Justin Schneider is director of state government relations for Indiana Farm Bureau.
It's no secret that in recent years consumers have shown more interest in how their food is produced and processed, and they have expressed concerns with potential effects that farming has on the environment.
However, there is often a disconnect between the farmer and today's consumer that can fuel suspicions about the way food is produced. In the United States, and similarly in Indiana, less than 2 percent of the population makes its living farming. The average Hoosier is three or more generations removed from the farm. Once you take that into account, it's easy to see how the seeds of doubt can start to take root.
I have witnessed this disconnect at the Statehouse and in various communities throughout the state. A recent piece by Tim Dygert of Whitley Waters Matter (“Feed-ing us a line,” Feb. 28) referenced a number of the concerns I often hear regarding large livestock operations. I felt it was important to share the perspective of the agricultural community represented by the Indiana Farm Bureau.
One point made by Dygert was that the Indiana Farm Bureau and other agriculture groups have opposed any legislation to regulate livestock operations. It is true that the Indiana Farm Bureau did not support the bill he mentioned, House Bill 1369, because the bureau believes the framework and laws needed to protect citizens and the environment are already in place.
The Indiana Department of Environmental Management has oversight on these operations from building design and construction to monitoring stormwater and approving manure storage plans.
In our opinion, the interaction of IDEM and local officials reviewing livestock operations across Indiana, and most recently in Whitley County, has worked. In fact, the bureau would like to see the oversight by IDEM enhanced and properly funded to increase efficiency and effectiveness, but the necessary legislation is in place.
Another statement by Dygert focused specifically on our lobbying efforts, calling them “aggressive.” The Indiana Farm Bureau is a grassroots organization. Our members are 70,000 farm families spread across all 92 counties. These farmer members work to adopt new policy and amend existing policy for the organization each year.
The Farm Bureau process of refining and updating our policy positions begins with our members at the county level. While I do testify in hearings and speak with legislators about bills that would affect agriculture, our members do a lot of the heavy lifting by working with their elected officials throughout the year.
This year, one of Indiana Farm Bureau's policy priorities was to protect livestock farmers. Our members took that message to the Statehouse en masse. Members from county Farm Bureaus have been at the Statehouse most days during the session, meeting with their legislators.
We are extremely proud of the members who have found their voice and worked hard to protect their livelihood. Our members' involvement in the political process is impressive, not aggressive.
Dygert also wrote that the building and expansion of livestock operations is all about money. He characterized the Indiana Farm Bureau as a cog in a machine working for the interests of large “corporate” farms. The fact is that 97 percent of farms in Indiana are family-owned. Farming is a business and farmers have to provide for their families. These barns are often used as a way to diversify or expand an operation, giving younger members of a farming family an opportunity to return to struggling rural communities.
Finally, I'd like to address Dygert's comments stating that farmers aren't actually feeding the world. He wrote that meat is a luxury that a lot of the world's population cannot afford. While it is true that the poorest among us still struggle to access food, these livestock barns have greatly reduced the cost of meat for the average consumer. The barns provide animals with safe, clean housing and greatly increase the efficiencies of livestock operations.
It might surprise Dygert that the very livestock producers he rebuked make consistent donations of meat products to help feed Indiana's citizens who struggle with food access. Indiana Farm Bureau and the American Farm Bureau Federation both consistently support the efforts of Feeding America.
With a regulatory framework in place, rising demand for meat products and farmers willing to work to supply those products, it's important to allow livestock farmers to start or expand their operations.
If farmers aren't allowed to feed the world, who will?