Farmers inspired at Bayer CropScience Profit Maximizer meeting
By Jennifer M. Latzke
Bruce Vincent never thought he’d wear the label “activist.”
But when this Montana logger started seeing the environmental movement turning from protecting the environment to legislating industries out of business, he had to do something. It happened to logging and mining, and now it can happen to agriculture if farmers stand by and do nothing, Vincent warned.
Vincent spoke to farmers and industry professionals at the annual Bayer CropScience Profit Maximizer meeting Aug. 8, in Wichita, Kan.
“The movement we empowered and the laws that came out of it have been bastardized through regulatory regimes,” Vincent said. “The Endangered Species Act was supposed to protect animals, not smear towns like Libby, Mont., off the map. The Clean Water Act was a promise, not a threat.”
Vincent said the situation between rural and urban values is a “collision of visions” that starts when people from the city who no longer have Grandpa’s farm to visit every summer to come out to the country and fall in love with our natural environment.
“They have a stereotypical view of us, though,” he said. “They fall in love with what they think we are. Then, they have to go home. They leave with a desire—a desire to protect. They want to save what they think are the last best places.
“We all want to save those,” he added. “But they go home and start fighting to protect what they think is real. And they imprint their vision on top of us. They have no provision for the last best people.” And, often, Vincent said, they wind up hurting the very thing they want to protect.
Rural communities and the people who live in them are just as important to protect as the environment, more so because they have a stake in making sure that environment is sustained for generations, Vincent said. And, while folks in agriculture know that milk comes from a cow and not from a store—it’s no longer funny to laugh at a city person’s ignorance about that.
“Their ignorance is our problem, and a marketing opportunity for fearmongers,” he said.
The timber industry learned a few lessons in dealing with the “conflict industry” that Vincent hopes agriculture won’t repeat. And there were lessons to come from their fight.
“Truth No. 1: Democracy works, but it isn’t a spectator sport,” Vincent said. “You must address the politics of the issue and be engaged.” Likewise, he added, farmers and ranchers must support those in office who support us, whether that’s a campaign sign in the yard or a thank you note in the mail.
“Truth No. 2: Democracy works when leaders lead and people follow,” he said. “When you talk to your leaders, talk about what you want to happen, your vision for the future of Kansas, that you can have agriculture and clean air and clean water and wildlife.”
The third truth, is one farmers most often have difficulty with, Vincent said. “The world is run by those who show up,” he said. “Show up to the discussion. Because these people, if they repeat the lies enough, it becomes public policy because it’s been the truth in public opinion. You are the expert in wheat. Not some piano tuner in Tulsa.
“And do your work at home, too,” he added. “Because our rural folks are largely just as disassociated on Main Street as the rest of America. Don’t just think they know who you are and what you’re doing.”
And, when new people move into your area from the city or the suburbs, don’t shun them, Vincent encouraged. “They want a piece of Mecca,” he said. “But we shun them and we drive them into peer groups and they don’t know us. In the old days, we didn’t treat new people like this. In the old days newcomers were good news. They brought new ideas, new money, someone to marry our daughter who wasn’t a cousin. We met them with pies.
“Do that today,” he said. “Tell them about the place that’s beautiful and make them a friend before they feel they have to become an enemy.”
Finally, farmers have to put activism in their budgets just like they would equipment maintenance.
“Activism isn’t fun,” Vincent said. “But you have to advocate for your industry. If we all do that, then there is every reason to believe there is hope. We are being protected to death, but there’s an opening now. They are tired of the story and hearing about what’s wrong with agriculture. They want to hear what’s right.”
Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached at 620-227-1807 or firstname.lastname@example.org.