Catalysts of Misunderstanding by Profood?
Part 1 of a series.
Recent conversations on twitter among #profood people have brought to attention several issues which seem to escape their understanding or ability to understand from a production ag perspective. I use the term production ag very generally. In my opinion someone is production ag if they derive more than 75% of their annual income from ag production and includes all management styles: conventional, traditional, organic, natural, grass fed, etc. Posts over the past week seem to be trying to portray that #agchat people are “against change,” “anti-environment,” “big ag,” “corporate ag” and a multitude of other labels inferring a lack interest in food safety and sustainability. I hope to take a shot at explaining what I believe are some of the issues that are being misunderstood by the #profood community and why when some issues are brought up, it leads to those in the #agchat community becoming cautious and protective.
1. Understanding the importance of economic sustainability
First, many of the farms and ranches in the United States are multi-generational, some currently in their 5th, 6th, and 7th generation of ownership and management. It is critical that the current generation be able to maintain the productive viability and economic viability in order to keep these farms and ranches in a condition to pass on to future generations. Farms and ranches are continuously adopting new management techniques and technology to maintain the health and longevity of their land. Also, the vast majority of family farmers and ranchers derive their entire income from their operations. However, over the past 30 years the trend is showing more that at least one spouse is working “off farm” in order to “keep the farm.”
Second, few farmers and ranchers have retirement plans, IRA’s or 401K’s, let alone extensive health insurance plans. Their land, cattle, equipment and other assets are what they depend on to carry them through to the end. Any net income at the end of an operating year is typically used to pay off operation loans and whatever is left is reinvested in the operation through repairs, improvements and upgrades. This is predominately why those of us in production ag are so concerned over Estate Taxes. Considering land and asset values we are “rich,” but when it comes to dollars in the bank, most of us are just getting by. Being presented with the scenario of having to split off portions of our farms and ranches in order to pay inheritance taxes makes us sick to our stomachs. Our farms and ranches are living entities and part of us, and we want to be able to keep the body whole for future generations.
It should be understandable that anytime new legislation, regulation or change is brought up that potentially threatens the economic sustainability of a farm or ranch is sparks emotional response. Our farms and ranches, crops and livestock are our lives, often times seeing more personal attention than our actual families. Therefore, comments and accusations pertaining to our livelihood are taken personally.
The bottom line is that we all manage our farms and ranches to promote sustainability of production and economic viability. These two concepts are inseparable. We are continuing to learn and adapt our management practices to positively influence the health of the land as well as provide for our families and future generations. In an ideal world we would like to guarantee that our grandchildren’s grandchildren will still be able to make a living doing what we do, on the same land.
Part 2: Understanding “skepticism” on transitioning food supply to entirely organic and/or locally produced
(Coming as soon as I have another break in the ranch work.)