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That Paul Harvey farmer commercial -- here's the rest of the story

February 04, 2013|By Russ Parsons

Craggy grizzled faces shot in black and white. Paul Harvey extolling the old-fashioned virtues of hard work and self-reliance that so exemplifies the way we see ourselves. What's not to like about the Dodge farmers commercial that aired during the Super Bowl?

Well, plenty, actually. And many thanks to the brilliant Rachel Laudan for analyzing them so nicely. In her essay --  "God Made a Farmer. Oh Really?" --  Laudan argues that though that commercial made us all feel really good, it actually does farming a disservice by repeating images stuck in the past.

According to the Department of Agriculture's 2007 Census of Agriculture, today's farmers are getting pretty old -- the average age is 57 -- and they may well be grizzled; fewer than half earn enough from farming to cover expenses (so much for that shiny new pick-em-up truck!).

But as Laudan points out, here's the rest of the story:

"The last farmer in the video is driving what appears to be a 9R John Deere tractor.  That comes in at about $250,000-$380,000.  If his land is good quality cropland in the Middle West, it's likely to be about $5,000 an acre. If he has a dairy, the family has been using artificial insemination for at least 50 years, tracking milk production with minute care.

"He uses computer software to manage the farm.  He has a global positioning system to help him manage crops.  He follows the agricultural press (especially prices) carefully and goes on regular farm visits to see what new tricks he can learn.

"He's a business man. He has to stay on top of the market. He has a large capital investment, a big loan, and he worries about whether he can send his kid to college. And if he can't, well then there's no future as a farmer.”

This should not in any way diminish our sympathy for the farmer, but only remind us of the importance of viewing him in a contemporary context. We may love the image of a charming rustic, but today’s reality is that making enough money to hold on to his land takes a lot more than that.

Today's farmer may well fix his equipment with baling wire and elbow grease, but then he goes online to find out how almond sales are going in India.

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