Agriculture’s Self-Esteem Problem

By: Hope Pjesky

Farmers are professionals. Farmers are small business owners. If you start your own farm, you are an entrepreneur. I am proud to be a farmer! Why aren’t more farmers?

Over the last twenty years I have been involved with a number of agricultural organizations. For the first ten or twelve of those years I was considered a “young” farmer by some of those organizations. Now, I am not “young” anymore but I am still obviously younger than the majority of the people who attend the meetings of those organizations. Because of this, I have had several older people come up to me over the years and say that we really need more young people to get into farming. The problem is that I know that several of the people who have said that to me have encouraged their children not to farm.

Their children were in 4-H and FFA and were the highest achieving students in their high schools. Many of them wanted to farm but their parents told them “No, you are too good to farm. You should go be a professional, a doctor, a lawyer or a politician.” If they didn’t want to farm then that is great but if they do want to farm they should not be told that they are too good to farm. Farmers do the jobs of five different professionals every day. We are professionals and we are small business owners. Producing the food and fiber necessary to feed and clothe the growing world population is the most important job that exists.

My husband and I both get interviewed by agriculture journalists from time to time. We have had several journalists comment to us that we are always so positive, we never complain. We have had plenty of reasons to complain over the last few years, we have been in a multi-year severe drought cycle. I have never seen the value in complaining in the news media. I answer questions honestly. If I am asked about the drought, I tell what the conditions currently are in my area but there is usually something that is slightly positive to add to the conversation. I never end an interview on a downer.

“Don’t tell people your problems. Half of them don’t care and the other half are glad that you have them.” My husband can’t remember who he originally heard say that but he has been saying it as long as I can remember. We both grew up on farms and we knew what we were getting into when we decided to be farmers. We knew there would be ups and downs. We are proud of what we do for a living. We are both educated and have skills that would enable us to succeed in other professions. We chose production agriculture as our profession.

It bothers me a great deal to hear other farmers discourage young people from choosing production agriculture as a profession and it bothers me to hear other farmers be negative and complain when they are interviewed in the media. How can we expect the general public to have a positive view of agriculture if those of us that are involved in agriculture are always negative?

Farm Bureau, Hundreds of Other Groups Call for Extension of Key Tax Provisions

America’s farmers and ranchers are ready for Congress to act swiftly to restore tax provisions essential to boosting small businesses and rural economies, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.

In a letter to House and Senate leaders, Farm Bureau urged members of both chambers to work across the aisle to renew and preserve important tax provisions that expired at the end of 2013.

“Farmers and ranchers rely on tax provisions that allow them to manage their cash flow and put that money back to work for their businesses,” said AFBF President Bob Stallman. “Section 179 and bonus depreciation are important tools that lend stability and help minimize risk in an unpredictable industry.”

Agriculture is overwhelmingly united in its support of Section 179 and bonus depreciation, which provide flexible means for farm and ranch businesses to write off and deduct business expenses.

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Feeling Thankful

Thanks for reminding me what it means to be free, Berlin.

Thanks for reminding me what it means to be free, Berlin.

Somehow this fall I lost an entire month. It could have had something to do with twenty four days that I spent gallivanting around Europe this past month as a McCloy fellow.  All I know is that I left West Virginia when it was green, sunny, and 75 degrees.  The cattle were still happily grazing on the pastures and the corn was standing tall in the fields.  I returned and there were no leaves on the trees, the corn was all gone, and the grass had stopped growing.  A couple days later, it snowed.

It is hard to believe that my fellowship is now over and the holidays are upon us. I learned so much while in Germany and I am grateful for the lessons I was taught there.  This week, as I watch the news celebrating the 25 year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, remember our military on Veterans’ Day, and prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving, I am particularly struck by the things I sometimes take for granted.  I have so much to be thankful for.

Before traveling to Germany, I had never fully comprehended the huge impact that the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain had on the people of what was East and West Germany. The more people we talked to, the more we picked up on the fact that time is often divided into two categories – “before the wall came down” and “after the wall came down.”  Small family farms did not exist in East Germany before the wall came down because farms were combined into cooperatives by the former German Democratic Republic (GDR) during the Soviet rule.  Even today, the farms in that part of the country are quite a bit larger than those in West Germany with an average size of 538 acres.  Farms in West Germany, however, were family farms and as land was handed down to generation to generation they became smaller and smaller as each child received a share.  The average farm size in the west today is about 100 acres.

As a fifth generation farmer whose family owns and farms land that has been passed down since the Civil War, it was very humbling to me to hear the stories of people picking a farm up from the ruins and trying to start something new. I will forever remember a comment made in a meeting we had with two staff of a local farm association in East Germany. The younger of the two men grew up under the GDR and clearly remembers the new opportunities available to him as a twenty year old when the wall came down.  He said that democracy today was such a confusing mess because everyone just does what he or she wants to.  The older man looked at him and said, “Yes, but you are free.”

How often do I truly appreciate the fact that I am free? I may not agree with some of the laws our government passes and I may vehemently oppose the direction our country is led in at times, but I am free. And I have never known any other way.  The very recent struggles of the German people humbled me.  As I celebrate Thanksgiving this year, I will offer up a prayer of Thanksgiving not only for being blessed to live the life of a farmer, but to live the life of an American.  Never before have I appreciated what that meant quite so much.

Have a blessed Thanksgiving!