With all the kafuffle going on south of the border in the last little while involving, well, turbulent actions coming out of the Whitehouse, I’ve been consuming a lot of online news. Not from Twitter or Facebook, although I’ve looked at some comments there as well, but from mainstream news sources in several countries.
I like checking out what news agencies in other countries have to say about major events, because they provide a new perspective on issues and reveal how people elsewhere see things. I highly recommend it.
This week I’ve read articles from multiple sources in the U.S., the UK, Germany and Canada. Most foreign publications have English language websites, even Russian and Chinese news sources! You do, however, need to keep social and political conditions there in mind when you read anything from those places.
And it’s also a good idea to read articles and opinions from a variety of sources when it comes to issues that affect us in agriculture. Too often, I think, we read just our own fan mail. And that’s not good. That isn’t unique to us in ag, though. Several polls show people now generally consume information only from sources that see the world in a way that reflects their own general opinions.
I also see that narrow view in many industrial and professional sector publications. For example, I follow trucking industry publications and social media outlets. I see a lot of pointing the finger at motorists for causing trouble on the road, but I don’t see too much self criticism of individual truck drivers who, to put it bluntly, are significantly less than courteous on the highway. You don’t have to log too many road miles to see examples of that.
In ag issues I see similar things. Many are completely dismissive of criticisms of herbicide use, for example, claiming as farmers we know best what we’re doing. But last summer I saw a sprayer working a field while the wind was gusting well above 60 km/h. The massive drift was what you would expect under those conditions.
In ag we often point to the under-informed celebrities spouting food nonsense to a public that eats it up—figuratively speaking. And there’s no doubt that’s a problem. But what is troubling is when I see some legitimate criticism of our industry simply dismissed out of hand.
Just like reading those articles in the foreign press about politics, I like to read those more thoughtful criticisms of the ag industry. They aren’t always right, but they are instructive in painting a picture of what those outside our industry are thinking. And an analysis of that should give us valuable information on how we should address those critics.
Sometimes, however, they do have a point. And when they do or when they indicate what it will take to meet evolving consumer demands, we should pay attention and work toward either changing our practices or finding a way to ease those concerns. More often than not, I think it will just come down to all individual producers adopting a very professional stance, particularly in the use of herbicides, which is becoming an ever-increasing hot button topic. What would a city person have thought of that farmer spraying and creating a cloud of herbicide drift in a gale?
If we pay attention to those voices outside our industry, we can stay ahead of the curve of public opinion. We will need to be our own most thorough critics, though.
During a presentation at Manitoba Ag Days in Brandon a couple of weeks ago, noted sprayer expert Tom Wolf expressed the need for all in the industry to demonstrate a high level of professionalism in our application work. “Can you in good conscience with full eye contact tell someone from the city what you’re doing and how you’re doing it,” he asked the audience.
So, can you?