Modern agriculture – and drainage contractors – need to be the bridge

There are plenty of examples to show the way.
Ralph Pearce
Sunday, 13 November 2011
By Ralph Pearce
Ralph Pearce Editor, Drainage Contractor
Ralph Pearce Editor, Drainage Contractor
These words keep rolling through my mind: The level of science literacy and awareness of modern-day agricultural practices is very low in the general population.

They came from the public and industry affairs director for Monsanto Canada in reference to a move by the Argentine government to ban the popular herbicide glyphosate. But it has stayed with me because it applies to so many other components of modern agriculture, especially drainage. Since taking over this magazine three-and-a-half years ago, I have been shocked to hear and read newspaper reports and editorials citing drainage tiles as, if not the direct cause, at the very least, the conduit through which so much pollution flows. Regardless of who or what might be at fault, the overwhelming contributor to a lot of the rhetoric that “flows” so easily, is the level of science literacy and awareness of modern-day agricultural practices.

The information gap is widening
I have written before that such ignorance is almost inexcusable in this day and age, when there is so much information available, and so many people willing and able to share their experiences and expertise. We hear and read about people who are interested in organics, slow food and the “100-Mile Diet,” yet their narrow search for only what they want often excludes the basic facts about the farming and production story. There is a stated desire for clean water and safe food, which we all share. But there is also a high level of distrust of corporations and innovation. So much so that often times people don’t bother to listen for, and learn, the facts.

This is not only unfortunate for those unwilling to hear the message, it is also unfortunate for farmers and contractors because they have to refocus their efforts on providing information instead of on farming and tiling.

Light the candle rather than curse the darkness
One exception to this scenario can be seen in this issue with the write-up on a field day hosted by the Iowa Land Improvement Contractors of America (LICA), this past July. Although it was an event geared to showcasing new strategies for handling drainage water and other stewardship practices, it was held just outside of Des Moines, giving local politicians and residents the opportunity to see what farm drainage actually entails. Now, not every politician took advantage of the opportunity for a visit, nor did every urbanite in the city venture out to see what was happening in farmers’ fields. But Iowa’s LICA chapter is to be commended for its proactive approach, harkening back to that old line, “If you’re not part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem.”

Find your voice
Granted, it is easy to say, “open your farm” or “invite someone from the city to watch as you install drainage tile.” But the sad truth about modern-day farming practices is that the mainstream media can no longer provide accurate, relevant and comprehensive coverage of agriculture; in most respects, city dailies no longer have the resources to hire specialists in agriculture or agribusiness. So farmers, drainage contractors and all of our stakeholders, must find our respective voices and be that information source for the average North American consumer. And we must do it with accuracy, relevance, and above all, integrity.

So many times in the past year, I have told readers and anyone else I’ve spoken with that now is the greatest time to be involved in agriculture. Prices are up, opportunities to create or enhance value and value chains are on the rise, there is a renewed sense of pride within agriculture – particularly as the world population tops seven billion people – and developing countries are boosting their demand for higher-quality foods. All of that spells a bright future for agriculture, including drainage contractors, because as we all know and say, Drainage doesn’t cost – It pays! As we have seen in this past year, demand for drainage services is up all across the industry; tile manufacturers are increasing their orders, machines are being manufactured, contractors are busy, and there is a unique opportunity that comes with all of that – by being the bridge between the city and the country.

What we in the industry do is not just a good news story worth telling, it’s a Great News Story worth telling.
Light the candle.

Stay busy! – And stay safe!

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