be proud pic with cowsBy Damian Mason

Stanford University’s band used halftime of this year’s Rose Bowl to insult the Midwest and agriculture.

Stanford’s “routine” included music from the FarmersOnly.com commercials and a romantically dejected bumpkin tipping over a pretend black and white cow.

It was classless, not funny, and frankly, inaccurate. Iowa (Stanford’s opponent) isn’t even the ag school — Iowa State is — and California (Stanford’s home state) has more Holsteins than Iowa. I might also add, the skit was as original as a Hee Haw rerun.

As an Indiana farm boy, I detest the portrayal of anyone engaged in agriculture as a backward rube.

Farmers I know manage millions of dollars of capital. Many have college degrees. They apply science and technology to their operations that would baffle the average suburbanite.

Nevertheless, the old, tired, archetype of the “hick farmer” persists. Why? 

One reason is the math. Only 1 percent of our population farms and just 7 percent work in the business of food, fuel, and fiber. Our urban and suburban populace is so far removed from agriculture, they accept media’s portrayal of farmers and rural America.

A more troubling reason: We allow ourselves to be portrayed this way.

Here’s how we can all polish ag’s image:

Stop playing the poor farmer

There’s a joke that used to be a staple at ag functions. “Did you hear about the farmer who won a million dollars in the lottery?” The joke goes. “When they asked the farmer what he’s gonna do, he said he’d keep farming ’til the million dollars runs out.”

Laugh if you want but I’ve never found it funny. Would you laugh if this were the CEO of General Electric joking about going broke? Agriculture is a business. Please stop playing the “poor dirt farmer” routine.

People do judge a book by the cover

I once had a role as a farmer in a seed commercial. (This is the sort of acting prowess that got me my Screen Actors Guild card!)

When I showed up for the shoot, the wardrobe people handed me tattered clothing to wear as I stood in a corn field. I asked the production crew if I was supposed to be a farmer for this commercial or a scare crow. They laughed. I didn’t, because I don’t find derogatory images of farmers to be funny.

I understand. We work outside in Carhartt overalls. We handle livestock. We get dirty. But when the media dresses farmers as vagrants, our image takes a hit. Remember, there’s a time to dress for chores and a time to dress for an interview.

We all speak for agriculture

Who decided people in the business of food, fuel, and fiber are supposed to talk like the cast from The Beverly Hillbillies?

Like it or not, people judge us by the words we use. In the era of social media, we all have the opportunity to portray ourselves and our industry positively. Proper grammar and effective communication garners respect from our consumers.

Be proud. Be professional. Pass it on.

Humor is a big part of my business. However, when it comes to agriculture — the world’s most important industry — our image is no joking matter.

Be proud of the work we do in producing America’s bounty. Be professional in how you represent yourself. Above all, pass on a positive message for agriculture.

Damian Mason is an agriculturalist, speaker, and Stanford band hater. He grew up on a Huntington County farm and is a former Wells County resident. He wrote this for an agricultural trade magazine. Find him at www.daimanmason.com

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