Leave it to those crafty Kenyans to create a hit agricultural reality television show. “Shamba Shape Up” is a farm makeover show with an estimated audience of more than 11 million people in Kenya and several other African countries.
The premise of this show is not difficult to guess—find farmer in need of help, bring in a crew of experts, make necessary adjustments to management practices and facilities in four days, and leave the farm owner in tears.
The Shamba makeover team consists of veterinarians, agronomists, and other specialists. The team may change each week depending on the type and needs of the farm. The average farm size is only one to two acres and nearly half of the farm operators are women.
University of Wisconsin-Extension has used a similar model for improving farm productivity through the years; generally it is more focused on specific dairy management issues such as milk quality or reproductive efficiency. Like “Shamba Shape Up,” a team of consultants evaluates the situation and makes recommendations for practices and improvements that will hopefully make the farm more profitable.
There is one big difference with the UW-Extension model—any cost for needed improvements are shouldered by the farm operator. It’s usually at the point when costs are calculated that the farm owner begins weeping.
All of this got me to thinking that U.S. agriculture has been late to the party of being a force in the reality TV craze.
Most of the cable channels such as History, The Learning Channel, Arts and Entertainment (A&E), and Discovery have deviated from their original content—something educational—and stuffed the airwaves with money-making reality offerings. The East and West Coasts have provided plenty of material and characters along with the occasional Louisiana or Texas offerings.
Extreme Farm Makeover: OK, we can’t rebuild the whole farm, but maybe just a new barn, milking parlor, machine shed, or perhaps a manure digester. The crew rolls onto the farm riding three 12-row combines with workers hanging from every orifice. They bring not only a construction crew, but enough people to do chores on the farm for a week. The family and all the farm employees are sent to Wisconsin Dells, or maybe the Lumberjack World Championships in Hayward. Upon completion, the family is brought back and the familiar cry of “Move those combines!” is heard. The family and employees burst into tears. Just when life couldn’t get better, they learn that a lifetime supply of plastic arm sleeves and $5000 worth of bull semen also comes with the deal.
Forage Wars: The cameras follow a group of six farmers who together attend one hay auction per week. Each begins the season with the same amount of money and the farmer purchasing the best combination of volume and quality after ten auctions is declared the winner.
Winnebago Survivor: A select group of farmers from central Illinois and Iowa are relocated to the Van Dyne area for one growing season. They compete with each other to grow the highest yielding corn. Watch with hilarity as these farmers apply their normal farming practices on Wisconsin’s red clay soils. The one who obtains the highest yield without being admitted to the Winnebago Mental Health Institute wins a new tractor.
Farm Shop Treasures: A spin-off of the “American Pickers” TV show, but in this version hosts Mike and Frank just find stuff in the farm shop that has been temporarily misplaced. The professional pickers stop unannounced at the farm. The owner leads them out to the machine shed or shop and they begin rummaging through the maze of gizmos, gadgets, and parts that have accumulated since the end of World War II. The riveting conversation would go something like this:
Mike: “Hey Frankie, find anything yet?”
Frank: “No, nothing. Wait…what’s this underneath this pile of worn cultivator shanks?”
Farmer: “Hey, that’s the gear shift knob for the 4020. I wondered where that went after removing it when I replaced the clutch back in ’86. I’ve had blisters from shifting that tractor ever since. The dealer wanted $36 for a new one.”
Pluck Dynasty: Meet the Robinski’s of northern Wisconsin. They’ve amassed a fortune with their automated chicken plucker and now it’s time to enjoy the good life.
Dancing with the Farmers: OK, this has gone far enough.
Mike Rankin, Crops and Soils Agent, UW Extension-Fond du Lac County