Commentary: Where’s agriculture’s passion?

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Editor's note: The following article was written by Mike Barnett, Director of Publications at the Texas Farm Bureau (TFB), and originally published on the TFB website, Texas Agriculture Talks.

It always puzzles me why farmers and ranchers don’t get more incensed about those people who viciously attack what they do. I’m talking the anti-GMO crowd, animal rights activists—those few with loud voices who grab the headlines in newspapers and the internet—who passionately deride modern agriculture as evil and misguided and are finding a growing audience. Where’s agriculture’s passion?

I wonder if it’s because farmers and ranchers think this unpleasant noise is beyond their control. Do you feel like it’s an undercurrent like the weather…it’s either going to rain or not so there’s nothing you can really do about it? Or markets? Prices go up and down and all you can do is anticipate and hope things work out better next year. Are you conditioned to not respond because you feel you can’t change things?

Or is it more of an issue of why worry, it doesn’t affect me…it’s happening somewhere else, not outside my farm gate.

One recent incident gives me hope that farmers and ranchers will find the power of their voice. Remember the proposed child labor rules from the Department of Labor (DOL)? That proposal lit a fire under agriculture. Comments poured into DOL. You actively blogged about it, wrote letters to the editor and flooded Facebook and the internet.

It kicked agriculture out of its lethargy. You may have felt this issue was out of your control, but you attacked anyway. You saw it happening somewhere else but realized how it would affect your farm or ranch.

What’s more personal than reaching out to your customers with the truth about what you do?

The other side is waging a very effective battle for the hearts and minds of Americans. Too often their diatribes are met by silence from our community.

It’s within our power to change the course of this unruly food debate. Discover your voice. Speak with passion. Together, agriculture advocates can accomplish anything.

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Bea Elliott    
Florida  |  June, 12, 2012 at 11:25 PM

It's hard to have passion without the moral high ground. Ethical certainty is what fuels the energy needed to advocate, debate and rebut. In developed worlds, the necessity and justification for violence and killing has to be irrefutable. And the truth of that - Just isn't so.

June, 13, 2012 at 01:39 AM

How do you actually defend cruelty though? Animal agriculture is a cruel business and given it’s completely unnecessary and detrimental I’m not sure how anyone could be passionate about defending it.

Iowa  |  June, 13, 2012 at 08:38 AM

Until agriculture realizes it cannot fight emotional arguments with science, it is a losing battle. The commodity organizations need to realize this and give farmers and ranchers direction in responding with emotion, not science.

John Maday    
Colorado  |  June, 13, 2012 at 10:06 AM

Some pretty silly comments here from people who clearly have never been on a farm or ranch. I don’t know of any group of people more passionate about what they do than farmers and ranchers. There are several reasons they aren’t out beating the drums in defense of their profession. First, they’re busy people, working hard all day long to support their families, care for their animals and feed the world’s population. (In contrast to pampered, city-dwelling trust-fund babies who spend their abundant free time posting uninformed opinions over the Internet.) Also, “defending” their work and lifestyle is just not something they’ve ever really had to think about, as they know they know their work is good and honorable, and society in general holds farmers and ranchers in high regard.

Ohio  |  June, 13, 2012 at 10:10 AM

1. It is hard for us to understand that so many people know nothing about food production. Their grandparents did. It is like Bea and Maria. They obviously have never studied livestock productiion, never worked with livestock and know absolutely nothing about it. Look at the time of their posts. Any selfrespecting farmer would be asleep at that time. It is hard to conceive that someone knows that little and yet they are certian they are right. To most of them livestock = pet = people which just is not the case. 2. We are not the best with words and yet we fighting journalists who are experts at twisting words. Take gestation stalls for instance. The idea that an animal should at least be able turn around sound very logical. The response is turn around and do what - kill its neighbor? We have to learn how to phrase things in a way that sounds good in their language. My favorite is we will change how we raise animals as long as we don't kill them (increase the number that die), don't hurt them or do not make them sick. 3. The other point is an old adage - don't get in a fight with a skunk - you can't win.

michigan  |  June, 13, 2012 at 12:01 PM

Kyle and John you both Rock!!!! As farmers, We do work hard....16-19 hours a dewlers would not have a clue how to pull a day that long-especially when it consists of manual labor. I also love to grow crops and I love my animals and they love to see me when ever I'm near them.....They live a good life while they are here....My beef customers all know this and appriciate this fact.

Dr. Mauck    
Sullivan, IL  |  June, 13, 2012 at 12:29 PM

The comments of Bea and Maria are so typical: animal ag is cruel and unnecessary. Well, the world’s growing population simply cannot be fed without animal protein and modern ag practices. Would it be preferable for billions to die? I have been around animal ag my entire life. A cow on pasture lives a far more cushy life than a water buffalo which will end up as a lion or crocodile meal. The gestation crate issue drives me crazy. These crates save many baby pigs lives so that they are not crushed under the sow and makes handling the sow much safer for the farmer. I would like to see Bea or Maria walk into a pen with a loose sow and her 10 pigs. They might have a greater respect for crates after that harrowing experience. Creates also protect the sows from each other. Just mix up a bunch of sows and their baby pigs. You will end up with death, injury and cannibalism.

