Each industry has its own unique vocabulary, words that are used commonly by those who work in this area but that mean something totally unintelligible to those outside of it. For example, just try talking to a computer repair person, and, within a very few minutes, you will be totally lost. The same is true in agriculture. Terms that seem totally reasonable to those of us who work in this area are baffling to those outside of ag. This is true among consumers, but it is also true among members of the media. There have been many times when covering an agricultural press conference, a local television reporter will approach me afterwards and ask, “What did he say?” I remember, with a chuckle, when, during the drought of 2012, Purdue’s corn specialist Bob Nielsen was trying to explain to a local TV reporter the finer points of pollination. In frustration, Nielsen finally put it this way, “Pollination is corn sex, and when it is this darn hot, just like the rest of us, corn does not like to have sex.” The reporter got the point, but was still a little confused about what this had to do with the fact that corn yields would be down and food prices up.
The folks at the Indiana State Fair publicity office must have had a similar experience trying to explain agriculture terms to the media because this year they included 4 pages in the official State Fair media guide called “Ag Vocab.” Here were 73 common agricultural terms listed with simple definitions, provided by the Webster dictionary. Arranged in alphabetical order, including farrier, polled, hybrid, and weather. I commend Andy Klotz and his staff at the Fair for a valiant attempt to educate the mainstream media about agriculture. Many of these are terms reporters would be likely to encounter when interviewing livestock exhibitors, farm youth, or farmers attending the Fair. In an effort to help in this educational process, I would like to offer a few suggestions that could be additions to next year’s media guide.
Activist: Someone with a college degree in a field other than agriculture, who makes more money than a farmer, and is passionate about a solution to a problem that does not need one. Bull: A term that can be applied to a uncastrated male bovine animal, or farm folks may also use it to refer to the speech of activists. Climate Change: A bunch of bull made up by activists as an excuse to make us all buy new light bulbs.
In addition to vocabulary, there are a few cultural concept that farm folks take for granted, but city reporters may not understand. The whole farming Red or Green is a concept lost on most folks not involved in agriculture. To members of the media, a tractor — no matter what color — is just a tractor. To farmers, it is much more. In fact, when referring to a specific tractor, a farmer will more often than not use the make and model of the machine rather than the term tractor. If you are ever interviewed by a television reporter, you may want to advise him what color equipment you use so he is sure to get the right equipment in the video.
We in agriculture love to use abbreviations. It is common for a farmer to use the terms FSA, GPS, CME, AFBF, BLM, ASA, and FFA — sometimes all in one sentence. Then there are the 4 letter words like USDA, OSHA, CBOT, IDEM, NASS, NRCS, and NOAH that are often paired with other 4 letter words. Another personal gripe I have with non-farm reporters is they consistently screw up the name of the FFA. The organization has not been the Future Farmers of America for over a decade; yet, when interviewing a young person in a blue and gold jacket, they will call it that, or they will get tongue-tied and call it the FAA.
Perhaps when I retire I will write a Media Guide to Agriculture. It is doubtful, however, it will get read very much, since today most in the media don’t seem to care if they get it right or not.
By Gary Truitt