|Name: Pat Benedict|
Title: The New U.S. Farmer
Location: Sabin, M.N. (pop. 441)
Claim to Fame: Cover Model
Highlights: Technology is moving us towards the future, but the media is taking us back in time.
To his friends and family, Pat Benedict is a soft-spoken farmer from a small town in Minnesota. Few are even aware Benedict is an icon of modern agriculture. In 1978, he appeared on the cover of TIME magazine for an article dubbed "The New U.S. Farmer."
At the time, American agriculture was undergoing major change, and the article sought to depict the industry's sweeping transformations in areas like technology, production, expansion, and federal farm policy.
It was a passing of the torch, and with it came new leadership: Pat Benedict. He was by definition the "new" American farmer, running an operation that was more efficient, more innovative, more technical, and more competitive than anything you'd find on Wall Street.
"I think there was a public perception that farmers were a little behind the times, just chewing on a wheat straw and waiting for their crop to grow," he laughed. "It's an ancient profession, but it's not an easy one, and the TIME article shed light on the fact that agriculture is a serious business."
It's been more than 30 years since the article was penned, but Benedict says despite all of the knowledge available, and all of the industry's advancements, he still finds himself defending the profession.
"In 1978, we were lauded as tactical businessmen; engineers of the land who not only kept our country fed, but found a way to do it so that it was safe and affordable amidst the rising costs," he said. "We adapted and we overcame, and yes, we should have been recognized for it."
Yet Benedict, who is still farming today, marvels that while the industry continues to improve its operations, the public perception of U.S. agriculture, along with that of the mainstream media, has drastically declined.
"There are a lot of misperceptions out there—the industry is full of corporate greed, poor environmental practices, price gouging—but I've been in this business for almost 60 years, and I can tell you that our farmers are among the best in world," he said. "The attacks on U.S. agriculture are different today than they were in 1978, but they're entirely unfounded and much more devastating to the industry."
The article also took into question whether or not a younger generation of farmers, faced with higher land prices, interest rates, and production costs, could survive the current climate without significant capital.
According to Benedict, yes, it's possible. Three of his five sons have since joined the family business, and farm the land his grandfather developed back in 1900. Given everything he's gone through to keep the business afloat, Benedict is proud to see it continue into the fourth generation, and he should be—farm prices have dropped, productions costs have skyrocketed, and the margins are still low.
So what would Benedict tell TIME magazine today if he had the chance?
"The American public has lost touch with agriculture, but for the wrong reasons," he sighed. "The vast majority of us are family farmers, working 18 hour days, struggling to turn a profit and keep food on our table. Even so, we're better stewards of the land today than we've ever been in the past."
Though the critics will disagree, Benedict's right. Less land is utilized in production, yields per acre have more than doubled due to seed technology, the amount of fuel per acre has been cut, and the herbicides and pesticides used are far safer today than in the past for both the worker and consumer.
And while TIME may not be as quick to applaud Benedict for his efforts this time around, he's not ready to give up.
"We have a lot to be proud of as an industry," he professes. "If we had to take a step back to where we were 10, 20, even 30 years ago, the cost of farming would be incredible and people would be starving."