ReachOut: Piping Up

ReachOut: Piping Up from United Farmers Cooperative on Vimeo.

Mike Zwingman

Mike Zwingman

I was recently fortunate enough to break from our long Nebraska winter and spend a few days on a beach in the Dominican Republic.  Even on this small vacation though, agronomy was ever in the air.

Walking though the resort’s casino, I happened into a conversation with two men from New York.  We chatted through the regular topics: sports, family, work and when we hit that last one, a conversation between strangers transformed into a full blown 90 minute discussion of agronomy in the U.S.

They are not in the field themselves and were impressed to hear about how advanced our industry has become.  I have to admit that I enjoyed the long moment to brag about what we do and it felt good to say hell yes! when they asked if I believed that the U.S. could feed and power itself.

And when afterward, my girlfriend complimented me on how well I had expressed what we do and how it affects the world, I thought I was in heaven.

Which got me thinking.

In a world where Dr. Oz can say that tomatoes have been spliced with fish DNA so don’t eat them, in a world where GMOs are treated as the bane of modern human civilization, in a world where most people walk around two generations removed from the farm, who tells our story?

This world is our consumer, and when it poses questions—like about GMOs or land stewardship or water use—who provides answers?

There are some people doing this, but truly, there aren’t enough people doing this.  Our story needs to be told, these answers need to be provided, and the people who should be doing the telling and the answering?  Well, friends, those people should be me and you.

There’s a lot of misinformation and non-information out there.  It gets spread through rumor and media and global corporate speak (I’m looking at you, Whole Foods, Chipotle).  I want to correct this misinformation though, to provide information where there isn’t any, in a very grassroots, Nebraska way.  Talk to the people around you.  Tell them what you do.  At your kids ballgames, at family reunions, in restaurants, and on vacation—let people know you’re a farmer and how you serve the world.

Because our silence allows misinformation to become truth.

People say that all farms are corporate farms.  But here in Nebraska, we counted more farms in 2013 than we did in 2012 and here in Nebraska, the average farm size (975 acres) is decreasing.  This is not corporatization.  This is family ownership.

People say that GMOs are monstrosities, poisons, horrors.  But can we raise a bushel of corn with less N, less water, less P, K, and zinc than anytime in history?  Yes.  Have GMOs reduced the amount of toxic chemicals, the actual poisons, leaking into our soils and water systems?  Yes, by tens of millions of pounds every year in fact.

These are the facts that need to be spoken, the story that needs to be told.

Header1By 2050, the world population is estimated to reach 9.6.  That’s a lot of people to feed.  And with numbers that high, everyone needs to be at the table: me, you, Monsanto, organic farmers, Whole Foods, and Chipotle.  Our success at feeding the world will hinge on contributions from all involved, but that doesn’t mean we have to agree, and it doesn’t mean that we have to have the same story to tell.  I might have to work with them, but that doesn’t mean that I want them to speak for me.

I have my own story to tell.  You have yours.  Stand up, friends, and speak.

  • Greg Whitmore

    Yes, Mike on certain chemicals we are using less, but as a total pounds of product are up because of use of different chemicals, the use of fungicides and more prolific use of seed treatments. That story needs to be told and why we use them!

    • Michael Zwingman


      Total pounds have been relatively steady since the early 2000’s, the pound of active ingredients have lessened by a small percentage. The point I was trying to make was the total pounds of products that have a greater environmental risk, soil applied insecticides and highly soluble herbicides that have a huge water quality risk has been reduced. The fact is that today we are using products in a more targeted, more considerate manner than ever before.
      Thank you for the comment.