomplishments and the instances where the end result was better than expected?

Sure, our winter wheat is full of disease this year and it’s not worth much, but the canola yielded okay, and the heater works in the tractor cab, and nobody’s been seriously hurt on our farm this year, and we get to enjoy beautiful sunsets while working outside, and there are people willing to pay for what we grow (see video below)…I guess there are some things we don’t need to complain about. What better time to take stock of them than at Thanksgiving?

Can we counter negative perceptions of agriculture by sharing these stories?

A fitting example of farmers in the U.K. not complaining to the non-farming public (as seen in this “agvocacy” post by Debra Murphy last December).

 

Kelvin Heppner

Kelvin Heppner is a field editor and radio host for RealAgriculture and RealAg Radio. He's been reporting on agriculture on the prairies and across Canada since 2008(ish). He farms with his family near Altona, Manitoba, and is on Twitter at @realag_kelvin. @realag_kelvin

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One Comment

Jen Christie

Great reminder, Kelvin! I think you’re onto something! At a time when everyone is thankful for the food on their table, perhaps we should thank them for purchasing local and Canadian. I see a hashtag perhaps… #thankyouCanada #thankaconsumer #farmersgivethanks ?? Perhaps they may need some work…

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