Factual communication identified as important aspect in ag’s future
Evanston – “It’s a challenge, but one that we are more than capable of meeting,” said Jay Lehr at the AgriFuture conference in Evanston, in his talk focusing on how to ensure a bright future for American agriculture.
He spoke of the anticipated eight-and-a-half to nine billion people who are expected to inhabit the earth in 40 or 50 years, and whom American agriculture industries will help to feed.
“I have never been more optimistic about our future in agriculture – it’s never been brighter, and the statistics bear that out,” he said, adding that he thinks young people in agriculture are entering a career with tremendous opportunity. “There are all kinds of things they can do. Choosing something you love to do, and pursuing it, is important.”
Lehr said he not only wants to motivate those in the ag industry to stick with what they’re doing, but also to become “activists.”
“We do have problems in agriculture,” he said. “They’re not so much problems with our ability to raise cattle, sheep or hogs, or to grow corn, soybeans, wheat or cotton. The problems are with the public perception of agriculture – something we’ve, unfortunately, been silent about.”
He pointed out that friends and neighbors of agricultural operations in rural areas, who aren’t directly involved in production agriculture, often learn all their information from radio, TV, newspapers and magazines, which generally have it wrong.
“Everybody has to accept social media,” he said of the onset of the telecommunication age. “Facebook and Twitter are one way we have to use to get our message out.”
He noted one of the biggest sources of misinformation is the Humane Society of the United States.
“HSUS runs sweet little ads to save some poor dog that’s being mistreated, and collects tens of millions of dollars to convince the public that we mistreat our animals – our hogs, lambs or cattle,” said Lehr, pointing out, “There’s nobody in this room who has any involvement with animal agriculture who ever mistreats his animals. You generally treat them better than your children if you want to make a living from them.”
He said to convince the public that HSUS’s message isn’t true, all producers have to do is ask members of the public what possible advantage would there be to in mistreating animals. “Will a steer or hog give me more lean beef if I mistreat or underfeed it?” he asked. “We have every incentive to treat our animals with tender loving care if we are to make a living from them and feed the American public. It’s common sense, and fairly simple.”
“HSUS and many other overly zealous environmental organizations want the entire nation to become vegan,” he continued. “Raise your hand if you know a healthy, robust vegan or vegetarian? I’ve been searching North America, and haven’t found one yet. Humans require 20 amino acids in their diets, and the only place to get them is in animal protein. To be a really healthy vegan, you need a PhD in nutrition to combine certain foods to make up what you don’t get from animal protein.”
Lehr said another misconception by the American public is the negative view of fertilizer.
“People have no clue what nitrogen, potassium and phosphate are,” he said, adding he conducted a survey on the streets of Chicago, asking people what they thought about fertilizer. “The most common answer was it is a toxic byproduct from manufacturers. They think we’re putting toxic leftovers on our crops to make them grow better. N, P and K is to a plant what protein, carbohydrates and fat are to us. The plant can’t live without it. People don’t understand that if we don’t use it, people will starve.”
“Any interest you have can be served within the ag community,” stated Lehr. “For those who want to stay on the farm or ranch, an exciting thing is the advances in using GPS to run machinery. Moving throughout the country, agriculture is part of the telecommunication age. That’s a story that needs to be explained.”
Lehr said precision agriculture is growing by leaps and bounds in some parts of the country. “A large farm is no longer a monolithic acreage. Our land varies. We have areas with high, medium and low productivity, and we can vary our inputs through variable rate technology.”
“We have to explain to people that today’s farm and ranch is not run the way grandfather did. We take advantage of advanced technology,” said Lehr of how ag operations have changed through the decades.
“We are the best land conservationists in the world,” said Lehr of the ag industry. “That’s the simple message we have to convey to the public, because they’re not getting it from us. Instead, they’re getting a lot of misinformation.”
To producers, Lehr said, “You need to be outspoken about these things, and not be afraid of using common sense and knowledge and Facebook and the Internet and social events to tell these stories.”
As of press time, attendees of the AgriFuture conference had met in breakout groups to brainstorm the main obstacles they see to the future of agriculture. They had yet to meet to discuss possible solutions and plans to set in motion.