© 2008 Plant Management Network.
What Name Will You Claim?
John H. Fike, Crop and Soil Environmental Sciences, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg 24061; and Chris D. Teutsch, Southern Piedmont Agricultural Research and Extension Center, Virginia Tech, Blackstone 23824
Corresponding author: John H. Fike. firstname.lastname@example.org
Fike, J. H., and Teutsch, C. D. 2008. What name will you claim? Online. Forage and Grazinglands doi:10.1094/FG-2008-0519-01-PS.
As humans, we seem wired to give name to things. The act of naming helps us identify, define, and categorize the people, places, or things being talked or thought about. The act of naming can have great power by describing "the named" or putting it in its place. That’s why parents who give their children names for no strong reason – maybe they think it’s pretty or currently popular – would never consider "Adolph" because of its association with a maniacal mass murderer. Names also have power because of the strong impact on how others perceive us and how we perceive ourselves. Few men would like to be "A Boy Named Sue."
Now think about your own name. Would you change your name if you could? To what? What would that change reflect? Would it better tell others who you are? Or, would it be a statement of who you want to be? How about the name for what you do? Do you consider yourself a farmer? A cattleman? A livestock producer? A hay grower? And how do others consider that title?
Name changes for the sake of change – especially when imposed in top-down fashion without stakeholder buy-in – are rarely useful. But, a name change can serve to good effect when an individual or an institution sees a need to re- or better define its roles or functions. For example, when Virginia Tech’s Department of Agronomy changed names to the Department of Crop and Soil Environmental Sciences (CSES) several years ago, it did so both to better its focus and to better reflect the efforts of the department. While it was – and still is – a mouthful, that name change had several positive impacts for the department both within and outside the university. Perhaps the biggest impact was in changing others’ perceptions of what the department is and does – which is more than crop plant production.
While changing names may seem awkward, it’s actually fairly common in the world of the Ivory Tower. A recent article in Nature noted that "In recent decades, many geologists have become Earth scientists, some metallurgists are now materials scientists, and biology departments have splintered into all manner of subdivisions. Most of these renamings are down to more than fashion; they reflect a genuine shift in emphasis" (2).
So what does all this have to do with forages and your operation? If you identify yourself as a farmer, this is certainly a fair title which speaks of honest labor on the land. But this name can also mask the greater aspects of your endeavors beyond livestock or hay production. Other titles that could be appropriated by those in forage-livestock industries could include "grassland ecosystems manager," "environmental steward," or "environmental conservationist."
Well-managed grasslands provide important conservation "goods and services." Appropriately managed, grasslands can sequester carbon, filter water, prevent soil erosion and nutrient loss, break pest cycles in cropping systems, provide wildlife habitat, and serve as an important sink for nutrients from livestock industries and municipalities. Grasslands also provide important economic benefits via activities such as tourism, hunting, and birding.
Thinking of ourselves and our work in this manner may help us give greater consideration to what we do and our value to society. It is critical that we think of our activities in these terms and that we help society understand the critical role of grasslands in maintaining a healthy planet.
But be careful! There is great responsibility in assuming these new names. To assume such titles means that we are actively working to conserve and protect natural resources of water, soil, and nutrients. Do we fertilize appropriately and at the right time? Do we protect stream banks and fragile slopes? Are stocking rates low enough to maintain good protective ground cover? Do we use buffer strips to filter out nutrients and protect stream quality? As environmental conservationists and stewards, we should be doing these things and proving our value to society beyond meat, milk, fiber, and forage. If we do not, then these values and activities will be imposed upon us by a society increasingly attuned to the need for conservation of precious resources.
In a chapter titled "Forages and the Environment," the authors of Southern Forages ask, "What could be more noble and satisfying than spending a lifetime living on, and caring for, the land?" [page 274 in (1)]. This noble endeavor is fulfilling beyond the bounds of the farmstead. Living as a conscientious steward of Nature’s gifts impacts neighbors close-by and far. The example set, the soil conserved, the water clean, the wildlife enjoyed – all should be part of the satisfaction one receives in working to leave a gift for future generations. So, what’s in a name – and what name will you claim for yourself?
John Fike and Chris Teutsch are associate professors at Virginia Tech with efforts in forage-livestock and bioenergy cropping research. They may be contacted by email at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Ball, D. M., Hoveland, C. S., and Lacefield, G. D. 2002. Southern Forages, 3rd Edn. Potash and Phosphate Inst., Norcross, GA.
2. Nature (editorial). 2006. What's in a name? Online. Nature. 442, 486. doi:10.1038/442486b.