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Phipps: Growing When Facing Challenges, Changes in Ag

14:53PM Oct 16, 2017

There is an old story about how frogs will jump out of boiling water, but if you put them in tepid water and heat it very slowly, they will wait too long to leave and end up boiling.

A few years ago, this became a topic for 15 minutes of Internet fame and some grisly YouTube videos, but several experiments suggest this is unsurprisingly false. At some point the frog does hop out.

But true or not, it is a durable metaphor for our inability to cope with slow but eventually devastating changes.

Partly because we focus on the hassles we must deal with today, and partly because we think we can outlast the problem.

We'll let others in the future figure out what to do. After all, it will be their big and urgent problem, mostly because we didn't trouble ourselves to do anything about it now.

We are facing several issues like that: climate change, weed resistance, nutrient run-off, and rural population loss come to mind, but I am sure there are others.

Among farmers, I've noted those with generations following them are more likely to at least consider actions to manage these growing threats.

Moreover, the feeling that we have an obligation to future farmers is not as strong as it once was. Maybe this is something that happens during economic stress, devoting resources to cope with a hazard that will never really change our lives much is at the bottom of our list of things to spend money and time on.

I'm sure other sectors have their own looming challenges, but for agriculture it seems our list is longer than I can remember.

Our ability to forecast the effects of our actions into the future has improved, so we're getting more and better warnings. And for many of the problems, the action of one farmer isn't going to make a huge difference.

So, if everybody else does the right thing, I'm off the hook. Only that's what we all think.

The boiling frog myth centered on the frog being too lazy to respond to creeping danger.

That could be our problem too, but it could be we are waiting for all the other frogs to jump out first.

10/14/17 Facing Agriculture's Challenges, Changes