On the Farm, Privacy Seems to Be a Thing of the Past

Husker Home Place

At what point did farmers become suspicious people that needed to be watched?

Published on: July 30, 2013

Those of us with a bunch of young children still at home know that privacy is almost unheard of. Phone calls, “Mom and Dad” conversations about the children, colorful metaphors uttered at an inopportune time at an uncooperative cow, are all being listened to by alert little ears. Every word Dad utters will be repeated at an awkward moment, usually in a crowd, at a quiet time when everyone can hear it, by a little one trying to get attention. These little guys are like sponges who have absorbed every embarrassing moment experienced by their parents, and they have a hair-trigger, ready to spout out to the public at any moment.

Farmers in general are probably feeling the same way lately. It seems that federal agencies feel the need to verify environmental compliance by flying airplanes over farming operations, and coincidentally, farm homes as well. But, it’s a little different than flying over power plants, because farmers and their families typically live where they work.


The answers to questions about this issue have been that the flyovers are warranted, and are employed as tools of efficiency, to save on the cost of manpower on the ground. The biggest issue for farm and ranch families hasn’t necessarily been the flyovers, but the fact that they weren’t told ahead of time in a public setting that they would take place.

EPA as of late through Freedom of Information Act requests has also been offering up private information about farmers to people who may wish harm to the farmers or their families. In this case, EPA contends that the releases of information about farmers and their families are allowed under the law. However, because of pending lawsuits by farm groups over the actions, to their credit, EPA has decided to hold off on further releases to future FOIA requests until legal issues are resolved.

Perhaps, as single actions, these incidents may not seem that bad. But, overall, they seem to signal a changing attitude toward farms and farmers. There was a time not long ago when consumer surveys showed farmers and ranchers as some of the most trusted folks in the land, right up there with doctors. It wasn’t long ago when farmers were revered for their efficiency, for their noble endeavors at feeding the world. When did this all change? When did farmers become so sinister that we needed to be watched? And, who is watching those who are watching us, to make sure information is not misused? These are all good questions I throw out there.

I don’t expect privacy in my own bathroom with a toddler running around the house. But, perhaps, as Congress wrangles over major policy as we inch ever so slowly toward some kind of Farm Bill, policy makers might take a moment to address the unique differences between federal monitoring of most businesses, and monitoring farmers, who typically live with their families and work at the same location. Maybe common sense policy could be written that would maintain EPA’s ability to monitor operations and collect data for environmental law compliance, but safeguard basic personal family information. Some assurances could be written into policy that might protect farm families, prevent future legal issues and alleviate the unsettled anxiety farmers and their families might be experiencing because of these actions.

So, here is this week’s discussion question. What are your greatest privacy concerns as farmers? You can share your thoughts and comments here.

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Check out Nebraska Farmer online for the latest news on the growing and grazing season. You can read my new print column – Bow Creek Chronicles – in Nebraska Farmer magazine, or follow Husker Home Place on Twitter. And watch this blog this upcoming Friday for my “Field Editor’s Report” featuring the positive stories about the families who raise our food. Pass it on!