I just realized that this may be the first time I have dated one of these articles on the extra day that is added to the calendar every four years, but it must have some significance so I am going to use it to talk about something that has interested me through the years.
This is an idea that I have expressed to people and groups, that there is “more psychology than science” in agriculture.
When I first started working with farmers I quickly realized they are strongly individualistic. This was no surprise since I grew up that way myself. In fact this tendency to go their own way is so pronounced that I have suggested that the words “farmer” and “individualist” might be shown as synonyms in the dictionary.
However there are instances in which they act as a group, resisting or accepting ideas and methods presented to them.
One of the most confusing items has been the adoption of technology. The younger group has understandably embraced the technology of precision agriculture while many of the “over 65” demographic have chosen to only become familiar with those parts of it that are absolutely necessary for their everyday work while still resisting the acceptance of much of the information age such as the use of online information and email.
Such current challenges as genetically modified crops and the resistance of weeds and insects to pesticides have forced farmers to begin absorbing more of the technical jargon around them on a daily basis. Still, we see just as much resistance to the basics of soil fertility and soil management as existed a generation ago.
This confusing pattern of acceptance or rejection is not new as shown by the fact that almost forty years passed before the majority of farmers accepted one of the most basic tools of modern agriculture, hybrid corn. This was true even though yields from hybrids were 50 to 100 percent above those from open pollinated varieties.
On the other hand some forms of technology such as Bt cotton were accepted by the majority of cotton farmers in the Midsouth in no more than three years following its introduction in 1996.
Today the forces of nature are driving farmers back toward methods that were more common in the past. The development of resistance to herbicides has caused a resurgence in the use of nonselective herbicides as post-directed applications, the use of cover crops, rotation of crops and herbicide technologies, and even a return in some instances to limited use of tillage for in-season weed control.
Even though such things are important, the big challenge today is economic as growers deal with commodity prices that fell rapidly while the cost of inputs, equipment, labor, and other things have remained high. Agriculture is in a state of rapid change today but it is still in the hands of people whose ability and willingness to change are not simple nor direct.
American agriculture has led the world for many years, so whatever the driving force may be among farmers to accept, develop, and modify their methods we need to support them because it works.
The next big step will be that the public must recognize and accept the importance of agriculture and agree to partner with it to ensure a future that includes secure food supplies and stability for farmers and their families. They are the foundation of society and civilization, without them our nation cannot and will not stand.
No matter what direction the political winds may blow agriculture must survive. The politician who ignores this fact will not long stand in favor.
Thanks for your time.