Current Progressive Cattle digital edition

Finding your name and title in agriculture

Erica Louder for Progressive Cattleman Published on 01 November 2018
driving cattle

Last week, I was interviewing an operator for the January edition of Progressive Cattleman. This operation is a little different (OK, a lot different) than your average ranch. They run 800 commercial beef cows, farm 2,000-plus acres and operate a 1,500-cow dairy.

Since they don’t fit nicely into one scope or commodity, I was not sure what to call the operation – it’s not a ranch, but it is not really just a dairy, either. A farm may work, but to me the term doesn’t encompass animal agriculture all that well. I thought I’d put the question to the farmer (or is it rancher).

I asked him if he had a business card (like most farmers, he doesn’t), what would he include as his title. His look was ironic. This farmer doesn’t just run more cattle than the average U.S. ranch, he is also a fair bit younger than the average operator – coming in at just 31 years old. Like me, he is a millennial, and like others of our generation, titles don’t really sit well with him. We don’t necessarily need to put a name to what we do and rarely look for a title. Now, I am sure my baby boomer parents or Gen-X friends have plenty bad to say about us millennials, but there is plenty good to say about us too.

His wife came along for the interview, and while trying to respond to the question, he looked at her, hoping for some inspiration. She shrugged her shoulders, unsure too how to categorize this massively impressive operation that had begun less than a generation ago. He ended up responding with a quirky quip of his own, “Diversified to survive.”

While not quite a title, I have taken a liking to the phrase and what it represents for his agriculture operation. It might not be his title, but I bet it is his slogan, even if he would never call it that.

There is a trend in agriculture to change up our terminology. For years, the industry has used terms like “operator” or “producer” instead of farmer or rancher. Our farms have become “operations” or “production agriculture” instead of just farms. Maybe this terminology gave us some authority; maybe it separated us from the country bumpkin of a hundred years ago.

Either way, we are now being encouraged to embrace being farmers again. Generations removed from agricultural roots, consumers like to know a real farmer – they don’t comprehend what a “producer” is, and it is surely not their great uncle, who is indeed a bona fide farmer. For myself, I rather like the change, despite my propensity to slip into the old terms (as you can tell by this blog).

In his day, Shakespeare said something about this, but I won’t go into that. We can just ask ourselves, “What is in a name?” Our ranches won’t reduce in importance if we call them ranches instead of operations – but is there power in a title? Does it really even matter what we are called?

I think it matters a little. If anything, answering this question gives us a chance to consider our ranches, our livelihoods and how we are perceived in the world. Consider the question, “What would your business card say?”  end mark

Erica Louder is a freelance writer based in Idaho.

PHOTO: Staff photo.