Dave Nanda, the long-time plant breeder who writes for Indiana Prairie Farmer, asked me recently if it was OK if he used examples from a farmer or two who had really good results this year, and learned some interesting lessons along the way.
"Sure," I said. "Sharing is what we do here."
Then he made it more complicated. "Oh, but they don't want me to use their names," he said. "Is that OK?"
That answer is much trickier. There was a day when it would have been a flat "no." If someone didn't want their name used, or if a name didn't appear as a source in a story, perhaps it wasn't good information.
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After all, do you really read much farther in an ad once they attribute great results for their product to "Jack A., California" or "Jennifer P., Nebraska"? These people could be made up for all you know – you can't track someone down to ask them if it really worked based on a first name, last initial and a state; not even today.
But times change. I must admit I have used examples from real farmers without mentioning their names. I asked Nanda why they didn't want their names used. I wasn't surprised at the answer.
"They had really good yield, higher than their neighbors, and they are just hesitant about people knowing it," he said.
That makes sense today for several reasons. First, once you publish a huge yield, your landowners that you farm for immediately puff up and think they deserve more rent, not realizing that the reason it yielded so much might have had a lot to do with the ability of the tenant, not just their land. Even with low crop prices, they might want more rent, not less.
Secondly, some unscrupulous competitor might use yields or how much you farm as ammunition against you when trying to rent a farm that you currently farm, pointing out how they farm less, and could do a better job.
Two things I don't do today nearly as often as when I began this job more than three decades ago is talk about yields or number of acres farmed. One farmer participated as a host for a farm management tour only on the condition that they could not disclose how many acres he farmed. The normal policy was to disclose it, but they agreed since he was an excellent manager and they wanted other farmers to visit the farm.
"OK, Dave, I understand," I told him. "You can do it, just don't do it any more often than necessary After all, we don't want people to think we're like the late night TV ads that try to sell you something on the advice of someone you could never find, assuming they're real in the first place."
But we don't want to pass up good opportunities to let you learn from real-life experience either. That's why I said yes.