Missouri has a lot at stake. Our state is home to 99,171 farms with 1.8 million beef cows and 3.3 million acres of forages ranking us No. 2 in each category behind Texas. We are in the top 10 states in production of soybeans, cotton, hogs, turkeys and broilers. Missouri is second in biodiesel production and 15th in ethanol. Agriculture is vital to our state’s economy and critical to our livelihood in southwest Missouri where the state’s leading livestock production and gross farm revenue counties are located.
Farmers and ranchers face tremendous challenges to achieve profitability and to keep putting food on the world’s tables. Among the biggest challenges are the increasing numbers of activists who attack agriculture or threaten farmer livelihood through restrictive and misguided laws. A growing crowd is attacking food, fuel and fiber production and the products we produce calling them “risky” or even “immoral.” Some claim methane from cattle is melting the ice caps. Some groups, with members who never set foot on a farm, are prescribing how and where to raise livestock. Others claim meat is bad for you, contaminated with bacteria or even laced with unsafe hormones or antibiotics. Schools are having “Meatless Mondays.” Misinformation and twisted facts are, unfortunately, as common as good intentions.
The attackers include a range of marketing and legal activism experts who are highly trained and use effective messaging techniques to convince a lot of people that modern agriculture is “bad” and harmful to both people and the environment. People ranging from Berkeley journalism professors to Hollywood producers, lawyers and “animal rights” organizations are blanketing the country with books, movies, lawsuits and legislation that condemn agriculture, restrict farmers and ranchers, and scare people with claims that their food is unsafe.
The Missouri Farming Rights amendment was approved by voters last year in an attempt to protect this great industry from measures intended to minimize production. The amendment guarantees the right to engage in farming and ranching practices in Missouri. The measure stood up to a ballot re-count, and now a suit has been filed with the Missouri Supreme Court by anti-agriculture advocates who seek to get our state’s highest bench to render the measure unconstitutional. I pray these same folks don’t wake up one day regretting their opposition to agriculture. (You’ll understand why as you keep reading).
Some people look at the attacks on agriculture and say that nothing can be done. Nothing could be further from the truth. Something must be done to set the record straight. Farmers and consumers have way too much to lose. Every farmer and rancher in the U.S. has the ability to help tell the positive story of American agriculture. The first step is staying informed. I encourage you to join a farm organization that can help represent you and your farm. Read their newsletters, join their team of pro-active advocates for agriculture, follow their websites, and then take action.
How can you take action? Start by educating those who aren’t involved in production agriculture in your community. Invite your local school to bring children to your farm so they can see how you take care of your animals, land and family. Speak to the local civic club about your farm, your family and how farming has and is changing in your area. Get to know your local, state and federal elected officials. Become someone recognized as a credible source they can go to when faced with a decision to make about agriculture.
Why is all of this important? First of all, if you want to farm or ranch, you’d better be your own best advocate and willing to join with other farmers in educating our non-farming friends. Secondly, consider our world population growth. In 1800, less than 1 billion people inhabited our planet. By 1900 about 1.6 billion people lived here and we jumped to a little more than 2.4 billion in 1950. Fifty years later, at the Millenium (2000 AD), we shared our world with 6.1 billion other folks, and in the next 35 years, our population is estimated to be 9.1 billion. My math teachers called that exponential growth. What do all these folks have in common? They want to eat, be clothed, have shelter and will utilize energy to accomplish it.
As a red-blooded American, I enjoy the prospect of increasing demand yielding the potential for increasing profitability in the industry I love. However, as a farmer, with the skills and assets to produce food, fuel and fiber, I feel the moral responsibility to do all I can to produce what others need, but don’t have the ability to produce for themselves. I hope you do too.
Editor’s note: These statistics refer to the 2012 U.S. Ag Census. According to the 2015 Missouri Cattle Inventory report released January Missouri is third in beef cow production.