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.