Ag is Ugly but Hunger is Even Uglier

By Julie Murphree, Arizona Farm Bureau Outreach Director: Farming and ranching is ugly but hunger is even uglier. Parts of farming and ranching, obviously, are beautiful too. But the bucolic scenes of green rolling hills dotted with grazing cattle and anchored with a perfectly white-trimmed red barn is just a painting stamped in your dream. Wake up.

You think I’ve become cynical? Maybe. I’ve been in the industry too long? Nope. I’ve lived on a farm. Farming is hard work and it’s dirty. If you’ve never farmed, worked a ranch or helped run a dairy, your understanding will default to the red barn, perfectly trimmed with white paint. We forget about the ugly; the dirty.

Dubbed the "lung killer," before driving the cotton stalk cutter, Brent rigged up an old gas mask and outfit to try and reduce the  dirty, dustry impact: Airforce jump suit, Army jacket, respirator and headphones. 

And about that bucolic scene with the beautiful farm, 100+plus years ago most family farms did everything including slaughtering their own pigs. That’s not pretty, even if the family pig is processed in that pretty red barn perfectly trimmed with white paint. Watch the white paint.

On our own farm in southern Arizona the work could get pretty dirty. Separate from all the work dad did with his planting, irrigating or harvesting team, me and three brothers worked every summer in the fields. Trimming trees in the Pistachio field, chopping weeds in the cotton (before wonderful biotech cotton removed that task) or burning weeds on the ditch bank, dad always had plenty for us to do.

“Go take a shower before you sit down, you stink,” was not an uncommon command from mom.

We never had the red barn. But we had a big shop where tractors where repaired, modified and continually being retrofitted with a different plow or cultivator depending on what the task required.

One favorite story my older brother, Brent Murphree, and I reminisce about always took place after cotton harvest season. Brent was tasked with cutting cotton stalks on acres and acres of recently picked cotton. It was a cold (even in Arizona), dirty and asthma-inducing task. So Brent rigged up an old gas mask and outfit to try and reduce the impact: Airforce jump suit, Army jacket, respirator and headphones. Brent called the stalk cutter the “lung killer.”  

We were a bit dramatic when we decided dad was working us too hard.

I would have liked a red barn; it’s in my dream too. And today’s farms with red barns warm my heart. I’m kind of glad mom and dad were dirt farmers. I’m thinking animal agriculture has some pretty ugly scenes too.

And, today enclosed tractor cabs, other technology advances and ongoing best management practices make the act of farming less ugly, but it's still dirty work. Brother Brent would have had an entirely different experience if only he'd had an enclosed tractor cab. But, then we'd be missing a story on a farm with no red barn. Sorry, I'm obsessing on the red barn. 

So, agriculture is ugly, but hunger is even uglier. If you ask a farmer or rancher about his passion for his dirty work, he’ll talk about why he wants to feed you. They always want to feed you (I’ve given up keeping track of the dinner invites I get when visiting family farms). Because in some ways he or she is trying to wipe out those images we have of hungry children; not just the images but the hunger. 

The world is hungry and perhaps farmers understand this better than you and me and the reason they always want to feed us. According to the United Nations, 11% of the global population suffers from hunger (one in nine) and one in three people is malnourished. Additionally, close to one-fifth of all children under five remain undernourished. The statistics about hunger in the United States too are mind-numbing and impossible to ignore.

On second thought American farming and ranching, with or without a red barn, ultimately is really beautiful.

Editor's Note: Arizona Farm Bureau and our county Farm Bureaus participate in a variety of programs to raise funds and gather donations for local Food Banks. 

Join our Family!