Growing up in Central Illinois has given me a certain respect towards farmers. I feel as if I have a pretty basic understanding on the importance of farming and building a relationship with your farmers. Although my stance on different agricultural issues is one that is a bit hazy, I feel like I could describe to someone the role which farmers play.

farm, farmer, field, run down, shed, red, brown, boardsOne can only imagine the cultural difference from moving from the small town of Mansfield, Illinois to attending Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Illinois- a large university with a majority of its’ students from suburban areas. Northern is not a university one would normally attend to gain a better agricultural education.  Ever since receiving this internship and working more closely with the Illinois Corn Marketing Board, I have begun to start a conversation with many of my fellow students on what farming means to them or how they see farmers. Throughout my discussions, I have come across five common misconceptions on how some suburban or urban students view farmers—some of those being quite humorous.

1. All crops that farmers grow are for the population to consume.

yum, butter, husks, corn on the cobMany of the students I spoke with believed that all of the corn fields grown around the area were edible—as if they could walk into the field and bring home the corn for some delicious corn on the cob. Obviously this is not the case. Most corn grown is for livestock rather than for consumption. In fact, according to the National Corn Growers Association about eighty percent of all corn grown in the U.S. is consumed by domestic and overseas livestock, poultry, and fish production. The crop is fed as ground grain, silage, high-moisture, and high-oil corn.

2. Farmers don’t have college educations.

intelligent, farmers, farms, college, university, smartThis statement is one which I find to be rather humorous. The amount of farmers gaining a college degree and higher education is continuing to grow. According to the USDA, in 2009, a quarter of farmers graduated with a four year degree or more. See their website for more information.

3. Farming is a dying profession.

Although data from the U.S. Agriculture Department does show that the average age of the U.S. farm has been increasing for decades and the overall percentage of young farmers continues to fall. However, people within the movement say these numbers can be misleading. They claim that more and more young people are going into farming. This may be a grey area, I would definitely disagree with the statement that farming is a “dying profession.”

4.computers, tractors, combines, GPS Farming is a low tech industry.

That’s got to be a joke! Some of the most high technology is currently invading farms across the country. What about yield monitors, variable rate technology, GPS systems, and more? See this post on the Singularity Hub website for more information:

 5. All farmers are men. 

ladies, girls, farmers, farm, womenThis seems to be a very common misconception with the students I spoke with. They believed that the typical farmer was a male. According to the 2007 USDA Agriculture Census, Of the 3.3 million U.S. farm operators counted in 2007 Census, 30.2 percent — or more than 1 million — were women. And that was JUST in 2007—the number is still growing! 

Starting conversations with suburban and urban students about farming is exactly what we need to do to educate others and put an end towards these misconceptions. I hope to continue to have conversations such as these and get the word out about farming!

Lauren Gress
Northern Illinois University student


  1. I’m one of those farmers with a four year degree and so is my Dad. Soil and Crop Management Purdue Class of 2003! I’ve thought about all the points you’ve at one time or another. With or without a college education, it takes a lot of knowledge and skills from agronomy to mechanics to business to run a successful farm.

  2. I live in a small town surrounded by farms. My father works in the dairy industry, so I know more about livestock than crops, but nonetheless, I hear these misconceptions all over the place (my school is in the city). It really irks me when someone says, “people only farm because they’re too dumb to go to college”. I too feel we should clear up these misconceptions. Good day to you, madam.

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