A commentary by Casey Langan, Executive Director of Public Relations for the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation.
Aside from maybe the Green Bay Packers, cheese and beer, Wisconsinites agree on very little anymore. Everything is viewed through a political prism and a philosophical slugfest soon follows.
This was sadly on display on my social media pages when Oscar Mayer announced last year that it would be closing its plant in Madison. There was a time when this might have been a routine business story, when the writing might have been on the massive plant's wall that it had outlived its usefulness, and when everyone's first thought might have been the hundreds of families who would be losing a blue-collar, middle-class income-generating job.
Those days appear to be gone. Instead, the focus on social media was finger-pointing and name-calling by people looking to create a villain and score political points.
A Facebook post from an acquaintance in the business community summed up the current state of affairs with accuracy.
'This is sad. What makes me even sadder is that all my liberal friends are bashing Walker and Republicans and blaming them. All my conservative friends are bashing liberal Madison and blaming them.
I've seen so much hate on my feed for the last five years. Why would anybody want to deal with Wisconsin? It's like inviting yourself into the most dysfunctional family ever.
If we spent as much energy trying to improve our state together, as we do trying to destroy the people we disagree with, maybe we would be more appealing as a state.
So this goes across the boards; not directed at any particular person, but just in general. The sheer nastiness I see as a result of this announcement shows how selfish and misguided we have become. We've forgotten that it's about the state and only care about who we can blame.'
There are some within Wisconsin's agricultural community who should take these words to heart.
Public infighting about the impacts of large livestock farms reflects poorly on everyone. When the only voices that get air or ink are the fringes (those looking to expand or those who think large farms are environmental and economic disasters) then it appears as if there is no middle ground on anything related to herd sizes, commodity pricing or the loss of dairy farms.
The number of Wisconsin dairy farms has been on the decline for more than 50 years. At this point I think most farmers realize that dairy herds are sold for many reasons. Anyone laying blame squarely on the price of milk or large farms is being either intentionally deceptive or naïve.
I also think most farmers realize that foreign economies have as much to do with their incomes as the big farm down the road. In agriculture, it doesn't pay for us to publicly lament about low prices or high cost inputs. Not only did a historically profitable 'super cycle' just end, but the general public doesn't care about farmers' financial bottom lines anyway. They also quit paying attention to agriculture's concerns when it appears that farmers cannot agree on anything.
There is a troubling trend afoot where some organizations use these issues as a way to differentiate themselves.
That is wrong. Bashing one segment of agriculture should never be used as a membership recruitment tool by another.
I'm not saying there aren't legitimate differences and competing interests within agriculture, but some would be wise to follow Farm Bureau's lead by not choosing one commodity, farm size or management style at the expense of another. At a time when nastiness is the new normal, I expect someone somewhere will throw a barb at me for saying that. Oh well, someone has to start speaking up for the middle ground.
Wisconsin agriculture is made to appear as polarized as its politics when there is open disagreement on whether there is room for farming of all types and sizes.
There is an unspoken rule that many families once followed: Keep squabbles within the family and don't make it personal. I wonder how long it will take Wisconsin and the farming community to remember that.