Keep Speaking the Truth, Even if a Media Interview Goes Array

Today I really wanted to post a happy blog about quintessential American fun at the Iowa State Fair, which starts this week. From watching animals be born to getting your food fix, there’s so much to see and do. Nothing else compares to the Iowa State Fair!

Instead I feel compelled to write about a nasty series of articles printed by the Chicago Tribune. After all, someone needs to help tell the real story of the Illinois pig farmers, who graciously opened their barn doors to reporters in hopes of helping the newspaper print a balanced piece about modern pig farming.

This newspaper series was backed by eight months of research… or so the writers say. I know many pig farmers were contacted by the Tribune. However, those same farmers were shocked by what the paper says is “their” story.

My heart goes out to these farmers because I, too, have had a media interview go wrong. Here’s what typically happens… A reporter comes to the farm. We talk and seem to be getting along just dandy. He asks questions. I answer and he takes notes. It seems to be going great until I read a story about everything BUT what we talked about! Reporters like this just want a farmer’s picture and name to give the story credence.

It makes me wonder how much damage bad reporting does. I do know the problems it causes me! I fret. I lose sleep. I rehash the meeting, and then I wonder if it’s all worth it.

Pig farmers like me want to help consumers understand how their food is produced. Truth be told, I know that only a small percentage of consumers makes a lot of noise. That noise, however, grabs the attention of lawmakers and regulators. More noise equals more regulation.

Because we can’t afford bad laws, it’s important for farmers to share their experiences. Someone else will tell our story if we don’t! Our story is more likely to be written before a reporter comes to the farm if we’re not available for media interviews.

Larry 8-7-16

Pictured above is a modern day pig barn in construction. Once finished, pigs will be able to rest comfortably inside!

Farmer interviews are so important because farmers are believable. Consumer research shows consumers believe farmers, and that’s what makes this story in the Chicago Tribune especially nasty. The Tribune quoted farm neighbors saying the flies are horrible and the smell is so bad that they vomit when they go outside their house. When a farmer-neighbor makes a statement like this, it must be true, right? Keep in mind, many people have moved to the country from the city. Plus, not all farmers are the same. They have different tolerance for odor and noise.

I can’t speak for them but I can share my personal experience. I live in the middle of the Pig Belt and do not have problems with flies, odor or noise at my farm. In years past, I had some of these problems because we were using old hog barns. Neither the pigs nor I were as comfortable as we are today!

Another problem bad press causes me is that it makes it hard to convince fellow farmers to share their stories. I’m invited by many agriculture groups to talk to their farmer-members because I’ve been in their shoes. A person thinks, “I’m a pig farmer. I like to take care of my pigs! I don’t want to talk to a reporter.”

While there are so many aspects of the Tribune article that bother me, perhaps the worst damage done by this biased reports is that it will cause some farmers to not tell their stories. We need as many farmers as possible talking about their pigs, cattle, chickens, horses, goats because there is strength in numbers! Increased communications with consumers builds trust. The more we share the truth about our farms, the more people will hear and believe our stories.