Katie Pratt is a corn and soybean family farmer in Illinois and serves as a Face of Farming & Ranching for U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance. Read more about her on her blog and follow her on Twitter @KatiePratt4.
The word of the day in agriculture is "transparency."
As the debate rages over the pros and cons of labeling things from fruits and vegetables to cereal, ground beef, soil and plastics, we farmers and ranchers continue to greet each sunrise doing what we do: plant, protect, grow, raise, care, nurture, conserve, preserve, maintain, and improve their crops, land and livestock.
It’s all part of the job and the life we have chosen for seven generations on our farm. We grow corn, soybeans and seed corn, and we do plant genetically modified varieties. I’ll tell you why.
We use biotechnology on our farm – including GMOs – because we see the benefits are real. We have reduced our use of pesticide by half. Less pesticide application in turn reduces our use of fuel in our equipment. With fewer passes, we are achieving better soil structure because the ground is less compacted, which equals better crops. But biotechnology is just one tool combined with so many others to give us an edge on our farm. There is so much more to the farm conversation than GMOs. So. Much. More.
Before I am a farmer, I am a mother to two adventurous farm kids. My responsibility to them trumps everything, so I join the choir asking questions about food and farming. I spend time seeking out solid factual information from farmers, food scientists and nutritionists. My success in finding the information I seek depends on the transparency of these individuals. There’s that word again: transparency.
Transparency on our farm is a given, and always has been. Whether we’re registering acres with the Farm Service Agency or renewing our certifications to apply fertilizers and pesticides when needed, we are putting information about our farm out for public record.
Transparency also extends to basic education. As a child, I remember tour groups visiting my parents’ farm to view the pigs in the buildings, cows on pasture and crops in the field. Then my mom started pen-palling with elementary school students from the suburbs of Chicago and we would host them on the farm.
When I moved home from college and married My Farmer, Mom handed me the pen. I have been involved in the adopt-a-classroom program for ten years, corresponding via letters, pictures, videos and in-class visits with third, fourth and fifth graders. Three of the classes have been able to visit our farm for a day. Their visit is just as thrilling for us as it is for them. They climb on the tractors, plant seeds, smell the smells, touch the animals and ask questions.
This past summer, my parents were hosts for our county farm bureau’s annual farm visit day. More than 350 people from the Chicago metropolitan area came to the farm, openly curious about the animals and crops, asking great questions and leaving with more information than they ever thought they’d get. In fact, a few of the families have stopped back at my parents’ home this summer to visit with their new farm friends.
Farming is our livelihood. We wake up on the farm, walk out the door to the farm, drive down the road to farm. It dominates our conversations with friends and family. It consumes every second of daylight six days a week, and even on Sunday we’re thinking about what we will tackle the next day.
Farming is also our business. Yet unlike businesses in town with a storefront, a lock on the door, office hours and vacation days, we are “open” 24 hours, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Social media and the push for transparency only heighten our awareness of that fact.
A few nights ago, the phone rang at 9:30 p.m. (way past my bed time). A woman was calling from Hawaii with questions about our use of biotechnology on our farm. We talked for a good half hour before agreeing to look into the other’s viewpoints and share information pertinent to the conversation. She even gave me her phone number.
That night I came to terms that we are farming in a fishbowl. I was reminded again that our every decision regarding the farm would be scrutinized not only by us, but by others who may not have the generational, educational or experiential understanding of why we do what we do.
So, because of that, we’ll continue to write to students, invite folks to the farm for a tour, blog, post pictures and engage on social media. And we ask that curious folks do the same.
Farmers can be found everywhere these days. Some can be found at farmers markets, tending cattle on the outskirts of town, or in the local supermarket answering questions for a day. We are also all around social media – Twitter, Facebook, YouTube (do I need to mention "I'm Farming and I Grow It" by the Peterson Farm Bros.?) and Pinterest.
Many state farm bureaus, commodity groups or agriculture departments have created directories linking consumers with farmers and ranchers. Look them up. Together we just might achieve this so-called “transparency.”
Got a question for our farmers? Pose it in the comments below and we'll do our best to answer.