The Shortcomings (and Necessity) Of Generalizations

A few years ago, I wrote a harvest story that said Upper Midwest farmers, on balance, were enjoying good yields. I was careful to note that crops in some areas had been hurt by unfavorable weather and that overall average yields didn’t reflect some farmers’ situation.

Shortly after the story ran, an angry farmer contacted me to complain. His yields had been terrible; how could I possibly write that the harvest was a good one? I pointed out that the story mentioned there were exceptions, which the overall averages didn’t reflect. It didn’t do much good; he was disappointed and frustrated, and needed to let off steam. His anger was really directed at the elements, not at me.

Raising crops in this part of the world requires a huge commitment, both financially and emotionally. Poor prices and yields hurt financially and emotionally. I get that. I really do.

I also get that what’s true for farmers overall isn’t true for all of them. Generalizing about crop and harvest conditions is inherently imperfect, especially in the Upper Midwest. But without making an occasional generalization, I can’t do my job.