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The rift between farmers and the public

July 22, 2013|By JEFF SEMLER

I recently read an article online titled “The Ten Reasons They Hate You So” at www.truthinfood.com.

The article wasn’t hostile like the title might suggest.

The author was attempting to explain why seemingly well-educated urbanites and suburbanites loathe many modern agricultural practices.

Mike Smith, the author, made several valid points that go beyond the current mantra that if we just educate them they will understand.

He goes on to point out that “modern agriculture’s vulnerability is this: Today’s farmer is just as generationally divorced from the modern, urban liberal-arts university as his city cousin is from the farm.

“Unlike Thomas Jefferson’s ideal yeoman farmer of early America — the philosopher with dirt under his fingernails who would contemplate the mysteries of the soul while turning the soil — today’s typical ag-school grad is a telescopically programmed physical scientist who has, for the most part, happily escaped the research institutions of a land-grant university without ever having darkened the halls of an anthropology, sociology or philosophy building.

“His is too often a tightly focused vocational, technical training, unclouded by the frills of art, literature and humanities.”

He then lists the 10 reasons and then expounds on each:

  • They hate you because you trust in science.
  • They hate you because you’re messing with their kids.
  • They hate you in order to fight the power.
  • They hate you because you’re white.
  • They hate you because you’re male.
  • They hate you because you refuse to accept your limitations.
  • They hate you because you’re draining the color from their Rockwell.
  • They hate you because you freed their proletariat, and they want it back right now.
  • They hate you because Ronald Reagan loved you ... and vice versa.
  • They hate you because they are utterly, absolutely, desperately dependent upon you.

I will not try to address these issues in depth. The major wedge between farmers and their neighbors is the manner in which they think. I will attempt to address this issue with examples.

First, we hear that consumers want to see animals raised using natural methods. Nobody is exactly sure what that is. Should our herds roam freely as the Bison once did? I believe the first flower bed or golf course that is grazed will end that idea.

So I would assume fences are in order. What about barns? Barns are anything but natural. Wild herds certainly used shade and wind breaks, but given the choice, animals choose to be out of doors. My sheep had access to a run in shed with no door. They routinely chose to lay out in frost and snow.

Now let us look at the other side. Do the detractors raise their dogs naturally? Not even close. Dogs are pack animals, and while their human companions become their pack, most are under exercised and overfed. When left to their own devices, dogs will always choose meat, not corn, which is the major ingredient in many pet foods. I know these are fighting words to pet owners so I will brace myself for the hate mail.

For the record, I have been a dog owner all my life, and I have treated my dog no differently than most.

Next, let’s look at the use of antibiotics. Let me say first and foremost, I do believe antibiotics have a place in animal husbandry, in the same way they are used in human medicine, to assist the sick heal.

Maybe consumers know or maybe they don’t, but with organic standards no antibiotic treatments are allowed. The person who champions organics, I am sure, when sick expects his or her doctor to give them antibiotics. I hope you can see the confusion.

So, for now the take-home point is we need to walk in each other’s shoes as a first step to understand each other.


Jeff Semler is an Extension educator, specializing in agriculture and natural resources, for the University of Maryland Extension. He is based in Washington County. He can be reached at 301-791-1404, ext. 25, or by email at jsemler@umd.edu.

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