Thursday, July 22, 2010


So a few weeks ago, in light of the events that took place at Conklin Dairy in Ohio, my wife Alyssa replied to a post on Michigan Farm Bureau's facebook wall regarding animal abuse. Most of the comments were our traditional talking points-one rotten apple, bad actor, I take care of my animals; except for Alyssa's. She threw caution into the wind and openly challenged everyone else to start opening their eyes to what is happening around them. She knew it may not be a popular view, but I don't think either of us expected the reaction it has received.

Two nights ago, I attended a Farm Bureau function in Lansing, where I had the chance to mingle and visit with probably no less than a dozen staff members, and they all said virtually the same thing to me: Alyssa said what needed to be said. It isn't popular, but it's true.

So this has had me thinking more and more about this issue the last 36 hours; what is our responsibility as members of the ag community when we know about animal abuse, or pollution, or the misuse of pesticides? Do we, as agronomists, vets, feed truck drivers, hell, just as neighbors, need to start policing ourselves? I think so. We see what goes on around the farm "when no one is watching", and often have the means and ability to intervene. I guess this is what bothers me so much about Conklin Farms-there wasn't a vet, a feed truck driver, an agronomist who saw or at least HEARD about what was going on? If they did, and said nothing, then they are just as guilty as the guy who did the deed.

It's time to be accountable folks, to ourselves, to others, and to our industry. If you have knowledge, you need to report it. Now. That includes folks that watch, laugh about it, or use a "undercover camera". Call the sheriff, and do the right thing, otherwise, the blood is on your hands also.

Monday, July 19, 2010

But I'm not touching you!!!

Anyone else out there have a little brother/sister that used to play that game? They'd hold their finger half an inch from your face and keep repeating "I'm not touching you!" At some point, the story always ended the same; you'd get sick of it, and smack them upside the head, sending them screaming to mom and, at least in my parents house, giving yourself a date with the wooden spoon right across the backside for hitting your brother. Seems we could have moved past this, doesn't it? I thought so to...until today.

So, let me bring you up to speed, in case you've missed all the high-school drama that goes on in my little online world. A few months back, a group of farmers & ranchers from across the US came together and formed a new group, known as The AgChat Foundation. Now, the purpose of the foundation (I'm not on it, I'm just surmising here) is to educate and empower "AgVocates", farmers and ranchers who talk about modern agriculture with folks and help answer questions and dispel myths. Anyways, this group is putting together a workshop of sorts next month to teach people how to be better AgVocates. And surprise, surprise, it's filled mostly (from what I can surmise) with people who come from what I would call "mainstream" agriculture; Conventional farmers for some of you.

So apparently, there are those who are upset because they are being "excluded" from the party, in their mind at least, due to their views on modern ag. Now, I highly doubt they are, (again, I'm not part of the selection. 10,000 foot view here) and from what interaction I've had with members of the Foundation they WELCOME all types of farmers and ranchers to join them in productive dialogue about agriculture. Remember that word, productive.

Now, here's where my beef begins. I'm beginning to feel like the big brother who has a younger one trying to push my buttons. Am I open to a conversation about issues like sustainability (whatever that is), organics, pesticide usage, and land preservation? Sure I am. As Dale Carnegie says, "Let's examine the facts". No problem. But when you come out of the gate swinging and ask me how I sleep at night knowing I am ruining the environment, I get a little defensive.

So here's the point. A group that I will, quite honestly, call "fringe agriculture" wants to drag us back to 40 acres and a mule. They attack me and my way of life in blogs, on YouTube, in the media, and in the movies. But as soon as my group, modern ag, steps up and swings back, they go crying to mommy about how they can't come into the tree house.

Time to grow up folks. We will all have a differnt opinion, and that is what makes America great. But, start respecting mine, before demanding I respect yours.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Remove the Emotion

Last night, I was chatting with a few hundred farmers from around the country in a weekly Twitter event we call "agchat". The purpose is to connect farmers with each other, and give consumers some insight as to our views on issues. Last night was sustainability, and it proved to be as interesting as I suspected it might be...

A little bit into the forum, I was struck by a comment made by a young man from Vermont. He said "Emotion, not technology, will save the family farm!". Alright, aside from the obvious, does anyone else see a problem here? Emotion clouds vision and makes you do dumb things, like buy a new car or join a band, and it's a horrible way to run a business (oh, I forgot. Family Farms apparently aren't business). But there's more to the story...

A few years ago, a piece of land my family had been farming for a few years came up for sale. It was a 260 acre single tract of land, the largest single piece left in the township. We wanted it. Bad. REALLY REALLY bad. But the asking price of over 1 million dollars was tough to stomach. My brother and I were in college, and not much help. My dad and uncle probably could have literally bet the farm and mortgaged everything to the hilt to make it work, but they didn't. And I will admit it, there were tears shed as we watched the dairy farmer who bought it rip up the crops we had planted to put in his own. But that was emotional attachment showing, and that emotion is a weakness. Emotional weakness like that causes farmers to ride a bad situation right to the bottom, instead of cutting their losses and living to fight another day.

Now, don't get me wrong. I love farming and agriculture, and so does the rest of my family. We are emotionally attached to the way of life that we all grew up with, and still live today. But when hundreds of thousands of dollars are on the line every single day, there is no room for emotion. You MUST be able to step back, take a deep breath, and make an objective decision. Was it easy for us to tear down Grandpa VW's old barn? Hell no. But what were we going to do with it? It had no use, and was about to collapse on the pole barn next to it. Emotions aside, it had to go.

I'm confident in the future of American Agriculture and the Family Farm (like mine). Farmers are strong people who see the facts through the fog and make clear, rational decisions. The vision you may have of farming is probably changing, but rest assured, my vision has not.