Archive for the ‘farming’ Category

What’s Your Why?

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to attend the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Agriculturists meeting to represent my company, and one of the speakers, Monsanto’s Vance Crowe, talked about the challenges we face in agriculture with so much negative and frankly, incorrect, information being spread about our industry.

He showed images that he had seen on social media, being shared by millions of people, that portray modern agriculture in a frightening light. Things like tomatoes being injected with mystery fluids from syringes – never mind that (1.) there are no commercially available GMO tomatoes and (2.) syringes are not used in genetic engineering. Images like these are designed to speak to our emotions, provoking fear and distrust without saying a single word.

He said, “All you have to do for people to question modern agriculture is to sow doubt.” Regardless of the facts and the science and the layers of regulation behind everything we do, one misguided image can cause irreparable damage.

Then today, back at work, I sat down to work on some homework for a leadership class I’m part of. Our assignment was to watch this TED Talk by Simon Sinek:

It’s about 20 minutes long and worth the watch, but if you don’t have time, I’ll summarize. He describes the “golden circle,” three concentric rings with “why” in the middle, “how” next, and “what” on the outside. Normally, we try to explain things from the outside in – what we do, how we do them, and why. He says that in order to get people to make an emotional connection that can lead to a change in behavior, we need to start from the inside out – WHY we do what we do, how we do it, and then what the benefits and opportunities are.

He goes on to explain that our brains are designed to respond to these questions. Our neocortex is where rational thought and language are processed, the “what.” That’s where we can absorb facts and figures, weigh out pros and cons. Our limbic brain, however, responds to “why” and “how” – that’s where we make our decisions and experience things like trust and loyalty, but does not process language. That’s why we make “gut decisions” or say something “didn’t feel right,” he says, “because we don’t have the words to describe it otherwise.”

And then it hit me.

In agriculture, we are awesome about the “what” and even the “how.” We grow the safest, most abundant, most affordable food in the world. We have the technology to grow more than ever before on less than ever before. We have facts and figures that show how much we’ve increased soil quality, decreased the use of fertilizers and pesticides, and improved animal health and production. It’s truly amazing.

But people don’t care about those things until you can show them “why.”

The message with the emotion is the message we remember. That’s why Crowe’s example of the tomato picture elicited such a negative response without a single word. People made an involuntary connection that colored their view of any facts that may have come behind it.

We must begin making those deep connections, showing our “why” when we reach out to those who may have questions about agriculture. Food is such a personal thing to all of us, but only 2 percent of Americans are currently involved in growing it. I believe that most people are genuinely interested in why we do what we do in agriculture, and want to be reassured that we’re doing the very best we can to continue to provide safe, affordable options for their supper table, but starting the conversation with science and statistics won’t open that door.

The “why” will.

Here’s mine:


What’s yours?




A Harvest Prayer

Nine years ago I received one of those phone calls that no wife wants to hear:

“Hey, honey, I’m okay but I had a little accident at work today…”

While transferring grain, Big C was using an extension cord to power a small electric motor. There was a problem with the cord, and it began to shock him. The electricity caused his hand muscles to tighten around the cord, leaving him unable to let go. He fell down and that’s what alerted our neighbor, who was helping at the farm that day, to see what was going on. He quickly realized what was happening and unplugged the cord, preventing any further injury.

My heart’s pounding right now as I write this, remembering that conversation.

He ended up with deep burns on his hand, but no other serious injuries. He was very fortunate that day. It wouldn’t have taken much for me to have received a very different phone call.


Farming is a dangerous business, consistently ranking in the top ten deadliest occupations in America, along with loggers, commercial fishermen, construction workers, and truck drivers. Farmers operate heavy machinery, work with animals, spend time outdoors in all types of weather conditions, climb tall structures and crawl into tight spaces, work long hours, and handle hazardous materials. And much of this work is done miles away from medical facilities, in places where cell phone service is sometimes spotty at best, adding precious seconds to response time in critical situations.

Not only do farmers have to be aware of their own activities, they also must watch out for people who don’t understand just how slowly large equipment moves down the road or how much time it takes to stop a loaded semi. Every year, I see people impatient to pass on narrow country roads, or crowding intersections where trucks need to make wide turns. According to the University of Illinois Extension, a car traveling at 55 mph when 400 feet behind a tractor traveling 15 mph only takes seven seconds to reach the tractor. Seven seconds. That’s not much time to avoid a collision.

Every year there are tragic stories of farm lives ended too soon, and even more near misses, whether realized at the time or not.

Technology has certainly made farming much safer today than it was a century ago. Our machinery is safer, with features like warning lights, system monitoring computers, and autosteer. Personal protective equipment like gloves, goggles, and respirators are used when handling fertilizer, herbicide, and manure. Remote cameras can be used to monitor grain bins and livestock barns. But farmers still incur a significant amount of risk every single day.

Mike Rowe, host of Dirty Jobs, coined the slogan “Safety Third” on the show, after realizing that if safety was purely the top priority, very little work would actually get done. He writes: “Risk is everywhere. It can be understood and managed, but never eliminated. Risk is first. Getting the job done is second.”

And that puts safety a very near and very important, third.



Every morning I pray for farmers, especially mine and especially during planting and harvest, to work hard and think clearly, to react appropriately and with safety (even third) in mind. I pray that others they interact with also show good judgement and respect in their actions, and that my evening prayer can be one of thanksgiving, for another day when everyone goes home in one piece to their families, even if that day really ends in the wee hours of the next one.