Farmers pose biggest threat to crop tour scouts

August 20, 2008

Sharp edges on the leaves of corn plants, an unseen hole by the side of a field waiting for a car, a barbed wire fence protecting soybeans. All of these are hazards faced by crop scouts every year, not to mention the possibility of losing a boot in a muddy corn row.

But the biggest threat to scouts comes from farmers. Specifically, farmers who are infuriated by people trampling through their fields and damaging their crops. Stories abound about farmers making physical threats to scouts they discover in their fields.

Most farmers are placated after finding out who the crop scouts are and what they are doing. Leaders on the Pro Farmer tour carry a supply of baseball caps with them to offer farmers in a bid to smooth any ruffled feathers.

But one scout says he once offered a farmer a nickel for the three ears of corn pulled from a field after listening to a grower’s non-stop rant about how much money he had invested in the crop and how much harm the scouts were causing to the corn.

The problem stems from the fact that crop scouts do not ask permission to inspect the fields, a practice based on the idea that it is easier to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission.

To be sure, the majority of farmers met along the tour routes are incredibly polite and curious about any insights scouts might have about his crops and conditions in the area. Most farmers are aware that the tour is swinging through their area due to the media coverage and are happy to answer any questions tour scouts have about how the growing season is going.

This can lead to another problem, given a farmers’ propensity to turn short stories into long ones.

On Monday, scouts in northern Nebraska ran into the wife of a farmer who was startled to see three muddy scouts emerge from her corn fields and began yelling at them. After learning what the scouts were doing, the woman launched into a long monologue about how wet conditions delayed planting for weeks and how she had to tow her husband’s tractor out of the mud multiple times during the spring. She apologized for yelling but repeatedly said that she never knows what kinds of people might be snooping around her fields.

The conversation, while extremely friendly, caused the scouts to skip the survey of another field in the same county because they were now faced with the threat of missing dinner.

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