Farming Misconceptions: The Harm & The Solutions


It’s fair to say that the way that non-farmers imagine a farm runs is very different to reality. Inspired by TV shows and movies - the majority of which are set in the past - most non-farmers imagine that running a farm is a quaint, homely, wholesome pursuit, with farmers spending work days with their hands in the earth and the sun on their backs. Some savvy farmers have even embraced this common misconception, and create marketing campaigns that seek to emphasize their “old fashioned” approach to farming.

Fueled by the popularity of organic foods, and a wider understanding that locally-sourced produce is better for the environment, the belief that modern farming should be largely indistinguishable from olden-days farming seems unlikely to fade from the public consciousness any time soon.

However, as any farmer knows, the belief that farming is best done using an old-fashioned, time-honored approach is rather short of reality. The simple truth is that the mechanization of agriculture changed agriculture forever - and, for the most part, for the better. Farming machinery has allowed farms to run more productively than ever, achieve better yields, and even protect against potentially ruinous weather conditions; yet these benefits are often misunderstood, or overlooked, by the general populace.

Why do non-farmers imagine that farming should be far less mechanized than it actually is?

There are a number of reasons that non-farmers prefer to see farming through a historical lens, but the most obvious reason is a simple misunderstanding. Old-fashioned farming methods - where crops were sown and harvested predominantly by hand - is understandable to most people, many of whom are accustomed to growing a few herbs in pots, or growing their own vegetables - and who see farming as simply an extension of this process. For example, if a non-farmer successfully grows corn in patio pots, they will likely assume that farmers who produce corn for commercial purposes largely go through the same process… just on a grander scale.

Furthermore, many people simply feel that farming should be done by hand. Across the ages, technological advancements and machinery have always been feared, for a variety of different reasons. Even the technological advancements we now see as fairly basic today - such as the railway network - were seen as hugely concerning when they were first conceived. Often, this belief that the old ways are better is fuelled primarily by a misplaced nostalgia for a time that they have never experienced; this feeling, which is known as anemoia, can be powerful, and influences the way that people feel about tech advancements.

How can non-farmers’ misconceptions about farming harm farmers?

It’s well-known that the farming industry is struggling; American farmers have even been described as being "in crisis". While the issues that have led to crisis point are not related to misconceptions from non-farmers, these misconceptions can really harm people’s ability to combat the root problems. If people believe that farming is inherently simple - or perhaps even believe that all farming should be done by hand - then it’s very difficult to muster the enthusiasm to support farmers who are struggling against high fuel costs, for example. People may conclude that, if high fuel prices are so problematic, farmers can just switch away from using machinery, practice the old-world techniques that sustained humanity for centuries, and thus they don’t need to spend as much on fuel - problem solved.

Unfortunately, it’s also worth noting that it’s not necessarily just the general public who will follow this line of thinking: legislators - the people with the power to ease some of the issues modern farmers are experiencing - may also believe much the same.

The solution as proposed above is, of course, a complete non-starter. Farm machinery naturally became more popular because it is simply better; yields are higher, more work can be achieved by fewer people, and mechanized farming is more profitable. Modern farms rely heavily on their machinery for almost every aspect of their farming activities and - unless we rewind to a time where one bad harvest could spell catastrophe for thousands of people - the mechanized farming genie simply isn’t going back into the bottle.

As a result, there is a need for farmers to argue the case for mechanized farming, and slowly seek to persuade non-farmers that technological advancements are beneficial rather than harmful.

How can farmers combat the common misconceptions about farming?

The simplest method of processing general misconceptions about farming is to, essentially, be upfront about your farming activities.

It is often tempting, especially in recent years, for farmers to seek to do all they can to appeal to the belief that agriculture should be rudimentary, rustic, and homely. As farmers understand that the public prefers to eat food that they believe is grown with love, using techniques that are largely exactly as they were 200 years ago, more and more farmers and manufacturers have sought to double-down on their presentation of their farm and how it works. In fairness, this just makes sense: if people like the idea of old-fashioned techniques being used, then at least suggesting you use those techniques is simply playing to what people want.

As a result, it’s important to note that there’s nothing wrong with giving your business website a homely feel and discussing the centuries-old techniques you use on your farm. However, it could be helpful to try to strike a balance between the old and the new, and the best way of doing this is by being willing to talk about farming machinery both on your farm’s website and on social media.

  • If you complete a farming activity and wish to post about this accomplishment to your social media pages, include details regarding the machinery you used to accomplish the work; you could talk about spreading pesticides, highlighting how quick and easy the process is thanks to your crop-sprayer

  • If a piece of your farming equipment breaks down, you can post about the issue to social media or your farm’s blog, explaining that as your tractor is undergoing driveline repair and balancing, you’re going to struggle to complete your usual workload

  • You can also talk about the agriculture-related technological developments you’re excited to use in future, with drones particularly worthy of a mention. Drones have enjoyed great popularity with the general public, and the idea that these machines can also be used for agricultural purposes could genuinely interest your followers, while also helping to cement the idea that technological and mechanized farming is both exciting and beneficial

The benefits of the above are multiple. First and foremost, talking about farming machinery is honest and authentic, reflecting the real day-to-day challenges you face, and how machinery helps to alleviate these, as a farmer. Secondly, discussing farm machinery also helps to normalize farm machinery, allowing people to see that technology is part and parcel of every modern farm. Finally, by emphasizing the importance of your machinery, awareness of just how much modern farms rely on machinery grows, and thus a greater understanding of problems related to farmers’ reliance on machines can subsequently develop.

In conclusion

Misconceptions regarding the true nature of modern farming can be hugely problematic, leading to a general misunderstanding of the demands placed on farmers and how they are impacted by a variety of different issues. By incorporating frequent discussions of your farming machinery - and why it is so important to your farm’s general operations - you can play a role in challenging those misconceptions, and ultimately encouraging the public to embrace the many, many benefits the mechanization of agriculture has brought forth.