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Dodge-Paul Harvey Ad Mostly Fantasy; 53% of Farm Workers Illegal Immigrants

Apparently there was some football game last Sunday that featured a 1978 Paul Harvey speech on farming. Harvey borrowed his "God Made a Farmer" speech from text circulating in small-town papers in the 1940s. Dodge borrowed Harvey's version to sell trucks.

And various agriculture advocates are borrowing this obsolete speech to peddle an image of farming that is about as accurate as a video of two blacksmiths building a Guts-and-Glory Dodge Ram pickup truck from scratch. The Dodge ad was more about what we miss about farming, what we wish it still was, what Monsanto and mega-dairies have destroyed and won't ever let return.

The Dodge ad also looked mighty white compared to the reality of the modern American agriculture labor force:

Our farming sector doesn't really look like that today. 75% of all farm workers in America were born in Mexico, and around 53% of those are undocumented. So it's quite a different picture than we expect [Stephen Keppel, interviewed by Jeremy Hobson, "What's at Stake for Farmers in Immigration Debate," audio, Marketplace Morning Report, 2013.02.07].

53% of farm workers are illegal immigrants. Apply that number to South Dakota, and you could estimate that half of the $8 billion or $21 billion or $98 moo-trillion or whatever fantabulous number Walt Bones blurts out next.

Do you still wonder why the Governor and South Dakota Legislature kill every bill Rep. Stace Nelson proposes to crack down on illegal immigration except for his toothless plank in the SDGOP platform? Let Stephen Keppel explain it further:

The agriculture industry has been a big proponent of immigration reform. They would by developing a legal path to citizenship and more importantly for them a guest worker program... would legalize a huge section of their workforce. It would help them plan for the future. It would help workers that work seasonally that come in from mexico and work throughout west coast come and go much more easily. It's just much more sustainable.

...If we went the route of mass deportations, first it would be very costly. There are some estimates that it would cost maybe $285 billion to deport all undocumented immigrants. It could cost the economy $2.6 trillion dollars over the next ten years from GDP. And it would absolutely crush the U.S. farming industry. Farms would shrink, we would definitely be producing a lot less farm goods [Keppel, 2013.02.07].

And on the ninth day, God made Mexicans. And the Americans all bought big trucks to drive to Wal-Mart to fill with bulging plastic sacks of food produced mostly by migrant workers who, like more than 99% of the Americans they feed, will never own a bright red barn or green field or scenic snow-dusted ranch with a view of the mountains.


  1. Dana P. 2013.02.08

    The original commercial from the Super Bowl game, really "struck a chord" with our own Kristi Noem. Here is what she tweeted on Monday, Feb 4th, @ 8:03a.m. (and she provided the link to the original commercial)

    From @KristiNoem---
    "The "God Made A Farmer" commercial struck a chord with my family & me. What do you think? RT & let me know. "

    Gosh Kristi, why would that be? The Funny or Die version is truly more accurate, isn't it?

    And the workers that put a ton of food on Americans tables, will never own one of those Ram trucks.

  2. Robert J. Cordts 2013.02.08

    It is a very clever advertisement that Don Draper would be proud of. Madison Avenue has not lost its touch. Nostalgia is a very powerful tool in advertising. Reality is not quite as effective.

  3. Rorschach 2013.02.08

    I liked the commercial.

    Rep. Noem could buy a lot of Ram trucks with the $3 million or so her family has farmed from the federal government in farm subsidies. And she's so innovative she's found a second way to farm the government - for $175,000 a year without producing anything at all.

    Rep. Noem could buy 3 or 4 Ram trucks a year with all that money, classify the purchases as business expenses to offset her taxable farm income, and then depreciate them down to nothing for further tax benefits. An innovative farmer could drive a classy truck and just about avoid paying income taxes altogether. Now ... if they could just figure out how to pass a $10 million dollar farm on to the kidlins without paying estate taxes. ... Got it!

  4. mike 2013.02.08

    Thank you for being a breath of fresh air Cory.

    (I did like the ad.)

  5. Roger Elgersma 2013.02.08

    Farming has changed significantly since I remember Paul Harvey telling us that is the way it is. Back then farming was known as a job of a lot of hard work and people did not complain about it. Now Kristi tells me herself that a farmer puts the seed in the ground in the spring with all the chemicals to kill the weeds and fertilizer, and then does nothing till fall when they go out and pick it up and sell it.
    At our legislative coffees last week in Sioux Falls, I am quite sure it was Representative Westra who said that we should be careful about stopping illegals since no one else wants to milk the cows. When I was young on the farm most farm kids would not care how much work is was or how many animals they would have to deal with to get their own farm, they were very willing to do the work.
    Now both the name Westra and my own name are very Friesian. The black and white dairy cow used around the world is technically the 'Friesian Holstien' which my ancestors developed on their farms in province of Freisland in Holland. So to hear a Friesian say that they understand that we do not want to milk cows anymore tells you of the lazyness of the modern day american. When we previously had a top tax rate of sixty to seventy percent and not we hear a lot of talk about we have a spending problem but do not went to pay the taxes that we paid when the budget balanced, then it is not just dairy farmers who forgot how this country became successful. Our empire is by historical symptoms is past its peak. We are in the lazy stage and going down. Even the conservatives do not want to pay their bills anymore because they want more for themselves.

