On a busy Interstate highway through Kansas City I spotted a late-model pickup truck displaying the following bumper sticker: "Have you fed your kid today? Hug a farmer."

That our society needs to be reminded about the importance of farming and ranching seems more than a little alarming. But America has moved rapidly away from its rural roots, losing more than just an appreciation for the simpler things in life. A majority of our society, it seems, no longer understands agriculture and its value to our society and our economy. Many people are too busy running their own lives to give much thought to agriculture's problems, while others become involved in misguided fringe groups fighting for such issues as the rights of animals to roam freely.

Agriculture is bound to clash with America's new suburban society from time to time. It happened in Oregon this spring when the federal government shut off all water to over 90 percent of irrigators along the Klamath Irrigation Project. Oregon, and most of the northwest, is suffering from an extreme drought, which has lowered water levels in the dam that supplies irrigation water.

When drought struck the area in the past, farmers were allowed to continue irrigating, though water use may have been reduced. But this year, due to two federal agencies enforcing the Endangered Species Act, irrigation has been stopped. The flow of water to crops was halted to help protect two species of sucker fish and one threatened species of coho salmon.

The sucker fish are above the dam, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has a biological opinion mandating a minimum lake level to provide habitat. The coho salmon live downstream from the dam, but have a National Marine Fisheries Service biological opinion mandating minimum flow rates for the river system. The catch-22 is that water must be released from the dam to comply with one order, but not so much as to lower lake levels below the minimum requirements in the other order. And since the irrigators don't have a biological opinion from a government agency supporting their need for water, irrigation has ceased.

The Klamath Basin produces $100 million in agricultural products each year, and is the cornerstone of the community's economy. Analysts say that the total economic toll to the community could reach $500 million.

Agriculture, or at least the concept of agriculture, clashed with other society groups in another, unrelated incident last month. In California, a parochial school project was intended to help children learn where their food comes from, and most teachers and parents thought the project was a success.

Students raised and cared for a steer, which was slaughtered at the school May 17 by a butcher as about half of the school's 170 students watched. The children had their parents permission to watch, but animal rights organizations objected along with a group of teen-aged protesters from a nearby public school.

The school's principal said the students who cared for the animal knew it would be slaughtered, and the process gave them a chance to see up close what they've been reading about in books during the school year. The students were allowed to take a close look at the heart, tendons and other parts of the carcass.

A spokesperson for the Los Angeles-based Last Chance for Animals, believes the lesson may have a lasting effect on children. "Studies have shown that when children view violence against animals," she said, "it desensitizes them to animal cruelty and makes them more aggressive." She didn't give an opinion about how modern television programs and popular music might make our children more aggressive.