July 2015
On the Edge of Common Sense

Agricultural Ignorance

The editor of the Delmarva Farmer made the observation that Americans, as a whole, have reached the Age of Agricultural Ignorance. This stage in our civilization is a direct result of the lack of "kids growing up on the farm."

There are many reasons for them leaving; one of the greatest being that farming requires manual labor. As our country has progressed, each generation was drawn to professions demanding less and less physical exertion. A perfect example is the importation of foreign labor to do the grunt work. Grandparents and parents crossed the border to work in the fields. They, themselves, were close to the land and understood farming. But, when they raised their children, they deliberately discouraged them from working in agriculture.

In the last five generations in the United States, we have whittled down the percent of the population engaged in production agriculture from 25 percent in 1933 to less than 2 percent today.

So what? Using modern agriculture practices, the reality is that 2 percent is enough to feed everyone else. It’s an amazing accomplishment that is now taken for granted. However, there is an accompanying negative progression contributing to the Age of Agricultural Ignorance. It is the expanding ignorance of science. Today in the United States, 50 percent of all post-graduate degrees in science-based curriculums are earned by students who are foreign-born. "Science based" include subjects such as math, chemistry, engineering, medicine, physics and agriculture. Political science and economics are not sciences.

 What those of us in agriculture find hard to believe is that, according to popular culture, we are not doing a good job. The community of denigrators accuses farmers of misuse of animals, land and our environment. They are innocently supported by an ignorant media (journalism is not a science) that is incapable of evaluating information such as statistical significance, withholding times, FDA requirements and the writing on the back of a bottle.

I grant that they get a disproportionate amount of the front-page scares and the denigrators stir up contributions to their anti-farming causes and the gutless media-sensitive politicians (lawyery is not a science) and pop stars are no help, but ….

Dwarfing their squealing, the landslide of food production roars down through the planting, harvest, transportation, preparation and consumption of what we choose to eat. The food chain never stops. It is feeding 320 million people in the United States daily, plus furnishing $45 billion worth of food exports (2013).

One might conclude that America’s horn of plenty will survive as long as foreign-born students help us continue to technically and biologically streamline farming, and as long as foreign-born laborers who are willing to pick up a shovel or drive a tractor keep immigrating that we will not go hungry … a sad conclusion.

 Then again, there might be a renaissance of 21st Century Agricultural Awareness where farmers and ranchers will be recognized for their contribution and treated like royalty - in the league of astronauts, Heisman Trophy winners or even Oscar winners!

Hey, you never know. Hunger is a powerful influence.

Baxter Black is a former large animal veterinarian who can be followed nationwide through this column, National Public Radio, public appearances, television and also through his books, cds, videos and website, www.baxterblack.com.