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Editor’s Note: How we talk among ourselves

Again I’ve been told our farm business focus means Country Guide has stopped writing for real farmers, which is to say that if you read us, you’re no longer playing for the home team.

To be honest, the charge doesn’t come up all that often. I had expected it to come up more.

Still, it’s worth looking at for its own sake, and also for a second reason. While agriculture today pours resources and effort into talking to consumers, we too rarely think about how we talk to each other.

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Tom Button
Tom Button
Tom Button

Before going any further, can I say once more how impressed I am by the generosity of the farmers we interview. The easiest thing in the world would be for them to say no thanks, but when we explain why we want to talk to them, the answer is almost always, “How do we do it?”

If you think it’s vanity, I suggest putting yourselves in their shoes. We ask personal questions — often deeply personal questions on sensitive family subjects, and farmers answer them.

Our farmers also know that any story we do is going to be read by their neighbours and relations, not always with perfect charity.

So, yes, it’s nice to be asked your opinion. But you wouldn’t give it if you didn’t think you were being part of the fine agricultural tradition of sharing with others just as they have shared with you.

Of course, readers will know without my saying that I’m deeply impressed too by the business energy and skill we find. I often talk in this space about farmers as “smart people making smart decisions.” Honestly, where would you go to find better?

Yet I also believe in an 80:20 rule. Any successful farmer has to put 80 per cent of their effort into better field or barn performance, compared to 20 per cent into business strategizing, the same as any automotive executive or banker.

Still, that 20 per cent has enormous, lifetime consequences, for good or ill, and is surely worth the ink we give it, especially because we, like you, are finding that business and production management are overlapping more every day.

The one thing that is remaining constant are the core values — family, and pride. If I thought that harnessing their business talent meant that farmers would care less about family, or care less about the dignity of agriculture, I’d have another think too. But it doesn’t, and they haven’t.

The truth is, it’s one of the finest ways to think about agriculture — a diverse community united by their most closely held values.

It’s true across the generations, it’s true across the country, and it’s true among neighbours as well.

In fact, while we put so much emphasis on how we talk to consumers, we’d do well to get more practice at articulating how we see these core values at play around us.

Try it as an exercise. Pick a neighbour, especially one who takes a different approach than you, and then finish the sentence, “You can tell the Clarks have great farm values because…”

Are we getting it right? Let me know at [email protected].

About the author

Editor

Tom Button is editor of Country Guide magazine.

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