STRAIGHT talk. More than ever, that's what we need when it comes to agriculture and food production.
All too often, though, preconceived notions get in the way of honest discussion. That's especially counterproductive for young people who have an interest in working in the food industry.
So, how do we cut through the static to portray the world as it really is — both good and bad, rewards and challenges, exuberance and discouragement?
That question came to mind as I was watching the trailer for Farmland (to be released in 2014). The film's purpose is to portray the food production world as it really exists.
The film's website promotes the production by noting that most Americans have never stepped foot on a farm or ranch or even talked to the people who grow and raise the food we eat. Farmland will take an intimate look at the lives of farmers and ranchers in their 20s, all of whom are now responsible for running their farming businesses.
The film looks promising, with the potential to be both entertaining and provoking.
At only a few minutes long, the trailer alone is captivating and contains a number of great observations from interviews with the next generation of farmers tasked with feeding the world, such as:
* "The core of it is still growing and producing something, but the way we do it has changed."
* "The global demand for food is growing. As the younger generation, we have to find some way to keep up with that and maintain that."
* "It's all at the mercy of the weather. A few less inches of rain is the difference between a good crop and no crop."
* "You leave a lot to Mother Nature, and Mother Nature never takes a day off."
* "The basic needs for food don't just appear in a grocery store."
Those comments are revealing. These young people clearly don't have any illusions about their occupation of choice. These people are realists, yet they willingly embrace the challenges in front of them. Such practicality is encouraging!
Compare that to the list of critics who ridicule modern agriculture — often for criticism's sake alone.
One comment I read about a year ago from a well-known personality is especially pertinent within this discussion about the future of farming and ranching.
The critic claimed that the U.S. has "a history of bad farming. There's this Jeffersonian notion of the yeoman farmer as the backbone of our country and that we're somehow a nation of yeoman farmers. It's a bit of a farce. We never had a sustained tradition of great farming in this country. Never."
That's not what I saw when watching the Farmland trailer. Rather, I perceived young people who are committed to their occupation, doing the right thing and expressing a desire to press ahead to make things better.
Of course, that attitude didn't happen by accident. It resulted from having the right example ahead of them. No "sustained tradition of great farming" in America? Think again.
Appropriately, the film portrays these young people as being involved in "high-risk/high-reward jobs" and having a "passion for a way of life that has been passed down from generation to generation yet continues to evolve."
These progressive young people fully understand the conversation going on around food and food production. As such, they defy the negative, provincial stereotypes often assigned to production agriculture. Their commitment goes far beyond just doing a job.
"We spend so much time and so much effort into making something happen, so when it finally does happen, we're pretty proud of it," one explained.
Just imagine if more people took that attitude to work with them every day. It sure would make the world a better place.
*Dr. Nevil C. Speer is with Western Kentucky University and serves on the board of the National Institute for Animal Agriculture, a national organization devoted to engaging livestock producers and livestock health professionals in developing solutions for issues in the livestock industry.