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Farmers portrayed unfairly during farm bill negotiations

Over the course of the past several months, many of us have had the difficult task of following that slow, arduous dance known as the farm bill negotiations. And, as always, it has been an enlightening experience.

For a few months, every five years or so, people who previously have had no knowledge of nor interest in agriculture suddenly become learned commentators on the subject. You know who I'm talking about - the urban-minded politicians, the column writers with the mainstream press and even the average, uninformed and disinterested American — all bemoaning what they consider to be an “over-generous” farm bill.

And all too often, farmers themselves become the targets of these misguided opinions.

Case in point: Within the pages of this issue of Southeast Farm Press, you'll read about the Peanut Profitability winners for the Southeast Region — Jerry Heard Jr. and Jeff Heard. These are proud, hard-working men — “salt of the earth” types. In addition, they're smart, innovative farmers.

The Heard brothers also are trusting men because they come from a place in southwest Georgia where a man's word means something. So, when an Associated Press reporter called asking to do a story on the Heard family's distinguished history of producing peanuts, the brothers were accommodating, much to their later regret.

The Associated Press story, when it appeared in newspapers, basically was a hatchet job. Using fabulously erroneous data from the Environmental Working Group, the story painted a portrait of the Heard family as instant millionaires, thanks largely to the generosity of a benevolent government.

The story was — among other things — badly written, inaccurate, non-objective and sensationalized. It focused on the peanut quota buyout and disregarded the years of toil and money involved in acquiring and maintaining a peanut quota. But that didn't stop newspaper editors from throughout the United States and even from a few foreign countries from publishing the drivel.

Vilification at the hands of the “popular press” during farm bill negotiations is nothing new to farmers, but still it's disconcerting. And it becomes especially tiresome when you're continually forced to justify your livelihood to people who aren't interested in or deserving of the truth.

As Jerry Heard Jr., said, it's difficult working from dawn to dusk and then some every day, only to read in the newspapers that you're collecting a welfare payment from the government.

No national media ever reported on the stress and uncertainty experienced by most farmers during the protracted farm bill debate. Men and women who routinely stake their livelihoods on such unpredictable factors as weather and international markets were presented with yet another threat — their future was in the hands of suited politicians with one eye on the next election.

The wonder of it all is that we finally did get a farm bill, and a pretty damn good one at that. But already, farmers — especially the younger ones — are exhibiting a sense of dread for what might happen in six years, when we have to do this all over again.

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