The semester at Barton is now in full swing. Tests have been taken, assignments turned in, and progress is being made. A new class in the Agriculture curriculum, Concepts for Agriculture, is designed to expose our Ag students receiving an AAS instead of an AS degree to materials that they otherwise wouldn’t receive. The materials and concepts range from Newton’s Laws of Motion to chemistry and hydrology to mathematics, measurements and terminology for agriculture. While great depth isn’t possible, students are exposed to materials and concepts useful in future coursework and in their jobs. So what does that have to do with language?
Every profession or discipline has its own terminology, phraseology, and unique meanings for words. Farming and ranching are no exception and students quickly learn there are many terms whose meaning isn’t clear. Some terms are unique to agriculture in general, some to the Great Plains, and some unique to Kansas and our area in particular. With that in mind, how many of the following terms ring a bell?
• Soil terms – coarse and fine textured; heavy and light soil; gumbo; sugar sand; slick spot, shelter belt. When a producer in the area says “the earth is moving”, they don’t mean what most people mean.
• Crop terms – sleepy; wet feet; green snap; feed; test weight; row-feet. Older famers mean something completely different when they use the term maize.
• Irrigation terms – circle corner; acre-feet; end gun; gravity; flood; drops; fertigation; chemigation.
• Animal terms – breaking water; staggers; stocker; feeder; RFV, ADF, NDF, TDF.
Those are just a small sample of terms. Many of you may know most or all of them. Why bring this up? We live in an age of instant communication, e-mail, texting, tweeting, Skype, and even the good old fax. Yet do we really communicate effectively? Lots of words aren’t needed but the right ones are critical. In any area, you must know the language so everyone is on the same page. Even people in the same field have to be careful since there are regional differences.
One of the concerns brought to us by our advisory boards is the poor communication skills of many job applicants. If you are spraying a farmer’s field with herbicide and miscommunciate the location, rate, or product; bad things can happen. The same holds true in all aspects of agriculture. As agriculture becomes more technical; inputs more costly; production more valuable; and regulations often more complex; knowing what we are saying to other doesn’t just make life easier, it may be the difference between profit and loss.
Finally, when trying to communicate with a group of people you aren’t part of and persuade them to your side, you better not talk down to them or over them but to them. You better know the language. Many years ago at a livestock show, I noticed a group of animal rights activists picketing in front of the complex with various signs. They were being polite, just carrying their signs. The one that caught my eyes said: “It’s Cruel to Milk Steers.” I couldn’t have agreed more. Next week we can hopefully talk about wet soil and wheat planting.
Dr. Victor L. Martin is the agriculture instructor/coordinator for Barton Community College. He can be reached at 620-792-9207, ext. 207.