When Fear, not Facts, is the Precedent

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Fear, Not Facts

“Animal agriculture is responsible for so much death, suffering and destruction, for both animals and humans.”

“Do you know how much of our food is contaminated with GMO products?”

“GMO chemical farming must stop. Pesticides and herbicides are poisoning the planet.”

Headlines

This is just a small sample of the type of accusations that cross my newsfeed daily. And it’s not only social media that spurs these statements about agriculture. 

A while back I attended a township meeting in Cass County, Minnesota. A landowner agreed to sell a small piece of land for a 2500-sow farm. This particular sow farm will produce high-value gilts (young female pig breeding stock) for other sow farms in Minnesota, one of which happens to include a sow farm we are part owners of.

Why Build a Pig Farm So Far Away?

Because there are essentially no other pigs in the county. And because there are virtually no other pigs in the county, transmission of viruses and illnesses from other pigs will decrease significantly. Viruses and other illnesses are easily transmitted between pig farms that are in close proximity to each other. Raising pigs in an isolated location will help keep pigs healthy and as a pig farmer, that is our goal – healthy pigs. And in this case, our goal is to raise healthy, high-value breeding stock. Currently, the breeding stock source of our sow farm comes from northern Canada. Unfortunately, that’s a long travel distance for these animals. By raising these animals only 3-5 hours away will result in a less stressful trip for these animals.  

During this township meeting (under the direct supervision of deputy from the sheriff’s department), a small group of citizens from the Township voiced their opposition to the new sow barn. They proposed a 24-month moratorium on building this site. They were not familiar with pig farming, which is understandable. The meeting’s purpose was to answer their questions and listen to their concerns. 

Where facts, not fear, is needed

While we were able to answer their questions, many of their concerns were completely unfounded. I personally felt my blood pressure rise as the accusations were unleashed. The proposal of a 24-month moratorium didn’t make much sense because there are already numerous required regulations and anyone that has dealt with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency knows they have very stringent regulations

Many of the accusations were really about fear, not facts. And it’s troubling that our society has reached the point of either spewing fear and/or believing fear instead of asking questions and learning more about modern agriculture. Are we, as a society, really that far removed from agriculture that we actually believe farmers are out to ruin society and make people sick? Especially when the vast majority of us live on our farms where we breathe the air and drink the water. Who is benefiting from this nonsense?

I take great pride in providing safe and healthy food for families. 

During this meeting here is what I heard: 

  • People would get MRSA from the pigs
  • The air will make people sick
  • Manure is chock full of antibiotics and e. coli
  • Property values will decrease by 80%
  • Baby pigs fall through the slats (flooring) in the barn
  • There will be decaying pig bodies
  • The land in Martin County (county with the highest number of pigs in Minnesota and where I live) is sterile
  • Cancer alley is located in Martin County between Fairmont and Truman and insinuating it’s caused by pigs
  • 70-year-old farmers are forced off their land because their land is needed to spread pig manure 
  • Barns are using all the ground water
  • “Big Ag” is contaminating groundwater and the land.

And these fear tactics not only came from township residents, but also a Maple Grove lawyer who has caused turmoil in Dodge County towards modern agriculture. She and her husband traveled to the township meeting (a nearly 5-hour trip) and were spouting fear, fear and more fear. I truly believe she was trying to make a name for herself–maybe an “Erin Brockovich” wanna be? Unfortunately, science and research are not on her side. 

The “GO TO” Tactic is Fear

Fear is the “go to” tactic used by many who oppose modern agriculture. Why do so many people oppose modern agriculture when they are the very same people who have benefited from its advancements? Why are we being attacked for our successes? Successes such as significantly less water usage, using fewer resources, reduced carbon footprint and less pesticide usage – all while producing more. Successes such as producing a safe, healthy and affordable food supply. Successes that allow consumers food choices

The end result of the meeting is the chairman made a motion to propose a 6-month moratorium. The motion died due to a lack of a second. As of right now, the barn building will continue moving forward. It was enlightening to hear local citizens support the building project. It was also enlightening to hear one gentleman, who currently works on a pig farm, travels 89 miles to work one way. He would love to see more farms closer. 

