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Plain Living: Really, that's what they think about farming

Regular readers of this column, all three or four of you, know that I stress the importance of honest, respectful communication, especially among people who disagree on important topics. Honorable people can have legitimate differences of opinion — and they can do it without being snide or rude.

In that spirit, I offer up the four most outlandish things I've heard in a lifetime that, to a large extent, has revolved around ag. I'm not questioning the intelligence or integrity of people who believe these things; rather, I lament their lack of knowledge.

In no particular order they are:

The 'real' reason for barns

I grew up with beef cattle and once owned a few. And through the years I've visited a whole lot of livestock operations. So I know with absolute certainty that livestock producers have barns to protect their animals from cold, rain, snow, mud and wind. Barns make animals safer, happier and healthier. They sure make life easier for livestock producers, too.

So to my great surprise, I learned there are people who believe there's a sinister reason for barns: they supposedly hide from the public the bad things that livestock producers are doing to their animals.

To these people I respectfully say: You're as wrong as wrong can be.

Set 'em free

If you're at all familiar with Upper Midwest agriculture, you've seen cattle herds grazing in pastures during the summer or eating hay in confined areas during the winter. They're domesticated animals, and domesticity makes their lives vastly better.

So to my great surprise, I learned there are people who think these herds should be set free to live on their own. I don't think there are many of these people — a limited number of animal rights activities — but apparently they do exist.

Can you imagine the consequences of this ill-advised animal liberation? The danger to motorists? The damage to property? And most of all, the huge number of animals that would die in winter and early spring, especially in northern climes?

To people who advocate setting domesticated animals free, I respectfully say, This is a really bad idea.

Big landowners

Test plots are a common sight in fields across in the Upper Midwest. These strips of land feature new and under-development seed varieties that are being grown in different locations. It's a sensible, even necessary, part of modern agriculture.

But to my great surprise, I learned there are people who think these test plots show that a handful of giant companies control vast chunks of U.S. farmland. These test plots invariably include small signs of the companies whose products are being demonstrated, and that leads to the utterly wrong assumption that those companies own the land.

Nope, they're just test plots. They have nothing to do with land ownership.

'It's my farm'

Though they years I've come across a handful of farmers who say, in affect, "It's my farm. I can do whatever I want on it."

Well, I'm a real believer in property rights, and I'm no fan of big government or political correctness. But agriculturalists are not islands unto themselves; like it or not, we're connected to the rest of humanity.

Farmers who disregard what the rest of society thinks and wants risk alienating consumers, or potential consumers. That's never a good idea.

And the attitude that I can do whatever I want on my own risks alienating voters. Make too much of the public mad, and you run the danger of them pressuring regulators and elected officials into adopting rules and policies that work against agriculture.

So don't be outlandish. Don't say I can do whatever I want on my own farm. Rather, engage the public. Communicate respectfully. Explain what you're doing and why you're doing it.

Yeah, sometimes it won't be easy. But it's what sensible and practical agriculturalists need to do.

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