Somewhere in Iowa, a fifth-generation hog farmer is getting up just after dawn. He’s pulling on his jeans that are bare in the knees and short at the ankles and a weathered university sweatshirt that dates back to his days as an ag student in college. After a quick swig of coffee and an earful of the early weather reports, he steps into his boots and heads out to his hog barns. His wife will wake in an hour to start the morning ritual of getting their three kids up and ready for school. Then she’ll take off for her job at an office an hour away from the farm.
He spends the next several hours walking the pens of his farrow-to-finish operation, making sure the sows and piglets are comfortable, measuring feed rations, contacting the vet with a question about a pig’s health status.
He’s feeding the animals the corn that grows on the land of his family’s century farm, meaning it’s been in existence for more than 100 years.
The farmer uses the latest in technology to monitor his barns, to collect and analyze the manure produced by the livestock and then, in turn, to use that natural fertilizer on his no-till crops. His harvest is soon approaching and he needs to get a few parts for the tractor. He needs to scout his fields, contact the semi-trucks for grain hauling details, price his crop and hope that the markets won’t go any crazier than they already are.
He’s invested in local businesses like the vet clinic, the feed store, the co-op, the automotive dealer, the hardware store, the implement and more, to make his business move forward. It makes all of the businesses move forward.
Life is good. He’s continuing the family business, a career that he had chosen as a young boy; raising a family; and caring for his land and livestock. He’s contributing to agriculture’s effort to feed and fuel the world.
But not everything is rosy. Because the H1N1 virus was called swine flu and due to the global economic crisis, this farmer is facing falling profits and piling expenses. He worries about making the utility payment this month and how he’ll tell his daughter that he can no longer contribute to her college savings account. He worries, but it doesn’t stop him from working. He’ll do what he’s always done, but strive to do it better, more efficiently, more economically and even more environmentally friendly.
Somewhere in town, a magazine sits on a store shelf and its cover story vilifies every single thing that the local farmer does every day. It blindly points a ragged finger at him, blaming him for drugging his animals, causing American obesity, killing the environment and holding him responsible for every free choice Americans make regarding what they eat, how much (or little) they pay for food and how much they consume.
Somewhere, sometime in our time on earth, science and facts have been overrun by outlandish claims and fear tactics. Somehow in America, journalistic ethics and the pursuit to prepare a fair and balanced story has crumbled under the pressure to provide taunting headlines that sell by tapping into people’s emotions, feeding them fear and inaccurate information.
Even though U.S. agriculture has evolved, has improved its methods of raising crops and animals, has embraced technology to make things more efficient, and has done more with fewer resources and concentrated on preserving natural resources, it simply doesn’t seem to matter. An agenda has been set and a course of action is being followed.
What matters is the crisis of the day, the protest of the week, the next publicity campaign claiming to raise awareness, but mostly raising money. What matters is finding a scapegoat – and making that scapegoat pay.
So somewhere in Iowa, a hog farmer drops his head as he looks at the national magazine at the local store. The clerk purses her lips and shakes her head in sympathy. He sighs as he digs deep in his pockets to find the money to pay for the supplies he needs to fix his tractor. He hopes that, by working 15-hour days to help feed the world, he’ll make enough to feed his own family.
For the first time, the very first time, he allows himself to wonder if it’s all worth it.
Somewhere in the world, a terrible injustice has been allowed to occur. And sometime soon, we’ll all be paying the price for vilifying the American farmer.
Written by Heather Lilienthal
Heather is an Ag Commodities Writer for the Iowa Farm Bureau.