If there is a problem today with your food, your fuel, or even your clock, and you are not sure who to blame for the problem: blame a farmer. Even if your problem has nothing to do with agriculture or anything a farmer has anything to do with, don’t let that stop you: blame a farmer anyway. This has become a trend that is rapidly spreading to more and more issues, many far outside the confines of production agriculture. Since the majority of people today have no idea what a farmer does and since most people don’t know a farmer, it is easy to just blame a farmer.
Since early December 2013, supplies of propane fuel in the Midwest have been getting tight. In January, the situation hit a crisis point when bitterly cold weather gripped much of the Midwest in what has come to be called the polar vortex. As a result, propane prices have skyrocketed and suppliers have started rationing fuel to customers. Governors in several states have declared energy emergencies and put in place measures to help stretch the thin supplies. When people started asking why there was a shortage of propane fuel, one answer that was picked up and propagated by the media was farmers used it all up at harvest.
While it is true that an exceptionally large and unusually wet corn crop was harvested this year and required excessive drying, to say farmers caused the problem is simply not true. The fact is that only 13% of the propane fuel used in the Midwest each year is used by agriculture. The remainder is used by residential customers, primarily in rural areas. The fact that we have had extremely cold weather for an extended period of time has contributed to the shortage far more than our grain crop.
Yet, this has not stopped many rural residents from blaming their farmer neighbors for the problem. I recently got an e-mail from a La Porte County resident who said, “I am surrounded by farmers sitting on multiple 1000 gallon tanks of propane they purchased at $1.25 a gallon to dry the corn…. Now they are all off to Florida for the winter with propane tanks sitting full because they didn’t need it for drying.” While this rant is full is glaring generalities, gross exaggerations, and the assumption that those tanks sitting by the grain bins are full (most likely they are not), it shows that, even for rural residents, it is easier to blame a farmer than to get the facts.
Our friends at Chipotle are at it again, producing a serious of video programs that spread lies and misconceptions about agriculture — all for the purpose of selling more of their products. As one marketing expert observed, the restaurant chain never changes their menu and thus must create some kind of interest for their food. Blasting American farmers and taking cheap shots at the food their competitors supply is just their attempt to be competitive. Given the lack of success their smear campaign had last year, one wonders how long this franchise will be able to compete in a very competitive marketplace.
Then, there is the debate that is uniquely Indiana, what time it should be. In every session of the state legislature, a bill gets introduced to eliminate daylight savings time. Each spring and fall when we set our clocks ahead or back, the same debate erupts again. Every time the subject comes up, someone blames DST on farmers. The fact that DST was invented by the railroads — and has no impact on farming operations — does not stop people from blaming farmers.
The problem with blaming farmers for these things, besides giving farmers a persecution complex, is that is keeps us from dealing with the real issues. Whether it is a dealing with an energy shortage, having a serious discussion about food safety, or figuring out what time it should be, simply blaming the farmer keeps us from find a real solution to the issue at hand. Consumers and the media are calling for more transparency in our food production system. While there are improvements that need to be made in this area, there is currently a good deal of transparency, but people have to be willing to look in order to see it. The blame a farmer game does not lead to greater understanding or to a solution of the problem.
By Gary Truitt