Common Misconceptions in Food and Agriculture


agriculture misconceptions jersey chocolate milk cow

Chocolate milk comes from brown cows? No, but that’s what people tell dairy farmers like Carrie Mess.

On a weekly basis, I usually receive 8-10 questions via my Ask A Farmer contact form from folks who just want to know more about agriculture in general. I’m just one guy with an opinion who is willing to share my opinion. I try to incorporate links with perspectives from others as often as possible when replying to these questions.

Being that last week was National Agriculture Week across much of the country, many folks have been sharing their opinions and expressing why they are proud to be a part of agriculture. One post that stands out for me is from Virginia Commissioner of the Department of Agriculture, Matt Lohr (@Mjlohr71 on Twitter).

Matt has a Top 10 list of common misconceptions about agriculture. These are similar to many questions I receive, so I wanted to share another perspective on the issues. Below are the numbers 10-6. The final 5 can be viewed on the Virginia Department of Agriculture website.

#10 – Small farms are unimportant. In many ways, small farms are the backbone of Virginia agriculture. They range in size from three or four acres to 150 acres or so, but they probably do the best job of any farms to provide local food. Many small farms sell directly to the consumer through roadside stands, on-farm sales, farmers’ markets and events. They are at the heart of the Buy Local movement and not only provide food but also provide that all important one-on-one relationship between farmer and consumer. They are also one of the fastest growing segments of Virginia agriculture.

#9 – All large farms are corporate farms. In Virginia nearly 90 percent of our farms are family-owned and operated. Many family farms are incorporated for business purposes or to ensure an orderly transition from one generation to the next, but incorporated is not the same as corporate. The vast majority of our farmers live on the land they work, and they have a very special bond with the land that may go back generations. Their roots run deep.

#8 – Farmers are destroying the environment. This is absolutely not true. In fact, farmers are the original good stewards of land and water resources. These resources are, after all, how they make their living, so it makes sense to protect them. I find it interesting that many of the complaints to our Ag Stewardship Program about perceived environmental problems are unsubstantiated. What the public perceives as an environmental problem often is not. At the same time that farms give us environmental benefits such as green spaces and wildlife habitat, they use far fewer resources than the average urban or suburban home.

#7 – There’s no future in agriculture. I’ll admit that for a few years, many of us were concerned about the future of agriculture and the next generation of farmers. But things are changing. Fox News recently ran a feature that said ag degrees are the hot ticket for job growth. They quote data from the Food and Agriculture Education Information System that says enrollment in U.S. college and university agriculture programs are up 21 percent since 2006. The data show more than 146,000 undergraduates in ag programs. This growing interest is critical for the future of food production, as world population growth is creating a greater demand for food, and the average age of farmers in many states is near 60.

#6 – Farmers are uneducated. This is a persistent myth and one we need to bust. The days are long gone when you learned everything you needed to know about farming from your grandfather. That doesn’t mean we discount grandpa’s advice, born from years and years of experience. It does mean that today’s farmers need post-high school training in a variety of areas: animal science, agronomy, environmental science, business, marketing, communications, perhaps even law and psychology. Today’s farmers also need to be life-long learners. If you’ve been on a farm recently, you’ve probably seen a farmer using his cell phone in the field to make decisions about planting or applying pesticides or fertilizer. That’s the kind of on-the-job training every farmer needs these days to stay competitive and make a profit.

Read more on how Ag Commissioner Matt Lohr responds to misconceptions 5-1 on the Virginia Department of Agriculture website. These misconceptions include:

  • The cost of food goes directly into the farmer’s pocket.
  • Food costs too much.
  • Our food is unsafe.
  • Farmers abuse their animals.
  • All farmers are rich.

Did any of these address concerns you have about agriculture? What would be on your Top 10 list?

Submit your questions via the contact form on my Ask a Farmer page.

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About Ryan Goodman (982 Articles)
Ryan Goodman lives in Helena, MT and comes from an Arkansas cattle ranching family. Since growing up on a family cow/calf and stocker-calf operation, he has spent the last several years learning about farming systems across the country. A graduate of Oklahoma State, Ryan is currently working on a Master's degree from the University of Tennessee. He works continuously to share his story of ranch life through community outreach and social media, all while encouraging others in agriculture to do the same.

4 Comments on Common Misconceptions in Food and Agriculture

  1. Ryan, I am so glad you posted my dear Commissioner’s statements. I would like to clarify some Virginia farm and food law and issues. People associate food with not only raw product, but with processed product. In times past it was common for folks to buy pickles, pies and meat that was processed on the farm, direct from the farmer. Sadly, now the case is not so. There are very few items a farmer can sell direct, raw fruits and vegetables are legal, Sweet Potatoe Pie is illegal..go figure that one! This year we are allowed to sell dried herbs, and baking mixtures and granola. We farmers need to push for more food freedoms.
    #9 Addressing the Corporateness of farms, Many ( most) of the large farms are family owned that are locked into vertically integrated contractual arrangements with the likes of large processors such as Smithfield, Tyson and Purdue. Or they sell feeder calves out west. Processing is where the real money is made. The processors control the regulatory environment. So in a way those familes are supporting the corporate structure, though they have very little decision making authority. The farmers may own their land, but the Corporations own the animals and hold the control on the way the animals are raised.

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  2. As with any industry there are always a few that refuse to adhere to regulations that usually go unnoticed until approached and questioned about why they do what they do. The usual response from those types almost always has something to do with an unwillingness to change “I have always done it this way” or “the government doesn’t run this farm I do” it is this unwillingness to change or continuing education that seems to always throw up the red flags. With today’s technologies in farming, GPS, etc. The people with this, one way, attitude need to understand that we are not living in the past anymore. There is more technology in a smartphone than what NASA had back in the 70’s. If it is too hard to understand the new GPS controlled sprayer the sales guy is wanting you to buy, to save you money, there are other avenues to take hire your local co-op to apply the pesticides and fertilizer for you. As I drive around the country side I see pesticide bottles upside down on fence posts and I am wondering if they were triple rinsed and then slit up the side, to prevent reuse. I have seen nurse tanks overflowing with not a person in sight to shut the water off. Then I wonder if there is an anti-siphoning device on the end of that garden hose to prevent well contamination. Most of the time “I have always done it that way” is not the best option.

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  3. Thanks for sharing, Ryan. Great list!

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  4. Hey Ryan,

    I wrote a commentary on Matt Lohr’s Top Ten list, clarifying alot for the folks who have questions regarding agriculture. So many are generations away from the farm.

    http://www.virginiafoodfreedom.org/Blog.html

    Like

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