Monday, February 18, 2013

An honest count...  

I have always been perplexed by our profession's obsession with over-counting our numbers. Take the ubiquitous "2%"That's 6,200,000 people!

That's also ridiculous.
In 2010, there were 1,202,500 farmers, ranchers and other agricultural managers and an estimated 757,900 agricultural workers were employed in the US. Animal breeders accounted for 11,500 of those workers with the rest categorized as miscellaneous agricultural workers. [More]
That's a pretty reliable number, I think. But there are some issues with it as well.
  • The farmer number is based on the old USDA "$1000 gross" rule. In fact, 60% of the 1.2M "farmers" are retirement and lifestyle farmers who like the many advantages of Schedule F, I would suggest. So at best - even counting very small farms - the number of what most people would call farmers is around 500,000 AT MOST.
  • The balance of the 2% seems to be "others living on farms". The best number I can find is 4.6M which in some Alternate Arithmetic Universe gets rounded up from 1.48% to the Magic 2%.
  • Even the above number is questionable because:
In 1993 the Census Bureau stopped counting the number of Americans who live on farms. "Farm residence," it reported, "is no longer a reliable indication of whether or not someone is involved in farming. ... The cost of collecting and publishing statistics on farm residents and farmers in separate reports could no longer be justified." [More]
  • So if your wife is a teacher, nurse, plumber, truck driver, or nuclear physicist, we somehow still get to count her among our ranks.
  • Your kids count too.
In short, Jack Nicholson was right - we can't handle the truth. And we go to remarkable extremes to distort the data.

One of the most egregious truth-masseurs is Farm Bureau. I remember from my days as a county president (admittedly in the Paleolithic era) the hushed mumbles that accompanied membership numbers. Because FB is a well-funded, expertly-staffed auxiliary unit of an insurance conglomerate (which any Wall Street analyst would conclude from looking at their books), they have concocted unique euphemisms to describe their members as farmer-like entities.
Farm Bureau’s national membership rose to 6,279,813 member families in 2010, marking 50 consecutive years of membership growth. State Farm Bureaus overall reported a total 2,149 more member families this year than in 2009. [More]
Member families? A more accurate label would be "insurance customers who are required to become members of the FB". The fact that TN is the largest membership state should be a clue these numbers say little about actual farmers. Somehow this distinction is skirted when FB testifies before Congress, allowing the organization name to imply a vast base of voluntary dues-paying members.

But aside from the embarrassing lameness of such efforts to inflate our numbers is the question, "Why bother?" Why can't we be OK with an accurate count of our group's ranks?

We're not the only minority struggling with this anxiety.
We’re slowly getting a sense of how many TGBQLX people there are in America. I.e. how many homosexuals, lesbians and transgenders there are in the population. When I was a newbie gay, the mantra was 10 percent. We were “one in ten”. Seriously.
This immediately struck me at the time as a) obviously propaganda and b) ridiculously insecure. There was no way to know for sure, given the ubiquity of the closet back in the 1980s, but ten percent is a hell of a lot of people: 30 million. Why did I keep bumping into faces I recognized wherever I was in the US? If it were really ten percent, where were they all?
And why on earth does it matter if we make up 10 percent or 1 percent? A minority’s civil rights are not dependent on how many of them there are or how large a segment of society they form. Do we say: sorry, guys, you only form 2 percent, you don’t meet the minimal bar for becoming a minority? It’s not like running for the Knesset. It struck me then and now as part of a wearying tendency among some gays to think that every straight dude is just a few beers away from being gay (that’s not how it works); or a desperation to feel somehow more significant because of larger numbers.
Which simply make it all the more of a relief to see that Gallup has finally come up with a believable number of around 3.5 percent. (Check how gay your state is here.) DC is the super-gayest “state” – but that is a little distorted since DC is really the inner city of a larger metropolitan area and the gays tend to congregate there. But there’s also the attraction of politics for gay men. If you’ve ever spent much time among the staffers on the Hill, you’ll know what I mean: the US capitol makes the Vatican look straight. [More]
Sullivan is right: why does it matter? We don't get subsidies because of block voting - we were heavily against Obama and he is our best hope to continue the handouts, especially the ethanol mandate. Clearly government money messes with your mind.

I've always thought minimizing our numbers would have a bigger PR wow-factor. "Only 50,000 farmers produce 87% of the ag products [totally made up example]" seems more impressive to me. If farm payments are slipping away, why not change our thinking to at the very least make sure we actually know how many we are?

Farmer numbers need to come out of the closet.

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