Dear Mr. Apples and Oranges

Another final column of the year and, as is the custom, another year where readers will have the final word. Some of their words are bitter, some are sweet and all arrive with either red hot passion or cold blue conviction.

Take the mid-August email that started, “You didn’t do a very good job of disguising your Republican prejudice in ‘Fair food, circus fare’…”

The missive went into great detail about how my “out of context use” of U.S. Department of Agriculture data on farm program costs was similar to the technique that “has made Rush Limbaugh a multimillionaire…”

Its hallmark was my “flawed… statement [that] mixes apples and oranges” in comparing “a program designed to allocate payment in relationship to production to a population count of farmers.”

I did that? I assure all it was done, ah, well, unknowingly.

Subtraction

I do know, however, that most people go into journalism because it’s inside work that requires no heavy lifting and they/me find math a messy mystery. And I’m not talking differential equations; I’m talking, sadly, subtraction.

That was proven again when I muddled the simple math of simple quote in an early December column. The quote, from The New York Times, noted that American businesses, in the just-completed third quarter, had pocketed profits of $1.659 trillion on an annualized basis.

That means the quarter’s earnings were “… more like $425 billion, correct?” wrote a fellow pencil-pusher from South Dakota who actually can do simple division.

Correct, so why did I write—geez, in the very next sentence—big biz had earned the $1.7 trillion in just three months? Hmm, math is Greek to me?

Error

Too easy, wrote another reader who also caught my error. “If you mess up on something so simple one wonders how bad you mess up on more complex topics.”

Fair point, and one that will be addressed with sweaty diligence in 2011.

Who is to blame?

Another December emailer took me to the woodshed because “Every column explains to us how big businesses/ big government are at fault for all the problems in the food industry…” while “it is never the poor farmer that has any responsibility for being victimized…”

And, the note continued, “It must be boring for you as the writer to always know how your articles are going to come out. A good guy and a bad guy and the good guy is always the farm sector. My hope is that this letter might relieve that boredom.”

An email in response to a summer column that featured Sen. Blanche Lincoln, the then-embattled chair of the Senate Ag Committee and the now-defeated Dem senator from Arkansas, began with a right hook to the jaw: “I don’t know who is less intelligent, you or that moron Lincoln.”

It continued with “People like yourself and Blanche don’t understand how capital markets function” and ended with the stern order to “Re-write your article with more common sense this time around.”

Most of this year’s correspondence wasn’t that head-cracking angry. One even noted that my use of “satire, irony, hyperbole—all of it—(shows) that you got it! Too bad so many folks out there just don’t get it!”

Several emailers, like this one from Iowa, asked that their comments “…be treated as a suggestion and not something to be quoted in your column.” Golly, how’s a fella’ to make a livin’?

Others wrote to relate their experiences with school bus bullies, knee-buckling fear during confirmation inquisitions, and the fabulous farm-raised, farm-prepared food of their farm youth—three topics I wrote about in 2010, also.

Next up is 2011, 51 more columns and more reader mail. Keep those cards, letters and electrons coming.

About the Author

Alan Guebert was raised on an 800-acre, 100-cow southern Illinois dairy farm. After graduation from the University of Illinois in 1980, he served as a writer and editor at Professional Farmers of America, Successful Farming magazine and Farm Journal magazine. His syndicated agricultural column, The Farm and Food File, began in June, 1993, and now appears weekly in more than 70 publications throughout the U.S. and Canada. He and spouse Catherine, a social worker, have two adult children. farmandfoodfile.com More Stories by Alan Guebert

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