“I was just thinking”

Trust More Important than Prestige for Farmers

I’ve spent more than four decades working in agriculture and have surely seen a lot of changes during that time.  One thing that hasn’t changed a bit for me is the admiration and respect I have for those who produce the food, feed, fiber, and fuel to sustain the lives of more than 300 million of their fellow citizens…..now numbering more than 300 million.  I’m pretty sure that not everyone thinks about what this means and recently I saw proof of this.

Not long ago, I noticed an internet article reporting the results of a poll on the “most admired” professions in society.  Naturally, I checked to see where farmers ranked.  Surely, because of what they contribute to sustain our way of life, farmers would land high on the list. 

But not only were farmers excluded from the top 10, they were nowhere to be found at all.  Interestingly, fire fighters topped the poll followed by those serving in the military.  Both are professions strongly associated with public service.  Then again, farmers also provide tremendous public service; so why are they not receiving proper credit.
My interest now piqued, I decided to look for other lists.  A poll of the “most prestigious” professions placed fire fighters, medical professionals, and those serving in the military at the top - professions prominent on every survey that I checked - but again, no mention of farmers.

Finally, they appeared…on a list of the “most trusted” professions.  In fact, here farmers were in third place, right behind the same groups that had topped the other lists.  Third place out of 30 professions looked really solid to me.

I doubt that farmers would be surprised that their profession is not highly admired or considered prestigious.  But given the choice between admiration, prestige, and trust, farmers I know and work with would gladly identify with the last of these three.

It’s obvious why trust is so important….everyone needs what farmers produce.  Well-placed trust means that consumers will have confidence that the food they buy will be healthful and plentiful when it is produced by American farmers.

But opinions can change and farmers and those who represent them need to continuously tell the incredible American agriculture success story.  An old adage that applies here is that if you don’t tell your own story, someone else will tell it and it might not be one you like. 

There is an amazing amount of information available today but no one should be able to tell the farmer’s story better than the farmers themselves.  They can provide valuable insights and awareness to the non-farming public about how food gets from the farm to their tables.  

Today, fewer are responsible for the abundant supply of American produced food and fiber than ever before.  Farm and ranch families who actually produce the agricultural goods that sustain their fellow citizens make up only about 2 per cent of the population.  And they do this for a very small share of the total cost to the consumer.  For each dollar spent on food, the farmer's cut is less than 25 cents.  The rest goes to costs beyond the farmer’s control: production inputs, processing, marketing, transportation and distribution.

American farmer efficiency contributes directly to low food costs for consumers.  Americans spend less than a tenth of their disposable income on food-less than citizens of any other country in the world.  This is especially true when comparing U.S. food expenses with those in developing countries or in higher-income European countries like, Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and Sweden.

Agriculture is of course not just a story of the production of food and fiber; it's one of people combining a rich heritage with dedication and perseverance in the face of constant challenges from nature and markets over which they have no control.   Even as they focus on earning a living and feeding their own families, American farmers are also dedicated caretakers of the environment.  They are committed to farming practices that protect their land and water resources while they are producing the most abundant, safe, and affordable food supply in the world.  

I think some are reluctant to “toot their own horn” but as members of one of the most trusted professions in society, farmers must seize the opportunity to tell their own story.  No one can tell it better or with more credibility.  It’s the right thing to do.

Ron Sholar
Executive Director Oklahoma Peanut Commission

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