For years, environmentalists, government workers, and others have been puzzled about why more farmers don’t make use of environmentally friendly land management practices. Now, researchers have found some of the reasons farmers persist in farming the way they do; and why they don’t listen to outside experts. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham has more:
For years, environmentalists, government workers and others have been
puzzled about why more farmers don’t make use of environmentally friendly
land management practices. Now, researchers have found some of the reasons
farmers persist in farming the way they do and why they don’t listen to
outside experts. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
When you walk into Fran and Marilyn’s diner you immediately smell bacon and
coffee. It’s still dark and this is the only storefront open this early in
the morning in Jerseyville, Illinois. Local merchants, blue-collar workers
and farmers meet here to catch up on the local gossip. This is a place where
most people wear jeans and work boots. Belts with big buckles are fitted
with leather holsters to hold pliers or side cutters. No one wears their cap
As farmers ramble in, they eye the guy with the tie and microphone
suspiciously. After asking more than a dozen farmers over a three hour
period to talk, only one was willing to sit down with us.
That’s to be expected according to recent research on the behavior of
farmers. One of the major findings was that farmers don’t trust outsiders
very much. So, we came here to find if that was true.
Clayton Isringhausen farms land just outside of town. He agrees with the
researchers at the University of Illinois who found farmers for the most
part just want to be left alone.
“You know, that’s one of the reasons, probably, a lot of us do farm because we think we can make our own decisions and produce the products the way that we think is the best way to do it and we don’t want anyone trying to tell us anything different.”
Isringhausen says judging from his friends and neighbors, the researchers
were right when they found that farmers don’t trust outsiders… or at least
the organizations they represent… especially if they’re with government
regulators or environmental groups.
“I don’t think farmers distrust them because of the individual. They may distrust them because of who they’re involved with. ”
And the researchers found that distrust extends to just about anyone outside
of the farming community. The researchers say farmers tend to make decisions
based on their own experience, or on the advice of neighbors, or recommendations from the manager of the local grain elevator where they buy
feed, pesticides, and seed. Not because someone in a tie tells them what
they ought to do.
David Wilson is one of the University of Illinois researchers who questioned
hundreds of farmers about how they make decisions.
“Farmers are like many, many other people where they create in their own minds, in their own imaginings, a sense of villains and victims and salvationists to their way of life.”
And Wilson found most farmers see themselves as the victims… and government
agencies that interfere with their lifestyles, such as the Environmental
Protection Agency… as the villains. So when government programs or
environmental groups try to persuade farmers to stop using certain
pesticides that cause pollution problems, or to till the soil differently to
reduce erosion, or to stop using growth enhancing hormones in livestock,
farmers tend to get defensive.
(truck and grain elevator sounds)
Ted Stouffe farms 350 acres and also works at the grain elevator in Shipman,
Illinois. He says some environmental groups seem to be reasonable, but he
thinks others have hidden agendas.
“If they’re truly what they say they are, I have no problem with that. But I think that there’s somebody or something out there is trying to lead – excuse the expression – city people to believe that we’re creating a monster out here. And, whoever that is needs to be stopped, and they really don’t know the issue.”
Getting past that suspicion is difficult. Many environmental groups don’t
make a lot of progress in working with farmers. Chris Campany is with the
National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture, a coalition of farm
organizations, environmental groups, and others. Campany says the trick is
to find farmers who are good stewards of the land, respected by
environmentalists and by farmers, and work with them to help find common
ground between the groups. He says the next step is getting rid of
pre-conceived notions and asking the important questions.
“Why’s the farmer doing what he or she is doing in the first place? What are they responding to? And what are some examples out there of alternative ways to do things that not only may be more environmentally sound, but may be more economically viable too?”
But the researchers at the University of Illinois found that economic
argument only goes so far. Again, David Wilson…
“Many outsiders have gone into the farming community and said ‘We can change these guys’ practices if we can make an economic appeal to them.’ But, it’s really much more complex than that because farmers don’t just think economically. Farmers think in ways that are highly personal to them.”
And until those outsiders understand that, the researchers say they won’t
have a whole lot of influence with farmers.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.