Yesterday, I overheard…hmmmm…over-read?…What would you call it if you caught a tweet that wasn’t directed TO you, but was about you? Well, anyway, that happened.
Someone claimed that a majority of farmers/ranchers involved in social media are “industrial ag.” (Particularly those that have ever participated in a Tuesday-night Twitter chat called #agchat.) I took offense to that. I’ve participated in several of these “chats,” where questions are asked and answered. No one claims to be an expert, no one claims to have all the answers, it’s just a discussion. The point is to connect the consumer to the producer. Sounds great, right?
Well, apparently someone off in cyber-world doesn’t want this conversation to take place. Perhaps it’s someone who enjoys causing trouble, or someone who profits from discontent. But when you accuse me and my friends of being something we’re not, you better back up your accusations with specific definitions, numbers, acres, parameters, etc.
I asked this particular person what “industrial ag” meant. And of course, received no response. Apparently throwing out terms and accusations is enough. Planting seeds of doubt seems to be the game, while we’re all busy planting real seeds…you know, the kind that feed the people who question our motives.
So, I’ve decided to delve into the definition of industrial ag, and see if I can come up with my own answers. I know quite a few people who have participated in the #agchat conversation on Twitter, and they have operations very similar to mine. So let’s get started:
Industrial – definition –
- having the nature of or characterized by industries
- of, connected with, or resulting from industries
- working in industries
- of or concerned with people working in industries
- for use by industries: said of products
- a stock, bond, etc. of an industrial corporation or enterprise: usually used in pl.
- Rare a person working in industry
- a form of dance music characterized by pulsating rhythms, fragmented vocal lines, and distorted electronic sounds including urban sound effects
OK, so the definition doesn’t tell me much. I mean, according to the definition, anyone involved in agriculture is industrial…because we’re involved in the industry. But I don’t think that’s the connotation that was shot for when the comment was made. So let’s look at the operation:
Perhaps our state-of-the-art, vintage methods of combining our crops make us industrial?
Or maybe it was the silver-spoon I was raised with?
Or maybe it’s our hired men…there are four of them, you know. They don’t get paid much, but their benefits are extraordinary!
Maybe it’s our specialized equipment we use?
Or the land we farm?
But I’m guessing it’s none of these things. I’m guessing that the reason people are casting doubts on our industry, and those of us doing what we can to protect and promote this way of life that we love, is that we’re cutting into their bottom line. Casting doubt on agriculture and spreading fear and lies about food, fuel and fiber is big business. And if we’re putting some of those questions and fears to rest, then we’re putting some people out of business.
I guess I might get a little cranky about that too.
If YOU have any questions about your food, fuel or fiber, feel free to ask! I’ll do what I can to answer, show you how we do it, explain why, whatever it may be. And if I can’t answer, I have friends across the world, involved in every aspect of agriculture, that are more than willing to do the same.
We have an industrial-sized love for agriculture…and we LOVE to share!
Love this line! “We have an industrial-sized love for agriculture…and we LOVE to share!” Love it!
Thanks, Janice! You do realize you started all this, right? Your encouragement in Chicago was a big push for me! Thank you!
You aren’t the first person to tell me I’m pushy and I doubt you’ll be the last! LOL! Especially if you give me such motivation!
You actually made me tear up, Val!
I remember sitting at that table with you and others for a while, just talking about what I was doing and why and then talking through what you could offer. What a great conference that was! Such incredible support all around!
Its very cool to think I helped get you started blogging not only because its a great way for you to tell your story, but you can help be sure the boys story is told too so we have choices for them in the future.
Love ya girl!
The best way to dispell fear is through open communication and the RFOA are doing a great job at it! Keep telling us your stories! Love it!
Amen! And I’m so pleased to be a part of the Real Farmwives of America…what an exciting adventure! Thank you for the kind words! Can’t wait to share more! 🙂
Awesome response. I, personally, am proud to be a part of the “industry.” Couldn’t imagine myself anywhere else! Kudos to you!
