Agriculture And The Need For Villains

Let’s be honest – everyone loves a great villain. In literature or popular culture, a great villain who pushes a hero to his or her limits before being overcome is what keeps a character fresh and exciting. Think about how memorable characters such as Sherlock Holmes and Batman would be without Professor Moriarty or The Joker in their worlds.

This dynamic tends to work in the business world as well. Back when I covered the beverage industry, the ongoing Cola Wars between Coke and Pepsi were always getting headlines – no matter what the event. But each company realized it needed the other for this to happen. Indeed, the most telling indication of this love-hate relationship came from one Coke executive. When asked by a reporter if his company would like to see Pepsi bankrupt and forgotten, he replied: “No, because then we would have to invent them.”

This brings us to agriculture. For the dozen or so years I’ve covered this market, I’ve been amazed at the number of critics it has. Environmental groups, special interest organizations, fringe researchers and various politicians have all pointed to this industry at times and portrayed it as inherently evil. Truly, this chorus of critics can be maddening!

But think of where we would be as an industry without them. In agriculture’s efforts to combat these “villains,” farming practices have stressed sustainability over waste, precision agriculture over broadcast application and environmental stewardship instead of carelessness. Even the development of biotech crops has largely been shaped by not only a drive to increase yields, but convince opponents that these plants can be beneficial to everyone (an ongoing effort which will probably never pass).

So the next time you hear or read about some group that thinks agriculture is bad because of this practice or that product, don’t get too worked up about it. Take comfort in the fact that we are probably better heroes in the effort to feed the world because of these detractors as well as our supporters.

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