Farmers, Ranchers, Answer Your Questions about Agriculture

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Tractors work in northern Maine potato fields. Tractors work in northern Maine potato fields. (justinrussell/flickr)

Did you see that full page ad in The New York Times last Wednesday? The one that asked, "Since when did agriculture become a dirty word?" 

The ad, sponsored by a group called the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, promoted "The Food Dialogues," an online forum that bills itself as a "new effort to answer the biggest questions people have about farming and ranching and the future of food."

The questions are primarily from those critical of factory farm practices.

"Why are animals in feedlots treated so horribly?" posts Sueco.

Gail Flaherty writes, "Implement organic community farms across the country." 

Todd wants to know, "What is keeping farmers from transitioning to a less fossil-fuel intensive agriculture?"

Kent from Idaho responded with an economic argument, the desire for cheap food: "I think most farmers would be entirely willing to use less fossil fuels if there were an economically-viable alternative available."

The specter of expensive food is frequently raised by the farmers and ranchers who have left comments on the site.

Weeks$ writes: "US farmers and ranchers work diligently to produce the most cost efficient, safest and diverse food supply in the world." 

USAgrules defends current farming practices saying, "Technology leads to greater accessibility to healthy and affordable food for a greater population." 

In answer to the forum's question, "What do you wish Americans had more information about when it comes to how their food is grown and raised?"

KF writes: "I would tell the average consumer that there is absolutely no need to worry about the food they are eating, whether their concerns be in animal safety to GMOs to new farm technology; you can be sure it's safe, tested and reliable."

Really, KF? Really? 

I'm reading a report on a listeria outbreak caused by contaminated cantaloupes from Jensen Farms in Colorado. Dr. Thomas Frieden, the director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says it's the deadliest outbreak of a food borne disease in more than a decade. So far, 13 people have died and 72 have been infected with listeriosis in 18 states.

Many comments, from both consumers and ranchers/farmers, are not inspiring dialogues at all; no one has yet added to the discussion. But here's one exchange I found.

Dennis writes, "I would imagine most of the squabbling about the use of genetic engineering and pesticides come from those countries with plenty of food or the resources to purchase them."

Ah, once again, the Cheap Food Defense.

Dennis goes on: "Ask the 10,000 people in the world who die of starvation every day what they think!"

Drew responded with a lengthy post, and here's one part of his rebuttal: "Not all crops evolved to grow in all climates and conditions and in areas where poor growing conditions occur -- all solutions must be examined and not just jumping to mutating a 'better' corn or soybean gene as the end-all solution. This simple-fix, take a pill or modify some genetics approach will not hold in a post-modern society."

I think it's great that farmers and ranchers are trying to talk to nervous foodies like me who are worried about the sustainability of modern factory farming practices. But I don't think it's going to move people from their points of view. It DOES make me a little more understanding of what farmers and ranchers think about what they do, and how they do it. 

It's all about feeding the world, cheaply.

This dialogue also is not going to change the way most farmers farm. It's more likely that political decisions, subsidies and tax breaks, and consumer demand will.


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Comments [2]

Rex Peterson from Nebraska Panhandle

Our family farm was recentlyt honored as one of 5 Nebraska Master Conservationists this year. We are members of several of the organizations that sponsor the food dialogues.
After our son spent 15 mo. in Iraq and observed that the Fertile Crescent gets 36" of annual rain, but was farmed with "organic" methods until the soils are desert soils and need both irrigation and fertilzer to grow a crop. He came home and compared our recent soil samples with the orginal soil mapping descriptions and learned that a third of the organic matter had been lost from cultivation. He now is on a mission to improve the soils. His tools are no till farming and he uses fertilizers and herbicides to assure that the crops succeed so that they have abundant roots to feed the soil and he never has to plow. He also plants lots of cover crops which we graze with beef cattle. Some soils have increased ogranic matter by 5% or more under his managements, their tilth and structure have also improved and erosion is pretty much a thing of the past. He sees soil quality as a very critical environmental issue.

Sep. 30 2011 12:06 AM

Do these 'farmers and ranchers' include urban farmers? Raw milk farmers? Small dairies that grow their own cattle feed? Small scale organic farmers that use permaculture (biodiverse) farming methods? These farmers and ranchers use specific farming methods - industrial farming methods - and therefore cannot possibly answer people's questions on behalf of ALL farmers and ranchers, many of whom are actually very critical of industrial practices (and their health/environmental impacts and their very high costs, which only seem cheap because of taxpayer subsidies).

Sep. 29 2011 03:39 PM

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