Talking Ag With The Enemy

Inside Dakota Ag

I get tongue-tied when trying to defend ag against a fast talking, vegan-loving, GMO-hating, aniti modern-ag advocate -- my sister-in-law!

Published on: April 12, 2013

Do you get tongue-tied when confronted by somebody who doesn’t like the way you farm?

I do.

When one of my sisters-in-law, who lives in California, announced over lunch that pasteurized milk was bad; that she didn’t want her girls getting all the extra hormones that were in milk produced in big factory farms; and that genetically modified foods were an abomination against nature about all I could manage was a weak, “Well, I don’t think so.”

I didn’t know what else to say quickly that would change her mind. I was more interested in why in the world she believed what she did.

I guess that's why I'm a reporter.  I like to listen. I'm  slow to develop my own opinions, and even slower to express them, and I like to edit and revise my first drafts of anything.

I really could use some talking points on ag issues that I could use in debates with my sister-in-law.

I picked up a few good lines recently from Sarah Bedgar Wilson, a farmer from Jamestown, N.D.

When she visits with urban women about agriculture, she uses terms they are familiar with.

If they ask about how much land she and her husband farm, she doesn’t talk about acres or bushels. She tells them how boxes of corn flakes or loaves of bread could be made from the corn and wheat they grow.

To illustrate what they contribute to the local economy, she doesn't talk dollars, payroll  or turnover rate. Instead, shetells them they do business with more than 50 stores in town in a typical month. She flipped through her checkbook one day to come up with the number.

Wilson can even explain variable rate fertilizing and seeding as a conservation measure in terms that urban women might appreciate.

When you’re going out for the evening, you don’t dump a whole bottle of expensive perfume on your head, Wilson explains, you dab just the right amounts on strategic places.

“I tell them that’s what we do with seed and fertilizer,” she says, “and then they get it.”

Wilson includes pictures of her kids in her blog, “Farmer On A Mission,” and sometimes tacks on a bible verse.

Most people want to know about farmers’ values and morals, she says.

When people ask why she farms she replies, “I feel called to be a steward of God’s creation."

I should have told my sister-in-law that most of the farmers and ranchers I’ve met -- including those who grow GMO corn and pasteurize their milk -- feel the same way.