Sometimes agriculture is agriculture’s worst enemy. I know we don’t mean to be, but it happens. This fact was brought to my attention yesterday, in a very unfortunate way. One of my facebook friends posted a video on their profile. This video (produced by a major New York financial paper) showed two methods of cattle production, grass-fed and “traditional”. It portrayed the grass-fed producer in a wonderful light, I mean, he might as well of had a halo over his head and an angel choir singing behind him. The traditional cattle producer was made out to seem “hickish” and un-educated. Basically the video bashed one segment of cattle production while promoting another, without giving any real facts, details or differing points of view.
When I asked this person why they posted this video, it didn’t go well. When I suggested that maybe this video was poorly done and lacked basic details about modern cattle production and offered a tour of my Ranch by me (an 6th generation cattle rancher with an advanced degree in agriculture who has worked on cattle ranches her whole life). I was told by this person that they grew up on a farm and their Dad taught them all they needed to know about cattle production, so they were good on their information. A little background on this person, they did not finish college, they did not major in agriculture, I’ve never seen them at any of the ag workshops in the area, they don’t raise cattle commercially, and they don’t even eat beef. Now, when someone claims they are from or grew up on a farm or ranch, I expect them to know, at the very least, basic modern ag practices. I firmly believe if you are going to represent yourself as having knowledge of a subject, you should have some actual knowledge.
Our discussion was your basic “only organic” agriculture is beneficial, sustainable, and healthy. Feeding cattle anything but grass “is not natural” (we all know corn is a member of the grass family right? And we DON’T feed cattle straight corn, right?). I’ll spare you the messy details, but it really wasn’t pretty. However, it was apparent that this person did not understand modern cattle production in the least. By the end of it I was accused of being brainwashed, abusing my animals, and pumping my animals full of drugs. As my readers know, it really pisses me off when people who have never seen my ranch or my animals accuse me of abuse. That is pretty much the worst thing a person can say to a Rancher. It’d be equivalent to me saying you abuse your kids because I don’t agree with your parenting style (and I don’t even have kids).
It’s puzzling to me why someone who claims to have an agriculture background would ever not want to look for ways to improve sustainability, the health of their cattle, or even learn more about this industry. Any reasonable person knows education is a good thing. Experience is a good thing. I want the people in charge of growing and raising my food to have the best tools and knowledge they can have. I want them to be as efficient and sustainable as they can be. I want the animals that I will eat to be treated with respect, dignity and to have the most enriched lives they can. All of this translates into a safe, nutritious and high quality food supply.
Like everything, the technology and ag practices we use are always changing. In my experience, the best farms and ranches incorporate many different types of production methods into their operation. For example our ranch uses “traditional” ag practices, some “organic” practices and some “natural” ag practices. By not pigeonholing ourselves we can do so much more with our land and cattle enabling us to not only survive, but thrive.
I think it is so important to always look for ways to improve what we are doing, and how we are doing it, in agriculture. We need to share that information with our consumers and other producers. As farmers and ranchers we need to always be learning, always evolving – we should never say “we already know enough”. We should never attack or bash farmers or ranchers that do things differently, every operation is different, and that isn’t bad. There are always going to be bad apples, every industry has them, but hopefully they will remain the few, and the rest of us can keep learning, changing and evolving for the greater good of agriculture. Never stop learning!