Over the last three weeks, we have been noting basic concepts that we think need to be a part of a defensible farm policy. The first three characteristics of farm policy were environmental sustainability, human physical sustainability, and economic sustainability. To that triad, we want to add a fourth: political sustainability.
Secretary of Agriculture touched on that issue late last year when he talked about the shrinking rural population as one reason for the failure of Congress to adopt a farm bill before he spoke to the 2012 Farm Journal Forum in early December.
When the first of the modern farm bills was adopted three-quarters of a century ago, the majority of the population either lived in rural areas or was one generation away from the farm. The issues that faced farmers were familiar to most voters.
Today, farmers constitute less than 2 percent of the nation’s population and rural residents are dwindling in number as the nation becomes more urban. Farmers can no longer depend on voters who have any understanding of animal husbandry or the nature of crop production.
In today’s changing demographics, it takes more than the traditional “farm block” to pass a farm bill. To start with, support for farm legislation will dwindle rapidly if farmers are seen as defending the indefensible.
We have seen stories of activists who get hired to work in a concentrated feeding operation so they can take videos of acts they consider to constitute inhumane treatment of animals. When farmers work with state legislatures to pass legislation to make it a crime to take such videos, the general public rightly begins to wonder what farmers have to hide.
A far better strategy is for the farm community to openly explain normal animal raising practices using whatever means are available. If practices that have no place in a normal farming operation appear in videos or otherwise become evident, then farmers and farm supporters need to speak out and join in the call to end the abuse.
We live in a world in which values are changing, and when it comes to the treatment of animals, some activities that were once commonplace are increasingly being seen as unacceptable. And this change in values affects more than farmers, as the world of show dogs and horse racing can attest. Farmers need to keep up with these changing values and make appropriate adjustments to their animal handling practices if they want to retain the public’s trust and support.