In Perspective: Ag’s optimism bias

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Colleen Scherer Humans as a species have been proven by both neuroscience and social science to be more optimistic than realistic, according to a recent Time article.

In general, humans expect life to turn out better than it ends up being, the article suggests. For example, the article points out that people often greatly underestimate their chances of getting divorced, losing their job or developing a serious illness.

“The belief that the future will be much better than the past and present is known as the optimism bias. It abides in every race, region and socioeconomic bracket,” the article explains.

This does not mean that people cannot become pessimistic after seeing the news of violence around the world, political posturing and poor economic news. But on the whole our species is a fairly optimistic bunch, and that has helped to ensure our survival.

Our ancestors had to have loads of optimism to brave the harsh world. Without optimism, our ancestors wouldn’t have ventured out from their caves to explore the world or to cultivate crops and begin mankind’s development of agriculture.

So, from the earliest days of humans, farmers have been the key optimists our species needed in order to grow food. Today, despite the many turmoils around the world, farmers are still some of the most optimistic people on the planet.

Who else but farmers have the optimism after a devastating year in 2012 when heat, drought, floods and hurricanes destroyed record amounts of crops and dwindled grain stocks around the world? Farmers have the optimism and resiliency to put the past year in the past and begin looking toward the future.

Despite the setbacks and crop losses in 2012, farmers are looking to set another record for the amount of acres planted to corn in 2013. This optimism has even spread to fertilizer manufacturers, who despite rising global inventories and lackluster demand, are still projecting good demand for this spring season as they expect farmers to need large amounts of fertilizer to produce record crops in 2013.

Without agriculture’s optimism bias, ag researchers would not continue pushing forward when only one in a billion DNA combinations results in scientific advances to improve crops and our understanding of how plants develop and ward off pests.

We have this bias to thank for developing chemical fertilizers to increase crop yields, pesticides to reduce pest pressures on crops and biotechnology to help unlock the genetic potential of crops.

Agriculture has a huge hurdle to overcome in the next 50 years. The world’s burgeoning population could seem daunting to many as resources become more scarce, arable land dwindles and political pressures tighten restrictions on how to grow crops. However, agriculture will maintain its optimism because it needs it to continue pushing forward. Agriculture does not have the luxury of becoming pessimistic because lives are at stake. There are always hungry mouths to feed and the agriculture industry knows this and understands the urgency with which technology is needed to keep up. Agriculture’s optimism is crucial to our species’ survival.

Farmers need to be encouraged in the face of mounting pressure, sustained during difficult times and supported with the tools and technology they need to be the most successful. Ag retailers and consultants are in a prime position to help farmers turn their optimism into a reality. All of our lives depend on farmers’ optimism.


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