The two previous columns briefly outlined reasons for the large changes in agriculture over the last century and the results of those changes for the society. Also discussed were the effects these changes had on the practice of agriculture. Now, let’s wrap it up and discuss how these changes changed agricultural producers themselves. Please keep in mind these are general trends that don’t necessarily mean everyone producing food, fiber, or fuel or that today is bad and a century ago was better or vice-versa..
• Producers have become much less self-sufficient. A century ago a farm was typically an extremely diversified operation combining crop and livestock operation. While they produced surpluses for sale in the market, they also produced the majority of the items they consumed and even used on the farm. They were less reliant on outside inputs for their operations. They were more dependent on labor a century ago and less dependent on cash for their inputs.
• Agricultural producers are still a very independent group compared to much of society. However, today the agricultural community as a whole is more interconnected through a variety of groups (Co-Ops, producer groups, and advocacy groups like Farm Bureau). It’s not that Ag a century ago didn’t have these linkages but today these linkages are more vital to their success.
• Besides being interconnected personally, they now think outside the boundaries of their own operation, county, and even state. Complex local, state, national, and even international regulations impact their livelihood. They realize their operation has a variety of impacts on their neighbors and others throughout the region and vice-versa.
• Producers were always managers of their operations but today that role has expanded. While most farmers certainly work long hours in their operations, today’s producer also works long hours as the “executive” managing the operation.
• Producers today think much more globally. They pay attention to soybeans in Brazil, wheat from Australia, oil prices and OPEC, and free trade agreements. They can likely tell you about the position of the E.U. on GMO crops and its impact on prices. A century ago, a producer could be fairly well insulated from the larger society and world. Today it’s vital they understand the world as a whole.
• Producers today are salesman and spokespersons. Compared to a century ago, producers are advocates for their industry, defenders of their profession, and educators to help society understand what they do.
There is certainly more. What makes a good farmer and rancher hasn’t really changed over a century but what has changed is the scope of their profession and the tools at their disposal.