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By Staff | Apr 17, 2015

I included a video clip in my winter presentations of French farmers protesting the loss of exports to Russia because of sanctions. They were spraying liquid manure down a street on buildings so they would smell the point that they were making for a long time.

European Union dairy farmers drove their tractors to Brussels parking them outside EU headquarters while burning the flags of food companies to protest the removal of milk quotas that had limited production there for 30 years supporting milk prices.

What I note as interesting about all this is how aggressively the EU farmers respond to adverse government or commercial challenges compared to U.S. farmers.

They don’t just sit home quietly taking it as I see U.S. farmers doing. They get riled up pushing back, exercising a lot of freedom of expression in Europe that U.S. farmers hold in reserve.

There is obviously a cultural difference between the sets of farmers. I thought that when the Des Moines Water Works sued drainage districts in rural counties for nonpoint source nutrient runoff, which the governor of Iowa described as war on rural Iowa, that maybe farmers would have been angrier than they have displayed.

Nobody sprayed manure on Des Moines. There were some threats from the ag sector to pull events from Des Moines, but I don’t see them following through.

How about when corn farmers need to see fewer corn acres globally in response to below-the-cost of production corn prices … yet Monsanto and Pioneer are giving Brazilian farmers a break on seed corn costs that they didn’t give U.S. farmers, which helped sustain corn acreage in Brazil?

Would not that have been a reason for U.S. corn farmers to be angry? Yet nobody parked any tractors in front of Monsanto or DuPont headquarters.

Syngenta introduces MIR 162 GMO corn, unapproved in China, into production causing Beijing to ban all U.S. corn and DDG imports disrupting trade with the commercial rejection causing U.S. corn farmers financial injury.

Yet it takes lawyers out begging farmers to join class and mass action suits for damages. Some farmers seem to be more annoyed with the lawyers than with Syngenta.

The ethanol industry is under attack by Big Oil and Big Cattle, despite the ethanol industry contributing more to net farm income than anything else in my lifetime. There are a surprising number of farmers who don’t use it or biodiesel. Usually, only the minimum E-10 blend is used and farm cooperatives don’t sell it.

There is little advocacy and no fight in many of them for their commercial interests or what is right.

They do sit back and complain about the government regulation and Obama, but compared to European farmers, they are a complacent quiet bunch more than willing to let someone else fight their battles for them.

What would it take to get U.S. farmers to spray manure on Exxon or block the driveway of Syngenta headquarters although the later would require going to Switzerland?

I’ll bet that Syngenta likes the reserved demeanor of U.S. farmers over those they work with in Europe. Maybe those kinds of responses are over-the-top excessive?

Spraying manure on the Des Moines Water Works to show them what pollution actually looks like would get you put in jail and fined instead of cheered like in France.

But I see a lot more room for farmer engagement than occurs here in the U.S. They leave such things to farm organizations who are often conflicted with corporate entanglements.

How do you slap the back of the hand of the corporate sponsor that you want to pay for your annual convention even when they deserve it?

It is the same with the ag media. They won’t excite readers with issues that may cost them corporate advertiser support.

Age demographics may be responsible to a degree. Old U.S. farmers, a characterization for which I qualify, have a hard time imagining themselves protesting and by now have long gotten so used to getting screwed they have learned to cope with it and even have pride in overcoming it.

They do like tractor drives which have gotten popular among collectors each summer, but there is no point to these drives other than personal enjoyment. In Europe when there is a tractor parade they know farmers there are not happy about something.

The most current age data that I could find for EU farmers was from 2007 when holders of agricultural holdings in the EU-15 were 31 percent age 65 and older.

Fifty-five percent of farmers there were 55 or older. That is not that much different than here in the U.S. where the median age of farmers was 58.3 years old in 2012.

Five years ago, to match the EU data timing, U.S. farm age demographics was a similar average 55 years old here as well.

Age would not appear to answer the question as to why EU farmers are much more predisposed to act out in displays of public defiance when challenged or injured than U.S. farmers are. I guess that it is cultural.

Then again where is the Environmental Working Group headquartered, and does anybody have a manure tank they are not using?

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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