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Ag's side of the story

It was a drizzly Saturday morning in the middle of a hot, dusty August, and I was standing in line at a convenience store. Ahead of me were a man and woman, apparently a couple, who grumbled good-naturedly about the rain.

Jonathan Knutson

It was a drizzly Saturday morning in the middle of a hot, dusty August, and I was standing in line at a convenience store. Ahead of me were a man and woman, apparently a couple, who grumbled good-naturedly about the rain.

The woman turned to me and said, "I hate this rain. Everyone hates it."

I smiled politely and said, "Well, not everyone. The farmers like it; their crops need the moisture."

She gave me a look that suggested I had either lost my mind or was speaking in an unknown tongue.

I think of that woman every time I come across another effort by a farm group or farmer to influence the general public.

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Sometimes it's a high-powered, well-financed PR campaign. Sometimes it's an invite-the-public-to-your-farm event or a new YouTube video. Sometimes it's a simple one-on-one interaction. Whatever form it takes, it's an attempt to tell or show agriculture's side.

Those efforts are wasted on people like the woman in the convenience store line. People like her don't care about ag. They'll never care. They're not bad or stupid people. They simply have their view of how the world works, and nothing agriculturalists can say or do will change it.

Maybe that's why some ag organizations seem to have soured on engaging the public. It's not so much that they've given up; it's more that they restrict their efforts to tightly structured situations they're confident in controlling.

Perhaps they think they've been burned by advocate groups. Perhaps they worry they might be.

Sure, ag organizations need to protect themselves. Sure, they need to portray themselves in the best way possible.

But is agriculture well-served by treating the public with suspicion and mistrust? Is the us-versus-them approach really the way to go?

Risks, rewards

True, there are risks in working with the public. But there are rewards, too.

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Yeah, I still remember that woman in line at the convenience store that drizzly Saturday. Yeah, she thought I was crazy when I mentioned the rain was helping farmers.

But she wasn't the only one in line that day. The man with her thought for a second about what I'd said. Then he nodded and said, "That's a valid point."

Maybe he was just being polite. Maybe, like his significant other, he thought I was crazy. Or maybe he really did think I'd made a valid point.

I'd like to think it was the latter. I'd like to think engaging the public in honest, respectful discussion is useful and beneficial.

Many ag groups, as well as individual farmers and ag businesses, are doing that.

Keep it up.

Keep writing your blogs and making your YouTube videos. Keep inviting urban folks to your farms and ranches. Keep telling your side of the story.

Sometimes the effort is wasted.

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But not always.

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