My post yesterday about my farming goals for 2010 touched off a little firestorm over on Facebook, where it appears that people believed that my stereotype about farmers is that they are not intelligent. I probably should have been more specific, because my stereotype about farming was really about the kind of work I imagined everyday farming was all about rather than how smart anyone was.
It is interesting to me, however, that people seem to think that the stereotype about farmers is that they are not smart. Of course, as with any stereotype, it is unfair to label an entire group any certain way, yet we cannot avoid the fact that there is some reason there is a stereotype to begin with.
So far in my experience, I think the stereotype of the “dumb farmer” exists because of something entirely unrelated to intelligence: too many farmers have no business sense, and it is their lack of business sense that causes them to lose their farms and helps create the impression they are not very smart.
No other industry would continue to tolerated the rather bizarre state of affairs one finds in farming where the government keeps prices for the products of that industry artificially low and fixed through constant subsidy while simultaneously expecting the businesses in that industry to borrow every year to produce products whose prices barely cover paying off the debt at the end of the year. Further, this cycle does not have to exist, but continues to do so because farmers simply keep doing it year after year.
The evidence of the difference lies in the fact that there are all kinds of farmers out there who have rejected this model and are doing quite well for themselves as a result. In every case I can think of, the farmers who have broken the cycle have done so because they treat their farms like businesses and figure out how to remain profitable just like any other business has to.
What causes the stereotype, then, is the force of habit of continuing to do things a way they have been done long after it does not make sense to keep doing them that way. What I have come to realize is that there is no reason to do them that way because there is really no reason to farm in any other way than the one that works for the farmers and generates a profit. Coming into this business from the outside, I am in a unique position to simply not go down the path that seems to dominate so many farmers’ lives and fortunes, and in doing so, I have come to realize that even I had stereotypes about farmers and farming that I did not even realize I had.