(THIS ARTICLE APPEARED ON USNEWS.COM. ALL RIGHTS ARE THEIRS AND MIKEROWEWORKS.COM. SERVI-TECH HAS NO RIGHTS TO THIS COLUMN)
By Mike Rowe
I was invited by the Association of Equipment Manufacturers to help launch its new initiative called “I Make America” in Washington, D.C., recently. Sadly, the only thing I make is a mess, but I flew to D.C. anyway to share my vast understanding of America’s manufacturing problems with a roomful of elected officials and staff. It was fun. Unlike actual experts, I don’t need facts to support my opinion, just a few sweeping generalizations based on my invaluable perspective as a guy most often seen with his hand in a cow’s bottom.
Allow me to summarize.
I have this nagging suspicion that our manufacturing problems are not really problems at all, but rather a symptom of a dysfunctional relationship with dirt. That’s right, dirt—the eternal hallmark of skilled labor.
The composition of our gross domestic product has always mirrored a willingness to get dirty. When agriculture dominated output, dirt was recognized as the essential ingredient to prosperity. Getting dirty was synonymous with jobs and food. Consequently, we valued our dirty farmers.
With the industrial revolution, manufacturing surpassed agriculture. Innovation and efficiency got all the glamour, but the willingness to get dirty was always there. It propelled our economy to new heights and made us the richest nation on Earth. And we loved our dirty tradesmen.
Then our economy shifted again, in a truly seismic way. Financial services surpassed manufacturing. We began to lose our fascination with the way things were getting made and instead focused on the way things were getting bought.
The dirty face of farming and manufacturing got a thorough scrubbing, and the definition of a “good job” began to change. Silicon Valley rolled out a sparkling new toolbox, full of gleaming possibilities, and for the first time in our history, the bulk of our output was tied to clean jobs. What do we have to show for it? Record unemployment, a looming skills gap, a crumbling infrastructure, and a dearth of manufacturing.
Isn’t it possible that we’ve become disconnected from the food we eat and the goods we buy because we no longer value the people who make them?
Skilled tradesmen are now products of “alternative education.” Valuable apprenticeships and on-the-job training serve as vocational consolation prizes for those not suited to a traditional sheepskin. We continue to promote the four-year degree at the expense of all other forms of knowledge, even as graduates move back home in record numbers, drowning in record debt. Meanwhile, the Future Farmers of America officially changed its name to FFA because the term “farmer” negatively impacted its ability to attract new members. Extraordinary.
I’m no expert, but I do get around. I’ve worked as a fake apprentice in just about every industry, and I’ve dealt with feces from every species. And I’m here to tell you, with all the certainty of a guy on cable TV, that manufacturing and skilled labor are in the toilet because we have cultivated a dysfunctional relationship with dirt.
Hey, how are you? Good, I’m hoping. I’m writing you this letter to talk about something that’s becoming increasingly important for all of us in the agriculture community! Hey now, no need to pick up that baseball bat and chase me off your porch. It’s not nearly as scary as it seems. And there are benefits!
Servi-Tech, as a company, is no stranger to social media. This covers crop consulting, laboratories and our LLC.
After all, we can be found on Twitter:
Even Foursquare (still playing around with that format):
Yet, what does it all mean? Sure, it’s well and good to say that you’re taking part in the Web 2.0 revolution, but unless you can really quantify what you’re doing, you’re simply shouting into the wilderness. The question most often asked as we continue to develop our presence in areas other than our usual Websites is always…
The simple answer: We have to.
The more complex answer: If agriculture wants to survive and tell its story, it’s up to us to play catch up and reach into the online world and educate people on the truth of modern agriculture. Frighteningly, some seem to think that modern farming is the problem — rather than the solution — to the environmentalism question. For years, fringe movements have been on the ones leading the charge of guerrilla/viral advocacy.
The problem, then, is that they have come to dominate the conversation. While agriculture continued to toil along, producing for not only the United States, but much of the world, (some) public opinion was slowly eroded by a one-sided conversation. Now, however, is the time for us to find our own voice let people see both sides of the story.
The View From Either Side
As a former newspaper editor, I’m personally a firm believer in all sides of the story being told. You present the facts, then you leave it up to the reader/viewer/listener to decide. Conversation between competing views can lead to improvements and innovations on both side of the spectrum. However when the conversation is one-sided it allows one to dominate and whatever they say becomes “fact.”
Consider: One of the dominating movements within the overall umbrella of “green” has been organic crops, abstaining from the use of insecticides, chemical fertilizers and anything considered outside the standard classic model of agriculture. It has been pushed as a way to have less of an impact on the environment.
However, it’s not so clear cut. An increasing number of studies have shown that organic farming isn’t as sustainable when it comes to feeding the world’s population than modern techniques. Nowadays, an exponential amount of crops, offering higher yields, are planted on a smaller amount of land. This has been made able by scientific advancements in both crop genetics as well as chemical applications.
However, this knowledge has largely been relegated to universities and those within the specific field. So, what can social media do to reverse the trend? It helps balance the information. By bringing the facts and figures to table, we assure that we aren’t sitting impotently on the sidelines while others tell us how the game should be played.
What are we without the customer?
It seems a bit redundant to say, but customers and clients drive our business. Sometimes, we seem to forget that. While our farmers may not come face-to-face with those using their grain, their clients are anyone and everyone who uses… well… just about anything actually. In Servi-Tech’s case, as crop consultants and a laboratory service, it’s our job to facilitate those producers to better serve their customers. Their customers? Just about everyone.
Through social media, not only have we been able to get news both big and small to our farmers, we’ve been able to attract new customers through others’ testimonials. In the past, your clientele would be focused near your place of business. It’s an international world out there, everybody, whether we like it or not! Social media puts your business on an even playing field with the big dogs. Take advantage of it!
What feels better? Knowing that the company you’re working with treats you like a human being, or a group that’s simply obsessed with the money it wants from you and nothing else?
To be able to have a conversation with those that pay your salary to discover what they think about what you’re doing is invaluable. Not only that, while things may vary from region to region, there are issues in agriculture that are shared across the entire spectrum. As you continue to expand your reach and connections, you have more access to information that can and should be shared across the agricultural world.
Ah, but what does this mean?
The ag world is making inroads in the social media world. One of the strongest tools we have access to now is the AgChat Foundation.
AgChat was recently formed a dedicated group of incredibly talented people within the agriculture community and an avowed love of new media. I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with these people on a somewhat regular basis, and nowhere else can find a more dedicated group of people to the cause of agvocacy. I encourage you visit the Website to find a way to start dipping your toes in the somewhat intimidating world of social media.
But don’t worry, it’s not nearly as nerve-wracking as it looks.
After all, we all have a common goal:
“Reaching out beyond the farm to tell their stories and share their lives with the vast majority of America (some 98 percent) not connected to agriculture.”
We’ll see you out there on the ‘Net!
Director of Communications
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