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Jim Meade / Iowa City
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Registered: ‎04-30-2010
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Farmer Ethics

The discussion about the speech by the Cargill CEO posted in Marketing Talk drew several comments on ethics.  That got me to thinking about ethics from the farmer's perspective and I started doing some online research.  The research brought up more questions than answers.  What are your answers?

 

http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.195.6679&rep=rep1&type=pdf

 

In an informal study of a coule of dozen Missouri farmers in the early part of 2003.

 

"For farmers, ethics is seen more from their own perspective than from the viewpoint of an outside observer. It is easy to identify unethical conduct of others, but hard to see it in themselves. The idea that farmers will take actions that benefit themselves without fully considering the impact of their decisions on their surrounding community confirms Thompson's (1998, pp. 183-184) claim that "those who … farm increasingly tend to see their operations as a business and resent the suggestion that they should be held up as moral exemplars.""

 

"Although the farmers interviewed did not believe that participation in government farm programs was unethical in and of itself, some believed that government programs encouraged farmers either to adopt an orientation of deception or to behave unethically outright."

 

"...in traditional agriculture the "process" by which farmers do agriculture (e.g., having diversified farms, being loyal to community-based institutions, neighbors helping neighbors, etc) is just as important to the farmer, if not more so, than the income farming provides."

 

"...so long as food in plentiful, cheap, and perceived to be safe to eat, the ethics of farmers will not be an important consideration for consumers (see McEachern and Schröder, 2002). Therefore, it is not likely that farmers will acknowledge the importance of behaving ethically if consumers are not transmitting such signals through the market."

 

This report made much of the difference between philosophical and behaviour ethics.  Philosophical ethics are those like should I plant GMO seed, raise livestock in confinement, use chemicals and take care of the land.  Behaviioral ethics is more about whether one should comply with land management practices, apply chemicals according to the label, sell a downer cow as healthy and so forth.

 

So, if you outbid the neightbor for land that he has used for 10 years and needs for his farming practices, are you being ethical?  Would you split your farm into three entities in order to maximize government payments - is that ethical?  If a farmer sells hay for less than you will and takes your business, is he being ethical?

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