Today let’s discuss five common misconceptions in regards to production agriculture and the farmers and ranchers that produce our food. It has been said here before if you eat you are involved in agriculture.
#5 – All large farms are corporate farms. In Montana the vast majority of our farms and ranches are family-owned and operated. Many family farms are incorporated for business purposes or to ensure an orderly transition from one generation to the next, but incorporated is not the same as corporate. The vast majority of our farmers and ranchers live on the land they work. It is not unusual to find more than one generation living and working the land. These producers have a very special bond with the land that may go back generations. Their roots run deep.
#4 – Farmers and ranchers are uneducated. This is a persistent myth and one we need to bust. The days are long gone when you learned everything you needed to know about the family operation from your grandfather. That doesn’t mean we discount grandpa’s advice, born from years and years of experience. It does mean that today’s farmers and ranchers need post-high school training in a variety of areas: animal science, agronomy, environmental science, business, marketing, communications, social media, perhaps even law and psychology. Today’s farmers also need to be life-long learners. If you’ve been on a farm recently, you’ve probably seen a farmer using his cell phone in the field to make decisions about planting or applying pesticides or fertilizer. Consider the rancher and his barn cameras to monitor cows in labor. That’s the kind of on-the-job training every producer needs these days to stay competitive and make a profit.
#3 – Our food is unsafe. Sometimes we get overwhelmed by the headlines of a problem with one commodity or one producer. The reason these stories are called news is because they are not normal. Normal in the U.S. is a safe, abundant, affordable food supply. Google “safety of the U.S. food supply” and see what would pops up. You will find many articles and studies with this same fundamental message: The American food supply is the safest in the world thanks to industry and government efforts. Because our food supply is so safe, we have a luxury people in many countries don’t have; we can take it for granted.
#2 – Farmers and ranchers abuse their animals. The very idea reeks of lunacy. In any industry you will find a few bad players, and agriculture is not immune. But consider this, why would a producer abuse his or her animals when those animals are the source of their livelihood? That’s just nuts. It may be a marketing ploy, but there is a lot of truth to the statement that “Our milk comes from contented cows.” Contented cows are going to produce more milk than cows that are stressed, neglected, starved or otherwise treated ill and ranchers know it. The same goes for any other food animal.
#1 – Farmers and ranchers are destroying the environment. This is absolutely not true. In fact, farmers are one of the original good stewards of land and water resources. These resources are, after all, how they make their living, so it makes sense to protect them. Farms and ranches give us environmental benefits such as green spaces and wildlife habitat. They typically use far fewer resources than the average urban or suburban home.