You rock too Liz!
ALL of YA’LL as my Southern girlfriends would say ROCK. I am so proud of all of ways we share our stories. Way to go ladies!
Your words are tremendous in this blog post Val! I’m so proud of you, your family farm, the industry, agriculture and even more proud to have you as my prairie mama true friend. Love ya lots.
I grew up on a 40 acre farm. I raised a one acre garden for many years after I married while raising my children. Both operations included plants and animals. I have gone back to gardening and have successfully gardened without insecticides or herbicides. I have used only barnyard fertalizer and recycled plant matter, tree leaves, mulching around plants to save moisture and reduce weeds, without insect problems by using companion planting.
This to me is the family farm. Even my best friend’s father’s farm was a family farm. He had over 200 acres of his own (you know bought and paid for sort of thing) and rented another 1000 acres of land that he farmed. The small acreage was irrigated. The large was dry land. They didn’t raise animals like we did to sell for meat or eggs. My Dad’s 40 acres were irrigated.
To me, the family farm is small enough a family with a hired hand or a few and some custom farm work, like hay cutting, racking and bailing, combining maize and such is done on a small scale with hands on work and maybe a operational loan from a bank when necessary. The use of barnyard fertilizer is common, returning stalks, boles, and plant matter to the soil and crop rotation. The family farm to survive has to do as much “natural, organic” farming methods as they can because they can’t make it using only chemical farming…herbicide, insecticides, and defoliants because of their expense.
Industrial agriculture, to me, is when huge tracks of land are owned by a family, business, stock holders or someone or something that over sees the work which hired labor or contracted laborers do all the work done. These are BIG operations from tens of thousands of acres to hundreds of thousands of acres with none of the workers being owners in the crops or the land. The use of “natural or organic” methods are limited or non existent in big industrial agriculture while the use of chemicals is a given element in production of the crops. Single crops are planted on huge tracks of land. NAPI on the mesa south of me is the perfect example of industrial agriculture. The entire thousands of acres has no private ownership and is planted in huge tracks of a single crop and worked by people with to personal interest in the crops, land or anything but a paycheck.
Hmmm…I’m torn as to how to respond to your comment. But let me try to clarify a few things first:
1) By hired hands, I’m referring to my four sons (the oldest of which, is 8)…it was actually a tongue-in-cheek kinda comment, because that’s just who I am. We don’t have an actual payroll at the farm. If our crops don’t make money, we aren’t paid. Simple as that.
2) We do custom farm work…if that’s what you want to call it. We need feed for our cattle. But a few years back, we went through a drought, and my husband ended up having to drive a great distance to put up hay on land that was marginal at best. He swore he would never do that again, so he increased our hay acres. Which means we generally have more than what we can use, so we try to sell the excess. Since we’re trying to market our hay (as well as using it ourselves), we try to put up our hay in the best condition possible, so that it’s worth more. I do believe any good business man would do the same thing. Watching that crop (in essence, money) be destroyed by a wild animal that you are trying to protect. (And there are state agencies in place to protect.) Well, that’s just plain frustrating.
3) Are you saying that since we have more than 1,000 acres that we farm, we’re not a family farm? We are not a corporation, we have no “hired” men, we have no payroll, we have what I would consider a very small involvement with our local banking industry. So is a family farm just based on acres? Would setting up a legal entity make our operation any different? No. All of these buzz-words mean nothing on the ground.
4) We utilize the organic matter produced by our cattle. I can’t think of a single producer that wouldn’t. But saying that family farms are all “organic” is again, misleading. Farms must make decisions based on what’s best for their land, their operation and their family. Not just because being able to use a term like “organic” makes some people feel warm and fuzzy. A decision to use a chemical or other method of pest control, weed control, etc., is never taken lightly. We involve our crop consultant, test the soil levels for nutrients and utilize our natural enhancers whenever we can. We have a somewhat large garden, and the same thought is taken into what goes there (minus the crop consultant).
