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By Staff | Apr 25, 2014

I asked prospective new employees, as part of the interview process, what they saw as the greatest threat to agriculture.

I thought that I would try my own exercise. The greatest threat to agriculture today is “ignorance.”

The non-farm public left the farm a couple generations ago. Their leaving broke their connection to the farm.

Better yet their memory of agriculture was fixed in time to what they remembered it to be when Grandpa farmed.

What else in life is the same as it was 50 years ago? Technology has changed agriculture just as much as every other aspect of life, yet consumers pine for the nostalgic old days embracing the outdated organic foodie concept of agriculture.

The general public has no concept of agriculture other than what they have been told and they listen to the wrong people like the Environmental Working Group, the Humane Society of the United States, or Chipotle, who have agendas that have no relationship with modern agriculture.

They are impacting WalMart and other supply chains so they are now dictating production practices from the top down forcing farmers to farm their way rather than the right way.

On various trips where I meet others from the west or east coasts, learn how terribly uninformed these consumers are. Our adversaries are taking advantage of that ignorance to fill their heads with all sorts of misinformation; so whatever concept of agriculture that they do have, is often distorted.

We can’t blame consumers for having the wrong perceptions and conceptions of agriculture if we are doing nothing to properly inform them.

This gap between what is and what opponents of conventional agriculture tell consumers it is, is growing and the failure to correct it will result in more regulation, fewer market-based choices and the rejection of science-based production practices that will handicap agriculture in achieving its mission.

It will reduce the profitability of agriculture and increase the cost of food to consumers for absolutely no justifiable purpose because of ignorance.

Here’s an example of the gap in knowledge that exists between farmers and non-farmers, from a letter to the editor of the Des Moines Register.

“My grandfather’s take on the role of farmers: I attended the recent climate-control forum in Ames where one of the speakers on the panel talked about planting “corn-on-corn” as if that were a good thing.

“My grandfather, father, and uncle used a crop rotation plan on our family farm in southwest Iowa.

“Iowa agriculture experts promote leaving corn stover on the fields to reduce soil erosion and enrich the soil.

“Sadly, some farmers can’t resist removing the corn stover, baling and selling it to the new cellulosic ethanol plant in Nevada where, a few days ago, the stover stockpiles burned. What a misguided venture.

“Let us find our way back to the concept that our job as farmers is not to “mine” the land, but rather, to “conserve” the land (a lesson my grandfather taught me when I was growing up on our farm). Jane- Ames.”

Jane remembers her grandfather and his love of the land. Yet Jane’s perception of corn stover and how it relates to cellulosic ethanol production is outdated by about half a century.

In 1970 the average yield of an acre of corn was 86 bpa. The crop produced 2.2 tons of crop residue per acre.

They typically moldboard plowed after that leaving much less residue on the soil surface after harvest.

Today we have doubled the plant population per acre more than doubling the yield and we produce much more crop residue on an acre of corn.

GMO varieties produce healthier plants that produce more crop residue. I had a farm yield 240 bpa that should have produced 6 tons of residue nearly three times what her grandfather produced.

Cellulosic ethanol producers limit their residue harvest to approximately 1 ton per acre. They leave most of the residue produced on the field which is far more residue than Jane’s grandpa left.

Additionally we do not moldboard plow anymore, so far more of the remaining stover is left on the surface to protect the soil than Jane’s grandpa left on his fields.

So we have more production, we are leaving more residue to protect and enrich the soil than ever before and we have a ton of residue per acre that we can make cellulosic ethanol from.

One can understand, based upon her life experience, why Jane came to the conclusion she did. But she just doesn’t know.

No business is being performed today the way our grandfathers did it. Why do people think that agriculture is somehow different?

Agriculture is better today than the way our grandfathers farmed.

I have no disrespect for anyone here, but there are many Janes out there whose knowledge of agriculture is outdated and unless we correct them they will expand the ignorance.

We are already ahead of where Jane thinks farmers ought to go taking care of the land, but she doesn’t know it.

Take this example times thousands of instances and you get what agriculture is up against – the threat and the challenge that we face.

David Kruse is president of CommStock Investments Inc., author and producer of The CommStock Report, an ag commentary and market analysis available daily by radio and by subscription on DTN/FarmDayta and the Internet.

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