Perspectives from Central Valley Ag on Vimeo.

by Mike Zwingman

by Mike Zwingman

Last week, I wrote about the yield gap.

This week, I have a gap of other sorts in mind: the difference between what you see when you look at your field and what I see when I look at your field.

I started this article as one about relationships, about the need for me and my ilk to have an honest conversation with you about where we fit in your world.  But I realized that I’ve written that article before, and that though I’ve written that article before, something yet persists that seems unsaid or undone.  And I think I feel that because this is about more than just our relationship.  It’s about our differences.  And also then, our common ground.

I am not a grower like you are.  Given a few twists of fate, I might have been, but I was one of four sons and came of age in an economy which didn’t exactly lay out the welcome mat for new entries into the profession.  So I became an agronomist instead.

And for the better.  I am temperamentally better suited to the profession of agronomy, which allows me some remove, allows me a perch from which I can view the landscape objectively.  It allows me a great investment in the family farm, but spares me the ultimate investment in the family farm.  It allows me to not run the family farm, but neither to run from it.

And there’s the difference between you and me.  You do run it.  You have made the ultimate investment in it.

And that’s the difference that I suspect gets in our way sometimes.  That’s the difference that makes you look askance at me and other agronomists, to wonder if we really get it, if we really care, or if we’re just there to sell you something or make a buck off your need.

I’ve thought long and hard about whether I do really get it—I’ve thought for years about it, in fact.  And here’s the thing: I really do.  That is part of my father’s legacy in me.  I see you because I’ve seen him.

As an agronomist though, I’m called to get other things too.  Like the physiology of a corn plant.  The complex realities of the nitrogen cycle.  Advances in genetic research.  Increasingly, I’m called to get political as well, to understand the implications of policies that affect things like water usage and potential legislation that affects things like nutrient application.

Which has given me a slightly different perspective on the corn plant than if I were a grower myself.  What I see in a plant is just a bit different than what you see in a plant.  That’s actually a good thing.  That plant is all that I see in it and all that you see in it.  It takes both of us to see it totally.  And we have to see it totally to make the best decisions—the kind that satisfy all perspectives and that will ensure the future of our shared pursuit.

That’s our common ground: those plants in your fields.   They are the object lessons for everything that is going on in the world today.  In them is our past, present, and future.  Our connection to each other and the answer to the gap in our perspectives.  They might mean slightly different things to you and me, but that is the solution to the problem.

The worst thing my fellow agronomists and I can do to you or that you can do to us is become apathetic about our relationship or otherwise let that difference arouse suspicion between us.  Instead, we need to meet it head on, to challenge each other, question each other.  This is an invitation to you to call us out.  We want to be your trusted advisors (which is how I ideally frame our relationship) but we can’t get there without your challenge.  We want to be in your wheelhouse, to make recommendations about which you feel confident and calm, to meet you where you are at.  I get it, we get it.  I want you to know that we get it.

So let’s talk about your plants.