In January, John Deere did something quite unusual. It displayed a combine and some of its leading edge equipment at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
Why? Well much of the equipment Deere had on display had a digital component that relied on Artificial Intelligence. That’s pretty cutting edge in any aspect of the tech sector today.
But the question I had to ask Deere’s spokesperson was why show those machines to city folk who will never need a combine or high-horsepower tractor?
There were a few good reasons she said, but chief among them was bringing this message to city dwellers: that those involved in agriculture today aren’t the overalls and straw hat-wearing caricatures that TV advertising has promoted over the years. It’s an industry made up of professionals using the latest in technology to grow the food the world needs in a highly efficient manner.
That Old McDonald public image of farmers is one most progressive-minded people in agriculture have come to hate. It doesn’t reflect the reality of a growing number of educated professionals working in this industry.
Disappointingly, only a few days after talking with that Deere rep I came across an opinion article in one of our own publishing company’s newspapers (I won’t mention the publication by name) that ran counter to that effort. That article—I my mind, at least—went a long way toward tearing down the kind of image Deere’s staff spent their week in Vegas trying to create.
That article dealt with the pending mandatory training requirement for truck drivers that will soon become law across most of the prairies, and how the cost to farmers for complying with it should at least partially be borne by everyone else. It was, the article opined, an unnecessary hardship farmers should be exempt from. According to the opinion expressed, safety is everyone’s business, so everyone should pitch in to cover the costs for farmers.
That’s utter nonsense.
Saskatchewan has announced it will allow farmers to obtain a new “F” class licence, allowing producers to get a licence to drive farm-registered semis without having to take the mandatory training. So farmers actually will be exempt from those regulations. The opinion article did mention that but seemed to ignore the fact and went on to suggest farmers need to be compensated in some way, if they have to train their staff. A nutty suggestion like that should have farm safety advocates frothing at the mouth.
Should farmers be exempted from yet another truck licencing regulation? (They currently don’t even need Class 3 licences or air brake endorsements to operate tandem farm trucks in some provinces.)
The answer is no. The laws of physics affecting the motion of a truck doesn’t change based on who owns it. If it’s really necessary for one driver to have the training, then it’s necessary for all. The argument farm truck drivers only drive 20 minutes down a quiet gravel road so they operate differently from commercial carriers is no longer valid—if it ever was. Large producers haul livestock and other produce pretty considerable distances these days, to packing plants for example. That means routing through cities and down major highways. So how are they really different?
But the notion anyone in the industry would proffer the opinion that others should pay for farmers training costs leaves me astounded. What other industry sector would dare make such an assertion? The argument is an absurd one.
With companies like Deere and anyone else trying to create a positive image of producers in the minds of consumers, opinion pieces like that in industry publications only undermine the effort. Farmers are professionals—or at least they should be. If that means taking training to meet the same qualifications as everyone else so they can safely drive heavy trucks, that’s just the cost of doing business. And if they do, they shouldn’t expect a handout to cover the costs.
We’re better than that.