Wednesday, July 01, 2009

When we don't have answers...

We shout.

Urban Lehner at DTN, who pens thoughtful posts, took some flack for interviewing Michael Pollan.  He cautiously offers a defense.

"Everyone already knows what Pollan thinks," I hear someone bellowing. Do they? How many producers and agribusiness people have read "The Omnivore's Dilemma," Pollan's seminal book?
Dan Dooley has, and as he tells it, ag professionals might find the book's thinking more nuanced than they imagine. Dooley is Vice President for Ag and Natural Resources at the University of California and a former owner of Dooley Farms in California's San Joaquin Valley. He says 80 percent of what Pollan writes is "interesting," 10 percent makes him "uncomfortable" and 10 percent is "simply unrealistic."
Dooley also thinks commercial agriculture will continue to lose the national debate over food production if it doesn't do a better job of understanding where its critics are coming from.
"Our attitude in ag is if our opponents understood us, they'd agree with us," Dooley says. "The reality is a lot of these people do understand us and they don't agree with us.
"We have to listen," he goes on. "If we go to the table in the self-righteous position that ag often does, they shut us off. They don't listen to us because we don't listen to them." [More]
His points echo my own, too often belabored here.  I do have two tiny quibbles.
Pollan's seminal work, IMHO, is Botany of Desire.  Every corn farmer should read it.
Second, it says much that while I reviewed the book [Omnivore's Dilemma] over two years ago, even then it had been out for some months.  Could it be that one communications problem ag has is s-p-e-e-d?  (To be fair, Urban does not say he actually read the book.)
I mean, I can understand waiting for paperback, but still.
It also speaks volumes about what the relatively narrow range of viewpoints are deemed acceptable in the ag media. Partly this is due to pressing budget and reader issues.  Unlike this blog, websites and magazines need to make money and making people upset with things they don't want to hear may not seem like the ideal business plan. But mostly I think it is because farmers are not, for the most part, very interested in what other people think.

We're into telling our story - not listening to yours.
That not necessarily a bad thing.  However, it may not be the optimal long-term strategy for producers.


Anonymous said...

Some interesting comments by Pollan. I think we are in for some changes in ag, pushed by Pollan readers. They tend to be bad at math, but that doesn't mean we can ignore them.


Anonymous said...

Gotta agree with 100% on this one John. If farmers actually understood Pollan's views they'd know that he is more against modern highly processed food products than against ag. production means. I personally have taken his advice and buy more of my food at the store from around the edge/perimeter and avoid the center as much as possible. If we farmers don't realize that this is to our advantage, then we are truly out of touch.