I think it’s time farmers got tuned in to the environment, adopted good land stewardship and proper animal welfare practices. It’s time to stop pollution of land and water, time to stop growing cancer-causing genetically modified crops and time to stop sticking pins into baby calves and otherwise generally being cruel to livestock.
I know that statement may be a shocker to most readers, because these are topics we’ve heard very little about — unless you count 75 per cent of the speakers at every field day or farm conference, or every third story in the ag media over the past 20 years.
Okay, my point is that this isn’t new territory at all, but I think we are coming very near to the time — if it is not here already — when all this good stewardship stuff really means something. It is important not just because it is the right thing to do, but for economic reasons.
I keep hearing more people talking about how important it is for farmers and ranchers to be able to demonstrate and prove to the world they are doing a good job. Most farmers have been doing a great job for years, but can they prove it?
Farmers can bluster at the notion all they want, but I believe the day is near when you may not be able to sell that calf or that bushel of wheat unless you have a verified paper trail of how it was produced and home video to back it up.
QUAL ITY ASSURA NCE AND TRACEABILITY
The hog, poultry and dairy guys already know what this is about. They already have some measure of quality assurance programs in place. The beef industry is working on it, but quality assurance and verified beef production programs aren’t mandatory and haven’t been widely adopted. Federal and provincial governments were putting money into environmental farm plans, but that initiative proved smart and popular, so funding was cut.
John Kolk, a southern Alberta farmer, made the point very well in a superbly written story in the February issue ofCountry Guide magazine, that the old “mom and pop” farm couple reputation, which has carried the industry for generations has some serious cracks in it.
With farms getting larger and handsome ranchers on billboards along major highways, the image of modern day agriculture has changed. And so it should. No one is farming today like they did 30 or 50 years ago. And the public doesn’t have the connection to agriculture like it did 30 or 50 years ago.
More restaurant chains and food retailers are working overtime to build reputations as the most trusted and safest place to shop.
A cynic could say all they want to do is increase market share and sell the cheapest product for the biggest profit, but regardless of motive, they are and will be expecting more records and verification from suppliers and producers to back up claims. And if you can’t provide that documentation they will or their suppliers will deal with someone who can.
Kolk makes the point it doesn’t matter how many good things farmers are doing out there, there is no reputation that can’t be instantly unraveled in 30 seconds by a kid with a cell phone camera and knows how to upload that clip to YouTube.
Ask some politician who can’t keep his mouth or his pants zipped up, or celebrity who has no sense of, or a trio of hunters who have a couple beers and figure it is fun to use ducks for target practice, or Taco Bell about how much beef is actually in a taco, or an oil sands company with dead ducks in a tailing pond, or an alleged oppressive government regime like Egypt — ask them what impact some bystander with a cell phone camera and a link to Facebook can have.
SHOOT, SHOVEL AND SHUT UP
At times there is a certain amount of nudge, nudge, wink, wink that goes on in the agriculture industry. On some range roads you can find a shoot, shovel and shut up mentality. I remember going to a farm many years ago and there was a beef cow hobbling around the yard with a hind foot the size of a tree stump — foot rot or some abscess — and I remember the producer saying “she’s going to calve in a couple weeks and then I’ll shoot her.” There wasn’t to be any attempt to ease her suffering.
I’ve seen motor oil dumped at the base of fence posts near a creek to keep the posts from rotting off, and leftover tank-mixed herbicide dumped in an out of the way place.
None of these are necessarily hanging offenses. I was born and raised on a farm and have been around the industry enough to know there are certain realities that don’t make all practices right, but they happen.
I am not planning to be the whistle blower on any perceived poor practice, but someone will. It doesn’t even have to be someone on a crusade against agriculture. It could be a disgruntled employee from a fast food restaurant, or someone annoyed by poor service at a grocery store who decides to get even by exposing some perceived abuse by a supplier that makes the company look bad and damages their reputation. And perceived is a key word. It doesn’t necessarily have to be real, it just has to look bad.
I believe most farmers and ranchers do an excellent job of land management and animal care, but I can see where it is becoming important that it be recorded and verified and perhaps more importantly, promoted. And I think it is important for the industry and producer associations to insist on it. Do a good job and blow your horn about it, because the old “trust me, I’m a farmer” argument may not cut in the face of bad publicity.
LeeHartisafieldeditorforGrainewsin Calgary,Contacthimat403-592-1964orby emailat [email protected]