Fort Collins Conservation District

Ron Neher

“Agriculture”, - foreign to the non-ag world

By: Ron Neher, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Retired

The success of a good wheat crop has been profoundly stated as, “good germination with no hail.” This statement is very true. These are two very important hurdles to get over in the course of growing a crop and getting from the grain drill to the grain bin. But other things, not directly related to weather, are still needed to produce that profitable crop your own personal economic situation demands. Soil tests and nutrient management, timely irrigations if the crop is irrigated, and control of various pests, which are always the inevitable uninvited guest to cropland, are just some additional items which farmers address on a regular basis.

Ranchers have other situations to address such as vaccinations, getting through calving time, and basically making sure the livestock herd has enough to eat, whether they are grazing on grass or feeding hay, in keeping the animals healthy and in proper weight gains.

There are several, - and I do mean several, - other items farmers and ranchers have to address and hurdle on a regular basis in order to recognize economic crop and livestock production. To the local farmers and ranchers, listing all the necessary things one does to achieve such a production level is, well, basically preaching to the choir.

However, and I must emphasize, that well over 90% of the total public does not have a clue of what goes into production agriculture. Their main concern with agriculture is at the grocery store where they want nothing less than fresh produce and fresh meats. And why do the stock yards and dairies have to be so close to town? Can’t they build them somewhere else?

I remember some years back the USDA put together a display in downtown New York City. Farm equipment, farm animals, and other items were brought into the area for the locals to see and encounter. There was one mother present, - an adult mind you, - who had never before seen a cow. This may be mind boggling to us, but then again, - this is not one world. And when you think you’ve heard it all, I can remember some years back when an Assistant Secretary of Agriculture from Washington, D.C. was visiting on a tour in Washington County and questioned, “What does this word ‘fallow’ mean and why do you have to do it?”

Outside of rural America the general public, by and large, do not encounter production agriculture taught in a meaningful way. With the exception of vocational agriculture as an optional high school curriculum, effective agriculture knowledge is not taught in our public schools. The general public is left to gain knowledge from the liberal media of afternoon talk shows and news reporters who, as my dad would have stated “Don’t know beans when the bag’s open.” From levels of understanding such as these, the very large portion of our general public, as well as elected officials, develop their values regarding production agriculture contrary as we who are involved in agriculture know it on a daily basis. When decisions have to be made regarding herbicides or pesticides, water use, or what a cow should or should not eat, their decisions come from what they have been taught through their life’s experiences, - often much to the dismay of the local farmer or rancher.

With rural America very strongly subjected to the control of the general public in deciding how local farmers and ranchers can and do function, it is important for them to know as much as possible about the necessities of agriculture in order for agriculture to continue in our country. Legislative tours, workshops, and informative news published through various media are important educational activities for us to become involved. Inviting key people to meetings, workshops, and tours is vital in teaching and informing the public regarding agricultural issues in rural America. In general, making agriculture more “visible” to the minds of the general public, - not just local public, - but the inner city dwellers who never see a “cow”.