But truly the bigger issue is how do we overcome this atmosphere of fear mongering? From someone who works in agriculture, it’s heartbreaking and frustrating to hear and see avalanche after avalanche of agricultural fear. How do we stop it?

Farmers do need to continue reaching out to consumers and tell their story. But it would also be great if consumers and non-farming people would reach out to us. We would LOVE to share what we do and answer those questions.

How do you reach out to farmers? Here are a few links that give you a direct connection to a farmer.

Gotta a Pig Question? Ask a Pig Farmer!

Top 7 Myths About “Big Ag”

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10 Comments on When Fear, not Facts, is the Precedent

  1. avatar
    Bruce Schmoll says:
    December 14, 2015

    Wanda – Your comment about the chairman moving to adopt a 6 month moratorium but the motion died for a lack of a second, is a statement that should have everyone involved in agriculture taking notice and understanding. In this example fortunately the township board consists of those who understand and support the value agriculture can offer the area and our state. The “fear of agriculture” that you mentioned unfortunately leads to the next step that occurs when motions like moratoriums are not successful. That being local residents not connected to or supportive of agriculture are being encouraged to vote in township officials that do support their cause. Once that happens the moratoriums are put in place and agriculture and more particular animal agriculture progress comes to a halt.

    • avatar
      December 14, 2015

      I completely agree with you Bruce. In fact I made the statement to my husband after the meeting that we really need to reach out to the residents of the township. I did go up to one of the more vocal and concerned gals against building the barn and talked with her a bit. She kept bringing up the report that indicated lakes and rivers in southwest Minnesota are contaminated and can’t support fish life and are not fit to swim in. I remember that report and talked with Warren Formo about it. He put it into perspective. I gave her Warren’s number and asked her to contact him for clarification. Even though I am pretty blunt about my observations from the meeting, I would really like to reach out to the opposing residents. These concerns are the exact same concerns we heard 20 years ago in our county.

  2. avatar
    Pat B says:
    December 14, 2015

    Wanda, thank you so much in educating people about agriculture. How good to hear that you had some people supporting the project too. There is such a huge disconnect and so much false information that people will believe anything. Food hysteria is so prevalent, it is hard to know where to start educating, especially in the best fed country in the world.

    A technical point here: under Roberts Rules of Order, the only way a Chairperson can make a motion is if they step down from the chairperson’s role, during that order of business.

    • avatar
      December 14, 2015

      Oh that’s interesting about the a chairperson making a motion. I don’t think they realized that.

  3. avatar
    Kim Pufahl says:
    December 15, 2015

    Society has become too far removed from agriculture. I live in Central Wisconsin, in what 25 years ago was an Ag community. You are correct in saying people are afraid of agriculture. Social media is one of the culprits, I am bombarded daily with negative, incorrect information, and if I did not have a strong background in agriculture and know that it is untrue I might be led to believe that it is the truth. Everyone is due their opinions, but the war on agriculture has to stop. Until those who are negatively impacting Ag go hungry, shoeless, unclothed, and without the comforts that the farmers of the world provide understand where their food,clothing, and most products they take for granted are available to them because some Farmer choose to get up everyday and do their job to feed and clothe the world. On a side note where I work is not considered agricultural but that being said most of the products we sell are. I have a true story that happened a few months ago at work. A well dressed 20+ woman purchased fuel and was looking for a snack, she wanted an apple, she asked if we had any apples in the back, because there were none in the case. We had 6 cases of apples in the case so I walked over to help her find an apple. I asked her if she liked sweet or tart apples, looked confused, and said I’m looking for apples that are ready to eat. Now I was confused, ready to eat? She thought you couldn’t eat a unsliced apple and did not know how to prepare one. I could not believe that it is possible to not know how to prepare an apple. But carrots I understand are a challenge also. Truth is strange than fiction you just can’t make this stuff up.

  4. avatar
    Eric Wessels says:
    December 15, 2015

    Opposition to a confinement is rarely a “fear of agriculture”. It is most often an experienced response to agricultural practices that ignore the environment, ignore the neighbor, and rarely give opportunity for real public input. 2500 head is industrial production, and should be treated as such. We don’t allow other factories to be placed wherever they desire without the proper zoning and community input. You wouldn’t want a smelting facility 1/4 mile from your front door if they were going to spread the waste in the field across from your home.

