“Listening” Should be a Two-Way Street

The Des Moines Register did it again… the first editorial on the Opinion page of Sunday’s paper fueled another blog post. I’m glad the Register gives me material, but I’d rather these editors would just get the facts straight!

Farmers must lead, not resist, change” reads the Sunday headline.  Further down the article, the copy reads: “Iowa and other Midwest agricultural states should acknowledge changing consumer attitudes and take the lead on improving food safety, livestock conditions and environmental protection.”

Paragraph two reads: “Iowans have grown skeptical of, if not hostile to, some aspects of modern farming, including genetically modified seeds and chemical additives in food. They want to know what is in their food and how livestock is treated.”

I doubt the writers realize their editorial is sending conflicting messages. On one hand, Iowa farmers are asked to be more environmentally responsible. On the other hand, we’re being asked to farm the way we did in the “good old days.” These two trains of thought of incongruent! So, which is it?

The Sunday Register editorial makes it seem so simple… Listen and change to meet consumers’ desires. What these writers (and consumers) don’t understand how complex agriculture is and how many different types of farming operations there are. What works for one farmer may or may not work for his neighbor. What works in one state may not work in another given different climates and practices.

When I listen to consumers, I hear them telling me ways to farm that don’t make sense. For example, I must be sustainable. Yet, I shouldn’t use the new technology that actually allows me to be sustainable. GM crops have made it possible to no till, which is a win for the environment, but they don’t want me to plant such crops.

Another consumer outcry is for farmers to raise pigs outside in a more “natural environment.” I used to raise pigs outside. Because I try to eliminate all the stress that I can for my animals, today I raise my hogs inside climate-controlled barns. Disease and death loss has significantly decreased since I have been raising pigs in a climate-controlled environment. On a cold, windy day with wind chills of 45 degrees below zero, the reality is that my pigs are way better off inside. On a night like last night where winds were gusting at 70 mph and rain was pelting down like bullets, the reality is that my pigs are way better off inside.

You see, farmers are leading and farming practices have changed over the years for good reason. The practices I use on my farm are done for a reason, and “the consumer” could at least try to understand. Consumers also must listen to what farmers have to say.

Listening goes both ways! As a farmer, I try to listen but I must do what I believe is right for my livestock and my land. I must use the farming methods that work best for me and my farm. I will keep listening, and speaking about why I do what I do!