With a small, 43 acre farm, with a small flock of sheep and a handful of dogs, I am a what might be called a “hobby” farmer. Losing money on the farm isn’t going to drive me to homelessness.
But I do know people who make their living on small farms, and they feel as I do: The Farm Bureau rarely does anything for them and rarely speaks for them.
The Farm Bureau is for big operations—thousands of acres of corn and soybeans or concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).
And just about everything you read in the Farm Bureau publications stokes fears about regulations and opposition to them. Big farming is wedded to big agribusiness; and the people who make the fertilizers and insecticides and pesticides and who control the market for selling commodities, fight any regulations fiercely.
And so you read articles in Farm Bureau publications that warn against government overreach in regulations and, indeed, against any robust concern about the environment.
But there are at least two huge current issues that threaten to bring disgrace on the whole farming industry because of this self-serving defensiveness: Antibiotics and fertilizer runoff into the waterways.
Public human health is definitely threatened by indiscriminate use of antibiotics on healthy farm animals to promote growth. The Federal Department of Agriculture has been successfully lobbied by agribusiness interests to keep the use of antibiotics on farm on a voluntary basis–no outright bans on feeding antibiotics to healthy animals. But this situation cannot stand. Public health cannot be secondary to the bottom line for farmers and the meat industry.
Lake Erie was close to being a dead lake in the 1970s, but waste water in our cities was cleaned up to reduce the amount of phosphorus in the waterways. A 75% improvement followed and the Lakes made a miraculous rebound. But we have not put a similar check on the use of phosphorus rich fertilizers on farms that runs off into our water shed. Now Lake Erie has turned green with algae again because the Maumee River drains a huge swath of Midwest farm land. Habits of fertilizer use must be changes, but big farmers fight any strong regulations through their Farm Bureaus.
Again, self-serving defensiveness and opposition to sensible regulation on these two issues is a disgrace for all farmers.
It must end. The Farm Bureau, if it seeks to preserve the farming way of life for future generations, must work honestly and forthrightly with the FDA and the Environmental Protection Agency and with all civic minded scientists everywhere to find solutions to these and other problems–solutions that can leave us all as winners.