Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Memories of a similar time...

I linked to an old Top Producer column from 2004 in my post on Accountable Ag. When checking the link, I read through it, and almost recaptured how I felt twelve years ago. For those of you who did not click through, here is how I saw the world then:

Left behind – and I’m not enraptured 

Being in the middle of groups has a naturally comforting feel. Looking at the ubiquitous newspaper pie charts indicating public sentiment on everything from trade issues to toilet paper, we often are relieved when others agree with our opinion. 
More frequently, however, I find myself tending to the margins – holding positions that are mildly out of the mainstream. On a few issues I seem to have wandered into the fringe. The manly response is to assert loudly that I don’t care about the opinions of the masses; that I am an independent thinker. This is nonsense, of course – we all care about what others think. This separation can occur not only when I adopt unpopular beliefs, but also when mass opinion shifts and I do not. In the realm of popular issues, I am less alarmed. I don’t watch enough TV to keep up with rapidly shifting controversies. Howard Dean came and went before I really had formed a judgment, for example. The situations that perplex me are not spelled out in polls but corporate decisions or organizational policy signals. 
For example, I have been a happy owner of a Case 2366 combine. It is the largest combine I have ever owned and its performance has been more than I hoped, not withstanding the unloading auger-power pole incident which I now admit was not a design flaw. Its capacity is more than enough for our 1350 acres. 
I was stunned to hear that CNH will not be continuing this machine size, only larger harvesters. To me it indicated I was no longer a target market for them. I do not fault their marketing, but all the charts and graphs about where farm size is going don’t begin to have the impact of discovering your operation is too small to be of interest to long-term suppliers. 
Nor am I whining about loyalty. I have to make reciprocal decisions to protect my own business viability as well. Nonetheless it is a sobering wakeup call to my self-serving view of the world to find that agriculture is moving on without me. 
A similar incident occurred at the AFBF (Farm Bureau) meeting recently. It has been a singular privilege to have been active in Farm Bureau at numerous levels, and I have many valued friends in the organization. I am fairly familiar with their policy from my days as a county president. One of these positions was a firm belief that free trade optimizes the outcome for all involved. 
This changed in 2004. The AFBF delegate body approved a blatantly protectionist stance on selected commodities. Although the vote was razor thin, the fact that any majority at all was assembled revealed to me how far from the pack I was. Of course this is just one issue, but added to other subtle shifts lately, I think we are “drifting apart”, to use modern relationship jargon. 
Nor is it a direction I wish to go to in order to stay in the group. Loyalty to core beliefs is often more important than loyalty to groups or individuals. Farm Bureau shrewdly makes it difficult to register my disapproval by binding insurance policies to membership. Finding a new insurance agent when I really like the one I have is another hurdle altogether. So as far as the membership statistics the outside world sees, I remain another happy Farm Bureau member satisfied with policy decisions. 
To be sure, I have the option of mounting a grass-roots campaign to reverse this decision, but frankly, I sense the weight of insurance customers moving in the opposite direction. My best use of time is probably to start pricing a new farm policy. Either way, I am obviously no longer in sync with much of my profession. 
The latest jolt though, was President Bush’s 2005 budget. My position on the political chart has always been in the conservative Republican camp. This is where I thought the guy I voted for was anchored as well. But if planning more tax cuts in the face of $500B deficits, erecting trade barriers for politically powerful industries, attacking sincere dissent as craven disloyalty are the beliefs of conservative Republicans today, then I must be something else. Maybe I’m a liberal…Republican. I’ve heard there may be as many as 6 or 7 of us. 
Now all these perceptions could simply be fusty middle-aged crankiness. Perhaps I am just not well-informed or smart enough to understand my principles are outdated. Regardless, my painfully-acquired intellectual tools and moral compass are all that I have to guide my decisions. CNH, Farm Bureau, and the Republican Party are going where my conscience or circumstances prohibit. I suspect they won’t miss me at all. 
Nevertheless, I shall miss them. 

It is important to note I was mistaken about CNH - I did not know they were simply rolling out Class V and VI combines after the big boys. But not knowing this put a different machine on our farm.

Given the continued and intensified rightward drift of FB and its domination by insurance votes from the south, it may be well past time for me to switch to another insurance company. (Nope - still haven't moved) For that matter, I could be paying way too much for farm insurance for all I know.

Finally, to admit to being even a liberal Republican after the last few weeks makes me queasy. This is the party I should be affiliated with? I don't think I'm angry enough to fit in, and my interest in policy and problem-solving fits poorly with a group fascinated by passion and pessimism. 

Heck, I'm probably embarrassing them!


Nature Creek Farm said...

My father (who was also active in FB and a dairy farmer) pointed out once that every new piece of technology happens to be 'just' more than a farmer can afford, so they add a couple of cows or rent a little more land to be able to "catch up", but it's a trap.
"Get big or get out" is the mantra that feeds an America that exploits farmers to exploit the land in order to pay for oil to exploit labor, now disenfranchised in favor of The Consumer.
It's come down to a point where it doesn't matter if products are useless (including nutrient-free foods), because only the flow of money is used to make decisions.
Cows walking on grass, fresh vegetables grown on composted manure: these are novelty items now.
Rural kids are expected to leave for college and jobs making tech that nobody needs while farmers are expected to increasingly export starchy foods to pay for oil and tantalum.
No one is concerned about WHAT people do to get the money to buy stuff, or especially to borrow money they can't afford (even at 0% interest rates), thus locking them into a promise to consume resources to pay back the money and the taxes.
If we doubled the size of the Earth today, we'd need 4 more next year, just to pay the taxes to build the roads to get to it.

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Anonymous said...

Thank you. I too have been struggling with the same concerns with both the Farm Bureau and the Republican Party. While I have not switched my insurance yet, it is quite likely that I will make that change.
I find the change in the GOP disturbing and know that it is the Republican Party that has left me, not the reverse. As an independent voter who is identifying more and more with the Democratic Party with regard to fairness and demonstrated fiscal responsibility I will be hard pressed to ever support the Republican ticket again even though I will keep my life-long registration as a Republican simply because I live in a red state.

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Steve said...

Well said. We share Farm Bureau leadership experience and in fact served as Co. Presidents at the same time. I too, have found myself pushing back at some extreme conservative processes coming out of IFB and especially the AFBF. So if you and I are the last liberal republicans ... who are the other 4? Keep up the fantastic work, I always appreciate your comments and insight.

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