TikTok Totally Fell For This Big Lie About US Farmers

The latest wave of misinformation to spread across social media originated from a series of viral TikTok posts in which farmers joke that the government is forcing them to destroy portions of their supply in order to manipulate the market. However, the comedic aspect of these videos flew over many viewers' heads, resulting in an unintended outbreak of online outrage.

In a viral video gone wrong, TikTok user @neflyinfarmer — a farmer and rancher in central Nebraska — posts a close-up of a letter from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) overlaid with words: "Letter to destroy crops came yesterday."

In the video, the farmer indicates to a pile of binders, adding: "I had to sign for a certified package which included these two binders ... on how to properly dispose of your crops. As you can tell, it's on government paper." He goes on to show a land management training letter and maps of his farmland that allegedly indicate which portions of his crop he's intended to destroy.

Commenters were quick to take note of some of the factual discrepancies in the video, including the date on the letter. After one user commented: "why was this dated 2018 if just sent yesterday," the farmer responded with: "it was a joke bud..." offering the first indication that his video was meant to be tongue-in-cheek. The responses to the post were mixed, with many voicing their outrage at the government with comments like: "this is so scary, the government is trying to control the food chain" (@tommoore2345) and, "the farmers need to fight this and not cave to these devils" (@dianedoddbrundidge).

After additional farmers hopped on this TikTok trend, misinformation spread

Adding flame to the misinformation fire, a number of farmers hopped on the trend of posting videos about the government-mandated destruction of supplies, which were intended to be comedic but resulted in the spread of this false narrative (via Snopes).

Ryan Peter, a farmer and oil producer with the TikTok handle @bushelsandbarrels, posted a video to his 250,000+ followers that showed oil being dumped out of the back of a truck. Peter appears on camera and says: "I was doing exactly what I was told via a letter I got last night in the mail from the Department of Hydrocarbons. They said in order to stabilize oil prices, they need a bunch of oil dumped."

Speaking in a serious tone the farmer adds: "I'm gonna get fined if I don't get rid of it," and goes on to rant that "these are some serious times right now. Since January, oil prices have been through the roof. I'm seeing more and more farmers on TikTok saying that the government's paying them to destroy their fields ... they're controlling food, now they're gonna control energy."

While Peter later deleted the post and clarified that it was a joke in a follow-up video, laughing off the commenters who said that the standard oil dumping was "a sign of the end times," he failed to realize the extent to which even intentionally comedic videos can spread misinformation across the web.

There is no truth to the online rumor that the government is destroying crops

The fact check website Snopes confirmed that these online rumors had no merit, stating definitively: "The government is not paying farmers to destroy their crops." However, the site did note that there is truth to the fact that many farmers had to destroy large quantities of surplus supplies as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic bringing the food service industry to a screeching halt.

As The New York Times reported last year, farmers across the country were forced to dump a startling amount of goods — including thousands of gallons of milk, 1 million pounds of onions, and upwards of 750,000 eggs per week — in the earliest days of the pandemic, as the restaurants, hotels, and other food service operations that typically purchased the supplies remained shut down.

However, none of these destroyed farm products were at the behest of the U.S. government, and with the hospitality industry returning to full swing, destroying mass portions of their yield is no longer an issue for farmers.

While it's true that the Biden administration has encouraged farmers to leave portions of their land fallow — meaning left unfarmed for a time in order to restore fertility, avoid surplus, and "help improve water quality, prevent soil erosion, and reduce loss of wildlife habitat," according to the USDA — this would be completely voluntary and not involve the destruction of already cultivated crops. One thing that's for certain is that now, perhaps more than ever, you shouldn't believe everything you read online ... or view on TikTok.