Commentary: In agriculture, labels matter—until they don’t

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Editor's note: The following commentary was written  by Gene Hall, Public Relations Director for the Texas Farm Bureau and published on the Texas Agriculture Talks website.

In my more cynical moments, I suspect that the great confusion and controversy surrounding agriculture today is on purpose.

In this mindset, I can easily conclude that those organizations that survive by demonizing modern agriculture manipulate the language and the labels to suit their own purposes. In this way, passions are inflamed. Money is raised. A public is misled. Calling you “Big Ag” could mean “Big Bucks” for me even though all I’ve contributed to the debate are a couple of politically charged words.

I concluded awhile back that, in a way, farmers and ranchers have aided and abetted this nonsense. Forty years ago, the people who worked the land were concerned about their image. In Farm Bureau meetings, you’d hear things like, “They think we are unsophisticated hayseeds.” For people making business decisions every day, managing risks that would scare a Fortune 500 CEO and dealing with the hard reality of science and profit, this was not acceptable.

We began to talk about agricultural “operations,” agricultural “producers” and even (gasp!) the agriculture “industry.” It’s hard to know for sure, but perhaps the almost completely meaningless political chattering about “industrial agriculture” began in this way. Activists hint at dark and sinister things when they use these descriptions. Usually, it just means big. But then, the market for the product is pretty darn big.

I think “agricultural producers” understand now that the best way to refer to themselves is the simple and most accurate way. That would be, farmers and ranchers. They do what they do on “farms and ranches.”

There are those who would try to shoehorn their own beliefs into models they don’t understand and labels that don’t accurately describe anything.  “Family farms and farmers have to be small and do things the way I want them done.”

Farmers and ranchers can accept the labels others affix to them, or they can tell their own story. Family farms account for more than 95 percent of all farms in the U.S. Some are very small and others are quite large. Together they produce an abundance of food that is the healthiest and safest this often hungry old planet has ever known. That’s the label I like best.


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