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New Documentary is Take 1 on Agriculture

Farmland:

The New Documentary is Take 1 on Agriculture.

 

Massive storm clouds and severe weather alerts set the stage
last night for the Ames, Iowa, premiere of Farmland.
It was a fitting backdrop for the opening scene as David and Kris Loberg kneel
and dig in the field to determine if a fickle Mother Nature has provided the
right conditions for their seeds to sprout and grow.

 

The 90-minute film, directed by documentary award-winner
James Moll, follows the lives of six young farmers and ranchers as they forge a
future for themselves and their families. Produced with support from the U.S.
Farmers & Ranchers Alliance, the documentary has been released in more than
60 major markets. It offers a glimpse of what farmers have to do to earn a
livelihood, interwoven with the individually appealing personal narratives of
these six producers:

 

Brad Bellah, Texas
cattle rancher

Leighton Cooley,
Georgia poultry farmer

Margaret Schlass,
Pennsylvania Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) grower

Sutton Morgan, California
organic producer

David Loberg, Nebraska
cattle, corn, soybean producer

Brian Veldhuizen,
Minnesota hog, corn, and soybean farmer

 

These six young producers are intelligent, informed, and
thoughtful. The common thread running throughout the film is the business challenges
they face, but the film genuinely succeeds in reflecting their authentic diversity
as farmers. It tackles the simmering internal debate within the agricultural
community about conventional vs. alternative growing practices and methods, ranging
from organic produce to antibiotics in livestock, natural beef labels, and genetically-modified
organisms (GMOs).

 

Farmland also
elevates the complexity of farm decision-making, and the growing importance of
technology. “You can’t get the planter going until the software is downloaded,”
Loberg points out.

 

I’m glad that the film features one woman farmer, a trend
reflected in the last two U.S. Census of Agriculture reports. Margaret Schlass
is the only one who is a first-generation farmer, yet her mother’s comment seems
oh-so-familiar. “She has a passion for farming,” her mom says. “The farm always
has to come first.”

 

The film also highlights the integral role played by women, including
mothers and spouses, in farm production and business record-keeping. Yet it
doesn’t downplay the value of a “dine and dash” meal prepared by Mom’s loving
hands.

 

One segment of the film features producers voicing their
frustrations with what they consider misleading public perceptions and
stereotypes of farmers and agriculture. It includes a visual reference to the shadowy
undercover videos of animal abuse in livestock operations.

 

The film succeeds in humanizing these young farmers by focusing
on their individual challenges: growing new crops and finding new markets,
taking over the operation after the death of a father, intense, long-term
drought conditions, and the unexpected birth of twins, Be prepared for a few genuinely
tear-jerking moments.

 

Farmland offers a powerfully
positive, if somewhat sanitized perspective, of farming. For instance, there was
no swearing as the farmers loaded cattle into the trailer.

 

Farmers have a reputation for complaining, and the film may
indirectly present insights into why they persevere: it captures farmers experiencing
the beauty and sense of satisfaction from growing their crops, the traditional husbandry
of working with animals, and the daily interactions with their family members.

 

A final overriding thematic element is the legacy of farming.
“It’s not about me, it’s about the next generation,” says Brian Veldhuizen’s
dad. Farmland speaks to the passion
for farming that is passed on from one generation to the next, as well as the poignant
sadness of the memory of the last corn crop made with Dad, working side by side.

 

It’s a surprisingly good documentary, but would have benefitted
from a more subtle musical score, and a more realistic hint of human flaws in family
and rural relationships. “We have bad days, we have good days,” Loberg says in
the film. The bad days are underrepresented.

 

Will Farmland strike
a responsive chord with nonfarmers? The Movies 12 Theatre was packed. However, Ames,
Iowa, is the home of Iowa State University, and many movie goers were affiliated
in some way. It also was easy to identify members of the agribusiness crowd sprinkled
in, along with a few farmers who were rained out of the fields.

 

I hope nonfarmers see it, too. Tell your nonfarm friends and
family members about it. The plan is to release Farmland as a DVD. It needs to go beyond being a feel-good film for
the farm community, and serve as a springboard for good discussions about U.S. agriculture
and food production.

 

If you saw the film, what did you think?

 

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