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Prairie Post: Are you a farmer, a rancher, a grower or something else?

Kevin Schulz, Editor

March 22, 2024

3 Min Read
A tractor harvesting crops
WHAT ARE YOU? Are you a farmer, a rancher, a grower, or doesn’t a title matter to you?Kevin Schulz

You can call me Steve.

No, that is not my name; it’s not even my middle name. But Steve has become my unofficial name, dating back to a roommate at the University of Minnesota-Waseca who introduced me to his hometown friends as Steve.

As soon as he said it, he knew he had erred.

Did it bother me? No.

But the funny thing is, it stuck.

Over the years, Steve has resurfaced. While with a previous magazine, I would call a potential source and leave a message for a call back only to later hear our receptionist explain to a caller, “No, we don’t have a Steve here.”

I would interrupt our receptionist and take the call.

The Steve-calling had died down, but then, about five years ago while boating with friends, one of the new acquaintances said, “Hey, Steve, throw me a beer.”

There were no Steves in the crowd other than me, I guess.

Fast forward to earlier this year. As I was winding down a telephone interview for a feature story, I asked the source if he had my email address. I could hear him vocally going through his email address book, “Yeah, I think I’ve got it here. Let’s see, Steven Schulz.”

Not mad, but I asked, “What did you call me?”

We had a good chuckle as I explained the origin of the continual faux pas.

I don’t mind being called Steve, though it may take me a while to respond.

What are you?

As of late, we have learned that names, labels and titles do matter to some people.

One of our readers took exception to the use of the term “hired man” used by a source for the person who helped on his farm. The emailer suggested agriculture needs to move into the 21st century by discarding the tired term of hired man, instead simply using employee.

J. Arbuckle, professor of rural sociology at Iowa State University, addressed agriculture verbiage in the recent Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll, an annual survey of that state’s farmers. While not addressing what to call employees, respondents were told, “A number of terms are used to refer to people who farm. Which one of the following terms do you most prefer to describe yourself?”

They were then given a list of commonly used terms to describe agrarians. Topping the favored title is “farmer,” which was preferred by 75% of respondents, up from 56% in 2011, the last time the question was posed.

“Farm operator” came in second with 10%, down from 17% in ’11. “Producer” was at 8%, “grower” 2% and “rancher” 2% in terms of what Iowa farmers prefer. The “other” category came in with 4%.

I imagine the operation may determine what you wish to be called. If row crops are your enterprise, I assume “farmer” would be your choice. Whereas if you run a cow-calf operation or a cattle feedlot, you may feel like a “rancher.”

What label do you as Minnesota farmers, operators, producers, growers or ranchers feel best encompasses what you do? Does it matter?

I’d like to hear from you. Feel free to send your thoughts to me at the email below. I might even respond if you call me Steve.

Comments? Send email to [email protected].

About the Author(s)

Kevin Schulz

Editor, The Farmer

Kevin Schulz joined The Farmer as editor in January of 2023, after spending two years as senior staff writer for Dakota Farmer and Nebraska Farmer magazines. Prior to joining these two magazines, he spent six years in a similar capacity with National Hog Farmer. Prior to joining National Hog Farmer, Schulz spent a long career as the editor of The Land magazine, an agricultural-rural life publication based in Mankato, Minn.

During his tenure at The Land, the publication grew from covering 55 Minnesota counties to encompassing the entire state, as well as 30 counties in northern Iowa. Covering all facets of Minnesota and Iowa agriculture, Schulz was able to stay close to his roots as a southern Minnesota farm boy raised on a corn, soybean and hog finishing farm.

One particular area where he stayed close to his roots is working with the FFA organization.

Covering the FFA programs stayed near and dear to his heart, and he has been recognized for such coverage over the years. He has received the Minnesota FFA Communicator of the Year award, was honored with the Minnesota Honorary FFA Degree in 2014 and inducted into the Minnesota FFA Hall of Fame in 2018.

Schulz attended South Dakota State University, majoring in agricultural journalism. He was also a member of Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity and now belongs to its alumni organization.

His family continues to live on a southern Minnesota farm near where he grew up. He and his wife, Carol, have raised two daughters: Kristi, a 2014 University of Minnesota graduate who is married to Eric Van Otterloo and teaches at Mankato (Minn.) East High School, and Haley, a 2018 graduate of University of Wisconsin-River Falls. She is married to John Peake and teaches in Hayward, Wis. 

When not covering the agriculture industry on behalf of The Farmer's readers, Schulz enjoys spending time traveling with family, making it a quest to reach all 50 states — 47 so far — and three countries. He also enjoys reading, music, photography, playing basketball, and enjoying nature and campfires with friends and family.

[email protected]

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