Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Why We're So Darn Passionate

Submitted by Holly Spangler, Farm Progress

As I write this, just after dawn on our Illinois farm, I can see my neighbor, pull the tractor and feed wagon into his field just across from ours. Black cows are plodding their way toward breakfast. It's a sharp winter day. The sun is beautiful on the prairie and warm on their backs. The cows are fat and happy and ready to start calving any day now.

And you can bet my neighbor's been up for a couple hours.

He's mixed the feed into just the right ration. He's procured the gluten from a nearby ethanol plant. (Byproducts: those things food vs. fuel activists don't like to acknowledge.) He’s mixed it all up just right.

The cows are anxious, watching for him.

He's pulling out now, stopping to climb off the tractor and shut the gate. With all the technology on the farm, including tractors that can drive themselves, gates still don't shut themselves.

I don't know what the rest of his day holds, but I can guess. More chores. More cattle to care for. Markets to watch. Maybe some work to do on cattle buildings. Maybe paperwork for EPA. And at the end of the day, more cattle to feed. And then maybe a meeting to attend. 

It's no wonder "So God Made a Farmer" and the Dodge Ram ad resonated with so many of us. It’s who we are. And as criticism about it arose, it made me wonder: why are we so very passionate about what we do? Why do we defend it so fervently?

Indeed, activists accuse farmers of everything from poisoning the earth with chemicals, to raising hormone-laden beef and milk. And yet the truth is so far from the accusation.

Curious about the hormones? Take a look at this data from a Michigan State University study:

•    3 oz. steak from hormone-treated steer: 1.9 nanograms* estrogen
•    3 oz. steak from untreated steer: 1.3 ng
•    Milk: 11 ng
•    Potato: 225 ng
•    Peas: 340 ng
•    Ice cream: 520 ng
•    Cabbage: 2,000 ng
•    Wheat germ: 3,400 ng
•    Soybean oil:  168,000 ng
*one nanogram = one-billionth of a gram

The idea of defending agriculture and telling its story is not a new one. It came long before the movement known as "agvocating.” Indeed, original "agvocates" like Max Armstrong and Orion Samuelson have been telling urban audiences about ag for decades. But it's exciting to see a farmer get involved.

When Brian Scott tweets a photo from his Indiana farm shop and sparks a conversation with a consumer? That's good stuff. Same goes for Ray Prock and his blog about his dairy herd in California. Mike Haley tweets photos of cows in Ohio, and I've learned a whole lot about California almonds via Brent Boersma on Instagram. (We don't have almonds here in Illinois; lots of corn, beans, cattle and hogs. But no almonds.)

We can all learn a lot. And we can all tell a story. We have a consuming public that's eager to know just exactly what we're all doing out here.

And, in between feeding the cows and mixing the feed, we have a good story to tell.

It's morning on the farm. And it's a good one.

Holly is an associate editor for Prairie Farmer. From her Illinois farm, she covers agriculture for Farm Progress, and writes a column and blog that shares the perspective of a young farm family.