Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Legacy of Agriculture

This post is in honor of my Grandpa Shelby Neelly, who was born July 28, 1904, and died at age 100.

Grandpa Neelly wasn't a person who sought the spotlight. He was larger than life, a big, barrel-chested guy who played football at K-State.

He was loud, especially at the end of his life when his hearing faltered and he evidently thought the rest of us were hard of hearing, too.

He could visit with anyone. He was a natural-born storyteller. Up to the day he died, he could share stories and had a better memory than I've ever thought about having.

He was one of the people who helped develop the rural electric cooperative in Pratt County back in the 1940s. He served on the Ninnescah Rural Electric Board and also the Kansas Rural Electric Cooperative board.

He was a farmer. He obviously believed in rural development.

So I guess it wasn't too much of a stretch to think of him while I was at the Profit Maximizer Wheat Summit last week in Wichita.

My favorite speaker was Dr. Jay Lehr of the Heartland Institute in Ostrander, Ohio. He challenged every person there to become a promoter of agriculture.

He was a grandfatherly figure, a guy who has spent five decades studying economics, agronomy, environmental science and business administration. Granted, he is a grandfatherly figure who is a competitive runner and who likes to jump out of airplanes on a regular basis. But that's another story.

He is a great cheerleader for American agriculture.

To introduce Dr. Lehr, they showed a video of him talking to people on the streets of San Francisco about fertilizer. I found it on youtube and have included it here. If you're involved in agriculture, you should watch the clip.

He's not really proposing that we become a public nuisance to strangers. He was making a point. We need to share our story, the story of modern agriculture.

The video was produced from seven hours of hidden camera footage. He talked to 65 different people. All but two of those encounters ended up in an animated discussion of agriculture, where the people asked questions and wanted to know more.

He wants the ag industry to know that people are interested in agriculture. And it's up to the American farmer and rancher to tell them about it.

If we don't, organizations like the Humane Society of the United States will do it for us.

I personally don't want HSUS talking for me. These are not the folks who want to find homes for wayward and unwanted dogs and cats. These are the people who want to do away with my way of life and my livelihood. They want everyone to be a vegetarian. They want agriculture to go back to the horse and buggy days.

They don't want the American public to know the truth about agriculture.

Lehr knows most farmers are more comfortable talking to their buddies at the coffee shop and comparing notes about how much rain was in the gauge.

But he insists that we need to get outside our comfort zones and talk to other people. Even people in our small towns don't always understand modern agriculture. They are much more likely to hear messages from environmentalists and believe agriculture is harming our planet.

"We know we as farmers have been sustainable for more than 100 years," Lehr said. "The world thinks farmers are screwing up the environment with all your inputs. They are convinced you are pouring gallons or barrels of chemicals on your crops."

So how does a farmer combat the mainline media giants or the organizations like HSUS or Greenpeace that seem to want to ride the bandwagon against agriculture? It can be as simple as carrying a bottle of Visine.

A Visine bottle holds 1 ounce of liquid. Lehr suggests a little show and tell while you let people know the true story of modern agriculture.

As an example, he said it takes less than an ounce per acre of Olympus herbicide to combat weeds and increase yield.

"At the most, farmers are using 6 ounces (or the equivalent of 6 bottles of Visine) of some chemicals per acre to increase yield and decrease disease," Lehr said. "That's less than a glass of water on a whole acre."

He said that setting aside time every week or every month to tell the story of modern agriculture should be part of the cost of doing business.

"Set aside time in your life to promote agriculture to those who don't understand it. The greatest problem with agriculture today isn't the volatility of the price of inputs. It's not the volatility of prices. It's the negative attitude toward farming. Environmental zealots want to convince the public that you are spoiling the land.

"You need to become an agriculture activist. Share your knowledge with the people around you. We make small talk about our hobbies or our children. Instead, we ought to be talking about our livelihoods."

Let people know that despite "news" to the contrary, the family farm is not dead. There are 2 million farms in the U.S. Only 1 percent are owned by absentee organizations.

We need to let people know that if we don't use herbicides and insecticides, people across the globe will starve.

We need to tell people that we are the best land conservationists.

"We produce three times more food than we did 40 years ago with greater yields on less land," Lehr said.

And we need to let people know that every day is Earth Day on the farm, not just April 22.

So what does all this have to do with my Grandpa? Honestly, I don't see my overall-clad Grandpa roaming the streets of San Francisco and telling the story of agriculture. He was a reluctant traveler who liked sleeping in his own bed at night.

But I do know I have an obligation. My brother is farming ground my Grandpa Neelly farmed. It is land that was first owned by our great-great grandparents.

On the Moore side of the family, my nephew Brian was the sixth generation to run a combine during the 2010 harvest on ground that's been cultivated by Moores practically since the area was settled.

My husband is a fifth-generation farmer on both sides of his family.

This is our life. This is our livelihood. This is our legacy.

Grandpa Neelly on his 100th birthday with the great-grandkids:
Front row: Abby, Paige, Grandpa, Jill and Madison.
Back row: Blake, Brian and Brent.

So when I tell the story of agriculture, I do tell the story for my Grandpa Neelly and my Grandpa Leonard and my Grandpa Moore. I tell it for their parents and grandparents who made this life possible for my family. I tell it for the Fritzemeiers and the Hornbakers in Randy's farming heritage.

It is MY story to tell. If it's yours, you need to tell it, too.

If you want to hear more directly from Dr. Lehr, visit his website, There's an audio stream of Lehr talking at the 2010 Commodity Classic. It's a much more serious look at promoting agriculture than the San Francisco clip. It's definitely worth the listen if you're in this business.


  1. This is an amazing blog, and your grandpa sounds like he was an amazing person. You are exactly right in saying that people need to be made more aware of the truth about farming, and NOT from some environmentalist/AR group that skews facts.

    Thank you for all your family does for the country! God Bless!

  2. Thank you, Lisa, for reading and for taking the time to comment! Blessings to you!

  3. I enjoyed reading your blog. Thanks for sharing.

  4. It sounds like you have fallen victim to this propaganda. I'm sure Monsanto is proud of you sales are up for them and so is heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Those disease which once were very rare are now very common. You should really take off the blindfold. Grow more gmos use more chemical fertilizers spray more poison onto the food supply. All in the name of "feeding the hungry". The poor are being poisoned as corporate wallets get fatter. The farmer is stuck in the middle. The decision is clear become a mercenary and kill for money, or stand up and say I won't spray those chemicals I won't use the chemical fertilizers or grow seeds developed in a lab. Of course saying no comes with the very real risk of losing everything. However isn't it better than wearing a blindfold and pretending everything is ok. I read a previous blogging of yours about the cheese dreams and how you were only able to grow two tomatoes and one had a hole in it. Perhaps you didn't spray enough round up! In all seriousness though I wish you the best. However I think you should taken a look at both sides of the story.

  5. While it is certainly your right to have your opinion, a blog is inherently the opinion of the person who is writing it. This blog is no different. I write what I know and what affects me, each and every day. In reality, advancements in crop genetics, herbicides, fertilizers, etc., have made it possible for farmers to use less of the products with greater results. Defining U.S. farmers as mercenaries is unproductive. Just like businesses in New York or Maine or California, we must make a profit to exist. So, I, too, will wish you well and perhaps we can agree to disagree.

  6. I just happened across this. It sounds like Kim is saying the poison being more potent is somehow less harmful to everyone involved. That's a clear logical fallacy it has basis in reality what so ever.

  7. no basis that is lol....sorry kim but it's the truth