Rick Friday and the Cartoon that Got Him Fired

rick fridayA fellow named Rick Friday wrote a cartoon for Farm News in Iowa and was fired after one of his humorous pieces offended some people. Details are a bit fuzzy, but Friday indicated an editor of the Farm News told him a seed company dropped its advertisement, which in turn prompted Farm News to no longer publish Friday’s cartoons.

The cartoon in question points out that the CEOs of major agricultural businesses make far more money than the average Iowa farmer.

What should we make of this development? Is it a terrible thing? That’s certainly the general sentiment I’m reading. People are largely on the side of Friday and feel it is a terrible injustice that he lost his job. It’s the small farmer against the giant corporation. Most people will be rooting for the small farmer. I think the issue is far more complex than simply big guy versus little guy.

In this case, the farmers largely exist because of large agricultural businesses. Companies mentioned in Friday’s cartoon include Monsanto, DuPont Pioneer, and John Deere although certainly others like Archer Daniels Midland exist. If it wasn’t for the research and development and technological know-how of these companies, most farms would simply not exist.

A farm that doesn’t take advantage of these technological marvels does not have nearly as much income as one that does. From modern machinery that costs millions of dollars to resistant seeds that prevent the loss of entire harvests; farmers are wholly and completely reliant on these businesses.

Likewise, farmers are the market for these companies. Without the farmers to buy the tractors and seed the fields, these companies go bankrupt. The two are wholly reliant upon each other.

What Friday wrote is completely true but it’s also a product of how much money the average farmer in Iowa makes as compared to the earnings of a multinational agricultural business. Companies like those mentioned generate billions of dollars in revenue. The leaders of businesses like that are compensated accordingly.

It is entirely proper for one of those businesses to withdraw advertising because they don’t like the content of a particular newspaper. Likewise, a farmer might decide to stop using the products from one of those companies in a similar fashion. Perhaps tens of thousands of farmers might stop doing so in response to the firing of Friday. That’s essentially the power of unionization. If they wanted to do it, if they found common ground, there is nothing to prevent them.

I sympathize with Friday. I think the company that withdrew their support in order to get Friday fired is being a bully and bringing unnecessary bad publicity upon itself. I think it shows not only a lack of good humor but also foregoes an opportunity for dialog. The farmers have a complaint. It wouldn’t hurt to address it.

Finally, I have words of advice for Friday: Be careful when you bite the hand that feeds you, it might stop providing food.

Tom Liberman

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