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col Guebert -- Columns have share of hits, misses

Thirteen years ago this week a thin packet containing four agricultural columns hit the cluttered desks of 124 newspaper editors and publishers in 14 Midwestern states.

Three of those very smart, very wise gatekeepers thought the journalism good enough to publish. Immediately thereafter --well, within two weeks, anyway -- reader letters began to hit my desk.

Some contained love; others pure hemlock. No one, many of the letters related, had ever been so stupid and conceited to write an ag column that failed to praise farmers in every other sentence.

Much has changed in American agriculture over those 670 or so columns and nearly 465,000 words. One thing that hasn't, however, are the howls that scream into this office, now mostly by email.

Most weeks it's a manageable flood; other weeks it's a bloody tidal wave. In general, the column's 680 weekly words generates anywhere from 10- to 50-times that number in angry reply. When done right, I rarely hear the bullet.

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Like this comment pulled from a lengthy, mid-March letter to a Minnesota newspaper editor that the writer kindly CC'ed to me: "Mr. Guebert bases his entire article on a 'friend's' comparison of 'what-if' numbers... (that) are nothing more than lies, gossip and rumors that farmers, church goers, and rural folk do not listen to and respectable people condemn."

Note the coolly efficient contrast: I am a lying, gossiping, disreputable rumormonger to this respectable, rural, farming churchgoer. Direct, distinctive, destructive. Kinda' like Dirty Harry with a DSL connection.

An example of how not to do it came in response to a column where I cracked wise about certain members of a certain college fraternity who slept, snored really, through my Ag Econ 100 class.

"Mr. Guebert: I pat myself on the back for calling you Mr., as I don't at all think you are deserving of it. I personally find it hard to stoop to the lower levels of individuals like yourself..."

Ah, but he did--and, by my count, only for another 369 words. Then, to chum the electronic waters, he carbon-copied 27 of his Animal House brethren. Some took the bait. One demanded that I publicly apologize to every farmboy-turned-frat-boy.

Gee, I would but I'm busy doing a keg stand right now. Ha-ha. Another joke. Another writer had another solution for another of my problems -- insanity.

"(Readers) don't need to hear lies and anger presented by folks like you... The world you live in must be frustrating and sad, but we do have counselors and therapists to help you in your obvious condition. Good luck in the future because we all know you are going to need it, both personally and professionally..."

My therapist, Sir Arthur Guinness, suggested I simply move on. And I did -- to my email box that contained this black-and-blue carnation: "Do you ever look anything objectively or do you always use those Democratic goggles to filter your philosophy... You are a joke in the ag community."

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See, some readers laugh every week.

One wasn't laughing when he fired an email titled "DEMAGOGUERY" my way this past January. It began with a respectable "Mr. Goober---" and then tumbled right into the lagoon.

My farm, not counting the dandelion patch blooming in the corner, covers no more than 500 of my yard's 10,000 square feet. This tiny garden grows mostly vegetables and chickweed. More importantly -- and for the 670th or so time -- I have never received any government farm program payment ever. Not one penny.

This past April 15th, however, marked the 38th consecutive year I have contributed to farm programs through my IRS Form 1040. It wasn't much, I confess, but it was the best I could do with the little farmland, farm knowledge and journalistic skill I possess.

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