GRANVILLE — It took several years to arrange, but the Putnam County Rotary was finally able to welcome legendary agriculture broadcaster Max Armstrong to its annual Agri-Business Night on March 29.
For more than 30 years, Armstrong provided the voice of agriculture at Chicago’s WGN radio station. He is now the producer and host of the popular syndicated programs “Farm Progress America” and “Max Armstrong’s Midwest Digest.”
“We’re thrilled to be able to finally bring Max to Putnam County,” Putnam County Rotary President Debbie Buffington said at the event hosted at Putnam County High School.
The Putnam County Record (PCR) was able to spend a few minutes with Armstrong before the evening got underway, and he was asked about the current state and future of agriculture. The interview follows:
PCR: How has agriculture changed over the course of your career?
Armstrong: It’s constant change, and technology is a big part of that. We’ve had some very rapid advancements of late in technology. The beautiful thing is it’s increasing our productivity so dramatically and allowing us to grow bigger and bigger crops. The bad news is that we’ve gotten a little in front of the demand, quite frankly.
We’ve produced big crops for several years in a row, and we’ve gotten confirmation from a government report that we’re cutting back our acreage this year. Farmers intend to reduce both the corn and soybean acreage this year. Some of that is responding to market prices, some of that is responding to the bankers, and some of it may be in response to the weather if we continue to have wet weather into April.
What do you think of the next generation of farmers coming up through organizations such as the FFA.?
Armstrong: I can’t say enough about it, it’s just fantastic. It’s not only bringing along the next generation of farmers, it’s bringing along the next generation of leaders. And that may be even more important because they’re developing leaders for a variety of professions and hopefully our local economies can draw them back. I think the key is, many of these young people are not only going to be corporate leaders, but leaders in our government as well.
I hope they’re not turned off by what’s going on these days with the partisanship and fighting we see in Washington and that it doesn’t discourage them, because we need them badly. FFA is helping develop young leaders with a work ethic and morality, and there are going to be some great young people coming out of there. That’s why I’m a big supporter of FFA.
What are the agriculture industry’s biggest challenges?
Armstrong: In my opinion, it’s a misunderstanding of what we need to farm and it’s a very serious challenge. People don’t trust science. Surveys show that people don’t believe scientists anymore. That’s a problem. It’s a problem because we need all of the scientific advances, and we need all of the technology to continue to ratchet up the production to feed the growing population.
Every hour we’re adding 10,000 people to the population of the world. Think about that, every hour. Over the course of every day, we’re increasing the population by a quarter-of-a-million people, every day. We need to talk about water resources, where we’re going to put all these people, and how we’re going to feed them.
What industry trends would you like to see continued growth in?
Armstrong: I’d certainly like to see the technological advances keep coming. I don’t think there’s any doubt that we’re going to continue to wrap our arms around conservation practices which increase our sustainability. So many farmers are embracing them and will continue to do so.
I saw an interesting photograph recently of Amish tobacco farmers in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. There are about 7,000 acres of tobacco in that county, and they were using a no-till planter to put tobacco into a cover crop. It was a horse-drawn planter and built there in the Amish community. It shows that we’re really embracing sustainability all across the ag sector, and it’s also being demanded by consumers.
Are there any trends you don’t care for?
Armstrong: Yes, absolutely. It’s what I call the “smoke and mirrors” marketing of food. Food companies are playing word games and making claims they can’t prove. If you walk through a supermarket, it’s one aisle after another of marketing that’s deceptive. It may not be unlawful, but in my mind, it’s unethical.