    Property values do go down by as much as 10% even 3 miles away. 80 is probably an exaggeration, but not if the property is across the road. What guarantees are there for odor control, fly control, etc.

    The air “will” make people sick. Some more than others.

    There will be decaying pig bodies. It will be an amazing feat to not have animals dying on site and there will be bodies there. Decaying sounds like months on end and I know that is not true, but there will be decaying bodies on site.

    “Big Ag” is contaminating groundwater and the land. Who will own these pigs? Is it a vertically integrated system? When you run a factory like this you become, “Big Ag”. Are there buffer strips around the fields where waste is going to be spread to assure it does not run off in heavy rains? Are the tile lines under the fields terminated at a bio-reactor to prevent sub soil contamination from traveling down stream.

    I work with businesses every day that want to build and expand their businesses to increase their profitability. They do not have the luxury of letting someone else clean up after them. I don’t care if you want to have a factory like this, but the neighbors should not be forced to put up with production practices that cost them money in water treatment, healthcare, and infrastructure upkeep.

    It’s not fear of agriculture. It’s fear of mismanagement at the expense and total disregard for the general public.

    • avatar
      December 15, 2015

      Eric, thank you for your comments. I feel you have made some inaccurate statements. The “fear of agriculture” are the inaccurate statements about confinement barns. I feel these statements were made because people don’t understand this type of agriculture and when someone doesn’t understand something, it’s easy to use scare people by making untrue statements. I live on a farm with 2200 pigs. My house is a stone throw away and we don’t get sick nor have we ever got sick from the air. In fact, I open my house windows most every day during spring, summer and fall. Animals that die are composted. And I not sure who “Big Ag” is. 96% of farms and pig farms are owned by farm families. And, yes, we have buffer strips on our fields. We believe in buffer strips. We live here, we drink the water and we breathe the air. We are caretakers of the land. Always have been, always will be.

      • avatar
        Eric Wessels says:
        December 16, 2015

        I don’t think I made any inaccurate statements. There are people who make statements that are parroting without knowledge and there are people that know and are angry. I’m glad you are accustomed to the odor of your factory. I’m glad that you don’t get sick from the airborne particulates. That puts you at a minority of people who come into contact with confinements. You may compost your dead animals. Many facilities use rendering services. Those services do not collect the dead animals every day so they could stack up especially if a factory is hit w/ PEDv or something similar.
        According to the USDA, while 97% of farms are family owned only 86.1% are involved in agricultural production and they only account for 47.4% of US farm production (http://www.ers.usda.gov/amber-waves/2014-march/family-farming-in-the-united-states.aspx#.VnGpY0orJhE) That means over 50% of all agricultural production is not being done by family farms. The percentage of animal production is even less. And even if one owns the confinement that does not mean they own the hogs or have any say in the production.
        I’m glad to hear you are the exception. Excuse me if I give some of the credit to the state of Minnesota for having tougher regulations. In Iowa, our governor takes his marching orders from the Farm Bureau. They only care about the bottom line.

        Thanks for letting me spout.

  5. avatar
    December 17, 2015

    The opposite of this unfounded fear is knowledge! As a former “city kid,” I believed a lot of the anti-ag rumors and downright lies that are being spread. It wasn’t until I got to know actual, real life farmers – in my case, my husband and his dad! – and asked real, honest questions that I began to understand that heart for farming, the land, and the animals.

    It’s when we start asking questions, going to the source and being willing to look silly (or dumb… as I often do!) that we can make decisions based on fact and not on fear.

    I love this post.

  6. avatar
    Mr Farmers Neighborhood says:
    December 17, 2015

    Great Post Wanda, I think all of us who farm have heard the comments you’ve described. There are a large number of sites and FB pages run by farmers (myself included) where I wish people would come to ask their questions. The vast majority of the farming community loves to talk about what we do. We are proud to be farmers, we are proud of what we do. Thank you for this post And come on over to Mr Farmers Neighborhood on FB some time, I love to talk farming.

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