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Published June 04, 2012, 08:12 AM

Spreading the real story of farming

WORTHINGTON, Minn. — Lately there has been many players in the food industry speaking out for, or against, certain production agriculture practices.

By: Matt Widboom, Agweek

WORTHINGTON, Minn. — Lately there has been many players in the food industry speaking out for, or against, certain production agriculture practices.

While Domino’s recently stood up against Humane Society of the United States at a shareholders meeting, others such as, Burger King, are working with HSUS to change their food purchasing habits. Seeing videos like Chipotle’s that misrepresent today’s farms as “factory farms” may leave many confused and frustrated. But the real story about agriculture is available. Farmers have the opportunity to move beyond a defensive posture to provide positive leadership in the local and national conversation on our food system. Farmers must be willing to open the farm gate, invite people to the table and have a conversation about our shared values and common priorities. It’s time to start working harder and more intentionally to find common ground and build the trust that can supersede regulations developed in a state of confusion.

As a farmer, I know we have a responsibility, and we have stepped up to the plate in a big way. Animal agriculture has a strong presence in the Minnesota economy. In fact, livestock production has a local multiplier effect of nearly $2 for every dollar of farm output. Not only do we produce food for a fast-growing world, but we do it in a way that is good for the environment, the animals, the community and consumers. Yes, Minnesota farmers have adopted advances in technology, and many of these have improved animal health and well-being.

Survey says

According to a new Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council consumer survey, two-thirds of people think that Minnesota farmers take good care of their animals. And for the other one-third who don’t have the latest information — livestock farmers do give top priority to caring for their animals.

I raise corn, soybeans and beef cattle in Worthington, Minn. I see to it each day that my cattle are well cared for. We provide our cattle with shelter to protect them from the winter wind and summer heat. It also gives the cattle a clean, comfortable place to rest on bedding packs. Housing also makes breeding and birth less stressful, protects young animals and makes it easier for farmers to care for both healthy and sick animals. The modern housing we use is ventilated, warm, well lit, clean and scientifically designed to meet each animal’s unique needs, including temperature, light, water and food.

I know that the work I put in every day translates into higher quality meat production. A healthy and comfortable animal lives a better life, resulting in a healthier and safer product for consumers.

In that same survey, 70 percent of consumers said they are concerned about food safety and quality. Rest assured, Minnesota farmers and ranchers are required to meet high standards for heath of the animals and safety of the food supply. And we are happy to do so. Farmers work together with researchers, veterinarians, processors, governments and consumers to assure food safety.

Humane treatment

I, along with many other Minnesota farmers, participate in voluntary quality assurance programs. We go above and beyond to create a safe and accommodating environment for our cattle during transport. We do this by following the industry guidelines of humane treatment. Farmers demonstrate their commitment to a safe product by taking part in these quality assurance programs.

With less than 2 percent of people directly related to production agriculture today, not everyone has the opportunity to see first-hand how we care for our animals and the land we call home. As a farmer, I think our industry needs to be open about the entire process of farm to table.

We know that if consumers don’t think farmers’ values are consistent with their own, they will be less supportive of farming practices and ask for more social control in the form of regulations and social mandates.

I encourage other farmers to reach out to consumers and share our stories. It is important that farmers work to be engaged in this important conversation. We must truly listen and acknowledge the other’s point of view, share what we know and believe and build trust in the reality of farming today.

Editor’s note: Widboom is a Worthington, Minn., farmer.

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