By Randy Krotz, CEO, U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance (USFRA)
America has a soft spot for farmers and ranchers, but not necessarily a keen understanding and appreciation for the methods we use to grow and raise food. As an agriculturalist and CEO of an organization that represents more than 90 farm groups and agribusiness companies, I’m very aware that our nation’s understanding of farming and ranching is shaped by polarized headlines, stereotypes and lack of information.
While sitting at this year’s Food for Tomorrow conference for the second consecutive year, I’m reminded that a lot of the polarization and misperceptions of farming and ranching starts in everyday conversations — including some of those taking place at Food for Tomorrow.
I had the unique opportunity to break bread with the nation’s leading voices on food. I heard provocative presentations on how we can improve school lunches, reduce food waste, eliminate hunger, and improve the way we farm and ranch in this country. During these discussions, I found myself nodding in agreement — we can do better when it comes to school lunches and reducing food waste, and, as a farm owner and agricultural leader, eliminating hunger is something I strive for every day.
That said, I did not agree with the general vision for improving how we grow and raise food in this country. The vision we heard at the Stone Barns Center did not take into account the many improvements the agriculture industry — whether growing conventional or organic food — has been working at for generations, all while taking care of our soil, air and water. In fact, many of the perceptions I heard are based upon a sincere lack of familiarity with how we raise crops and livestock. Take for example these misconceptions I heard at the conference:
- “Soil is not valued by farmers on those big farms.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Our soil is our strength. It is irreplaceable and we treat it accordingly. Many conventional farmers and ranchers, for instance, have reduced their dependence on synthetic fertilizers by applying manure that they collected from their own farm animals. This practice provides valuable nutrients to the soil that help crops grow. Farmers and ranchers use methods such as this — in a very precise way — that are based on sound science, education, monitoring, and testing, grounded in an overarching dedication to sustainability.
- Attendees wrongly assume that because some farms and ranches are large, animals are not cared for properly. We care deeply about livestock and, as an industry, have zero tolerance for abuse — anyone who abuses animals is subject to legal prosecution. We consistently support quality assurance programs that are designed to help farmers and ranchers stay up to date with best management practices for the well-being of their animals.
- Many believe sustainable production only occurs on local or organic farms. Both can be true, as well as sustainability being a part of all food production today. I’m proud to say many crops are being grown much more sustainably than they ever have been. We’ve significantly improved soil erosion, and reduced energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Our livelihood depends on being sustainable, and it’s a journey. To improve and preserve their business, farmers and ranchers are always thinking ahead to the future, living in the present, and learning from the past.
You may wonder, will I be back at next year’s event? Yes, and I’ll be bringing more farmers and ranchers to remind presenters and attendees alike, what you call sustainability, we call farming and ranching in America.