clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

America Needs Educated Farmers

Just don’t tell Iowa’s Kelvin Bell that.

Last night, I stumbled upon an article that contained comments about farmers that were so blatantly false that it left me unsure of whether to parody the article, or write an actual well-thought out response such as this.

It all started with a Scott Dochterman piece that appeared on the blog Land of 10. To be clear, my issue here is not with Scott or with Land of 10.

The article was about a former Iowa player whom, as a high school recruit from Nebraska, was shocked to learn that the University of Iowa didn’t have an agronomy program, and how the university makes up for that fact when recruiting farm kids.

Here is a quote from the beginning of said article: “At first I wanted to actually major in agronomy, but I learned very quickly that they didn’t have that…”

Scott would then go on to say that: “The reality runs counter to the stereotype television viewers see nearly every Saturday during football season. It’s almost cliché. Coming out of commercial breaks, networks often run B-roll video of farmers harvesting corn in the fall. Iowa football celebrates its agricultural heritage with an ANF sticker — America Needs Farmers — on its helmet, as well as an ANF corner of Kinnick Stadium with an ANF Hall of Fame.”

In the past, we’ve discussed what ANF is and what it actually does to help farmers vs what Iowa State does to help farmers, and we’ve given kudos to Iowa and Hayden Fry for creating a program to draw awareness to the plight of farmers.

But, you see, there’s this thing called cognitive dissonance.

Iowa puts the little gold sticker on their helmets, sell boatloads of merchandise (of which a very small amount of the profit goes to Farm Bureau/food banks), and talk about how much they do for agriculture. At the same time, Iowa fans call Iowa State “Moo-University”, call ISU students hicks, and generally portray an air of superiority over ISU fans.

Want an even better example of such thinking? Look no further than Kelvin Bell.

Dochterman would go on to get quotes from Kelvin Bell, Iowa’s recruiting coordinator. Here were his thoughts on this topic: “I think if you want to be a welder, you go to welder school… If you want to be in business, you go to the Wharton School of Business in Pennsylvania. If you want to be a farmer, you follow around a guy who farms because nine times out of 10 that guy didn’t go to college.”

“My father-in-law was a farmer, and he’ll tell you he went to the school of hard knocks. Every farmer that I know, I don’t know of any farmer waving a degree from any university. He is telling me from his experiences from years of doing it.”

First off, I’m not sure where he got his statistics from, and I highly doubt that knowing one farmer makes him knowledgeable about the agriculture industry. While the number of farmers with college degrees isn’t tracked in its entirety, the USDA has noted that around 35% of beginning farmers and nearly 24% of established farmers have college degrees, and the number of educated farmers is growing every year.

Secondly, let’s talk about the “school of hard knocks”. Like any industry, there is a certain amount of learning in agriculture that can’t come in a classroom, but offering up the suggestion of “Oh, just follow a farmer around if you want to learn how to farm” makes farming sound like it’s an easy thing to master. Hint: It is not. More on that later.

Finally, let’s talk about how Bell doesn’t know any farmers “waving a degree” from a university. Based on the one farmer he knows, that may be true, but this hack blogger who works in agriculture is waving around two degrees from a university. My father and brothers, who farm, all have degrees from Iowa State. Hell, most farmers I meet have a degree from a university; some studied agriculture, but there are many with business or other types of degrees.

This quote of Bell’s bothers me the most.

Few industries have embraced technology like agriculture. From the beginning of cultivation, our industry has made massive advances in nearly all agricultural sectors. Today, thousands of people can be fed with one farm – a feat that takes an incredible amount of technology. Farmers are using GPS guidance to steer their tractors, sensors to measure irrigation and drones to monitor plant health, and changing how they plant within a field based on soil type and organic matter.

Farmers have to be IT professionals, mechanics, accountants, agronomists, environmentalists and logistics coordinators all while having to sell the fruits of their labor in a complex global market.

Does it really seem possible to learn how to do all that by simply “following a farmer around?”

Farming is also business, and the experience gained in college helps farmers run their business. It also provides the backing needed to pursue off-farm income, which has become increasingly important in helping farm operations thrive.

America does need farmers, but farming has changed a lot from the days of learning to farm on the fly. America needs educated farmers, and agricultural schools like Iowa State University send college students back to the farm with the skills they need to succeed.

As Kelvin Bell said in closing: “Who wouldn’t want to be an Iowa football player and graduate with a degree from Iowa, America Needs Farmers, and then go farm? That is pretty cool.”

You know what’s cool? Giving the next generation of farmers the tools they need to succeed, not telling kids that farmers are both uneducated and that a college education won’t help them on the farm.

Here at Iowa State, we’ll just do our thing and continue Actually Helping Farmers.