Commentary: Tariffs, fake news and more


I'm asked occasionally about my own views on various issues important to agriculture and our country. What that happens, I shrug and say, "I'm just a journalist. What I think is irrelevant to the news articles I write."

But this is a column, personal views are acceptable here. Unlike a news article, which tries to provide an objective look at something, a column presents the author's opinion or judgment. The opinions and judgements that follow, whether right or wrong, are sincere and weren't arrived at quickly or lightly.

Crop pests: Weed, insects and crop disease continue to evolve and adjust, so what experts call "integrated management" becomes increasingly important. That means, among other things, mixing up modes of action and sites of action in pesticide use, expanding crop rotations, possibly making greater use of beneficial insects and maybe even (sigh) pulling weeds by hand.

GMOs, global warming: No rational person can dispute that smoking is bad, that the Earth is round and that the sun is the center of our solar system; the evidence is utterly conclusive. The science isn't so clear-cut on GMOs and global warming. But the preponderance of scientific evidence clearly indicates that GMO foods are safe for human consumption and that global warming is real, with human activity the primary cause.

Trade: U.S. agriculture, foreign consumers and the world in general are vastly better off because of American ag exports. What's more, the future prosperity of many U.S. ag producers depends in large part on selling more of their commodities to overseas buyers. Decide for yourself whether President Donald Trump's trade policies will hurt or help to achieve that. But don't let pro- or anti-Trump sentiment cloud your recognition of ag exports' huge importance.

Dealing with the public: Agriculturalists once tried to influence the public by "educating" it. But the public often saw that, not without justification, as condescending. Another mistake was using "win-the-debate-by-controlling-the-language" tactics; confinement livestock operators referring to cages as "individualized housing," for instance. Playing word games only intensified public skepticism.

Now, folks in ag stress the importance of "having conversations" with consumers. That means farmers and ranchers talking respectfully to nonagriculturalists about what they do on their farms and ranches, and why they do it. I don't know how successful this approach ultimately will be, but it's bound to be better than condescension and word games.

'Fake news': It's not fake news to report that many in U.S. ag are worried about tariffs. It's not fake news to report that crop prices are poor. It's not fake news to report that many area crops suffered from too much heat and too little moisture in August. Dismissing anything we don't what to hear as "fake news" hurts us as agriculturalists, citizens and human beings.

'The media' : Frankly, I don't like some of today's so-called journalism. It's a calculated blend of entertainment and partisanship that caters to its target market. MSNBC tells liberals what they want to hear, Fox News tells conservatives what they want to hear.

But that's not true of all, or even most, journalism. I'm 2018 national president of North American Agricultural Journalists. Our members, Canadian and U.S. journalists, strive to provide readers with reliable and useful ag information, even — or perhaps especially — when it's not what readers want to hear.

That's our mission here at Agweek, too. You won't agree with everything we report to you, but it's always our best, honest effort.