My grandfather had a collection of stories he loved to tell.  Many involved his neighbor, who had a slightly skewed take on life that appealed to my grandfather’s sense of the absurd. When the neighbor’s mule died while he and grandpa were working, he turned to my grandfather and said: “Funny, that never happened before!”

The Labour party in Britain has elected as its leader an old style leftist, and he, in turn, has appointed Kerry McCarthy as his “shadow” minister for agriculture, food and environment. She’s a self-described radical vegan, so committed to her beliefs that she refused to kill the moths that infested her closet.

Well. One can only imagine a politician so doctrinaire that she appears in public with clothes riddled with damage from presumably Tory moths, ventilating her no doubt sensible pant suits while she walks the halls of parliament in her petroleum-based shoes, leather being verboten.  The reliably left wing newspaper, The Guardian, has applauded the appointment, since, according to the newspaper, livestock harms the environment, and “industrial” agriculture harms the animals. 

She has declared that meat eating should be treated just like cigarette smoking, extolling a public campaign to separate Britons from their bangers and blood pudding. I can see the sign now:  "no hamburgers within 15 feet of the entrance," while committed carnivores shivering in designated meat eating areas are dining on equal parts sirloin and shame. Surely no major party has ever appointed a minister so hostile to his or her so constituents.  Grandpa's devotion to bacon ended when he did, at 98.  But if he were still around, I'm sure he'd say: "funny, that never happened before!"

Last month I spent an evening in St. Louis, screening the Farmland Movie and sitting on a panel with three other farmers fielding questions from a couple of hundred earnest St. Louisans who had forsaken their Cardinal baseball team for an evening.  They were concerned about the environment, and knowing where their food came from, and why animals were kept in pens, and didn't cow burps contribute to global warming? 

All of us on the panel have done our time in the kind of media training that farmers receive, and we were respectful of the questioners, and attempted to provide information without coming off as defensive, or dishonest, or totally ticked off at the fact that the four of us, successful in our profession with over 100 years of combined farming experience, were having to explain ourselves to a bunch of consumers whose knowledge of agriculture ended with Michael Pollan and Dr. Oz. Whew! That sentence would not make my media trainer or my English teacher happy.

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Anyway, I can hardly imagine my grandfather, who was proud of his profession, submitting to two hours of questioning about why he did the things he did.  He probably would be shocked to see his grandson as movie reviewer. He also couldn’t have imagined that thousands of people would watch a movie about farming. He might well have said: “funny, that never happened before.”

Harvest has started here in Northwest Missouri, and although we lost a lot of crop to excessive rain and flooding, the early corn yields on our better drained soils have been outstanding.  Yields that my grandfather could only have imagined.  He would have no doubt said: “that never happened before!” 

Finally, I just read a report talking about the decline in land values across the Corn Belt led by a 15% decline in northeastern Iowa. Purdue Ag Economist Mike Boehlje reports that farmers with high cash rents are experiencing a “burn” rate of $50 to $100 an acre.  Farm magazines are full of advice about negotiating rents downward.  I recently heard a presentation by a John Deere executive outlining the crash in farm equipment sales. Crop farmers are seeing the end of golden period, the best one since the early 1970s. 

My grandfather was a veteran of the Depression, and those years shaped the man he became. He spent the next fifty years waiting for the next depression, planning for it, warning his grandsons about its imminent arrival, and he took a certain grim satisfaction in the 1980s. He would no doubt survey the financial stress that many farmers are experiencing and tell us that, yes, that has happened before.

About the author: Blake Hurst is a third-generation farmer and president of the Missouri Farm Bureau board of directors. 


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