Mr. Phipps -
I have been watching USFR since I discovered by accident it one Saturday morning when I woke up extra-early. My friends think I'm a nut, but it's my favorite show; I take special delight in the closing line. I am fascinated by the secret life of farmers, and what happens when the growing season starts late, or Brazil is having a bumper crop of something.
A question on my mind since last summer: what do people talk about at Corn College? (corn, I suppose, but what else?) Who goes there? New farmers?
Is there a big difference between the farmers at the Farmers Market who wear sandals in the winter and sell obscure varieties of potato and squash and talk about worms, and farmers like you who sell corn? Do you guys hang out together and talk about tilth and soil temperature, or is there a rift in the force? Do the dot-com execs who have gone back to the land sit at a different table than the 7th-generation farmers? Just wondering, and don't have any no-sandals farmers to ask but you.
Heather Keenan Spruill
***Editor's Note: John's response is as follows...
Thanks so much for watching and for your kind words. We are noticing more feedback from non-farmers like yourself, and we hope help you understand what is happening in agriculture from as many angles as possible.
The Corn College - which my son and I have attended - is more like a professional conference offering the latest research and frankly, a super time talking to other growers around the Corn Belt. It's still developing, but has been very popular with young and experienced producers. Read more about it here
I have spoken often about the growing divide between agrarian (farmer-market types) and industrial (me) farmers. One basic difference is agrarian producers grow products that have value because of the way they are produced - free-range, organic, grass-fed, etc. The most popular feature now is "local". They are answering a market demand from consumers who want a different connection to the food they buy.
By comparison, my farm is essentially in the business of harvesting solar power. Corn and soybeans are superbly efficient in this task, and like other industries we strive to maximize our profit by using every tool we can find to meet market demands. Our products' values are based on their intrinsic characteristics - weight, protein, purity, etc. - not production methods.
We need both systems, I think. Industrial producers bring immense of amounts of captured energy to be users to be converted to food, feed, fuel, and fiber. We follow all regulatory restrictions and carefully care for the land, or we do not prosper long. There is no real difference in our commitment to the land.
That said, there is tension between the two systems. There is little that is cute or quaint about my farm, despite its 7-generation history. We don't have chicks and calves or much diversity - just corn and soybeans. However, when you are located far from population centers, the agrarian model simply doesn't work very well.
My goal is to minimize the antagonism between these two camps. There is too much segregation and misunderstanding now. The market will lead us both to the right answers, and consumers like you will send those market signals.
Your letter has been very helpful in reminding me who we are visiting with each week. Please don't hesitate to ask more questions in the future. Also, you can find more information at our website