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Published March 19, 2012, 10:40 AM

How do you view agriculture?

OK, Agweek readers, I have a question for you. Which of the following best describes your view of agriculture? A) It’s a business that should be treated like any other business. B) It’s a way of life that should be protected at any cost. C) It’s both a business and a way of life.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

OK, Agweek readers, I have a question for you.

Which of the following best describes your view of agriculture?

A) It’s a business that should be treated like any other business.

B) It’s a way of life that should be protected at any cost.

C) It’s both a business and a way of life.

It’s a question that’s always interested me, though I’ve never been smart enough to figure out the answer. But I think most readers would answer C, with some readers answering A and a few B.

No, this isn’t a column about the differing agendas and philosophies of the various farm and commodity groups. Exploring those differences isn’t my intent. My motivation is simply genuine curiosity about how area agriculturalists view ag and where they want it to go.

Here’s an example of what I mean.

If current trends continue, farms will continue to get bigger; the economies of scale dictate it. For one thing, the cost of technology and big equipment can be spread over more acres. For another, bigger farms require less net income per acre for their operators to support themselves and their families.

Is the trend a good thing? A bad thing? Or is it value-

neutral, something in which right and wrong play no role?

I think your answer comes back to my original question. If agriculture is a business like any other, then, sure, it’s OK if farms get bigger, provided bigger farms are more efficient. If agriculture is a way of life and existing farms need to be protected, then bigger and fewer farms are a bad thing. If you view ag as both a business and a way of life, then you’re probably ambivalent.

Changes in attitude

I can’t support this with any hard data, but it seems clear to me that 20 or 30 years ago, quite a few area aggies would have said that agriculture is first and foremost a way of life.

It also seems to clear to me that agriculturalists in general place greater emphasis on ag as a business than they did a few decades ago. I think that’s inevitable and unavoidable, given agriculture’s increasing complexity and sophistication. To survive and thrive today, agriculturalists need to be better managers and financially savvier.

I also think many agriculturalists, particularly family farmers and ranchers, continue to view ag as a calling that goes beyond a job or occupation. But that’s a step or two below being a way of life that needs to be protected at any cost.

I wonder what happens if times worsen in agriculture. Will more people in it start talking about ag being a way of life that needs protection?

One last time: Is agriculture a business to be treated like any other business? A way of life to protect at any cost? Or is it some hybrid of the two?

I don’t know the answer. But I’m sure some of you have strong ideas. Drop me a line and let me know what you think.

Editor’s Note: Jonathan Knutson welcomes comments about his column. Mail comments to him at Box 6008, Grand Forks, N.D. 58206-6008. Email him at jknutson@agweek.com or phone him at 701-780-1111. Knutson is a staff writer for Agweek.

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