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My Own Worst Enemy

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!

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Google Educated

“Google educated”. It’s my new favorite term, and unfortunately, a very ugly truth. In fact this is part of the reason I started “agvocating”, the other reason was because of an ex of an ex, but that is a whole other blog post. I’ve lost count of how many times people who have never stepped foot on a farm, feedlot, or processing plant tell me how bad my industry is. They learned everything they need to know about beef production from youtube, google and twitter and there is no way in hell they can learn anything more about agriculture, especially from an actual rancher!
In college I would go from a beef production class where we were learning how innovative and technologically advanced our industry was (from a teacher that was both a PhD and a cattle producer) to a general education class, where they tried to teach me beef production was the same it was in the 1970’s (it’s not), from a teacher who saw a farm once from the road.
I understand there is a major disconnect between farm and fork. This disconnect has left the majority of our population vulnerable to misinformation about agriculture. The repercussions of this disconnect has resulted in movies like “Food Inc” and books like “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”, these books and movies are often one-sided and skewed versions of what their creators consider modern agriculture.
Until I went to college and earned my degree in agriculture I held many of the same beliefs as people not in agriculture. I believed natural beef was better the environment, I thought organic was the only answer and Monsanto was the devil. It’s easy to understand why I believed that. Movies, books and articles written by those who have little to no understanding of modern agriculture often vilify what they don’t understand. It’s human nature to fear what we don’t know. Agriculture is not as simple or easy as it is made to look. I think all industries are like that, but for some reason many people think agriculture is the cowboy in the white cowboy hat versus the cowboy in the black cowboy hat or the small family farmer versus the giant corporate farmers, or good versus evil. It wasn’t until I went to college and learned the why’s, what’s, how’s and when’s of agriculture, that I was able to take a step back and say “gee, I really didn’t know shit about the big picture of ag just because I grew up on a ranch”.
I needed to be exposed to other points of view; I needed to learn WHY we do things. It was amazing to be educated from people who actually knew what they were talking about. I got a wonderful, hands on education that incorporated organics, GMO’s, “conventional” agriculture. I learned that many of these production methods can overlap each other; I learned how we can use the advanced technology and production methods available to make ag better!
So it really annoys me is when ranchers and farmers start fighting with each other over different production methods. For example, grass fed is better than grain fed (follow http://meatgeek.org/, I’ve learned so much), or organic is better than conventional. Or even worse when a farmer fear mongers, a neighbor of mine has a sign at their farmer’s market booth that reads “are there GMO’s in your food?” like it is going to kill you. RIGHT NOW. (Do a whisper of research at http://www.biofortified.org/)
I hate to say this, and it will probably get me in trouble with certain people, but I’m going to say it anyway. It seems like the “farmers” that are doing the attacking and fear mongering are the ones with limited agricultural experience and education. They are the ones that never got a formal agricultural education, they read some Michael Pollan, Joel Salatin and Google and suddenly they know everything about agriculture and the only acceptable kind is organic, raw, sustainable, repurposed, heirloom, (insert more buzz words here).
Unfortunately these “Google farmers”, with their PhD’s from University of  the Internet are often the ones with the loudest voices. They are the ones selling at the Farmer’s Markets, telling the consumer how they know everything because they agree with Mr. Pollan and Mr. Salatin, and commercial farmers are bad and are only out to make money and posion their land. They seem to only go to organic workshops, they often don’t belong to Cattlemen’s or Farm Bureau, they have no desire to learn more about “conventional”. It’s their way or no way. I am very resentful and bitter at these people. I’ll admit it. It’s hard for me to go to Farmer’s Markets and hear attacks on my way of life from people that only have half of the story. Yet another side of me understands why they think this way, I once did too.
It’s time for us all to educate each other and stop the fear mongering and shit talking. Google farmers you need to have an open mind. You need to learn WHY we do things and just because a particular faming method doesn’t work for you doesn’t make it evil. If you are going to “educate” the public about agriculture don’t you think you should know the full story? Scaring people about “conventional” agriculture isn’t doing anyone any favors. Passing more laws and regulations for farmers to follow only makes it harder for us grow your food, and makes our food more expensive.  A good place to start would be to enforce the laws we already have. “Conventional” farmers you need to be more vocal! I know, it’s hard and you are busy, but we need to be transparent, we need to show our consumers that we are not out to kill them, that we do treat our animals humanely, we do use pesticides responsibly, that “Food Inc” is NOT the norm.
And consumers (farmers are consumers too, people forget that), you need turn Google off and get your hands dirty. Come on out to farms, read some Temple Grandin, if something upsets you or you don’t understand why farmers do something ask! Ask several farmers, make sure you are talking to farmers or ranchers that aren’t fear mongering and shit talking. I assure you that once you start learning about ag from ag it isn’t nearly as scary or evil as it seems.

The term “Google educated” is brought to you by http://edibleintelligence.blogspot.com/. He’s a food scientist, he knows shit, learn from him.

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