Road to hell often paved with good intentions

In a recent issue of Southeast Farm Press we ran a story about two brothers, Charles and Dennis Allen, who farm near Plymouth, N.C. When ordinary people do extraordinary things and good things happen, it's a good human interest story. We all like to think it could happen to us.

Any industry loves to see win/win/win scenarios among its different factions. The Allen brothers in part by hard work and dedication to their craft and in part by serendipity were thrust into one of those rare all-win situations.

Of late those kind of occurrences happening to farmers seem to be too far and few between. This should have been a win/win/win story that makes everyone involved feel good — and hopefully it still will.

However, a simple mistake that happens all too often in our cyber world created justified concern over the premature announcement of a land deal that was a big part of the Allen brothers success story.

Every day thousands of electronic files get placed in the wrong place and held too long or sent prematurely or to the wrong place. The Allen brother's story fell into one of those cyber gaps — it didn't go where it was supposed to go and did go where it wasn't supposed to go, creating some hard feelings that simply shouldn't have happened.

During the process of mentally beating myself up over making such a stupid mistake it occurred to me how much our world could benefit from simply slowing down a little bit and taking the time to cross the t's and dot the i's.

The story doesn't take away from the magnificence of the land the Allen brothers worked so hard to own and develop. Nor does it diminish the lifetime of successes they put into getting to a position of being able to sell.

What my lack of attention to detail did do was give the Allen brothers some well-founded, but unnecessary distrust of the media.

In my zest to bring their story to light, I created some disharmony that shouldn't exist in such a small community as agriculture. As my 83-year old mother tells me when I fail to call her on a regular basis, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

As we head into an era of political change, social unrest and financial uncertainties paying more attention to detail is a good course to follow. Our efforts to promote our industry need to be tempered by a careful understanding of how well-intended praise for one segment of our industry may negatively impact another sector.

A good, though bad for agriculture, example is a recent change in the latest farm bill that went largely unnoticed by agriculture. A simple change in funding for integrated pest management programs is another classic case of not paying attention to detail.

For a handful of researchers in Land-Grant institutions across America a subtle change in the latest piece of legislation may put a big dent in the way they do business, ultimately trickling down to farmers.

On Sept. 21, Integrated Pest Management (IPM) coordinators across the country got an e-mail from the Cooperative States Research Education and Extension Service telling them their funding for IPM programs had been switched from formula funding to competitive grants.

For farmers and most of agriculture this subtle change went little noticed and likely will remain of little importance. At least until a farmer needs some information about controlling one pest or another and that information isn't available.

I have no doubt that someone within the USDA believes this is a good course of action for American agriculture. However, if they had more closely looked at the details of this seemingly innocuous mistake they would have found that opening IPM funding for competitive grants opens the door for large universities with elaborate grant writing machines to grab the lions share of these funds.

Again, the intentions were good, but the results stand to create some real problems unless someone in USDA recognizes the potential damage. Just as magazine articles that are printed are hard to ‘unprint’ laws that are enacted by Congress are hard to change.

The first step is recognizing the problem, the next is having the integrity to accept what you did wrong and take all the steps possible to make amends.

Several positions at Land-Grant institutions in the Southeast are funded by IPM grant money. Formula funding has worked for over 30 years, so why change it so abruptly — IPM directors were notified Sept. 21 that their funds would be cut off Oct. 1.

If positions are lost, people's lives will be affected directly. Indirectly, farmers will be affected because there will be some level of disconnect between regional and county Extension leaders who depend in part on information generated by IPM programs to help farmers more efficiently manage myriad pest problems.

Whether these positions can be maintained by universities that are hard-strapped for money remains to be seen. That we could all have been more diligent in keeping track of legislative changes that have the potential to affect so many farmers is certain.

I don't know of anyone involved in the agriculture industry who doesn't want to help farmers succeed and to champion their cause.

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