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Are farmers and ranchers ever happy?

Farmers talking with consumers neededThis was originally entitled “Isn’t it time we pull our heads out?”  A close runner-up was “Your stubborness and independence may work on the farm – and put you out of business.” Professional discretion prevailed. However, it seems as though farmers and ranchers are never happy. And I’m not talking about the weather!

We first get mad when people “attack” agriculture. Then we thumb our noses at the “ignorant city people” who should know where their food comes from. And we grumble that we have to take the time to talk to these people when we’d rather be out with our land and animals.  Usually somewhere in there is “someone else should be doing this for me – that’s why I pay check-off programs and my Farm Bureau membership.”

Territories develop, policy battles get in the way and the complexities of the agrifood system prevail. We get annoyed when these groups don’t represent every single practice exactly the way we want them to. It’s fair to say that an organization simply can’t tell YOUR story like you can – nor should they. However, we also complain that agriculture never works together – “it sure would be nice if the pork farmers would agree with corn farmers and those dairy people would get in line with the rest of us.”

After a lot of rhetoric  and a few failed attempts, a variety of farm organizations finally pulled together the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance last year. So now farmers and ranchers are complaining that such a “large” organization can’t possibly represent ME because I farm _____. And how diverse is it anyhow – are you sure it includes what I do? And is it O.K. to work with such a big organization?

All of this leaves me a bit confused. This “big” organization was founded on farmer dollars and it’s working to have a conversation BIGGER than any of us as individuals. They are having town hall meetings with a variety of food folks, including chefs, mainstream media, academia and yes – even some people that you’d likely call a pundit. These food dialogues are designed to be a multi-faceted conversation and they’re happening in a way that you can participate virtually to ensure farmers are at the table.   Why not join in on 9/22, submit questions and help answer questions about food?

No one can tell your agricultural story better than you. This effort won’t be perfect. You don’t have to agree with everything they’re doing. But doesn’t it make sense to stand shoulder-to-shoulder and pool our resources when there is only 1.5% in the U.S. population on a farm? Doesn’t it also make sense to approach this as a conversation instead of a battle? And shouldn’t it be more about the big picture than self-interests?

Just in case you’re wondering, nobody paid me to write this. After a decade of working with agricultural advocacy, I’ve heard thousands of complaints from farmers and ranchers across the U.S. and Canada. Frankly, it’s tiring. It’s time to round up the cattle, send them through the chute and get this job done.  Either stop complaining or do something about it. I don’t see that we have any other choice. Do you?



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19 Responses to “Are farmers and ranchers ever happy?”

    • Michele Payn-Knoper says:

      Thanks, Ryan. I think the world of farmers and ranchers. And I hope people know this was written from the heart, not finger pointing. We simply can’t keep on complaining and expect anything to change.

  1. Liz says:

    Amen Michelle! I can agree with everything that you’ve said here. Hopefully, your words will have some time to sink into other heads during this harvest season.

    • Michele Payn-Knoper says:

      Thanks – it would mean a great deal if you could help share this perspective with other farmers. People need something to reflect about while in the combine cab, right?

  2. Kathy says:

    Too bad the people that need to read this won’t see it. *smile*

  3. CityGirl4Ag says:

    This is something I’ve had on my mind for A WHILE. Excellent point. Couldn’t have said it better!

  4. Serina says:

    I’m a farmer who is trying to add an educational agritourism element to my farm. I totally agree that we need to take responsibility for educating people. Of course you also have to realize that people who go into farming nowadays are often individuals who aren’t interested in socializing. They’re there for the isolation and to get away from people. Fortunately, there is a growing number of farmers who are embracing social outreach. Hopefully it’s a trend that continues.

    Farming is difficult and there is very little support for farmers, particularly small farmers. I’m often too exhausted to want to worry about the politics of agriculture.

    • Michele Payn-Knoper says:

      Hi Serina. Agreed that farmers aren’t necessarily interested in socializing – that’s something that hasn’t changed for 50 years. Unfortunately, we have no choice but to reach beyond the farm gate or bring people in with people 4 generations removed from the farm. Food is an incredibly hot topic now and if farmers want to protect their right to farm as they best see fit, they need to take time to get their voice in the conversation.

  5. Ted Ferris says:


    Good comments. I agree that our interaction with the public and consumer needs to be a conversation, not a lecture. We need to take time to understand what they think and why in order to know what we need to explain or do differently to meet their needs and concerns. In many cases just opening our farms to them in an educational tour, such as Breakfast on the Farm, helps to bridge the educational gap and changes the impressions they have from some media articles.

    • Michele Payn-Knoper says:

      Well said for an academic – great to see you here. Tours on farms are a great way to build a human connection with people – and today’s tools allow us to “open our doors” to millions. I’d encourage everyone reading this to share a picture about what’s happening in agriculture today – and why it matters. When we are able to personalize it and connect emotionally, it sticks with people to refute the nasty things being said about today’s farms.

  6. Richard says:

    I’m the communications director for a large trade group that represents agchem manufacturers, biotech businesses, and fertilizer companies across the world. Boy, I do know what you are talking about. I am constantly sending out editorial responses to misinformation spread by certain environmental groups who survive by suing our members and settling out of court for big sums. The companies find it cheaper to settle out of court than to wage a full-scale legal war in most cases. These are simply nuisance suits. The general public is given the impression by these so-called earth justice groups that pesticides and biotech crops should be banned all together. So it is a constant battle in trying to assure U.S. and world consumers that if these products were non-existent, food would be scarce and expensive. So we produce videos, blog and do what we can to assure consumers that their fruits and vegetables are safe to eat, and the fact that organic crops have no chance of feeding 9 billion mouths in 2050. You can learn about our crusade by visiting our website at

  7. Jeri Mattics Omernik says:

    Well said/typed, Michelle! You’ve taken the proverbial bull by the horns and said what many of us have been thinking for quite a long time! :-)

    • Michele Payn-Knoper says:

      Thanks, Jeri. I have great respect and admiration for the traits that make a person successful on the farm and ranch. However, we all have to acknowledge the downside of our strengths at times – and look at the big picture.

  8. Shelli says:

    I hear ya! Thanks for encouraging us to tell our ag story – I plan to do more of that on my blog. I’m glad I found you here. I’ll be back!

    • Michele Payn-Knoper says:

      Delighted to hear it, Shelli. Hopefully folks see this as a necessity. We no longer get to hide in our barns and tractors – society has shifted and the conversation is being had with or without farmers.

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