In the last year or two I have noticed the word "farmer" being used more and more as a general term for the face of agriculture From the media covering agriculturalists collectively as farmers, to being asked by other people in our industry if I'm a cattle farmer, I've seen this trend grow and gain popularity across the country.
It's not that I dislike being called a farmer, or feel they're somehow lesser than ranchers, not at all. It's that they have a different job description from mine. Equally important and similar in that both farmers and ranchers raise food, but still very different in what foods they raise and how they produce those foods.
Farmers raised crops, and hog, dairy and poultry producers are also frequently called farmers. They use a lot of machinery that I have never driven, can't tell you the name of, or what specific purpose it has. They are soil and fertilizer experts, seed variety gurus and plant growing geniuses. They maximize their land potential through the crops they grow, and are often located on the most productive lands in the country.
Ranchers raise cattle or sheep. We use horses and/or 4-wheelers, and a farmer would laugh hysterically at our "machinery." We manage our land to do its best job producing native grass species, and are often doing this on lands unsuitable for farming due to lack of topsoil, moisture, or rough topography. We maximize our lands potential through the pounds we put on our livestock. We are fence fixers, cattle genetic researchers, and we put our water in a tank instead of on the ground.
Farms are also smaller on average than ranches, but that doesn't mean their production is less or the workload is lighter. Farmers have to spend a lot more time per acre on their land to plant, grow and harvest a crop. In comparison, ranchers spend their time gathering, moving and working their livestock, and implementing fences and watering systems, in a fashion that maintains or improves the native condition of their land. Farmers divide their operation up by fields or paddocks, ranchers by pastures.
Again, both very important, but not the same.
Sure, there are those who overlap, and do both. But, for the most part in my part of the world people fall more into one category or the other. There are also those foods that require contributions from both farmers and ranchers before they make it to your plate, and those that come straight from a farm or ranch, through processing, and into the human food chain.
It bothers me that these two very important careers are being lumped together in an attempt to make our industry more understandable. I think it's critically important to inform people accurately, and when people within ag can't tell me what the difference between a farmer and rancher is, it worries me that the general public, who knows little about our industry, will also miss the important contributions both groups make to their dinner tables.
Thank a farmer for your dairy, fruits and vegetables, and thank a rancher for your , lamb and steak!