Get used to schizophrenic farming


Coshocton County farmer Brent Porteus has a hot potato seat as president of the Ohio Farm Bureau, particularly right now, when it seems like everyone who eats is an expert on farming.

Porteus got a laugh Dec. 3 during his address to members at the state Farm Bureau annual meeting when he said there were food companies that market tomatoes as “vine-raised” (as if there were any other kind, Porteus added as an aside), and burgers that are made from “vegetarian-fed beef” (not sure what else a ruminant would eat, Porteus commented).

It got a laugh, but it illustrates the lack of basic food and farming knowledge out there. And the scary thing is, Porteus added, individuals with that ignorance are dictating expectations and policy for the ag community.

“Will we be able to calve outside in February” three years from now, Porteus wondered.

He poses this question: “How do I deliver what the consumer wants, even though what they think they want might put me out of business?”

More grass-fed beef, but cattle are to blame for methane gas emissions. More organic fertilizers, but that manure stinks and is polluting everything. More regulations, but less expensive food. More greenspace, but lower taxes. More, more, more, but…

Can you blame a farmer for being confused? We’re pounded on all sides by comments from well-intentioned individuals who, for the most part, support agriculture, but simply don’t understand the unintended consequences of a particular action.

Squeeze and pressure and regulate enough farmers and the only ones left will be the super-large farms that most opponents are targeting now. Is that what they want, because we’re headed in that direction.

We’re often challenged to explain why agriculture deserves special treatment, and those are always good questions. But it’s very simple: Farming is the only sector that is wholly irreplaceable.

Companies can come and go, or merge, or split. Products can disappear from the marketplace. But food? We’re going to outsource our food?

If we want consumers to understand more about what we do, we need to a) be sure we’re doing the right thing; and b) tell them why we’re doing it.

Early and often.

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