Monday, December 04, 2006

Farming Articles- why are they not readable?

Looking through the November issue of the Kentucky Farm Bureau News, a small magazine KFB sends out periodically throughout the year, I read an article concerning the negotiations going on in the World Trade Organization. For the last five years, the members have struggled to negotiate a new agreement in the Doha Development Round. This article titled, Agriculture fuels the conflict in WTO negotiations, written by Annie Effland, Mary Anne Normile and John Waino, discusses the disagreements between the WTO members on the issues of the necessary levels of cuts in agricultural tariffs and domestic support.

What struck me about this article (as well as many other farm related material I have read) is that the prose is written as if the intended audience had a BA in agriculture while the writing is so convoluted, it is hard to understand the meaning. Take this passage for instance:

Countries often impose policies that interfere with open markets in agriculture. WTO members have organized agricultural negotiations to address three categories of policy that can distort trade: market access, which includes import barriers like tariffs and traiff-rate quotas (TYRQs); domestic support, which includes producer subsidies through income and price support programs; and export subsidies.

After reading the paragraph twice, I decide that I understand that WTO members are going to negotiate on three areas: market access (import barriers); domestic support; and export subsidies (not sure what that means). The article goes on to say:

By distorting production or consumption decisions, each of these types of policies can impose economic costs both on the countries that employ them and on their trading partners.

At this point, this article is losing me. Who uses language like "distorting production or consumption decisions". I plow on. I come to this part:

Removing or reducing such distortions through multilateral trade negotiations results in widespread economic benefits. In countries with low protection, producers of products for which world prices rise will benefit from higher prices and increased exports.

Now, I am really lost. How, exactly, are countries with low protection going to benefit from removing or reducing such "distortions"?

Although I read, and for the most part, understood the meaning of the article, I would bet that most farmers bypassed the piece after the first couple of paragraphs. I am not suggesting that farmers are stupid; in fact, farming requires a detailed grasp of a whole range of farm issues: crop and pasture rotation; animal husbandry; grain and hay production and storage; knowledge of drainage, erosion, and soil conservation; the proper handling and storage of dangerous chemicals; the list goes on and on. Farming also takes a great deal of patience, common sense and training. Just as you would not put a novice in an expensive eighteen-wheeler without proper training, neither would you place a newbie on a thirty-thousand-dollar tractor and turn him loose, or give him fifty-thousand-dollars worth of cattle to raise.

Yet, intelligence aside, most farmers do not, as part of their daily routine, read material written by someone with a BA in agriculture composted as if to someone with a BA in agriculture. While this magazine article certainly reached the farmer, the message it was intended to deliver did not do so in a manner designed to be heard or understood by the farmer. If any company or organization sets itself up to be the voice of the farming community, on a state or national level, on critical issues which will impact the farmer's future, it should not only keep the people it represents in the loop of what, exactly, it is doing in their name and on their behalf, but should do so in easy-to-read, understandable language.