A lifetime in agriculture has exposed me to many claims and sayings that are widely used in ag circles and rural America in general. I agree with many of them. But here are four with which I disagree, at least in part.
"Debt is a good thing."
That's what an ag educator said at a farm conference during the winter meeting season a few years ago. Her essential point was valid: Farmers and ranchers shouldn't necessarily eschew debt. It can be a valuable, even essential tool in helping ag businesses to get started and to expand. Without it, modern ag wouldn't exist. But debt also is a bad thing. It can paralyze and suffocate those with too much of it.
The reality is, debt is both good and bad. Used correctly, it's a blessing. Used incorrectly, it's a curse. Perhaps the greatest challenge facing ag operators, it seems to me, is deciding whether taking on more debt would help or hurt.
"Farming is the most noble job there is. We feed the world."
Hey, I understand why farmers say that. Critics frequently and unfairly trash what they do, so ag producers naturally want to present themselves in a more positive and accurate light.
But bragging about being noble — a word that means "having fine personal qualities or high moral principles and ideals" — isn't the way to do that. Farmers aren't any nobler than folks in a host of other occupations and proclaiming otherwise irritates people in those occupations. Besides, farmers and ranchers' motivation isn't feeding the world; it's generating enough income to support themselves, their families and their employees. (Which itself is pretty noble.)
Here's my humble suggestion: Don't talk about the nobility of what you do. Say instead, "Farming is important and necessary. We're proud of what we do."
On a personal note: The most noble job I know is held by one of my sisters, a teacher who helps kids with special needs.
"City people will never understand what I do."
Well, yes, some urban residents will never understand modern farming and ranching. They'll continue to cling to untrue assumptions and stereotypes. But that's no excuse for throwing in the towel, to quit trying to engage non-farmers in a positive, respectful way.
So, if you're not doing it already, find productive methods to communicate what you do and why you do it.
"COVID-19 is a scam/conspiracy/plot."
I've written before, both in columns and Agweek social media, about the need to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, that doing so is the right thing to do for ourselves, our families, our neighbors and our communities. But I gave up in despair after so many rural Americabs, citing so many spurious factors, refused to be vaccinated.
Now I'll try one last time. This fall, one of my relatives died after contracting the virus. He hadn't been vaccinated because, in his view, the vaccine was "just experimental." He'd most likely be alive if he'd listened to medical experts and been vaccinated.
Whether to be vaccinated shouldn't be about your religious beliefs or political orientation or what you read on some Facebook post. It's about listening with an open mind to what the overwhelming majority of experts advise. And most of all it's about protecting all the people around you whose own safety is compromised if you're not vaccinated. Yes, it's your body, but refusing to be vaccinated can hurt — can kill — family, neighbors and friends. Do it for them, if not for yourself.
The irony and tragedy is that many rural Americans who pride themselves on acting sensibly — and normally do — are doing the polar opposite on vaccination. It's a potentially devastating mistake that can be easily avoided.
Jonathan Knutson is a former Agweek reporter. He grew up on a farm and spent his career covering agriculture. He can be reached at email@example.com.