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Thursday, August 16, 2012

What's your sign?

During corn harvest, I kept getting a link to an article about how farmers have always put signs near their farms and fields, but recently they have come to mean something totally different to those who have no ties to agriculture.  I read this post about why people living in Chicago think farms are owned by corporations. You can read it here.

I had never thought that a seed company sign along side a field would make someone think that the field is owned by a corporation.  This got me to thinking about what my friends, family and followers on Facebook thought when they see some of these signs.To try to get a grasp of what my Facebook Followers thought of these signs I posted this picture on my Facebook Page. (Click this link to see the comments.)

The responses were (for the most part) serious and concise and pretty much correct. I am glad my followers are so well educated on agriculture. Some were quite entertaining to my boys, especially the one about flying corn yields.  This is actually not a sign on our property, but on The Farmer's cousins.  The sign lets other farmers know what brand of corn (Dekalb), what variety (DKC 52-61), and any special traits (RIB) about the particular corn in that field.  This is simply a way for people who sell seed to advertise their products.  Farmers as a whole are a skeptical group.  They want to see a variety grown on someone else's farm before they invest a year of labor and fertilizer into a crop.  I assure you that Monsanto does not own one acre of this field.

In the whole scheme of things the above sign is not different from this sign:

We have all seen these signs around construction sites.  Most of the time these construction companies are merely providing a service to the home owner and are advertising.  The seed companies are merely advertising "aggie style" to try to gain the business of the farmer's in the area.

Occasionally, you will see a whole string of these signs along the side of a field.  This is called a test plot.  A bunch of different varieties have been planted side by side to see which one is the best.  If the farmers are lucky, there will be seeds from different companies all planted together.  Think of it as a mini competition.  The companies want to prove that their seed is the best for that particular area.

I asked for comments on one more sign on my page that did not get as many comments or as many positive comments.

This  sign is actually on one of our friends farms.  I wondered if it was the name Tyson that reduced the comments or that it was one of those "factory farms"  where birds are raised in a building that got all the negative comments. 

To clear things up:
  • This farm is owned by a family not Tyson.
  • One of our longtime friends puts in many hours working on his farm and his kids, that are about the same age as our boys, help him just as ours do.
  • Our farmer friend is what they call a "Contract Grower."  Tyson supplies the birds, delivers the feed, and harvests the birds.  Our friend is paid on how well he keeps the birds healthy and comfortable.
  • The main reason they have these signs is so the truck drivers can find the correct farms for feed deliveries, chick delivery, catch crews and live haul drivers.
  • The chickens will be sold under the umbrella of Tyson when they get to the grocery store.
My friend also wanted to add that Tyson understands that you can not hire the competitive spirit of the American Farmer, but you can include that most precious resource into your business model, and grow one of the largest food suppliers in the world.  He added there is another poultry contractor in the area that does have company owned farms as well as contract growers.  The company owned farms actually compete with its contract growers and typically do poorly compared to those who do own their farms, because you can not replace the work ethic of someone who is invested in the farms profitability.

My boys have tried to raise free range poultry the last 2 summers.  It is not as easy as it would appear.  My cows and calves do fine outside, but the predators in our area are not kind to my kids obsession with poultry.  They decided this year it was easier to keep coyotes away from their lambs than it was to keep birds alive.  To get a consistent quality product and to produce enough to feed our growing planet, we need to raise chickens and other poultry in buildings like these.  Maybe I can get my friend to give me another tour of his farm sometime so I can show you the finer points of chicken raising.  It is not as easy as one would think.

I hope this clears up a little confusion about the thought that corporate America is taking over farming.  98% of American farms are still family owned.  We buy our seed from corporations and some of our livestock is supplied by these huge companies, but it is still us, the farm families working together doing the work to keep food on your dinner table.  

I did want to add my favorite answer from the Dekalb sign picture by someone in our small town.  It brought a smile to all of our faces when we read it.  "Somebody's farming corn, making their living from working the land sun up to sun down. Long hours with no certain guarantee there will be anything to harvest come shucking time. There may be crop insurance and government subsidies, but nothing can take out the sting of all that time and effort withering away, pummeled to the ground by hail or eaten by voracious insects. That's farming and that signs says, "We're burnin' daylight! Let's get moving!" (nod to John Wayne)."  Pretty much sums up the farming way of life doesn't it.

I do have one final question :  What if the Dekalb sign had said Monsanto instead? Would it have changed the image of the sign to the non-ag community?  By the way, Dekalb is owned by Monsanto.

Do you still have questions?  Leave a comment here or on my Facebook Page.

-A Kansas Farm Mom  

I have shared this post on Deborah Jeans Dandelion House Blog for the Farmgirl Friday Blog Hop.  Go check out some other interested Farmgirls!