Not long ago, I saw a newspaper article written by another livestock producer. The author warns of the “imminent dangers of industrial agriculture.” Interestingly, the very next sentence of the article reveals its true nature, trumpeting the values of the author’s own company.
It’s unfortunate that some use these thinly veiled marketing ploys to the detriment of all the upstanding ranchers across our nation. I think it is time we dispel some of the misconceptions that are used by companies that are more interested in bettering their bottom line than in telling the full story.
The public deserves the full story, not marketing propaganda, so let’s start with the phrases “industrial agriculture” and “factory farming.” When you see these terms followed by someone espousing their own virtues you can be almost assured it is advertising hype.
The truth? More than 98 percent of Texas’ farms and ranches are family-owned, partnerships or family-held corporations. Closer to home, here at Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA), half of our 17,500 members have 45 head of cattle or less. You can draw your own conclusions from those statistics, but if you spend any time amongst ranchers, it’s easy to see the tremendous influence family has across entire the agriculture industry.
Size and locality are also two factors that are used in defining “industrialized agriculture.” Some assert that because they are small producers and sell only to local customers they are somehow better and do things more responsibly.
You’ll find no argument here against buying local, and every producer, regardless of size, is vital to supplying our country with beef, but there’s one important fact missing. Almost all the beef you find in supermarkets and restaurants across the county came from ranches nestled in rural communities. Those small towns dot our landscape, and in many cases, are supported primarily by area agriculture. It’s great to support local business, but let’s not degrade the millions of hard-working Americans who rely on distant consumers to support their own local communities.
Technological advances have been eagerly adopted by agricultural producers, just as in every other facet of modern life. Amid the hustle and bustle, it’s easy to long for bygone days and romantic images of cowboys on a trail drive. Devious marketers use this to their advantage by painting those who use technology and new methods as “industrialized.”
In reality, agriculture has always been a leader in innovation. I have friends who always embrace the latest technology and others who prefer more traditional methods. Most find a balance, innovating while still being mindful of the lessons passed down from previous generations. Remember, all of that innovation allows us to do more with less and provide safe, nutritious food for our families and yours.
The same unscrupulous marketers also like to use fancy labels that boast of their operation’s sustainability or environmental consciousness. They throw out questionable statistics that incite fear in consumers and trigger mistrust of the entire food supply. Why? To sell more product.
Although it is convenient to paint your competitors as careless and irresponsible, it couldn’t be further from the truth. As cattle raisers, we all have a vested interest in preserving our natural resources. The health of our land and quality of our water are essential to raising healthy livestock. You’ll find no greater stewards of our natural resources than those who depend on them, and as ranchers we certainly do.
At the end of the day, small or large, local or distant, all of us who raise cattle have the same goals. We want to provide for our families, support our communities and take the best care of our cattle that we possibly can. All this while ensuring we are good stewards of our land and water. There is no trophy to take home, only pride in a hard day’s work, and the hope that we can pass on those values and the family ranch to the next generation.