Thursday, March 28, 2013

Sustainable Ag and Food Myths Busted


This is a powerful word that is creating buzz all across the ag world and among consumers, corporations, farmers, families, everyone, everywhere. I watched a video--just today, in fact--that claims to have all the answers but do they really?

Food MythBusters, which is a "campaign to provide videos and resources debunking the yarns Big Ag players spin about our food system," created a video that, in my book, invokes more questions than answers. The video states that the story of "Big Ag" (I'd love a definition on what "Big Ag" really is because I think we fall into that category but we aren't that big in comparison, we are also family owned but we contract too--define please) is "full of holes" but I found a few "holes" of my own. 

So, lets break it down piece by piece:
  1. "[Farmers] Stop practices that keep soil healthy" -- If we don't keep the soil healthy then we would not be able to continue to produce year after year. This statement implies that farmers are irresponsible and uncaring, which is illogical. Comparable to a mechanic that refuses to service vehicles. He won't be in business for very long! Crop rotation is mentioned in the video and is a great way to keep soil healthy. Every farmer in this area, including us, rotates our crops. Usually between corn, soybeans, wheat, and sometimes a cover crop like cereal rice or rye. So, are we really stopping the practices that keep soil healthy or are consumers just confused about farming because they've been removed from it for so long?
  2. "Livestock, that use to be raised on the farm, get crammed into polluting factories"-- Our livestock are still raised on the farm. We use barns and modern technology to raise them but they are
    still on the farm. We live down the road from one of our barns and my sis-in-law and parents-in-law live next door to our other barns. How is this not on the farm? Furthermore, if we were polluting then we would only hurt ourselves. Not only would we be violating our government issued permits (hefty fees for doing so) but it is our water and our land that would be polluted. Would you pollute your own water? Additionally, if we were a factory then we would have better pay and more benefits. I've seen what the factory workers in town make, heck of a lot more than my husband and they don't even do a fraction of the hard labor. Maybe we should all just work in a factory...Nah!
  3. "These farmers now buy expensive inputs" -- Hate to state the obvious but inputs have always been expensive and farmers have purchased them for decades. Inputs, expensive or otherwise, are nothing new. However, the good news is that while farmers still use chemical inputs we use a lot less. Like, 223 million pounds less! Wait! It gets better. Despite using hundreds of millions of pounds less in chemicals we are producing more in yields. Maybe Obama and Congress should take a few hints from farmers on how to use less while getting more to get our economy back on track. Farmer for President! So, are we buying more inputs?
  4. "Got to use more drugs [on livestock]" -- Again, antibiotics are not new to the world of farming and the use of antibiotics is not even related to the size of a farm. Farmers that have 10 animals or 10,000 animals all use antibiotics to keep their animals healthy. Unless they are certified organic, then the animals just get chicken soup and wait to die. I'm joking, dark but still a joke! I know some organic farmers and they are wonderful people. Seriously, another interesting fact is that in an IFT report a panel of experts estimate that 96% of antibiotic resistance is actually from human use, not animal use. So, is the "more drugs" an issue of one singular group or do we need to look at the bigger picture and discuss the use of drugs across the board, primarily with human use?
  5. "Got to use more chemical fertilizer [on crops]" -- I will again state what I said in #3: Like,223million pounds less! Not only are we using less chemicals of every kind but our farm, our neighbors (plural, all of them with pigs), along with friends and family that all raise pigs in barns use less chemicals than ever before because we have the power of poop. I know for a fact that hog farmers use all that poo in their lagoons and, more commonly, their deep pits to fertilize their crops the way grandpappy use to. Pardon me, do you have any Grey Poop-on? Why, yes. Yes we do.
  6. "Corporate ag is good for some folks...not the typical farm family" -- Who is the "typical" farm family? We could be considered under the label "corporate ag"because we contract our pigs through a larger company, as many do. Our family's farm began with less than 100 acres and a husband and wife with three kids attempting to fulfill their dream. Since then, it has grown over the last couple decades to several hundred acres, several thousand hogs, and employs all three children plus spouses and then some. The same is true for several other pig farmers we know. So, how are we not the "typical" farm family? And, if we aren't then who the heck is?
 The bottom line is that I want you to watch the video. I want you to make your own judgment call. But more than anything, I want everyone to understand that farming is just like skinning cats--not the gross, bloody, scratches up and down your arms kind of way, more like there's more than one way to do it kind of way. It is an idiom. I'm not really skinning cats. You people are gross.

Watch the video and let me know what you think. Unlike Food MythBusters, comments are always open and welcome.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Snide-ness and Factory Farming: Now open for dialogue

Today I read a comment on one of the BaconCam's YouTube videos that sparked my interest. So, thank you Spikutus for your comment.

Factory Farming Exposed:  Truth about animal handling

Their comment was:

What a snide attitude the narrator has! As if because those bad things don't happen on HER farm, they don't happen anywhere. Who is the one who has to wake up?

I realize that this doesn't seem like a friendly comment that I'd want to point out but there is a great point to be made here, plus a good conversation.

When I narrated this video I was apprehensive about actually posting it. The narration is, as Spikutus points out, snide and much more abrasive than my usual demeanor. I was worried that it would be taken the wrong way or that people would get upset by it or that I would look like a jerk because of it. However, I put on my big-girl panties and made a conscious decision to let my abrasive side show despite the discomfort it gives me (abrasive sides tend to be scratchy, itchy, and they chafe terribly).

