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Can agriculture survive political correctness onslaught?

machine separating seed corn
WHAT’S IN A NAME? Is this a product blend? Ten years ago, it was a refuge-in-a-bag hybrid. Legal departments for some companies insist it be called a “product” or “blend” today, not a “hybrid.”
Choice of terms and concerns about various words and behaviors come to “fly-over country.”

Those who think political correctness is only for people on the coasts may want to rethink things. Political correctness has pervaded life in middle America — so-called “fly-over country.” Some might say it’s invaded.

Certain parts of political correctness are unarguably appropriate in agriculture. For example, geodes found along Hoosier creek banks once had an offensive name linked to a racial slur. My father’s generation thought nothing about it — it was a different time, a different world. Education about cultures rectified abuses borne mostly out of ignorance.

But the pendulum has a way of swinging too far. Can something that starts out positive and helps right wrongs go too far?

When it begins showing up in everyday agriculture, it may be time to swing back, or else things may never be as we once knew them. Here are examples:

For well over three decades, I’ve referred to seed corn as “hybrids.” Everyone knows that since the 1930s, farmers have planted hybrids — seed resulting from the cross of two pure parent lines. Now some seed companies say we must refer to certain hybrids as “products,” because the bag contains seed from more than one hybrid. These companies’ legal departments insist that if a refuge-in-the-bag product contains 5% or 10% seed of a non-GMO hybrid, it’s a blend. They demand you call it a “blend” or a “product.” Legal departments are demanding technical correctness, even if it means using confusing terms.

Or consider this: I coach high school soil judging teams. A farmer was gracious enough to dig pits for us to practice in. They were narrow, and when a I followed one young man out of a pit, I brushed the dust off his back without a second thought. Then, since over half the team consisted of girls, I told them to brush each other off. I couldn’t do it; that wouldn’t be appropriate.

They thought it was funny and laughed. I was dead serious. Yes, sexual harassment is an important topic in agriculture. But when we’re so conditioned that we think of it in a situation like that — how far have we gone?

Or think about this one. Everyone wants out of the liability noose. When youth compete in many FFA events, they can only compete if parents sign a waiver. School corporations will only allow students from other teams to ride their buses if parents sign a waiver. An active student is asked to take so many waivers home that who knows how many go home, and how many get signed by someone else? If something should go wrong, do waivers stand up in court? What if they weren’t signed by a parent, even though a volunteer accepted them in good faith?

Common sense
What’s the answer? Label every input as a generic “product”? Avoid volunteering with young people? Don’t let anyone borrow equipment for fear someone else might get hurt and sue?

Hopefully, these aren’t the outcomes.

But if the current trend continues, how long before people think twice about volunteering for anything? Or loaning you anything? Or writing a product label with fewer than 1,000 words of disclaimers and weasel phrases?

No doubt my father’s generation had faults, some of which needed correcting. But they were long on common sense. Will people writing blogs 20 years from now say we had common sense?

Comments? Email [email protected].

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