An Open Letter to Neil Young

From Cotton Grower Magazine – August/September 2014



I wish you hadn’t done this, Neil.

No lie, I was actually listening to Live Rust in my car just last week, and thinking about what a wonderful piece of rock ‘n roll that album remains.

So imagine my surprise when I found out you had – seemingly out of the blue – taken a swipe at cotton and the vast majority of cotton farmers in the United States. My initial reaction was that it was kind of random, and clearly ill-informed and wrongheaded. But mostly it was just unnecessary. Why make villains out of the same farmers you admirably support via the Farm Aid concerts you headline? That’s just what you did when you took to your website in August.

“Today, I have taken the steps to remove sales of non-organic t-shirts and other products that damage the Earth from my concerts and my web stores,” Young wrote. “I vow to speak up & to do what I can to PROTECT EARTH.”

I know you meant that. I mean, you used all caps. But it’s still wrongheaded. And of course, in reporting on your blog post, Rolling Stone ramped up the rhetoric.

“Young then provided a bullet-pointed list of scary facts about cotton production, which he notes covers almost 5% of Earth’s cultivated land with its crops,” the magazine’s Miriam Coleman wrote. To be sure, Coleman is implying here that cotton being planted on five percent of arable farmland is bad because… arable farmland is supposed to be for other types of crops? I don’t know what she means, to be honest. But the implication is that this is somehow bad or scary or something.

Your biggest gaffe in this misguided crusade against non-organic cotton, Neil, is your insistence that cotton “uses 25% of all petrochemical-based pesticides, fungicides and herbicides globally.” Cotton Incorporated, in its level-headed way, kindly pointed out on Facebook that this statistic is objectively false. In fact, according to the independent crop protection market research firm Cropnosis, cotton accounts for only 5.7 percent of pesticide use globally.

My job, Neil, is to provide service journalism to all of America’s cotton producers – those who farm organically or otherwise. It’s a big tent. I get out onto their farms over the course of a year more times than I can count. I grew up on one of those farms. So my knowledge of how they operate and how they care for the land that provides their livelihood is rather intimate.

The problem with your blog post is the implication that these people, these American cotton farmers, are either evil, or they are too simple-minded to understand the damage they do. I can assure you they are neither. This issue of protecting their land is something they deal with every single day. This is not a fly-by Cause of the Day for them, although it appears to be just that for you.

I’d like to continue listening to your wonderful music without any guilt, Neil. You’ve got an open invite to come out with me and meet some of these folks who you’ve decided to demonize. They don’t feel like Satan, I can assure you.

Leave a Reply

Avatar for Regina Crutcher Regina Crutcher says:

Thank you, Beck for your support. I am a fourth generation Texas cotton farmer and my husband is a fifth generation Texas cotton farmer. We are proud stewards of the land. If Neil wants to get on his high horse about something, why doesn’t he support higher prices for cotton compared to the amount of money that we spend to grow our crop? I’ve seen Neil in blue jeans most of the time he’s in public, a little hypocritical of him to come down on the farmers who dress him. Shame on you, Mr. Young. I hope Willie, John Mellencamp and others take him out back and deal with him the old fashioned way!!

Avatar for Phillip Page Phillip Page says:

Thanks Beck for defending the Cotton Growers of the world. My concern is that uninformed celebs like Neil can influence a lot of folks with inaccurate information that is extremely damaging for our farmers and almost impossible to correct.

Avatar for BB BB says:

Neil Young – the $30 tee shirts that you pay some Chinese about $1 to make? Those tee shirts? Too hypocritical for words..

Avatar for Phillip Page Phillip Page says:

A little history from a friend of mine:
Neil Young has a history of opening his mouth about things that he lacks perspective on. Easy to do when you are a multi-million dollar rock star surrounded by aids and sycophants (look that word up and you will be impressed by my prose). Recall he was the guy that wrote Southern Man. In that song – he basically labeled everyone in the South a KKK member. The good thing about Southern Man is that it gave Leonard Skynard the inspiration to write Sweet Home Alabama. A song that people will remember long after Neil Young becomes part of the very earth that he thinks so much of. You can find the best line from Sweet Home Alabama below – and it is appropriate for his opinions about cotton farming as well:

Well I heard Mister Young sing about her
Well I heard ole Neil put her down
Well, I hope Neil Young will remember
A southern man don’t need him around any how

Avatar for billy billy says:

It is always amazing how “celebrities?” want to push an agenda that they know little or nothing about. I certainly hope that Neil Young will not increase the price of his T shirts at the concerts. Production costs will certainly be higher. Farmers take better care of the land and environment than most others; they have to live with it every day. I am sure no one from Rolling Stone has ever been on a true farm and seen the work and effort that goes into this job every day. What a foolish man!

Avatar for Sherie Kaigler Sherie Kaigler says:

It’s a real shame when American’s turn on each other, pointing fingers and throwing blame. As you all have come to realize it’s the people who are ignorant about what their talking about that do this. I would advise anyone to research before they start running their mouths. READ about it Neil, GO TALK with FARMERS, get involved instead of sitting on your high perch pretending to wear some kind of halo. I for one am ashamed of you. Everyone on the planet should in fact thank a farmer!!! They work hard to protect their land, and to enrich it. They work hard so we can eat and wear “bluejeans” Neil. Do yourself a favor. GO TO A FARM that grows cotton, visit several, I dare ya!!!!!! Or do you like hiding in the dark? Hey, there’s you a new song!!

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