What’s in a name? Maybe everything

Students enrolled in Parkland College’s Farm Hand course were taught about basic farm safety, field crops, GPS systems and Power Mobile Equipment theory. They also received several hours of hands-on learning operating a tractor, sprayer, rock picker and forklift. | Parkland College photo

I’ve been in this business long enough to know that it’s the least expected content that will generate reader complaints.

We’ll publish a controversial story about this, that or the other thing and receive radio silence in return.

But publish a photo of a little girl running across a farmyard while her father works on an implement in the background — and look out.

It happened again recently after we ran a story about a program in Saskatchewan that teaches inexperienced people how to work on farms.

So far, so good — not much controversy there.

Except, there was.

A producer from Alberta called me a few days after he received his May 27 copy of The Western Producer to complain about the story. Actually, he was complaining about the terminology used in the story.

You see, Parkland College in Yorkton, Sask., called its program the Introduction to Farm Hand course. We used the term “farm worker” in the headline and the writer used the words “farm labourers” in the story’s first paragraph.

The reader argued that those descriptions do not accurately reflect the kind of education and background required to fill the sophisticated positions needed on modern farms. And, he went on to say, why would any young person decide to choose a career in agriculture if the job was called farm hand or farm labourer?

My question, when he had finished making his point, was the obvious one: if not those terms, then what? He didn’t know. All he knew for sure was that we had to come up with something or we would never find anyone to work on a farm.

If he was hoping that I would come up with a magic solution to this problem, then he would have been sorely disappointed. Although, to be fair, I suspect he likely wasn’t expecting much from me other than to be a good listener.

His point is a good one, but I think our difficulty finding people to work on farms is not just about what we call the position.

Did changing “garbage man” to “sanitation engineer” make it any easier to find people to sling garbage cans around?

Probably not.

Will it be easier to find people to work on farms if we change “farm hand” to “agricultural operations technician?”

Probably not.

However, it’s not a bad conversation to have.

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