I never grow tired of sharing the unparalleled success story of agriculture… from how far we have come in improvements in animal care and soil health and conservation, to how excited I am for the future of agriculture with so many young, bright, enthusiastic people entering food production. I am passionate about protecting the role of science, technology and innovation in agriculture. I take a lot of pride in promoting the exceptional job of the 1% and my respect and admiration for farmers extends a lifetime. But being world leaders in the efficiency of growing and raising food comes at a price. Food is a commodity, whether we like it or not. Every person no longer needs to grow their own food to feed themselves or their family, and now has the time to pursue other careers and interests instead of planting, weeding, harvesting and praying every day that Mother Nature cooperates to support a healthy crop. As consumers, we are both truly spoiled and blessed.
But I AM tired of people in agriculture attacking each other. I understand that in an economic crisis, it is our instinct as humans to lash out and want to hurt others when we are hurting. I hear farmers fueling the “big is bad” message and using words like “factory”, “industrial”, and “mega,” which are all terms coined by anti-agriculture activists. I hear others using the words “small,” “inefficient” and “old-fashioned” as synonyms carrying a negative connotation. I challenge all of you and say…we are better than that.
It doesn’t matter how many cows you have or how many acres you run – in times like these, each and every farmer who wakes up in the morning is chewing up equity to remain in business. Everyone is struggling with how long they are willing or able to operate in this financial climate. Everyone is struggling with which payments are going to have to wait. And everyone is afraid of failure and fearful for the future.
Large farms were once small farms who had a little luck in timing and circumstance, and decided somewhere along the way to take a leap of faith and grow. Ask any of them if going through an expansion is fun…you will see the growing pains in the lines on their faces. Large farms are still family owned and operated. Many large farms are simply siblings or relatives choosing to work together. Some are farm kids who once shared a similar dream and vision, building a business with their friends. Many grew out of a hope to build a viable business that could support more of their children one day. Many wanted to be able to have employees so they could have a little time off to attend kid’s sporting events or church more frequently and on time, or even take a vacation once in awhile. Yet many romanticize about days of past when they may have gotten to manage cows instead of people, or when their seemingly endless binders of S.O.P’s, training manuals, regulations and compliance issues were skinnier. Farming, no matter the scale, is difficult and not for the faint of heart. It’s why you are outnumbered 99:1. Frankly, you are the only brave and crazy people left! Please remember, my friends, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the fence. You all have the same pit in your stomach at the end of the day and the same worry on your hearts before you close your eyes each and every night.
So instead of bashing your neighbors in the dairy family, let’s work together during this challenging time. Let’s stop fueling activist agendas by using their terms and catch phrases. Let’s focus on connecting with consumers and get creative about how we put a face back on the commodities we produce. Let’s sell our value to consumers, remembering that value is something people feel, not something we tell them they get. Let’s address how we get the food we produce to the people who need it most (1 out of 5 kids in our country is food insecure and 5 out of 6 adolescent girls are deficient in calcium). Let’s be truthful in marketing campaigns and stop misleading consumers and eroding their trust in what we do every day. It helps no one. Lets continually challenge the status quo in processing and in check off programs and focus our energy on driving demand through innovation AND collaboration. I am convinced we can make a difference – especially if we work together instead of against each other. Lets make our words and actions things our future generations can be proud of.