5) Do these large tracks of land not produce food that is feeding thousands as we speak? Do we not have thousands of people that go to bed hungry every night? Do you think it would matter to them that the food was raised in a 100-acre parcel, or a 1,000-acre?
6) I don’t necessarily agree with extremely large landowners, or their practices. But I don’t necessarily disagree, either, just because of the amount of land they farm. Some producers are bad farmers, with just a few acres of land. The size does not relate to your ability, just to your ability to purchase land.
I guess, what I’m trying to get at, (apparently taking the long route) is that farming is not a “one-size-fits-all” sort of industry. And I don’t know of many industries that are. We need every producer we can get, as the number of people that are hungry in the world keeps growing, and the number of people farming keeps decreasing. If you look at the numbers, the math doesn’t add up. And then, who gets to decide?
If you decide today, that my method of farming isn’t the right way…then who decides tomorrow, who gets to eat?
I think you missed the point. The family farm (in my never to be humble opinion) can be as big as a family can take care of mostly by their on labor (all family members who actually work on the farm whether paid or unpaid) and limited outside paid workers.
About organic or smart farming with as few chemicals as possible and as much returning plant matter and animal waste to the soil as possible is just simple good business and MORE OFTEN done by family farms than the big conglomerates (owned by “Safeway grocery stores and others like them).
Many farmers of both “species” use poor farming practices. They strip the soil of nutrients by their practices. I observed this when Dad sold the farm to an agriculture teacher who rented the farm to someone. The farming practices used by the renter were so poor that in a few years after Dad sold the farm it would barely pay for the seed. That left the electricity for the well, the gas for the tractor, the payment for labor and all other expenses unpaid.
It was easy to tell that was the situation because at the end of August when Dad had the farm you could only see his head and hat above the cotton. The cotton plants were covered in flowers from top to bottom.
The time I went by about 10 years after Dad sold the farm (mind you this is an irrigated farm so lack of rain fall made no difference in the growth of the crops) at the end of August the cotton was not even knee high and had none to maybe four blossoms on each plant. The maize was equally small and poor.
Farms around had crops as good as they had when Dad was farming. Evidence, in my opinion, that the person farming didn’t rotate the crops, the peanuts had been moved off of the farm. Only cotton and maize was grown. Both crops, like corn and broom corn that strip the soil of valuable nutrients.
When my Dad farmed the peanuts were planted in a give place one year, followed by cotton and the next year by maize and the forth year by peanuts and the ground that wasn’t in the rotations was in alfalfa. The peanuts and alfalfa are both plants that replace nitrogen in the soil. When both crops are removed from the farm it is not possible to get the same results that are had when you raise them. Beans would have worked in place of alfalfa and peanuts.
The new farmer only planted maize and cotton. Bad combination. Bad farming practices.
No, not all family farms are wisely cared for by those farming them.
Yes, reading about farmers that don’t respect the land is disheartening at best. But, I’m certain that their bottom line is showing it as well. That’s what happens when you abuse the land…it gets you back.
I appreciate your comments and your insight to a family farm. Again, I just wanted to clarify those things, for those that are reading and may question my background in actual production agriculture. And I truly believe that not all “Big Ag” is bad, just the same that not all small farms are good. But the operation itself is the key.
Thank you for taking the time to share your story with me…perhaps through conversations like this, we can all learn more.
