Billboard paints an image: Sending a message

DICKINSON, N.D. - And so I'm driving along toward Dickinson and I see this billboard - "The American Farmer - Provides the Most . . . Receives the Least."...

DICKINSON, N.D. - And so I'm driving along toward Dickinson and I see this billboard - "The American Farmer - Provides the Most . . . Receives the Least."

It's part of a series of at least two I saw from the elevator in Mott, N.D. Eye-catching, don't you think?

From the get-go, I completely understand the sentiment. Most farmers work hard for what they receive. They often are not compensated as well as other Americans. The billboard message is well-placed to send a message to the tourist who might wander westward to see a show in Medora, N.D. It paints the stoical image of the yeoman farmer, continuing to provide for the American consumer without complaint, without help.

I think about the timing of this message. Grain prices are at near-record highs in many categories and are setting records in others. A few years ago, people (myself included) thought now-Lt. Gov. Jack Dalrymple was a bit funny in the head when he proposed programs that would support wheat at $5 a bushel as he made a run at the U.S. Senate seat now held by Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D. Funny, huh.

What is wheat now? Edging into the $6-per-bushel area.


Farmers in our part of the country today are doing pretty well, thank you, although many of them rightly complain that the cost of inputs is taking away much of the profit.

"I'm handling more money these days, but I'm not sure I'm making more," one farmer recently told me in words that reflect a number of conversations I've had.

The billboard also appears at a time when farmers are working on the 2007 farm bill. One of the big goals is to keep the "stability" they've had from the 2002 farm bill. They are struggling over how payment limitations need to be changed to prevent the largest, richest farmers from getting too much from subsidies.

We have national groups regularly making a name for themselves by publishing the largest recipients of government farm payments. Some North Dakotans are on these lists, and they'll make the lists again.

Even if these were leaner times, I wonder about the effect of this message on young, would-be farmers. Even journalism doesn't put up billboards trumpeting low pay.

Postscript: My recent column about a confrontation with agriculture's "rude side" prompted numerous comments. Most were from farmers who were appalled at a trucker for yelling at me for letting my dogs out on a driveway at an abandoned farmstead. Others told stories about rude suburbanites and hunters, illegally trespassing or dumping garbage.

I'll make every effort to make these stops in open country and not at building sites. Sometimes even that doesn't work.

Three weeks ago, I was parked at a field approach east of Martin, S.D., waiting for a harvest caravan to come into sight. A farmer drove up and parked next to me.


"What were you doing in my mailbox?" he asked me. I told him I wasn't in his mailbox, didn't even know it was there.

"Yes, you were," he said.

"No, I wasn't," I said emphatically. And I told him I strongly resented being accused of committing a felony, here, as my wife and daughter were sitting in the car beside me. It was 105 degrees, and we hadn't even gotten out of the car, I said.

"Well, I wasn't accusing you," he said, softening a bit.

"Yes, you were," I said. Thee man checked his mailbox anddidn't apologize. Rude is rude.

Maybe I need to shave closer.

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