Bea Elliott    
Florida  |  June, 14, 2012 at 08:29 AM

You might even want to listen to one of the three podcasts available at the "Protect the Harvest" site - I can't remember which one - But a representative from the soy growers states clearly (as does the soy website) that 90% of soy is grown as animal feed. We know that at least 80% of corn is grown to fatten animals as well... Who knows how much wheat AND other legumes as well. You keep saying you're "feeding the world" - But in truth filtering 6 to 10 times as much food through livestock rather than providing it as food to humans is what's starving people! It's terribly wasteful... Greedy and gluttonous.

Dr. Mauck    
Sullivan, IL  |  June, 13, 2012 at 12:33 PM

By the way, vegans: Have you ever seen your vegetables harvested? A lot of little animals- mice, rabbits, birds, voles, snakes, etc.- die in the machinery of your harvesting machines. You have blood on your hands. Watch the day or two after a field is harvested. The vultures are circling, picking up the remains from the harvest of your "cruelty-free" food.

Bea Elliott    
Florida  |  June, 14, 2012 at 08:39 AM

So you're comparing a few dozen accidental deaths to 10 billion deliberate ones? We NEED vegetables to live... Don't NEED flesh. If accidental deaths occur in the course of harvesting FOOD - This is unavoidable unless you're speaking of veganic permaculture farming which is becoming very popular. Besides... How many deaths occur while harvesting food that your livestock are fed? I don't believe any vegan is fooling themselves thinking that life can be "cruelty-free" - BUT there's everything right in trying to live in a way that causes as little harm as possible. Hence the ethical certainty in being responsible and compassionate to other life when we can. BTW - How much wildlife is damaged and exterminated to "protect" livestock? See? The list goes on and on...

MN  |  June, 15, 2012 at 10:15 AM

I'm a dairy farmer, and having studied the science and politics behind GMO's, I'm against them. Neither do I use BST. So more power to the folks fighting them. Forcing this on the consumer is wrong if they don't want it. That said, the will come when this country will know hunger as more and more faulty regulations and bad trade policy and bad farm policy force farmers, one by one, out of business. Bea, almost 50% of corn is used for ethanol, that does not leave another 80% to be used as animal feed. Have get your facts right to be credible.

WI  |  June, 15, 2012 at 11:45 AM

Some of the comments on this article are so disheartening. How can people not understand that GMO's are helping agriculturalists feed the hungry? How can someone compare how many people the US farmer fed in 1950 to today and not see that this science is essential? Then again, I suppose, if you've never had to go hungry in your life, it's awfully easy to get on a high horse and ignore the millions who are starving because they lack the resources to produce enough food where they are and say that producing GMO's like drought tolerant crops is the work of Satan worshipping scientists. Genetic adaptation happens all the time, scientists are helping to speed up what is already a natural process in order to try and feed the world.

Pennsylvania  |  June, 15, 2012 at 10:04 PM

There are many areas of the country where crops such as vegetables, soy and corn will not grow. However, cattle can graze and produce food from grasses humans cannot process. Take those cattle away, and you take that food production away unless you cart in new soil (from where?)and copious amounts of water. Neither practical, doable or environmentally healthy. So, lets not assume that eliminating those bovines will allow you to grow your vegan foods in any kind of equal exchange. Also, before you throw darts at animal ag because those animals live close together, have food delivered to them and sometimes wait in line, take a look at all urban dwellers and most suburban types. Talk about living on top of each other--literally-- and squeezing into mass transit. Done any time in the post office line, concert line, doctor's office waitin room or grocery line? Had food delivered to you by the take out boy or restaurant server? Not all bad, is it?

WI  |  June, 15, 2012 at 11:18 PM

Exactly! Animal ag uses often puts land unsuitable for crop growth to productive use! Thank you for sharing this information!

ia  |  June, 17, 2012 at 10:46 PM

I used to have passion for our farming operation until I learned and read about genetically modified crops..this is scarry what it is doing to agriculture , our animals and how it is affecting all of us...we used to feed corn syrup, and whey and plant bt corn but are not going to anymore..please read up on what and who is regulating our why other countries ban the gmo's go to millions against monsanto website this is the reason I lost my passion for farming and it isnt because of animal activists who have no clue about farming or animals in general... big chemical companies are in with FDA look and see who was on Monsantos bd. and who now is on the govt FDA , do the research and see why thosewho do have passion are going organic and feeling much better about their planet

Washington  |  July, 05, 2012 at 11:15 AM

You can't roll all of agriculture into one big ball. If go to an organic convention like Tilth Producers of Washington, you'll find your passion and young people wanting to farm. The blows on the Internet are not against farmers, there against large corporate chemical and seed companies. Let's differentiate appropriately.

Bea Elliott    
Florida  |  February, 03, 2013 at 12:25 PM

The meat/dairy/egg industries spends hundreds of millions of dollars lying to the public about their product. But no amount of false propaganda can sanitize meat. The facts are absolutely clear: Eating meat is bad for human health, catastrophic for the environment, and a living nightmare for animals. There's never been more compelling reasons or a better time to opt for a plant based diet. Want to create a better world? Eat like you mean it - Go Vegan

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