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"When your plow is a pencil..."

 In 1956 President Dwight Eisenhower said "Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you're a thousand miles from the corn field" in reference to federal farm programs being written by Washington policy makers whom he called "synthetic farmers behind Washington desks."

As farmers, we often feel as though those "inside the beltway" (ie: Washington DC), are out of touch with the realities of agriculture and the implications of the policies they formulate. Because we are only 75 miles from downtown DC, we often have government officials, international delegations, and out of state farm groups visit. Often its the opportunity to get out of DC and into the country. More often its to see what agricultural policy, regulation, research, and collaboration looks like on a busy family farm.

Most recently we had USDA Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden visit. She is NOT a synthetic farmer, she is a Georgia farm girl who "gets it." DS Harden visited our farm recently so that she could connect with the local needs of farm families. It is a way for her to stay connected to her roots and use that connection in federal policy development.  We talked state and federal regulations and policies that are of most concern for us: conservation, immigration, diversification, Farm Bill, and generational transition. She realizes that true farm sustainability requires that there be the next generation who wants to farm and is a big supporter of beginning and young farmer programs. At the same time, she recognizes that regulations and policies cannot be so poorly written and planned that they have a negative impact on the fiscal health of the family farm. What kid wants to take over a family farm that is losing money hand over fist because the regulators wrote economically damaging policy? Too often, regulations or policy that seem to make sense in "theory", have very little practical application on the actual farm and are damaging to the family farm. Formulating regulations ahead of sound, applied scientific evidence is poor policy development, the sign of a "synthetic farmer" who maybe has never stepped foot on a farm.

That's why Eisenhower's words still resonate today. Many policy makers use pencils without ever having operated a plow (nowadays, a no-till ripper or DMI... we don't even own a plow). The bottomline - they don't "get it" because they've never farmed or been exposed to farming. I applaud DS Harden for staying connected with the farmers she serves and with her roots to the rural community. We have many synthetic farmers in DC, but she is not one of them!

Left to Right: Alan, DS Krysta Harden, Hans, Me, our daughter.

Talking agricultural diversification in our vineyard.
Hans showing DS Harden the soil map of our research project in collaboration with the US Geological Survey, the U of MD, and the U of DE.

Demonstrating a "Veris" machine which detects soil electrical conductivity to evaluate soil particle size and develop precision management for that field.

An irrigation research project that has many collaborators collecting data.

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