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Getting lost in farmland may not be a bad idea

A recent episode of the television series “West Wing” featured three presidential aides marooned in farm country after they had strayed away from a campaign speech and missed the bus to the next stop.

Their resulting journey consisted of picaresque wanderings reminiscent of Don Quixote, with an occasional smidgen of enlightenment from the real people political decisions affect.

Of particular interest was the farm family, on whose acreage the “West Wing” president made his initial address of the day, and where discussions of farm policy led the trio of lost souls into the mysteries of a soybean field, far enough away from the political stumping that they lost their opportunity to catch a ride.

The political aides were a lot more lost than they realized, politically and mentally as well as physically. They soon learned, thanks to an enlightened young lady (a proverbial attractive farmer's daughter) that farm families are not all rich, that a farm's physical size has little to do with its importance, that government help is, indeed, needed to keep agriculture solvent and that bio-engineering can help feed a hungry world.

The farmer's daughter made a case for ethanol, relying on a farm pickup designed to run on a combination of diesel and ethanol, to get the aides to a nearby airport. Unfortunately, she also made the point that rural life comes with some challenges.

When a truck runs out of diesel/ethanol in the middle of nowhere, for instance, it may be hard to find a station that supplies it.

Presidential aides, of both parties, would probably do well to get lost in farm country occasionally. Our elected officials from the top on down spend time stumping for rural votes and assuredly learn as much as possible about issues that affect farmers and the industries they depend on and who depend on them. But they can't learn enough about agriculture and stay focused on international trade, terrorism, fiscal policies, etc., so they turn to aides to gather information from which they form opinions and make policy.

And you can paint government agencies with that same brush. Administrators have too little time to walk into the curious country of soybean, cotton and corn fields to comprehend what goes on in Rural America. They rely on staff, some of whom have a farm background, many of whom have never seen a cotton boll.

I've been both amazed and appalled on farm tours that included government agency staff at the lack of understanding that's too often evident from folks who write regulations and enforce rules. Many have enough clout to affect policy.

But there are the good ones, staff members who readily admit they don't have all the answers and are eager to soak up as much information as possible. And some come with strong ties to agriculture and provide invaluable insights into rural issues. One hopes their superiors listen.

It's almost election time. That means your legislators will be in their districts asking for your votes. It might not be a bad idea to take some of their staff members aside and educate them on what they need to tell their bosses. And if they miss the bus in the meantime, all the better.

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