Did Bloomberg belittle the knowledge and expertise of farmers?

· February 17, 2020

A statement Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg made in 2016 is coming back to haunt him — and very likely is torpedoing any hope he has of winning over rural America. 

The short video shows Bloomberg on stage discussing how he could teach anyone to be a farmer, that the profession is simply about digging a hole in the ground, dropping the seed in, and watering it. And poof, we have food. He goes on to undermine the training that has been needed to work in industrial factories while then saying that information- and data-driven jobs require real analytical skills — implying that farmers and other blue-collar folks don’t have such skills. 

The video quickly had over a million views, and the backlash has been fierce. Bloomberg denies that his intent was to lambaste modern agriculture but was instead to suggest that farming had been that simple for millennia. 

“The agrarian society lasted 3,000 years and we could teach processes. I could teach anybody, even people in this room, no offense intended, to be a farmer,” Bloomberg said. “It’s a process. You dig a hole, you put a seed in, you put dirt on top, add water, up comes the corn. You could learn that. Then we had 300 years of the industrial society. You put the piece of metal on the lathe, you turn the crank in the direction of the arrow and you can have a job. And we created a lot of jobs.”

He went on to say that the emergence of the information economy is “fundamentally different” from farming and manual trades because it requires skills that require people to “think and analyze.”

Larger cuts of the video have been difficult to obtain, and it’s unclear whether he intended his description that’s quoted above to implicate the 3,000 years of farming prior to the modern era or whether his 3,000-year description leads up to and includes the present day.

Bloomberg has criticized both the Trump and the Sanders campaigns for originating and/or fueling the spread of the 58-second clip, particularly on Twitter.

Modern agriculture, of course, is highly data-driven, which is why there has been such outrage from the farming community. Today’s available technology — from biotech seeds and inputs to precision agricultural tools and apps — makes farming one of the most advanced industries around. Yes, we do need good soil and water, but the analyses involved in getting efficiently grown and safe-to-consume food is the foundation of what makes agriculture tick.

Bloomberg’s remarks are resurfacing barely a month after he made a big deal about visiting a real Minnesota farm for the first time to learn about agriculture. It’s not hard to wonder why so many agricultural companies actively choose not to cite his mainstream Bloomberg News outlet for information.

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