In pursuit of an accurate image of agriculture

  • Article by: WANDA PATSCHE
  • Updated: June 2, 2014 - 6:49 PM

Let’s take the pejorative “factory” out of our characterizations of modern farming.

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We’re past the “big red barn” era of farming, but in many parts of rural Minnesota, it’s not Big Ag but family farmers who are raising young feeder pigs like these so we can put pork on the table.

Photo: Glen Stubbe • gstubbe@startribune.com,

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“Factory farms.” If there is one term I am most frustrated with hearing people say, it is that. Why? You may find this a little crazy coming from a hog farmer, but I really don’t know what they are.

The ironic part of this statement is that I actually live in the Minnesota county that markets the largest numbers of hogs in the state. In fact, we are also ranked nationally with regard to hogs marketed. So how utterly ridiculous does it sound when I say I don’t know what a factory farm is?

It’s because my vision of a “factory farm” is not what I see. I envision a factory farm as a place with numerous long, cold, colorless steel buildings whose only goal is to produce as many animals as possible, as fast as possible, with the least amount of money and care needed. I think of an uncaring, industrialized operation owned and run by “big money” corporations. An operation that has little to no contact between the animals and people. And this is the same image companies like Chipotle, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s and animal-rights activist groups like the Humane Society of the United States want you to envision when you hear the word “factory farm.”

But instead of seeing factory farms, I see —

Farms.

Just farms.

Yes, we have lots of hog farms in rural Minnesota, especially in my county. And who manages and owns these farms? Is it Big Ag? Is it money-hungry corporations?

No. These farms are owned by my neighbors, my friends, fellow church members, parents of my children’s friends and people in my community. People and their families run the farms, not Big Ag. Yes, farms have changed over the years. For the most part, we no longer have “big red barn farms.” But even though our farms look different, our values have not changed.

We share the same values as our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. We care for our animals daily. It matters and affects us if our animals are sick or injured. Today’s farmers work with a team to assist them in giving the best animal care. Who’s on this team? Usually a veterinarian, an animal nutritionist and other consultants. The purpose of this team? Simple really — to raise healthy animals.

Yes, our animals are housed inside barns, which may look to some as a factory farm. Our hogs are raised in barns because we can take better care of them. The animals no longer have to deal with the extreme effects of weather such as brutal cold, hot and humid temperatures, snow, rain, blizzards and sunburns. Nor do we have to fear predators hurting our hogs. And with today’s hog genetics, our animals have a much lower fat content and cannot tolerate all the weather conditions.

And, yes, we use technology in our barns to improve efficiencies, such as automatic temperature and air controls and automatic feeders. These efficiencies result in better care and a healthier animal.

Why do people insist on using “factory farm”? The phrase is used to evoke emotion, or rather, lack of emotion. It’s a term used by those who oppose modern farming and want farmers to go back “to the good old days” of farming. The problem with “the good old days” is they really weren’t that “good” in regard to animal care. People tend to only think about animals enjoying warm, beautiful summer days of 70 degrees under a shade tree. They don’t think about the days immediately following a blizzard that left 20 inches of snow with temperatures of minus 40 and wind at 30 to 40 miles per hour, conditions that caused the hog waterer to freeze and buried the hog feeder in snow.

Or the other extreme of 100-degree days with 70-degree dew points. On days like that, hogs become sunburned and miserable from the heat because they can’t sweat to help cool their bodies. In both cases, pigs die, and it’s all about survival for the rest. Efficiencies and sustainability are the last thing on any farmer’s mind during these times.

Today’s so-called “factory farms” eliminate many of these deaths and problems.

So let’s just take the “factory” out of factory farms and call them what they really are:

Farms, just farms.

 

Wanda Patsche, of Welcome, Minn., is a farmer.

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