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    Going Negative based on Assumptions

    I participated in a discussion about agriculture yesterday evening (go figure, me talking about agriculture - surprising I'm sure).

    Let's start off with some questions and answers:

    Are there issues surrounding sustainability in agriculture? - YES
    Are there bad participants who break the rules in agriculture? - YES
    Do we all, as dedicated ag folks, want to stop these bad participants? - YES
    Are we all tired of silly labels? - YES

    Just to be clear, the above answers are mine, and mine alone. They represent my opinion.

    Now, on to the conversation...

    It centered around the "fact" that agribusiness is ruining farming, requires no skill to farm, and is taking full advantage of family farms to shield it's activities. A mouthful indeed. As you can imagine, a statement like that, whether explicit or implicit, invokes strong reactions from the very people who have worked in agriculture for many years; sometimes generations.

    As is usually the case, I immediately began thinking about what could be done to add balance and stop spinning everyone's wheels. Alas, it may be too late for that. There is so much water under the bridge that the bridge may be under water. There is lack of trust and heavy assumptions built into the discussion prior to it even starting. I can only imagine the thought processes of everyone taking part once they see the first tweet.

    Let's hope the scenario above is not the case as this shouldn't be about which farmer is better. It should be about how farmers can share knowledge based upon actual experience instead of putting on the boxing gloves and start punching.

    The following points are what interferes with progress:

    Labels and Painters

    Yes, I know there are many colors, we only have one                                                                                                             brush so let's lump 'em all together and slap a label on 

    Labels can easily become a misnomer. And are we not trying to prevent confusion to the consumer so they can make an informed choice? I certainly thought we were.

    Imagine for a moment that your family has spent decades building their farming business. Each generation takes very seriously their responsibility to maintain this business and pass on the legacy to their children. Now throw into the equation that you are being attacked and called very nasty things because you stand up for what you and your ancestors have been doing for, well, generations. How would you receive this un-constructive criticism of your business? Would you invite the group/individual over for afternoon tea? Maybe you would bake them a scone?

    There is a place for labels (in this instances figuratively speaking) as it helps the consumer understand and make decisions on the #food they purchase from an emotional level. But the broad use of them to tarnish anyone who disagrees with your viewpoint? It reminds me a bit of how teenagers use labels; immediately to gain popularity, increase their visibility, and put down the other person.

    Why painters you ask? Good question. I use the term painter in terms of the statement "paint with a broad brush". We are not making television sets, toasters, or tractors. We are working with the environment and ALL that encompasses. Producing food, feed, fiber, and fuel is damn hard work. Oh, and it's complicated.

    So while you, as an activist (I am also), pursue your end-goal, keep in mind that being a painter isn't such a good thing. There are nuances, geographies, and different environmental issues that must be dealt with. Well, now that I think about it, I just became a painter with the above section....

    Maybe it should read like this: While you as a activist (painter) pursue your end goal while using a roller today as your brushes are all broken, have finished your cut-in, are in a hurry, have only large tall walls left today, and have no assistance today as your hired hands are home sick, you shouldn't paint with such a broad I say, nuances. 

    Negative Branding and Marketing:

    I detest this strategy. It has been used for decades to promote people and institutions in almost all realms of politics and business. We saw examples of this during the recent February 2010 primary and will certainly see this negative marketing/branding approach prior to the midterms. 

    The issues with branding the other party in a negative light in order to place yours in a "positive" light is that it is virtually impossible to stop this vicious cycle and doesn't really cast your product or company positively. How long has this approach been in the American political system? As long as I can remember, so at least...wait I almost gave away my age! How about this answer..A good while now. And how many of us are desensitized to many marketing messages?

    It is very easy to be a painter and say everyone that doesn't do it may way is "bad" or to find the weaknesses in others processes and exploit them through marketing messages and fluff. It doesn't make you right, promotes your lack of innovation, and certainly prevents a constructive dialog from taking place. In my view, it lacks innovation and insight if one resorts to tearing down another to build their position/business up. He that throws dirt, only loses ground. 


    The only time I have good luck with assumptions is when building a Portfolio Management Plan. Assumptions are just required or a plan would never be completed.

    I am not going to get into specifics regarding who made what assumption; however, it is important to note that  not one single item that we talked about last night was anywhere near reality for the farmers involved. 

    As we continue to work through how we are going to forge our generations path, let's all keep in mind that agriculture needs a diverse group of players. We need folks producing staple crops, folks producing Fruits & Veggies, folks raising livestock for meat and dairy, folks growing tree nuts, folks growing herbs for food and medicine, and the list goes on. We will also need folks who focus on building regional and local food chains like we are now seeing in Detroit and other areas across the country. We need others to grow food for the export market and larger agri-supply chain. We need folks in the transportation, processing, and logistics fields to help maintain the myriad of food supply chains in existence and yet to come. 

