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Livestock farmers prepare to reach out to community
Buckeye Farm News
Last year, voters in California passed an aggressive law restricting how farmers can house livestock, despite warnings that it could cripple the state’s large egg industry.
“The probability is high that it could someday happen here in Ohio,” said Trish Cunningham, a Delaware County livestock and grain farmer.
To become better equipped at defending her livelihood, Cunningham recently participated in Operation Hometown Outreach, which aims to develop spokespersons for the livestock industry.
“Being a young person and fortunate enough to be involved in production agriculture, I find it very important that we get out and tell our story,” she said “There’s so much bad press against us these days that we need to tell our story.”
OFBF hosted the program, which is a project of the United Soybean Board and the Center for Food Integrity, a firm that aims to promote trust in the U.S. food system. After providing training, participants are scheduled to speak with civic organizations about modern livestock production practices.
“Through this program alone we will have talked to hopefully 80 to 100 groups next year, telling them about animal agriculture,” said Sandy Kuhn, OFBF's director of commodity relations. “These people are voters, so we are hoping they go to church and they go to other organizations and they’ll help to tell our story also and ask us to come speak to other groups.”
Beth Anne Mumford, an Operation Hometown Outreach trainer, said farmers are frustrated by some of the issues being raised about livestock production.
“What we are finding from farmers is that they are being asked questions about what they do in a way that makes them feel that the public has maybe lost some confidence in what’s being done on farms,” she said. Although he doesn’t raise livestock, Warren County farmer Joe Steiner participated in the program because the livestock industry is a major customer for his grain. He said concerns have arisen as the public lost touch with agriculture.
“If you were a great mechanic on a 1968 Camaro and you opened the hood of a (Toyota) Prius today, you may not know what’s going on under there. And that’s the way agriculture is today. Guys that used to hang out at their grandfather’s farm thought they understood agriculture, but it’s not what we do today. And if they don’t understand it, they have concerns,” he said.
Steiner acknowledged that public relations can be a foreign concept to farmers, but consumers need to know that livestock producers are good operators.
“We in agriculture have concerns about operations that aren’t doing the right thing. We’d be the first to point them out, and we’re willing to work with anybody to make it better if it needs to be improved,” he said. “But most of these operations out here are doing a fine job and we just need to tell that story.”