Traveling to state pork association meetings this winter, from Iowa to Indiana to South Dakota and beyond, I have heard a lot of talk about international marketing, African swine fever and profitability. Each time I visit with producers, however, one message always comes through loud and clear: Producers are concerned about their freedom to farm.
Some of you have told me you simply want to keep your current operation viable. Others want to expand their livestock business or add another barn so additional family members can join the farm.
I am also hearing that many of you are frustrated that your ability to farm is being called into question by community members, elected officials and county zoning officials due to misinformation about pig farming from animal activists, the media and others.
I hear you and understand your concerns. In 1995, our neighbor across the road from our home farm in South Dakota retired from farming and sold 80 acres, breaking part of it up into three 10-acre rural residential house lots. All of this was within a stone’s throw from our mailbox and our hog and cattle operation.
It was not long before three pricey, new homes popped up at the end of our driveway. While we appreciate having neighbors, as a business with lots of dust, machinery, noise and smells, we were concerned about how these new neighbors would view us. Then came the rough winter of 1996-97.
An older couple from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, who had built the first house closest to our farm, found out quickly how big snowdrifts can become out in the countryside. So, after the first snowstorm of the season, I drove over with the JD 4450 and loader and dug them out… and continued to do so all winter because it was the right thing to do for a neighbor who needed help.
As the winter dragged on, we along with neighboring farmers pulled out cars stuck in road ditches, cut down trees that had broken under the weight of ice storms, shared portable generators when the power was out for days, helped open roads for the fire department and helped people in our home town dig out as well.
As with my fellow farmers, I did not do these things with an ulterior motive. People see through fake things. I just wanted to be a good neighbor. And it turns out the small, early gestures of kindness went a long way toward building good relationships with our neighbors, who became great friends of our family.
Commitment to communities is one of the six pillars of the Pork Checkoff’s We CareSM principles. Along with the other principles, which focus on animal well-being, people, public health, food safety and natural resources, this one can go a long way toward helping pig farmers maintain their freedom to farm.
Consider the principle centered on protecting natural resources. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says the primary sources of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2017 were transportation, electricity production, industry/manufacturing and commercial/residential, with agriculture accounting for only 8.4%.
You can read about the pork industry’s sustainability progress in the Checkoff’s new report, Commit and Improve: Pig Farmers’ Approach to Sustainability. The report, which can be found at porkcares.org, is packed with useful information that you can share to help protect your freedom to farm.
People are surprised to learn that pig farming achieved a significant reduction in the use of natural resources during the past 55 years. Per pound of pork produced, U.S. pork producers reduced land use by 76%, water use by 25%, energy use by 7% and their carbon footprint by more than 7%.
You can use the report’s information in your day-to-day business, whether you’re going before the county supervisors with the goal of expanding your farm or are chatting with people in your community about modern agriculture.
These folks probably hear buzzwords such as “regenerative ag” or “sustainable farming.” The terms are just a fancy repackaging of the way your family and mine have farmed for generations: Growing the crops that feed the pigs that produce the nutrients that enrich the soil and fertilize the next crop. Out of all this, we get safe, nutritious, protein-packed pork that nourishes people.
As we all work to protect our freedom to farm, remember that science is on our side. Explain the facts by showing how you follow the We Care principles on your farm. Back this up with data from the Checkoff’s new sustainability report to build trust and add value. As pig farmers, we have a great story to share. We’re not part of the problem; we’re part of the solution.