A new round of misinformation is circulating online. 

This time, viral videos claim farmers are being paid by the government to destroy crops and threatening them with loss of income or the use of chemical agents on their fields if they do not comply. The goal, the videos claim, is to manipulate the food supply and oil prices.

A reader sent me the video she had received, which had stitched together clips from several TikTok and YouTube videos.

There’s just one thing — the claims aren’t true.

The Chronicle contacted the Farm Service Agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Their public affairs and outreach coordinator in Nashville said there is not a program that pays farmers to destroy their crops.

Steve Wellman, director of the Nebraska Department of Agriculture, has fielded numerous calls about the issue. He told Hoosier Ag Today, “Well, I’ve seen a couple of the videos that are out there on social media and quite honestly, there’s little to zero amount of truth in any of what I’ve seen.”

Other news outlets have gone through and debunked some of the various claims. Like the man who had a letter from the USDA he said was his “crop destruction notice.” 

The envelope may have been from USDA, but the letter shown was from the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality — and it was sent in January 2018. That letter was about training sessions for manure applications, the television station reported.

Then there was the guy who was dumping black oil from a tanker on a gravel road, supposedly after receiving a letter from the Department of Hydrocarbons — which isn’t real. Also, the district selectman Tony Deloge named is a fictional TV character. 

The maker of the original video took it down and posted that it was a joke. 

Even another video says the farmer was told to destroy crops, using a lawnmower to mow down hundreds of acres or, he said, the government would use the chemical Agent Orange to destroy the crops.

Agent Orange has been banned in the U.S. since 1985. And no one is going to mow hundreds of acres with a lawn mower. Perhaps the video maker was trying to show how absurd other videos claiming farmers were getting paid to destroy crops were. Farmers probably got the joke. Unfortunately, a lot of people just don’t get sarcasm.

What is true? 

There are many long-standing programs that farmers use, like the Conservation Reserve Program that allows land to set idle for a time or the cover crop program for idle fields.

Programs like these are voluntary, but they do offer some incentive for farmers to take some land out of production and allow the soil the rest. Cover crops are often tilled back into the soil, adding organic matter and nutrients the soil needs. 

It’s also true that during the early days of the pandemic, many farmers did destroy their crops — but not because they were told to.

The pandemic disrupted the supply chain. 

With schools and restaurants closed, producers who supplied produce for these buyers didn’t have other avenues to sell their goods. And while grocery stores saw an uptick in people buying food to eat at home, the processors couldn’t just flip a switch to start serving retail consumers. There’s differences in the packaging — where you might want one small bag of lettuce for your home, a restaurant would typically purchase 10 pounds at once.

Meat processing plants were hit hard by the pandemic, which bottle-necked production. The USDA has offered help for farmers who had to destroy hogs and other livestock they couldn’t get to market last year.

But those problems have pretty much resolved. 

The reach of these videos shows how easy it can be for lies to make their way around the world before the truth can put on its shoes, and it underscores how vigilant we have to be in vetting information. Just because someone sends you a video doesn’t mean it’s true. 

There were plenty of red flags in this video compilation. For starters, it was just clips of different videos. The jokes some folks put up were explained in their comments or follow-ups, but it could be difficult for some people to track down those accounts and see what they could see about the source.

Second, no sources of verifiable information were shared. Props meant to look “legitimate” were quickly identified as untrue — like that letter from 2018 about manure training.

In this age of disinformation, we all need to think back to our high school English classes. Remember term papers? Do you think your teacher would have accepted a bibliography with “random guy on TikTok, maybe a farmer, maybe an actor”? Sorry, but you’d be getting an F on that paper.

Tips for evaluating information includes:

•Is the information current? Check the publication date.

•Who published it? What’s their experience in that subject? Do they have an agenda you don’t know? Have they talked to people who have experience in the subject and are they transparent about their sources?

•Is the information supported by evidence? Can you verify it through other reputable sources?

•What’s the purpose of the video or article or meme? This can help you identify bias.

Be sure to understand what is being presented as “news” — which should be verifiable — and opinion, which should still be based on verifiable facts.

And, if you’re sharing something that looks like news, double check that it’s not a satire site — Babylon Bee, The Onion, The Borowitz Report. As the tag on Facebook for the Borowitz Report makes clear — it is not news.

Something we hear a lot right now is, “Do your own research.” That’s good advice. But remember, don’t just seek out the things that you agree with — dig deeper.

Or, if you just prefer hearing from random people on the internet, the Peterson Farm Family in Kansas has this to say about these videos — “That is absurd.”

Heather Mullinix is editor of the Crossville Chronicle. She covers schools and education in Cumberland County. She may be reached at hmullinix@crossville-chronicle.com.

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