As I sat in a meeting recently with mostly younger farmers (but then aren't they all these days?), they seemed to agree upon the idea that the level of competitiveness is much higher today, which has lowered what they considered ethical business standards.
I demurred. The stories from my early days, and stories my father told me suggested older farmers were simply less obvious, and without cash rent transparency, the competitive level was harder to document.
But maybe their perceptions were closer to the truth of the matter.
Imagine that you're taking a test in a large public hall. Obviously, your knowledge and confidence will determine your score, but could the number of people around you have an influence too? According to psychologists Stephen Garcia from the University of Michigan and Avishalom Tor from the University of Haifa, the answer is yes. They have found that our motivation to compete falls as the number of competitors rises, even if the chances of success are the same.To be sure the headcount dwindles, but I also think the non-local nature of so much land competition (widespread operations) affects practices even more. In other words, competing against a neighbor at least prompts some concerns over long term consequences of having to live together. Competing against a guy two counties over doesn't make that issue seem too relevant, IMHO.
The simple act of comparing yourself against someone else can stoke the fires of competition. When there are just a few competitors around, making such comparisons is easy but they become more difficult when challengers are plentiful. As a result, the presence of extra contenders, far from spurring us on by adding extra challenge, can actually have the opposite effect. Garcia and Avishalom call this the "N-effect" and they demonstrated it through a number of experiments. [More]