To me, the word sustainable has become a buzz word,or marketing doublespeak. As an all encompassing management practice, I prefer the term stewardship. And I try to put this into practice in all areas, not strictly agriculture. As a Christian, I have a biblical mandate to manage what I have been given. Stewardship encompasses sustainability, but with the acknowledgment that what I have is on loan. Stewardship is respecting the privilege I have to farm, and employing the best welfare and management practices I can to ensure that my children have the same opportunity.
Welfare and management practices dictate the future of farming, and as technology advances agriculture cannot afford to fall behind. Short sighted thinking deprives future generations of the opportunities we have been given. Artisan and all natural products may have been sustainable practices in the past, but with the global population over 7 billion they are marketing to a select group with above average finances. The world simply cannot employ centuries old farming methods and hope to feed the world at the same time. This is not to say that farming cannot provide the same level of care as it once did however. Advancements in technology and animal welfare continue to provide high levels of care to animals and farmland, while adapting to an increasing demand for more output.
The goal of my family farm is to have animals that are content and well cared for. Our first priority is the animals, and often they eat and sleep well before their caretakers. In fact when we bought our farm, we hadn’t seen the inside of either of the two houses on the property. The facilities were far more important, and that thinking continues to be the motivator every area of management. One of the favorite features when visitors tour the farm is the cow brush, which automatically grooms the cows who stand under it. It add little value from an economic standpoint, but it is rewarding to work with content animals, and that makes farming fun.
Canadian raw milk advocate Michael Schmidt is currently on day 34 of a hunger strike in a bid to secure a meeting with Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty. For nearly two decades Mr. Schmidt has distributed raw milk despite it being illegal in Canada, and a recent court battle saw 15 charges against him related to the production and distribution of raw milk be upheld. He is currently awaiting sentencing. Mr Schmidt faces more than one opponent in the unpasteurized milk debate, however. The major obstacle is the health authorities, who maintain that any possible benefits are outweighed by the serious risks posed by raw milk. Secondly, Mr. Schmidt has been operating outside of the Canadian supply-management system since selling his quota in 1993. Were the sale of raw milk to be legal, he would still be operating illegally. Mr. Schmidt claims that his goal is about food freedom and consumer choice, yet his viability depends on selling products without a license, or accountability about the quality of his product.
Under the supply management system, strict guidelines and sampling ensure that the milk meets health standards for bacteria, and is antibiotic free. As a dairy farmer who has been drinking raw milk all of my life, I would support raw milk being sold, but provided it followed the same standards that govern all Canadian milk. Clandestine milk sales put consumers at far greater danger than raw milk sold in stores would ever pose. Perhaps the route that Mr. Schmidt is taking has less to do with a cause, and much more to do with a business model.
Factory versus Family farming has come to the forefront of discussion as of late. But what defines a family farm? In many cases, expansion is what allows a farm to be passed onto the next generation. Supporting an additional salary may not be feasible without economies of scale. A large farm may not be a factory farm, but rather a farm that employs outside help in order to run the family business. Outside of agriculture, many companies seek to be percieved as a family company rather than factory. SC Johnson is a household name world-wide, with more than 12,000 employees globally. But they are known by the slogan “A Family Company”.
So how can we relate this to agriculture?
Obviously, family farming implies it belongs to a family, but it is not limited to those members. The size of a company matters far less than the way it is run. SC Johnson cites core values- integrity, respect, fairness and trust –as part of what makes them a family company. The principles that govern a family ought to apply to a business. Providing a product that a farmer feeds their own family means that the same amount of care is taken for all consumers. Family Farming means farming with integrity, constantly striving for a quality product. Respect is essential in family, and ought to be demonstrated in business. Respect for land and animals, as well as the environment are marks of a conscientious farmer.Increasing public perception of agriculture has become more important than ever. In terms of public perception, the loudest voice is often mistaken as the right one. Groups who are anti-animal agriculture constantly barrage the public with false accusations and misconstrued facts. Credibility is the key to consumer trust, and growing numbers of farmers and ranchers are taking to social media to share their story. That’s why I promote agriculture, and encourage you to do the same.