    As I stated last night, your scale isn't the primary driver of good vs. bad. The ethics by which you run your business are what defines you. As maddening as it may be for everyone, passionate debate is good. 

    Although, I may have to back out as I have been told "I am all hat and no cattle". I wonder which issue that falls under...


    1. Great post Nate!

    1. Great post Nate, I admire the opinions on all sides of the debate about how farming should be. In the end its up to each farmer to decide how it is best for them, their ground, and livestock. It is the farmers responsibility to make sure that they are farming ethically, and that there is more left on his farm when he is done than when he started.

      In this Debate we must not forget to respect each other for each of our opinions and not tear each other down.

      Thanks again for this post Nate, its always refreshing to reflect on the past days conversations.

    1. Folks if the shoe doesn't fit, do not wear it.

      We're still going to discuss the problems with industrial food systems. Take it personally or don't. It's not going away.

      Many of you prefer to again and again - deflect the discussion to personalisms...away from the problems of industrial multinational dependent agriculture, peak oik, real systematic problems and what REAL sustainability means.

      You will eventually figure out it is not personal when you can no longer afford the inputs you are currently depending on being cheap...maybe then a real discussion can ensue.

      I would like to continue to think well of most of you as I do...but as many of you keep personalizing what are issues much larger than you or your families role or long road to keep farming - which I do understand has been extremely tough, I am tempted to assume you are uninterested in really discussing the issues seriously.

      Every hackneyed argument has been seen before. PR is PR is PR....

    1. Liz,

      First, many thanks for reading the post and providing your input. I do appreciate it.

      It is very easy to make statements like "if the shoe doesn't fit, don't wear it". Much of the conversation is not centered around healthy discussion, rather it starts off with, what you call personalisms. Unfortunately, we cannot just sit back and take slander, put-downs, and negative attacks without speaking out. At the end of the day, it is my view, that much of this approach is meant to make one "side" look bad and the other "good". It gets us nowhere and prompted this post.

      Here is an example: It was stated on Twitter that I am just a corporate schill trying to increase my sales and support large corporations. This cannot be further from the truth. It sheds me, and most importantly, the company I work for in a very bad light. And, let's face it, the "inner circle" may be able to deduce what is going on, but the general public cannot.

      It is sad that you think I do not want to talk about REAL issues. In that light, we should have a discussion on REAL sustainability. As a precursor, I will take the peak oil issue. Here is my opinion:

      We cannot keep operating like we do expecting cheap oil. If you get a chance to review #agchat from a couple weeks ago, you will notice I posted that I believe the future is smaller machines NOT powered by oil. Many of my ag friends disagree and believe bio-fuels will play a large role. It could be that we are both right; maybe both wrong. At the end of the day, we all know that inputs are only going to increase and surely are not planning our future based on cheap fertilizer, crop protection, and fuel. Many are working to develop other, innovative solutions.

      Other real issues that should be talked about are bio-dynamic agriculture, bio-char, vertical farming, and truly closed-loop systems. We haven't even scratched the surface of what a closed-loop system really looks like and the economics behind it. Or how about talking about how much shit (literally) will really be required for organic production. A serious issue indeed Liz.

      I want to talk about sustainability. My company works every day based on vision that we have of a truly sustainable world. Everything we do is based on this framework.

      I also truly respect the work you are doing Liz. You engage in the macro-issues that face all of us without the slander, cynicism, and labels that other do on a weekly basis.

      In regards to industrial agriculture. I fully expect we continue to talk about it. Are there negative drawbacks and serious issues with it? Yes there are. Is consolidation taking a toll on farmers (ie dairy in NY)? Yes. We should all be concerned with the ultimate output of capitalism. There are always positives and negatives that come with this economic philosophy. What I cannot do is sit idly by while others take shots at friends of mine that I know to be blatantly false.

      I am truly in to talk about the magnitude and merits of the issues we face where we all come together. Do you have a proposed first topic? I will certainly join you in writing entries about it Liz.

      Thanks again for your response.


    1. Mike,

      Excellent feedback and thanks for reading.


      Thanks for reading!

      My best to you both.


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    Agriculture passionado! I lead GeoVantage's Sales, Marketing, and Business Development activities. If you haven't explored the benefit of remote sensing for production agriculture, now is the time! Not one to rest, I am also a part of the Memes Associates team where we focus on assisting large companies in the agriculture space to "re-discover their inner entrepreneur" through the introduction of market disrupting technology(s) and services.  

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