Dirty laundry is out in the open now


With the summer’s big holiday just ahead and the midpoint of the year just behind, it’s time to empty the office bucket of spleen, venom, anger and an occasional kiss readers vented, hurled, sent and tossed my way.

First, some corrections. “As a farmer and a Spanish teacher, I felt compelled to correct the spelling of ‘Colombia’ in your recent column,” e-mailed Diane D. April 14. Teacher Diane was kind; actually, I misspelled the name of the South American nation (it’s Colombia, not Columbia) in cahoots for a free trade deal with the U.S. six (six!) times in 600 words.

Farm Bureau

I did, however, spell it correctly once — in a quote from an American Farm Bureau document supporting the trade pact. The Farm Bureau right and me wrong? Wow, talk about a sign of the coming apocalypse.

A line in a February tribute to mark the death of former Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz brought farmers the country over to Old Fencerow-to-Fencerow’s defense.

One writer captured their beef best: “You stated … ‘Soviet buying failed to keep up with expanding U.S. production,’” as one reason why Earl’s go-go ’70s went-went in the ’80s.’”

Not so, he wrote.

“You forgot to mention … the grain embargo President Carter imposed on the U.S.S.R. for their invasion of Afghanistan … I look forward to the column where you publicly correct yourself.”

Bite the bullet

Look no longer, Randy K., Bill S. and others who e-mailed objections. Hey, once you admit American Farm Bureau Federation is right — at least once, anyway — the second bullet doesn’t sting half as much.

The year’s first buckshot arrived shortly after the year’s first column, a call by Fred Kirschenmann, a Distinguished Fellow at Iowa State University’s Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, for American ag to rethink (my words) its “petroleum-based, climate changing, water-sucking” ways.

“Fred Kirschenmann is clearly not a climatologist, nor even a scientist,” wrote William D., and “it is unfortunate that you ‘bought’ into his line of reasoning, because it is not supported by actual evidence.”

Helpfully, Dr. D.’s hefty letter did include his “actual” evidence: pages of graphs, charts, tiny type and a list of 132 references (“if you wish to check them”) “to learn the reasons … behind the ‘Global Warming” hoax.”


Hoax? Read on, McDuff. In May, six months after a November 2007 column highlighted University of Illinois research on the “myth of nitrogen fertilization and carbon sequestration,” another Ph.D., this one from the University of Missouri, e-mailed to say I had been bamboozled badly by poorly interpreted data, my shortcomings in statistical analysis and, well, my yet- undiagnosed terminal stupidity.

“You got sucker-punched,” wrote the doc. “You swallowed the (authors’) article about N and the Morrow Plots hook, line and sinker and got reeled in. The column you wrote about it helped spread the stupidity.”

Not your average academic disagreement, eh? The data, the Mizzou researcher explained, did not support the authors’ claim that U.S. agriculture’s heavy use of nitrogen fertilizer was, literally, burning up our most productive soils.

Common sense

“If you don’t have any common sense,” the e-mailer concluded, “data doesn’t do you any good. They (the authors) don’t have any common sense. I’ll assume that you just didn’t read it closely enough.”

Hey, thanks for the generous assumption. I guess.

By far, the column that brought the most response was a May effort about praying while waiting for better planting weather. Complimentary calls, letter and e-mails rained down faster than, uh, spring rain.


One incredibly perceptive reader concluded his lengthy, lovely praise this way: “I am sure they don’t pay you nearly enough.” Indeed they don’t. Then again, I’m paid what everyone else who misspells Colombia is paid.

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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



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