By now you’ve read or heard about the Wayne County hog farm accused of mistreating its animals. Accused. Not convicted, not jailed, not hung by their toenails and flogged in the public square. Just accused.
Yet the farm is in a glaring nationwide spotlight. People all over are tracking the case on the Internet, asking tough questions and demanding answers.
But are we giving them?
By ‘we’ I don’t mean the media. I mean ‘we’ as farmers.
The public is scrutinizing everything about farming. How we treat our animals, what the insides of our barns look like, how and where and when we spread manure, why we apply chemical fertilizers to our crops.
Ninety-eight percent of the U.S. population is ganging up against the other 2 percent. That’s a pretty lopsided battle.
Are farmers talking back, seeking the chance to explain how and why we do things, and doing it before we’re faced with a crisis?
Or are we just sitting ducks waiting to become the next Ken Wiles?
As an ag reporter, I’m often a cheerleader for agriculture and farmers.
But there are times I’m forced to present both sides of some pretty nasty issues, even when the information is ugly or dirty or reflects badly upon all the farmers who make their living making food for the rest of the world.
I don’t get any joy from making anyone look like a villain. But it’s not my job to help cover up a bad situation or protect someone who may or may not have done something wrong, even if they do threaten to sue me for putting the accusations out there.
If some humane farming group gets access to your farm, runs around with a video camera for who knows how long, and then writes a report claiming all sorts of bad things happened there, it’s my job to let people know just what the group claims it saw.
If you’re wrong, they blow the whistle on you. Isn’t the whole agricultural industry better off for weeding out a bad apple before it spoils the rest?
If the accusers are proven wrong, don’t they take a hit and look a little less credible the next time they bite?
Point is, information conquers ignorance. Information will get people moving and talking and screaming and fighting back from both sides of the fence.
I’ve spent a good portion of my most recent workweeks calling courthouses and lawyers and animal rights groups and farmers and all sorts of experts who purport to know what’s going on in three different cases, including the one at the Wayne County hog farm.
I reported on the incident twice, once when the accusations came out and again when the farmer and his employees were charged with animal cruelty.
So why aren’t we hearing farmers stand up and say something? Why haven’t you called me or written me a letter to advocate for the hog farmer or tell me you don’t like what he’s doing, either?
For all you know, I’m some animal-rights activist wacko who is clueless about animal agriculture, who thinks that all hog farmers hang sows from skid loaders with logging chains and taunt them as they struggle. Why aren’t you trying to tell me I’m all wrong?
Are the things Ken Wiles is accused of the exception or the rule? Are you afraid to stand up and tell anyone who will listen that’s not the way you do things on your farm?
Do you think ignoring this will make it all go away?
Or are you quiet because you’re afraid you’ll be next on the hit list?
The Humane Farming Association investigator came from California to little ol’ Creston, Ohio, to pick this fight. Who knew they would target Ohio or Wayne County or hog farming, or that they were even watching? I can bet Ken Wiles never saw it coming. In fact, he told me he didn’t.
Your farm could be the next one blindsided and in the crosshairs of the anti-agriculture or pro-animal movement. Is someone already watching you? The thought is probably enough to make your hairs bristle.
Could you handle the scrutiny? Are you prepared to explain yourself and all the things you do?
A lot of ears are waiting.