Tuesday, August 2, 2016

One big happy family

Last week I had the opportunity to travel to Mexico on a Women in Agriculture trip with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. To read more details about this amazing trip (since I haven't written my own post yet), you can visit here, as Cindy, from the Midwest Dairy Council, wrote almost every day we were there and did a great job documenting our trips. It was life changing.

Today, I also travelled to St. Cloud to be one of five presenters at the Minnesota School Nutrition Association's conference. Those presenting were from the Midwest Dairy, a dairy farmers who also makes cheese on their farm, a hog farmer - who also raises crops, myself and another grain farmer from our state.

So, on the trip to Mexico I started thinking about this and today it just became so much clearer. I think some in agriculture get this, some don't. There are some consumers that get it also, and some don't. I will be the first to say, a couple years ago, I probably didn't fully get it either. I'd like to say I've made lots of progress.

WE ARE IN THIS TOGETHER. This whole agriculture thing. There is no conventional farmer, organic farmer, dairy farmer, organic dairy farmer, poultry farmers, hog farmer, cattle farmer. We're all just farmers. There is a place at the table for us all. All the bickering between conventional vs. organic should just stop. We make the best decisions for our own farms, however that may look. Our production techniques may be like our neighbors, it may not.

The trip to Mexico was a real perspective changer for me. I didn't know a lot about agriculture in other countries, to be honest. The people in Mexico are happy, so happy, but people.....we have luxuries you may not realize.

I don't have to choose a crop to grow and hope there is a market for it when I harvest it. We have a huge grain infrastructure (elevators, ethanol plants, packing plants, soybean crush facilities, farmers markets, food companies, and on and on and on) in this country that affords us much certainty that we will have a market for our products indefinitely. Heck, I can sell production for 2 years down the road that I haven't even bought any input for yet! These farmers in Mexico plant a crop not knowing if anyone will buy it, for a profit, at the time they harvest it - and right now they don't have a lot of options. That is a luxury.

We can make a living off of our farms. We can do this with our families, our spouses, our kids and we can support our families, partially or wholly, off of this. Our spouses don't have to go off to another country to work and make enough money to support their family. And work hard they do. We don't know the strength it takes to have your spouse leave indefinitely to provide for your family, while you are left to tend to your whole farm and family back at home by yourself. That is a luxury.

Our country has companies, universities, and countless other groups that invest in research to help us gain better crops and better production methods. While providing many jobs in the ag sector. We have an abundance of research at our disposal that is relevant to our farms and even our locations. We have so many resources in groups like our local FSA or NRCS offices, and many more groups than I can even name. That is a luxury.

We have checkoff programs (groups like the Minnesota Corn Research & Promotions Council and Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotions council, Minnesota Pork Board - any numerous other commodity groups for each state) that actively promote our products to the public, look for new markets for us, invest in more research, all on our behalf. We don't have to spend our time and energy doing that. That is a luxury.

I'm not saying it's not still hard. Times can be lean for many of us too. There are long hours and tough decisions to be made here also. But I think if we looked beyond our own country, we would see how incredibly good we have it. America is already great with the entire spectrum of agriculture we have here. We have the ability to use marketing tools to sell our products, we can provide for our families from the land we have and consumers have endless choices at their grocery stores because...there is room at the table for us all.

I think we realize that organic can get beat up by conventional farmers. I think many organic farmers realize that the marketing tactics of "big organic" can be questionable at best from time to time. But the bigger picture is that we are free to farm how we choose and we do that because we have a market for our products. It's a luxury we should never take for granted.

Talking with the women from Mexico, even though we farm around 2500 acres and they farm on average 1/2 - 2 acres, the common theme still rang true that we all want the same things. To provide for our families, carry on our legacy, and grow good food.

This a luxury that American farms should never take for granted, no matter how tough we think things can be for us here. So what do you say we all take ownership of doing our own part and leaving the bickering at the doorstep and support each other in the wonderful agricultural world we are fortunate to have. What will you do to make that happen?