Keeping your reputation is a full-time job

The headline in the local newspaper, The Commercial Appeal, blared, “Cotton farmer shoots 40 deer.” Cringing, I read on.

The farmer, who shall remain nameless, had received a permit to destroy the deer which were consuming his cotton crop mid-season. The article stated that the deer are attracted to the salty taste of the leaves, a characteristic of glyphosate-resistant cotton.

He shot the critters — which were in the cotton field having dinner at the time of their demise — and removed them from the field.

No big deal so far.

But instead of disposing of the carcasses, he left them to rot in the woods surrounding the field and adjacent to a nearby subdivision.

He should of known better.

When residents of the subdivision discovered the carcasses, all heck broke loose. The news spread east to other newspapers. Letters to the editor followed, most of which were unsympathetic.

One shocked resident of the neighborhood wrote, “Somehow a successful farmer was given a license to slaughter deer out of season. He was not limited to the number, the sex or even the age. He left the bodies to rot.

“This farmer knew there were deer there when he planted his seeds. He knew (when he was planting this variety of cotton) that it might attract deer. There is also the safety factor of shooting in people's backyards.”

Then he let loose on the rest of farmers. “The farmer also sprays his cotton with chemicals that have the potential of affecting the health of the neighbors and their children.

“These chemicals, plus fertilizers he uses, wash into the adjacent Wolf River, which we have been trying to protect and restore for years and could end up degrading the aquifer that is our water supply.”

He went on to say that cotton “is not a crop in great shortage and the taxpayer dollars are scandalously used to subsidize.”

I can certainly defend the farmer, pointing out that he was only protecting a significant investment worth as least as much as the letter writer's scenic country home. What he did was legal, too. And I could add that a drought in west Tennessee has already wiped out 20 percent of the dryland cotton crop.

I could also safely say that the deer population and the farming community got along just fine before the letter writer's subdivision was built, concentrating the deer's habitat and proving once again that farmers and wildlife make a much better couple than neighborhoods and wildlife.

Still, the farmer should have recognized the political and public relations implications of farming near relocated city folk, even though they've moved out to the country oblivious of their own impact on the ecology.

He should have taken the time to dispose of the animals properly.

But I would also tell the letter writer that farmers do a whole lot more for wildlife and the environment than they get credit for through habitat creation and restoration, reduced tillage and chemical use and a host of other practices.

I'd tell him that food and fiber surpluses are usually temporary, as are shortages. I would remind him that farming puts food on his table, fuel in his tank and the shirt on his back.

And I would explain that subsidies are used to offset the considerable costs of farming, and are not necessarily a sign of financial success.

Sadly, agriculture seems to be losing a little more of the public relations battle with detractors every day, and at least some of it is our own doing. Someday down the road, it could come back and take a big bite out of our cotton industry. So stay vigilant. Keeping your reputation is a full-time job.

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