The fact is, I had a point to make.

The snide-ness, as I like to call it, was in rebut to all those so-called "abuse" videos with the same exact attitude or snide-ness. In the videos that I have seen the message is clear: This abuse happens here so it must happen on every farm! This is the message I wish to refute most adamantly. Therefore, I took the same attitude, which is so prevalent in the "abuse" videos and spun it the other way.

That was my  point and obviously it hit target.

I know animal abuse exists. I am not refuting that. It saddens me, upsets me, and down right pisses me off that people abuse their animals. However, the same emotional outcome applies to people that want to lump every farmer in one big abusive basket because we choose barns for our farms. That may be my new bumper sticker, by the way.

On a side note, it sickens me to watch those abuse videos that actually show abuse especially when the person filming does absolutely nothing to stop it. Does that not make them every bit as guilty? Well, in my book it makes them worse. It makes them a hypocrite of the worst kind. But I digress.

I'm glad this person commented on the video because the point of everything--the blog, the BaconCam, the social media outlets--is to open the lines of communication. To start dialogues that actually lead somewhere besides an argument. If we can understand both sides of the fence we can make changes, we can better our farming practices, or we can just agree to disagree--at least we are talking and not fighting.

So, as the title states, we are officially Open For Dialogue!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Masked Farmer--Friend or Foe?

Recently, it was brought to my attention that I had not explained the reasoning behind the masked man in many of my photos. This question has come up in the past and we've answered it but I believe it is time to approach it on a broader scope...via blog.

So, who is that masked man in the pig barn? Why does he wear that stylish mask? Any guesses?

Well, I'm sure there is a lot of speculation out there as to why my dear husband, Aaron, is always masked in nearly all his pictures in the barn. Many speculate that it has something to do with the poop/gases produced by the pigs. So, is that the answer? We'll deal with that a little lower in this post.

So, why does he wear it?
Is it the toxic fumes?
Is the the unbearable smell?
Is it the health hazards these barns pose?
Fumes, smells, hazards, oh my!

Let's take a look at some other pictures and see if we can't sort this out...

This is Kristy--Aaron's sister--and yes she is carrying a pig. She likes to play ma ma hen with the pigs. She also happens to be mask-less.

This curly haired cutie is our niece....also mask-less.

These two may look familiar. They belong to Team Bacon Blogger and as you can see....mask-less. I don't wear a mask either but I rarely take pictures of myself. It just feels weird and wrong to tell myself to say cheese.

Wait! I found one. Here's a picture of Aaron sans that fabulous mask. Even he doesn't wear it all the time. 

The point of all this is to show that while some may want you to believe that there are toxic fumes, rancid odors, and health hazards associated with these barns the facts remain that it just ain't so

Aaron, God love him, is a pig farmer. A pig farmer that spends every single day around pigs. Those pigs eat--a lot--which means the feeders are always full of feed. So, Aaron the pig farmer, is around pigs and feed every single day. Unfortunately, poor Aaron happens to be allergic to pig dander and feed dust.

That's it. That's the big reveal. Allergies.

That poor man happens to be allergic to nearly every air born allergen you can imagine. We had him tested once and he reacted to every pin prick except one. Can you guess what that one was?

Pig hair! 

It was quite the joke on the farm. Unfortunately, there is a big difference between pig hair and pig dander--bad news for Aaron. He just can't win.

On a more serious note, lets deal with that previously mentioned speculation.

It is common knowledge that as microbes digest and breakdown poop it releases methane gases. Without getting too technical (because that stuff is way over my head) it goes without saying that there must be methane gases in those pits. 

True story. There are gases down in those pits.

So, what do we do about it?????

First, there are pit fans that keep fresh air in the barns and pit gases out.

Second, the gases stay trapped in the manure and is only released if the pits are agitated which we only do twice a year when we pump out the pits. We also take every safety precaution when doing this to prevent any accidents or dangerous conditions.

Third, (and this is the coolest) there are very cool and innovative additives that we can (and do) put in our pits that minimize the gases, improves the value of the fertilizer, and even eliminates the smell! We started using this additive in one of our barns to test its usefulness and were amazed by the results. 

The smell is the first thing you notice. Animals in general stink. I don't care if you have a dog, cat, cow, bunny, or pig--they stink. But it isn't anything so terrible to make it unbearable. However, minutes after the additive was put in the smell...GONE!

The additive also ate all the solids in the pits, which is a very good thing especially come pump time. Three years later, without adding anymore into the pits, still no solids and when we pump out the manure the pit walls are clean.

Basically, what all this boils down to is knowing what you do and doing RIGHT

Aaron is a pig farmer that is allergic to pigs and dust. So, he wears a mask.

Pigs produce a lot of poop, which has nothing to do with the mask but it is the first place people's minds go. However, that poop is essential to our farming operation as a fertilizer in our fields.


Finally, every business produces its own challenges. The key is to identify those challenges and meet them head-on. Through proper management and knowing every aspect of our business, our challenge is turned into a renewable, essential, natural resource that is actually better for the soil than any man-made chemical. 

I encourage anyone who has any concerns, questions, or confusion about farming to ask questions. Ask here in the comments section. Ask a farmer on Facebook or Twitter. Ask a local farmer down the road. 

Just ask!