I am addressing the topic here in columnar form, however. What changed ? Well I’m 99% retired now. And after almost three years of battling colon cancer, a lot of the things that once bothered me no longer do. Please note that this is a column giving my personal point of view, not a balanced press article giving multiple points of view.
Let’s start with what is obvious to those familiar with this part of the world: Religion here is dominated by Protestants and Catholics. The Pew Research Center found that in North Dakota (statistics for surrounding states are virtually identical) 77% of residents are Christians, with Catholics and Protestants making up almost all of them. Non-Christian denominations make up 3% and the remaining 20% are classified as unaffiliated, which can mean agnostic, atheist, or “nothing in particular”.
Theological conflicts once led to widespread tensions between Catholic and Protestant farmers in the region. An example: I am told that some landowners have refused to sell or lease agricultural land to people belonging to the “other” religious group. This Protestant / Catholic wall isn’t as thick or tall as it used to be, but it’s still there, at least in places. Who is responsible for this? There are a lot of criticisms to be made, at least it seems to me. (Full disclosure: I come from a strong Lutheran background.)
Many landowners in the area still prefer to sell or lease farmland to members of their own religious group, especially their own congregation. Some of these landowners will even take less than market value when they sell / rent to another member of the congregation. This is changing, however. For better or for worse (or both), strictly economic considerations are increasingly common.
Some unsolicited advice for landowners considering selling or renting a property: Get unbiased and knowledgeable advice on property value – the extension service is a good place to start – before accepting an offer even that of a member of your own congregation. Confidence can be a good thing; it is even better when accompanied by caution.
This previously mentioned never-written cover story reportedly focused on how religious beliefs influence so-called “good management” in farming practices, particularly GMOs and containment livestock. Personally, I totally agree with both, although I understand and respect that some people are not. Modern Upper Midwest ag is a big tent, or should be, and there is room for honest disagreement on what constitutes good stewardship. To me, just about any practice that includes respect for the land and livestock and honest relationships with neighbors and other farmers could qualify.
For what it’s worth: I’ve heard anecdotal reports of high urban “religious leaders” (the politically correct and new surrogate term for clergy) who are posted to rural areas, where they preach against GMOs and confinement of livestock. Unsurprisingly, things don’t go well with their followers who use these practices.
I have no desire to tell anyone what to believe or how to cultivate. But I respectfully suggest that farmers and ranchers occasionally assess their religious beliefs and farming practices to determine if the two are compatible.
I also respectfully convey (in ag-centric form) this 2,000-year-old orientation: Whatever your farming practices, fight the good fight, finish your journey, keep the faith.
Jonathan Knutson is a former Agweek reporter. He grew up on a farm and devoted his career to farming. He can be contacted at [email protected]