The survival of our farms may depend on it.
By Brittany Olson | Rural Voices Correspondent
Though it is Christmas time as I write this, I’ve had Easter on my mind. I’m not talking about fluffy bunnies or the deliciously diabetes-inducing Peeps. Rather, I’ve been thinking about how Judas, one of the 12 disciples, led the Romans and Pharisees to where Jesus was for 30 pieces of silver. Peter, another disciple, turned a blind eye and denied knowing Jesus three times even after telling his friend he had his back.
Many of us know the rest of the story, and Jesus was ultimately led to His death. When my attention turns to the groundswell of support for dairy growth management among farmers — and the blind eye being turned or outright hypocrisy by some groups claiming to speak for farmers — the atmosphere feels familiar.
Many influencers within the agriculture sphere are eager to call themselves advocates who tell the story of American farm families working hard to produce safe, high-quality, and cost-effective food. This phenomenon doesn’t just apply to those with large social media followings, but leaders of certain farm organizations and folks in ag journalism, as well.
My experience tells me that there are those who advocate for farmers, and those who advocate for the industry. They are not the same people.
Furthermore, the line ‘biting the hand that feeds you’ doesn’t just apply to misinformed consumers who think food comes from the grocery store. That old adage is personified by those who claim to be our advocates but are actively promoting narratives and policies that will further consolidate and eventually destroy the industry and people they represent. I can think of few greater acts of betrayal than doing and saying things to hurt people that have personally placed their trust in you.
One would think that industry leaders promoting policies that ultimately hurt farmers is self-defeating, right? After all, the agriculture industry (which sprang up around farms to serve their needs) would not exist without farmers stewarding the land to grow and raise crops and creatures. However, we see that cognitive dissonance throughout the industry.
As an example, a columnist or editor being staunchly opposed to any kind of growth management for dairy is incredibly self-defeatist. After all, maintaining the status quo will continue to lead to fewer farmers reading magazines, seeing advertisements splashed through the pages, and buying advertised products.
Furthermore, a board of directors of any organization ignoring the voices of their voting delegates and dues-paying members is equally as egregious. This is especially shameful in groups that tout themselves to be grassroots and member-driven. Putting your own interests ahead of those who elected you doesn’t make you a leader; it makes you a politician.
Or are fewer farmers the goal?
The systematic removal of farm families — people — from the land makes the -culture portion of the word agricultureirrelevant. Unfortunately, that is exactly what decades of failed farm and food policy (and those who say they have our best interests in mind but don’t) have done. Agriculture without culture — people — is empty.
That being said, as farmers we need to start telling our own story and standing up for ourselves, especially as the 2023 Farm Bill draws closer. In the meantime, we have a chance to speak up during this spring’s state budget process. The farmer is the most important piece of the farm, and the only piece that is impossible to replace. No one can step up and stand out for the future of our individual farms quite like you and I can. Many of the people attempting to tell our stories for us are failing miserably.
Whether it’s something as simple as a letter to the editor or calling out corruption for what it is despite the blowback you will probably receive, history and higher powers are on the side of those who dare to be bold and tell the truth.
Judas and Peter did eventually realize the errors of their ways, but not until it was too late.
There are a lot of Judases in agriculture who are too eager to promote flawed ideas that will pad their pockets yet lead to the downfall of those who trusted them. While they might someday realize what they’ve done, I personally wouldn’t count on it anytime soon.
However, maybe — just maybe — dairy farming as we know it can rise again because we were willing to boldly step up for what we believe in.
Olson is a dairy farmer, photographer, and writer from Chetek, who is helping to lift up rural issues through Wisconsin Farmers Union's Rural Voices project.