Farmers face backlash for comments in Washington Post

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When you’ve been in the ag journalism game for almost 40 years, few things surprise you. Floods, droughts, market crack-ups, political crockery, price fixing: none of it is shocking anymore. 

And, yet, on June 21, the Washington Post published a farm-based story that made even this graybeard marvel at how tone deaf and superior-sounding rural politics has become too much of the non-farming nation. 

Tone matters

Even more startling was the reader reaction to that growing tone-deafness. Within four days of the piece being published, nearly 5,000 readers posted online comments; almost all were soaked with contempt and sarcasm for the featured farmers, who farm 15,000 acres in South Dakota, and by association, rural America in general. 

In fairness, the farmers and others quoted in the story only related what almost every farmer and rancher has thought or said this troubled year: it’s getting tough out here. 

How they said it, though, undermined almost every ounce of empathy readers might have had for that message. 

Farmers’ thoughts. It began with one farmer noting “This trade thing”—Mexico, in this instance—“is going to kill us.” 

Next, more tough-minded, toughly worded quotes tumbled out as the farmers and their rural neighbors listed their worries and explained their views: 

The latest farmer bailout package, estimated at a staggering $16 billion, “is like putting a Band-Aid on a bleeding artery. It’s not going to save anybody.” 

“Trump’s going to do right by us… and get this straightened out.” 

“I always say the West Coast and East Coast can each be a country and the rest of us will be just fine.” 

“Here in flyover country, we have everything we need—food, oil…” 

Then came the swift and searing replies. 

Reader reactions

Here’s a sampling of the more printable comments: 

“They disdain the coastal elites who pay their bills. They hate socialism that they rely on. They complain about taxes they barely pay. The sheer ignorance of thinking they feed us (when) it’s us feeding them.” 

“Coastal elites? It might surprise those farmers that the majority of the folks on the coasts don’t live in penthouses and make millions a year. I don’t pretend to know what it takes to be a farmer. Please don’t assume you know what it’s like to live in a city on either coast.” 

“I’m kinda wondering where the heck they think the rest of food comes from, like food that isn’t corn, wheat or soybeans.” 

“These poor (expletive deleted) states need us and not the other way around… I hope every last one of them loses their farm…” 

In contrast, the number of farmer-defending comments were too few to count. When one does appear, responding readers pummel the defender and the argument. So what’s going on here?

Part of it is simply piling on. Angry, Trump-bashing non-farmers see a chance to vent against “rich” farmers and they willingly join the rising chorus. 

Generational conflict

The bigger part, though, is more troubling: American farmers and ranchers have a growing problem with today’s younger, better educated, more influential generation of eaters who are unafraid to challenge Big Ag’s views on GMOs, trade, politics, global warming and the scornful pats on the head—rather than real answers—they receive to their serious questions about quality, cost and consequences of today’s farm and food policies. 

As such, the almost automatic, guaranteed political support farmers and ranchers once received from the public is quickly draining. 

Political divisions, now steeped in today’s unbridled rhetoric, have split most of the remaining support along widening rural/urban lines. 

The implications

Farmers and ranchers are, of course, free to reject the Post story as liberal or elitist and its reader comments as biased or uninformed. 

What can’t be dismissed, however, is that almost 5,000 people reacted angrily to a story told through the voice of rural America. If that means anything, it means that American agriculture has a bigger problem than either weather or trade, and this one won’t be solved by turning inward or telling others to butt out. 

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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

9 COMMENTS

  1. When they are starving to death and their worthless politicians are hiding, maybe, just maybe the Sheeple will finally ” get it ” !

  2. What will it take for farmers to see what their devotion to the outmoded bigotry of Donald Trump has cost them — and us? Their hero doesn’t understand tariffs, so they lose overseas sales. Their hero hates the sight of brown skin, so they lose thousands of immigrant farmers who are happy to be able pick thousands of pounds of produce at low prices in order to feed their families. And they stubbornly defend him, as though the Kool-Aid source is never-ending. Why should anyone feel sorry for them? Even coastal eliters can grow enough corn and beans in the back yard to feed themselves, never mind the rest of us midwesterners (I’m in Ohio). They think we’re spoiled and soft, but it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to hoe a row of beans.

  3. In the gospel of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, as well as the Revelations of John, Jesus and his angel warn of food shortages. in my youth, I had wondered how this could happen as food was the most abundant, safest and cheapest in the history of mankind …it is now crystal clear. People have taken food for granted, the EXTREME government regulations and the pathetic ideals of much of the non-farm people of America AND the world are accelerating these prophesies quickly. Wake up and be prepared!!

  4. They have allowed a bigoted, immoral fraud to speak to the worst in them: he knows nothing about tariffs, so they sell less overseas; still, they say he’ll “save them.” He hates brown-skinned people, so their crops rot in the fields awaiting inexpensive, eager immigrant labor to harvest them; the farmers say good, put them in cages. An increasingly aware society objects to factory farms that erase anything natural from the way animals are grown for consumption, and the addition of chemicals to seed crops; the farmers say ‘shut up and eat, we’re the ones feeding you.’ And when all these decisions result in failed farms, they’ll take the government subsidies and never acknowledge it’s welfare. Nope. No pity.

  5. “Trump’s going to do right by us… and get this straightened out.”
    I simply cannot comprehend how one farmer – just one – can still believe that.

  6. I hope nobody’s losing sight of the fact that many of these farmers are acknowledging the damage that Trump’s trade, immigration, and climate policies have caused or will worsen.

    Instead of being at each others’ throats, we should be listening and looking for opportunities to address the most egregious errors of this administration together. I’m a liberal city girl, but worried about the impact on farmers when the immigration dog-whistling started, and I do not believe for one hot second that our heartland farmers spare no thought for toddlers sleeping on concrete. None of us want this, and none of us will benefit in the short or the long term. Where do we go from here?

  7. I hope no-one’s losing sight of the fact that many farmers are now condemning the failures of this administration’s trade, immigration, and climate policies despite being a critical part of the base.

    I’m a liberal city girl and worried for the farmers when the immigration dog-whistling started early in the campaign. Many of us knew this was coming and are not happy to see more family farms on the edge. We understand our dependence and care about the folks who feed us, safely and affordably, at great personal cost and risk, year in and year out. And I don’t believe for one hot second that our heartland farmers, most with children and grandchildren of their own, have no care for toddlers crying for their mothers on cold concrete. I just don’t. I believe many farmers understand better than most that this administration has gone too far, too foolishly, and I am proud of their courage in taking the heat – from both sides.

    Let’s stick with the many issues we do agree on and force this administration to roll back these harmful policies.

  8. Moderator: I believe you’re getting multiple repetitive comments because users see no visible notice that submitted comments are awaiting moderation. This should be a very simple fix for IT.

    Thanks for your work and have a great day!

  9. Shame on all of you for bashing farmers. Did you all forget what most of your ansestors did to support their families? It’s because of their 24/7 job as a farmer that made it possible for your grandma or grandpa to go to college. And most of them were the first ones in their families able to do that.

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