Thank you. Your response to my original posting had me concerned you wanted to argue. I am glad to know you just wanted to make things clear. Best wishes on your farming. I do know how hard it is. I am starting my little 3/4 acre garden up again and have to fight years of growth of ianthus trees, (kind of like fighting johnsons grass) vine weed (bind weed) and goatheads, also, know as puncture vines. It will be a long process of tilling, watering tilling, over and over this year and maybe even next year to kill them out. The ianthus tree parts will have to be located and removed or they will sprout more trees. When I think I have the offending plants killed I will be planting crops for bees, clover, alfalfa, buck wheat, sunflowers and many other flowering plants. Then I will start at least a hive or two of bees. Bees are new in my husbandry experience. I have been around them and learned a lot about them. I have never cared for them so this should be an interesting experience. Later this spring I will be raising chickens for eggs and ducks for eggs. Chickens, ducks & geese for meat. And I am starting a couple of new ventures in gardening, a year around green (hot) house and vegetables that can be grown in cool and cold green houses through the winter. I am looking forward to having my own fresh tomatoes, summer squashes, peppers and such in the winter as well as spinach, and other cold weather greens and vegetables. If I have extra I will try selling them as well as eggs & birds. All of it is a small operation as I have no one to help me. I even have to build a chicken house which I am hiring help with as building scale carpentry is more than I am physically up to alone. If I find a practical and economical way to milk I will get milk goats again. My hands are not able to stand the strain of daily milking anymore. The gardening will be done on land that has never been farmed. A bare clay hill that will have to be leveled & have sand added to it and other soil amendments, plenty of barnyard fertilizer and composted plant matter. The clay soil is either a powder or rock hard when dry and a slimy slippery mess when wet, not even safe to walk on. So I am going to have my hands full changing it into good workable garden soil. Certainly something I think is worth while as my garden spot will have the job of feeding the bees.
Best wishes to you and your family as you farm.
Ever so glad to be reading blogs that actually put out factual information about how life on a working farm & ranch takes place. As a West Texas Cotton Farmer’s wife, We are constantly bombarded by statements about how we’re really not Farmer’s anymore because we farm so many acres and many Farms are now Incorporated…what people don’t understand is that it takes a Vast amount of acreage to make a living in today’s Cotton Market. My husband, brother-in law, father-in-law & before they left for the Navy, my sons all worked long hours to eke a living out here in the plains of Texas. We try to stay progressive with our land management and take pride in the strides that we make every year towards turning once low yield land into high yield land. 5 Generations have worked this land and we hope someday to turn it over to our Grandchildren…who already love the farmlife.
WAGFARMS I especially appreciated reading your info on tracking your cattle breeding operation. Having taken over the record keeping of our herd, I am always interested in seeing how other people handle theirs.
Thank you! And I enjoy learning and reading about how others view agriculture, and their thoughts on the future. I have learned, rather quickly, that the greatest connection that brings us all together…whether you’re a large operation, small, organic, conventional, no-till, livestock, etc….is the true love of all things agriculture. And that’s something I truly hope I can pass on to my boys. And through this blog, they can read and know that they aren’t the only ones that feel this way. 🙂
I’ve participated on the ag chat, and there is NO way you can identify me as being “big industry” agriculture. I’ve spent nearly 40 years either working for ranches & feedlots or day-working on them.
I believe most of the Ag Chat participators fall in the same category. I know I do! And thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for all your years of hard work.
Nice post. I feel the same way. My husband and I are cow-calf producers and I am a proud first-generation rancher. We take great pride in our cows and calves. We would love to jump in the “local foods” movement and sell our beef directly. We’ve tried a little of that, but it’s extremely hard to get all the marketing, delivery, etc. so we sell most of our calves at an excellent livestock market in the fall. I’m under no delusion–my calves are going to a feedlot and at some point will provide nutritious beef for some family somewhere in this country. Am I proud of that? You bet. Am I then part of “industrial ag?” Uh, what the hell IS THAT?! Those anti-ag folks love the word “industrial” to take away the personal touch, but they are plain WRONG. Change the words a little and it’s “industrious” ag. Industrious means really hard working–and that’s ALL of us raising crops and livestock. keep up the good work!
I agree, selling our beef locally, although nice in theory, doesn’t work very well for us. And we have an established market and repeat buyer that knows we sell our calves at the same sale every year. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it, right? Maybe someday we’ll make a change, but right now, it’s working, which makes us as sustainable as we want to be. (Another one of those buzz words that drives me nuts!) I’m right there with you…I’m proud to be “industrious” ag! 🙂