I bet that headline got your attention.
Question things. It makes people stand up and think about what they are doing and what they stand for, and then defend it (hopefully) rationally. Ask questions that make people wonder if what they are doing is right, and to possibly change their minds. Ask them why they defend their livelihood with such vigor. Ask questions like these:
How do we rationally stand up and say that grass fed agriculture is the best?
Is it the best, or are we fooling ourselves?
The first thing that I would ask you is this: What is better? Better for the environment? Better for the animal? More nutritious for the people that consume it? Can we feed the world with grass fed? Should we be concerned with feeding the world? Does it taste better? Does it make people feel good that they are buying a better product? Will grass fed leave people hungry? Is it better for the farmer? These are just a few of the questions that can, should, and are being asked about the grass fed industry. So how do we answer them?
We can look at studies, but there are studies that prove grass fed is better in some scenarios, and that grass fed is worse in others. How do we approach the results? Are we biased when we look at the research? Are we really looking at it with an open mind, or are we looking for studies that prove our existing way of thinking? Do we just hold on tighter to the theories we already hold? Would we even admit if we were wrong?
How do we decide what to do on our operations?
We can look at anecdotal evidence….”well this worked on my place.” Maybe it worked on your place under these conditions. But can it be replicated? Will it work next year, or at another operation? Do we really understand what went on, or are we just making things up as we go because it sounds good? Is it an anomaly, or should it be a standard practice? Are you making your living off the farm, or the idea?
Are we too extreme?
Do we push extremes just as far as feedlots, just in the opposite direction? We say absolutely no feed, but is some feed such a bad thing? We say no fertilizer at all, but we turn around and use fertilizer of a different method (hay, manure, etc.). We push no fly control, antibiotics, vaccines, etc. But does that leave our animals suffering? We belittle people who don’t do an amazing and outstanding job grazing. But they are trying to become better. Are we alienating other agriculturalists at a time we need to be banded together?
What About Pricing?
How do we justify the current prices found in the grass-fed, pasture raised, organic, etc. market? My wife and I both work off the farm, we farm on the side, and I can honestly say that we cannot afford to eat grass fed, pastured meat, except for what we raise ourselves. Can we justify charging $20 for a chicken or $10-$15 per pound for ground beef? We claim that grass fed has fewer inputs. I that’s so, why are our products so much more expensive? Are charging too much, or does the average family not make enough income? Is this just the beginning of what will eventually replace our current meat sector, or is this just a fad?
I ask you this: Starting today, using whatever farming methods you are choosing, could you honestly feed your family for a year off your individual operation? I can guess the answer would be no. I know mine would be. Should that change how we view the current agricultural system? We are quick to condemn today’s agricultural system, but it has evolved to where it is for a reason. Think about how things in agriculture were a hundred years ago and how they are today.
Are we so desperate as farmers to make a living that we will chase whatever rabbit hole we see without pausing to consider what we are doing? Do we listen to people without thinking about what we are actually doing? Do we pride ourselves with one aspect of our operations when the rest is in shambles? Do we solve the problems on other operations and neglect our own?
How do we make the world a better place using agriculture? Whose world? The entire world or my world?
I wish I could answer all these questions, but I cannot. What I can do, however, is create thoughtful discussion without extremes. I want to see people discuss both sides of a topic constructively and then come to a decision for what works best on their operation, without belittling someone who chooses differently. I have studied sustainable agriculture for the past decade, and one thing I know is not sustainable is the animosity toward our fellow farmers that is rearing its head throughout our industry.