We live in a time when farm critics and activists are complaining ever more loudly about the "powerful" farm lobby, "corporate farming" and, their favorite: "industrial agriculture." They try to build anger against family farmers, particularly if they are larger than they think they ought to be. About 97% of farms across the nation are family farms, that is owned and operated by family members and usually handed down from generation to generation. Some are large, some small and many in the middle. But family farms just want to survive and pass the farm and land to the next generation.
These farm families for the most part are hurting, as this May 17 article in USA Today makes clear. Farm income is at or near the lowest in 12 years.
Think about this next time you are enjoying a steak, a cup of yogurt, or a fresh baked slice of bread. If you paid $10, for that steak, the farmer who raised the beef got only $2.20 of your dollars. That compares to $4.40 of it just four years ago. That was 2014! Remember way back then? Milk? Today's dairy farmer gets 30 cents of the dollar you spend on dairy products, compared to 51 cents just four years ago! Wheat farmer gets just 12 cents of your delicious bread, bun or donut dollar.
Numerous stories about farmer suicide rates (highest of any work category) highlight the difficulty and uncertainty that face today's farmers. This is why the effort of some so-called environmental groups to load massive new requirements on our farmers in these conditions (requirements that would not improve the already impressive and improving environmental performance) is so frustrating to farmers.
We noticed in this advertising for Coastal farm stores an interesting little tidbit about dairy farming.
This innovative greenhouse located in Blaine, Washington (near a number of dairy farms in the far northwest corner of Washington state and Whatcom County) uses output from a dairy methane digester to heat the greenhouse and grow lots of beautiful plants.
Here's what the Van Wingerden message said:
Keeping Greenhouses Warm
Of course, plants need heat to grow. To ensure growth year-round, Van Wingerden teamed up with a local manure digester to utilize the heat the power plant creates.
“We pump the heat through our water lines,” Tom said. “It’s a wonderfully sustainable solution.”
Other cool technologies the Van Wingerden Greenhouses have implemented include the hanging basket carrousel that takes the hanging baskets you find at Coastal along a conveyer that takes plants along a path of watering, fertilization, and shipping. In addition, an automatic transplanter takes seedlings out of large trays and packs them into individual pots in mere seconds.
The Center for Food Integrity does an outstanding job of studying and analyzing perceptions about farmers and all things food. Their Earth Day blog post was especially on target and explains exactly what Save Family Farming is really all about.
The problem is simple: growing food for everyone has always impacted the environment. But, farmers understand the problem and the issues and have changed practices dramatically, as CFI reports:
Comparing 1980 to 2015, a study of corn, soybeans, wheat and other crops shows all primary environmental indicators for land use, soil conservation, irrigation water use, energy use and greenhouse gas emissions showed improved environmental performance. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, livestock production accounts for only 4.2 percent of greenhouse gas emissions compared to 27 percent by transportation and 31 percent by energy production.
So, why are so many doubtful?
The latest survey done by CFI shows the huge gap in public perception and reality:
In the latest trust research from The Center for Food Integrity, we asked respondents to rate their level of agreement with the following statement: “Do U.S. farmers take good care of the environment?” Only 30 percent strongly agree, more than half – 60 percent – are ambivalent. They’re just not sure farmers are doing enough.
There are a few good reasons for this. Anti-farm activists like the ones you are familiar with if you review this site, are consistently misrepresenting and distorting the truth about farmers and the environment. Why? Money is the simple answer. They need new targets to raise funds. If a ready-made one isn't available, they need to create one. They intentionally target "industrial agriculture" using this vexed term to attack all except the smallest farm-to-market farms. The fact is nationally about 97% of our farms are family owned and operated and size has nothing to do with environmental performance per se.
The activists play a role needed by our audience-starved media outlets. Activists deliver the emotion – particularly outrage – that anyone seeking to attract eyeballs on a screen knows is essential. Then we have the "white knight" politicians eager to ride to the rescue. Then, of course, follow the attorneys representing the litigation industry that scoops up their share of the money from this activist-media-politician-attorney blame game.
The Center for Food Integrity is right to issue this call to farmers to address this problem. We see this large gap between perception and reality precisely because farmers much prefer to farm and grow food for the rest of us than spend time and their limited dollars to defend against these self-centered attacks. But, they are starting to realize, and Save Family Farming and its local affiliates prove it, that farmers are realizing as never before that they can't just farm. The right to keep providing food needs to be protected against those who for their own agendas seek to take that right away. The battle for the understanding of the public and consumer is underway. May the truth win.
Save Family Farming
We're working to build public understanding of the environmental stewardship of our family farmers.