  6. rollin potter 2013.02.08

    roger, you forgot to say after the planting they run to the fsa office to sign up for the goodies of either late planting,too much rain,not enough rain,too dry,too hot etc., get there direct payments and all the other benefits the tax payers pay for and then get screwed at the grocery store with the price of the products that the tax payer pays the farmer for to keep the price of food down!!!

  7. Ryan 2013.02.08

    Why don't you stop at your local FSA office and actually ask what's going on there because your not even close. All the forms I fill out and sign are me submitting my operation over for government inspection and in many cases control. Most of what your describing is what is required for crop insurance purposes completely unrelated to fsa. And when our competitors quit subsidizing the ag industry around the world, so will we. You have a problem with the prices in the store take it up with the middle man. I'm getting .85/ lb for my lambs yet lamb in the restaurant is over $30 a lb! A cup of grain worth .15 in a box of cereal means you're paying over $5.
    Btw maybe the numbers of farm workers would indicate illegals/migrants are over a majority but that's because the fruits and vegetable farmers are employing them and not grain and livestock. Big dairies and cafos more so but not your average farm.
    If you don't think that kind of farming still exists today, you better talk to a few farm wives who put up with us!
    I appreciated the commercial because I am less than 2% of the population and most are so far removed from the farm now they don't have the slightest clue what it takes to feed this country and the world. Look at all the people who think we could feed the world by going organic or non gmo or whatever flavor of the month they're trying to ban.

  8. bret clanton 2013.02.08

    what Ryan said:)

  9. Jerry 2013.02.08

    Ryan, if you are loosing money, do something else. It seems that your business plan is flawed. If your lambs are @.85 per #, you may want to consider organic as that pays more moolah. Make your grain certified organic and then it is worth more (folks actually buy that stuff rather than the poison that Monsanto provides). Rather than taking the moolah from Sam to keep doing the same thing, try something different to make ends meet and get out of the rut.

  10. joelie hicks 2013.02.09

    My grown kids all loved the ad, to them this is their father. And it is, I don't know anyone who works harder or more conscientously than he does for sure. He is a mid size conventional 4th generation SD farmer, I would like to see a few changes made, but our farm is diverse in crops and has livestock. Our cattle are pastured 6 months of the year, we have enough land for our manure and it can be managed with a family and one hired man most of the year. He has a big pick-up (not THAT brand) that gets used hard. Our kids grew up helping out and we have one or two that might return some day. We decided to come here nearly 40 years ago, it was a good choice. We have had some lousy years and some very good ones. My father-in -law and his family hung on to this place by the skin of their teeth during the depression and he never, ever forgot what a blessing it was to be here. He actively farmed until a few weeks before his death at the age of 92.

  11. joelie hicks 2013.02.09

    It was telling at the hearing for the hog facility to see Walt Bones in action. I was the first person seated in the courtroom. He never connected with a single regular farmer. He saved all his smiles and support for the big operators. Very sad.

  12. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.02.10

    "Not your average farm," Ryan? That sounds like denial. It's the Dodge ad that fails to depict the "average" farm and the "average" farm worker. Three-quarters of farm workers are Mexican laborers, and not one appears in the Dodge ad. Ag is just another business, relying enormously on easily exploited illegal immigrant labor. Also not appearing in the Dodge ad: crop insurance agents, FSA agents, or any farmer taking the subsidy check out of his mailbox.

    "not grain"&mash;what about the migrant harvest crews that travel the nation's breadbasket every summer.

    "take it up with the middle man"—we wouldn't have to if South Dakota state government did more to promote locally grown food and farmers markets. Instead we get a Department of Agriculture that actively and publicly denigrates the products of small dairies but runs interference for pink slime and factory CAFOs (also not depicted in the Dodge ad). There's a lot we can fix in Pierre to help farmers before we gripe about French grape subsidies. (By the way, we don't subsidize fruits and vegetables but those farmers truck along.)

  13. joelie hicks 2013.02.10

    Amen Cory! There are still a lot of regular farmers in my twp. Part of the reason we want to do what we can to keep farming real where we live.

  14. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.02.10

    And I admire those local efforts, Joelie. The Dodge ad trades on the image of "regular farmers," but it actually does you a disservice. It peddles a mythos that prevents the general population from seeing the real ugly face of American agriculture and the need for policy changes to support more sustainable and moral agriculture.

  15. bret clanton 2013.02.13

    " Three quarters of farm laborers are Mexican laborers and not one appears in the Dodge ad. " Actually there are what would appear to me to be five Mexican laborers and one African-American..... Just sayin Cory maybe you should watch the ad.... The ad resonated with the aging family farmers or in west river " ranchers " that do still exist.

  16. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.02.13

    I did watch. It's tough to tell with that old guy in the hat at 0:21. The hands holding those peppers at 1:23 might be Hispanic, or they might just be sun-darkened. The mom and son (?) at the market table at 1:26... maybe. It's tough to tell, much tougher than in the more clearly representative video I posted this morning.

    And resonating with West River codgers isn't nearly as important as resonating with the big buyers in suburbia who don't need a truck but who buy these myths... which keep them from understanding the reality of agriculture and the problems we need to solve with good policy.

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