Ag at Large: Farmers’ image dimmed by time

By Don Curlee

The praise and respect for farmers spoken by iconic broadcaster Paul Harvey 39 years ago has not transcended the skepticism and doubt of recent generations, and farmers need to be concerned about that.

Even in1978, commercials voiced during the Super Bowl broadcast were expensive, and were discussed and analyzed for weeks after the game was over. One of those was Harvey’s tribute to farmers, in which he enumerated several difficult tasks, and then said God created a farmer to accomplish each of them.

For example, he attributed these words to God: “I need somebody willing to get up before dawn, milk cows, work all day in the fields, milk cows again, eat supper and then go to town and stay past midnight at a meeting of the school board.’ So God made a farmer.”

The sponsor of that commercial presentation was Ram trucks, manufactured by Dodge Motors, which basked in the glory of the written and spoken discussion about Harvey’s nearly poetic, but characteristic delivery. Farmers’ spirits must have been lifted for weeks because of that pat on their backs.

But today it seems that farmers in general don’t receive anywhere near the kind of credit Harvey gave them. That became obvious several years ago when the term “corporate farmer” firstcropped up, later found wide acceptance and still abounds among those wishing to cast farmers and agriculture in a questionable light.

Corporate America gets it as well from recent generations seemingly occupied by angry, bitter, disillusioned and discontent people eager to belittle, criticize and discredit everything from free enterprise to plastic grocery bags. Much of their disagreeable expressions are accepted because they often pass themselves off as academics or experts whose viewpoints are supposedly loftier than the rest of us.

The channels and the tools available for expressing contrary and critical opinions abound today, often controlled by contrarians themselves. Step up, they say, lay your disagreements, dislikes and criticisms on whomever you don’t like, call it free speech and go home gratified.

Paul Harvey didn’t do that on that Super Bowl commercial, although he was capable of disagreement and criticism.He just gave credit where he thought it was due.
Today’s farmers receive a lot more criticism than praise in mass communication media. Part of what’s bothersome about that is they don’t have a way of responding to misstatements and erroneous reports in a timely manner.

In California, the Department of Food and Agriculture produces a steady stream of positive reports about farmers and farming. However, that branch of government, like most, is not in a position to fire back with force when some or many phases of agricultural life are unjustifiably criticized in the press or elsewhere.

Many other phases of business, elements of the economy and society retain spokesmen with knowledge and skills to respond when misstatements are made about them. These professionals also are dedicated to creating positive news and information about their clients and distributing it with force.

Agriculture, particularly in California, has many well trained, creative and talented individuals who can and do develop positive messages for their clients. The major limitation is that nearly all of them represent specific commodities, not the industry as a whole. Consider the strong images and many of the catchy slogans that have been created by the dairy industry. And who can forget that “Where’s the beef?”series of messages that reached audiences nationwide.

Using commentator Harvey’s logic, perhaps God should create a public relations man or agency who can pay tribute to all of farming and farmers on a continuing basis. California is a great place for the headquarters office. Might be something to think – or pray – about.