combine and tractor harvesting corn Wallace’s Farmer
FUTURE IS NOW: Look closely. There is no driver in the tractor pulling the grain cart. The future of technology is here. How farmers will be accepted in the future remains uncertain.

Believing in future not enough

Throwback Thursday: A Prairie Farmer editorial from the mid-20th century looked to the future — sort of.

“I believe in the future of agriculture …” Every vocational-agriculture student knows that line from the FFA Creed, written by E.M. Tiffany in 1928.

What you believe about the future of agriculture depends on your perspective. In 1928, most farm boys envisioned a future with tractors. It would take nearly two decades before that trend was entrenched.

In 1945, Arthur Moore, newly named editor of Prairie Farmer, wrote an editorial in the May 26 Indiana edition titled “The future we believe in.” The premise was that Moore visited a farmer to talk about his bluegrass pasture, but all the farmer wanted to talk about was a line from the previous issue: “Prairie Farmer said … it believes in the future,” the farmer said. “What I want to know is what kind of future do you believe in? What kind of future can anyone believe in?”

What Moore meant to write was that Prairie Farmer believed in the future of Corn Belt farmers. “One thing we think they will do is keep farming in those hands which managed it successfully in two world wars: the hands of the family farmer,” he said.

Machinery era
We know now that some of the “future” Moore envisioned occurred. He wrote: “Maybe you think of Corn Belt farmers as already mechanized. Actually, we’re only in the doorway to the mechanical age in farming.

“Increased mechanization, better soil practices, wise public laws, high-level employment — all these would be nothing without an unshakable desire for worthwhile family life on the land.

“We think if one thing had to be set apart as most important to the future of farmers, we would select this: Better living is the great unfinished business of American agriculture. There are signs that the next 25 years will see it far advanced over present standards.”

The period from 1945 to 1970 saw advancements in standard of living. Mechanization became full-blown, as Moore predicted. Many rural schools consolidated. Whether all these changes were good is still debatable. There was a cost, such as giving up the community spirit of small towns that rallied around their high schools, even if they were inefficient. That’s the thing about the future — even after it happens, not everyone agrees on whether it was positive.

Public view
Moore wasn’t as visionary when it came to how the public would view farmers. He wrote: “Along with these things will come an increasing appreciation of farming’s importance. Food to put on Chicago’s tables for one day would fill a railroad train five miles long.

“Civilization’s center of gravity is not in the cities, but on the farms. Even city dwellers will learn this in the next quarter of a century.”

If Americans learned to appreciate farmers, their children forgot. It’s unlikely Moore ever imagined groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Humane Society of the United States, or food deserts inside cities. We see a future where farmers will continue to produce. Autonomous tractors will take efficiency to untold levels.

Yet the years since 1945 prove that farmers must speak up if they want to be noticed — let alone appreciated — by politicians and consumers. Using social media and telling agriculture’s story may be the greatest challenge of the next 25 years.

Farmers grow food, but consumers have clout — both in politics and buying power. Family farming can prosper in “the future,” but only if today’s farmers tell their neighbors agriculture’s story.

Comments? Email [email protected].

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