When I became a farmer 25 years ago, I didn’t realize the importance of becoming a storyteller as well—but that’s what the economics and politics of agriculture require today.
My family farm in Germany goes back 11 generations, to the 1700s. We have the papers to support that legacy, but the farm may be even older.
Like my ancestors, I focus on food production. On the farm today, I grow winter wheat, barley, canola, and corn. I also raise pigs.
Unlike my ancestors, I invest a lot of my time explaining what we do and why we do it to people who don’t know much about farming—an audience that includes consumers as well as politicians, regulators, journalists, and more. Many of them live in cities and rarely see farms, let alone visit farms and understand what farmers do.
That’s why I became active on X (formerly Twitter) as the first farmer in Germany who uses this social-media platform to explain modern agriculture.
If farmers fail to tell their own stories, someone else will. This would most definitely put us in a position to lose the freedom to farm—and this freedom already is under severe pressure, due to harmful policies such as the EU’s Green Deal. This policy would force many of us to adopt practices that will make us less productive and raise food prices in grocery stores and restaurants—even though we can meet many of the policy’s environmental goals through innovation and technology.
So I’m honored and heartened to receive this year’s GFN Kleckner Award for Global Farm Leadership. I’ll formally accept it in Des Moines, Iowa, on October 24, during the World Food Prize and Borlaug Dialogue.
The award is an honor because its namesake, Dean Kleckner, was both a farmer as well as an influential advocate for farmers. His legacy lives on with the non-profit organization that he led for many years, the Global Farmer Network. I’m proud to participate in this group’s activities as a member. Joining it was one of the best decisions I ever made.
The award is heartening because it will give me new opportunities to tell my story as well as the stories of other farmers. The better people understand who we are and what we do, the better positioned we’ll be to grow the food that the world needs.
Here’s an example of what I mean.
Social media is a wonderful tool for communication, but it also can function as a megaphone for ignorance—and misinformation. Have you ever heard the ridiculous claim that farmers “poison” their crops and their land.
Why would a farmer do that?
On my farm, we work hard to promote the health of our crops and the soil they grow in. That means defeating the weeds that try to steal their nourishment as well as the pests that attack them and open pathways for disease.
To accomplish these goals, crop-protection products give us the tools we need—and we apply them with discretion and precision. We use limited quantities and put them in exactly the right place at the right time. This helps our crops grow and preserves their nutritional value. Our commitment to precision technology also encourages sustainability in all its forms. As we strive to do more with less, we maintain the health of our soil and grow food in a way that is financially feasible for farmers and economically affordable for consumers.
I can talk about practices such as this all day long, but there’s nothing quite like showing them to people who want to learn more. That’s why our farm participates in “open farm days,” when guests can visit our farm and ask questions. When people watch us farm with their own eyes and hear us describe what we do and why we do it, they almost always come away with a better appreciation of agriculture and its challenges.
Not everybody can make the journey to our farm, of course, and so I try to create something like virtual visits on social media. I routinely post photos of my fields and videos from my tractor, trying to educate the public about what we do. I also take questions from anybody who poses them.
Others have joined me in this effort, but we need more help from farmers in my country, throughout the EU, and around the world.
We’ve got to tell our stories—and when we tell them with honesty and authority, we’ll win hearts and minds and defend our freedom to farm.