The caller told me in clear and certain terms that he didn’t like what I’d written in an Agweek news article: that many U.S. farm organizations and commodity groups are deeply concerned about disruptions in American ag exports. “Fake news,” the caller said.
“Well,” I said, “you may disagree with their assessment. But it’s undeniably true that they’re worried. And it’s part of our job as journalists to report that.”
I don’t know if there was a sneer on the caller’s face, but I certainly heard one in his voice when he said, “You arrogant journalists” and hung up.
If you’ve read this column before, you know I’m no fan of most of the so-called journalists on Fox News and MSNBC. To me, they’re arrogant entertainers who shamelessly fawn over people in their political camp and mean-spiritedly ridicule people on the other side of the political spectrum.
But Upper Midwest ag journalists - we’re pretty humble folks. Every new day brings us (or at least me) fresh reminders of how much we don’t know.
I’ve written about countless crops: wheat, corn, soybeans, barley, canola, dry beans, potatoes, sugar beets, sunflowers, oats, sorghum, flax, lentils, chickpeas asparagus, honey, mustard and hay, among many others. Some of those crops come in multiple forms: spring wheat, winter wheat and durum, for example.
There’s livestock, too: beef, dairy, sheep, swine, hogs, turkeys, chickens and goats. I’ve even written about emus.
And of course there are weeds, insects, crop disease, fertilizer, pesticides, soil health, marketing, cash flow, the federal farm program, state and federal regulations, weather, storage, foreign trade, transportation - I could go on and on, but you get the point.
So much to learn, in so many different areas.
And sometimes there are things to relearn. For example, I had a pretty good idea of the major agronomic challenges in growing six-row barley. But two-row barley is becoming more common in the area, and in some ways growing it is entirely different - and so some relearning is needed.
I’m especially aware of how much I don’t know during the winter meeting season. The various farm shows and ag events feature so many smart, knowledgeable people who speak with expertise and enthusiasm.
Some are academics with advanced degrees and years of research in their specialty.
Some are commodity group leaders whose job, which they do well, is understanding and promoting their commodity.
Some are business people whose job, which they do well, is selling their company’s product.
And some are politicians trying to drum up support for themselves, their proposals and their party. Elected officials get a lot of flack, much of it deserved. But the majority of them, especially the ones who keep getting re-elected, are good at what they do.
Sometimes, when I’m listening to these speakers expound on their topics, I tell myself, “They’re specialists; of course they know a lot about this. I’m a generalist; my job is to know a little bit about a lot of subjects.” That helps slightly, but I still find myself wishing that I knew a little bit more about a few more things.
If you want to take your shots at area ag journalists, go ahead. We’re flawed, limited human beings - certainly I am - and despite our best efforts, we sometimes come up short.
But arrogance? I don’t think we’re guilty of that. The nature of our jobs - the near-constant reminders of all that we don’t know - works against it.
No, Upper Midwest ag journalists don’t grow arrogant.
We don’t get bored, either.