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The Food Dialogues: Four town hall meetings answer questions about modern production agriculture

The Food Dialogues, presented on Sept. 22 by the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance (USFRA), captured the attention of farmers, ranchers, food groups, consumers and journalists across the country.

USFRA said the program was created because “today’s consumers have a lot of questions about how food is grown and raised and how food impacts our health and the health of the planet.” In an effort to lead a conversation and answer those questions, The Food Dialogues brings together different viewpoints on farming and ranching and the future of food. Four panels in Washington, DC; New York; Fair Oaks, IN; and Davis, CA, consisting of leaders and voices across the food spectrum, address Americans’ biggest concerns about how their food is grown and raised. “This discussion is just the start of a long-term effort and will continue on our Web site, http://www.fooddialogues.com.”

The first panel from The Food Dialogues was titled, “The Voice of Farmers and Ranchers” and featured Max Armstrong, Farm Progress Companies, as the moderator, leading the discussion of panelists including: Malcolm DeKryger, vice president, Belstra Milling Co.; Phil Bradshaw, Illinois soybean, corn and hog producer, former vice chairman United Soybean Board and vice chairman, USFRA; Casie Conley, state president Indiana FFA Organization; Gary Corbett, CEO, Fair Oaks Farms; and Wendy Wintersteen, dean of the College of Agriculture at Iowa State University. Here are the highlights:



“Ninety-three (93) percent of farmers, ranchers feel consumers have an inaccurate perception of food production,” cited Armstrong, in his opening comments as moderator. “According to a survey we conducted, just two in five Americans say they personally have enough information about how food is grown and raised.”

The panelists were asked to converse on this statistic.



“We have such a safe, productive food system, and we have taken our food for granted for such a long time,” Wintersteen said. “Today, there is a great separation of the farm and the consumers, so it’s time to start the conversation.”

“Ranchers used to feel like the world ended at the farm gate,” added Corbett. “Less than 2 percent of us are involved in production agriculture, and today, we have decided to take a more proactive approach and invite folks to see what we do on our farms. It’s important to start the dialogue and interaction. Consumers aren’t bad people; they simply haven’t been exposed to today’s agriculture. We want to show folks that today’s modern farms are still family-owned. They may just be larger or more sophisticated, but families are still involved.”

“When people sit down for a meal, they expect consistency,” said DeKryger. “That goes back to the farm. Our animals must be taken care of in a consistent manner to produce consistent food. That’s what makes our food in America some of the finest in the world.”

“I’ve been raising livestock a long time, and one thing you learn early on is you have to take care of them,” reassured Bradshaw to the crowd of journalists, consumers and ranchers. “When pigs were kept outside, it was hard to take care of them. It was hot in summer, cold in winter and predators were always a threat. Today’s pigs are kept in environmentally-controlled barns that enable us to produce safe, consistent pork for folks to enjoy.”

“Family farmers know the worth of the dollar,” chimed in Conley. “Living on a farm, you learn the tradition of agriculture, of hard work, and of ethics. In agriculture education, we teach our students how important it is to get back to the farm.”

Today’s producer wishes consumers knew how much hard work goes into the foods people eat.

“Farmers today aren’t just active on the farm, working hard each and every day, but they are also community leaders on agriculture boards, church directories, volunteer firefighters and donors to our land grant universities,” pointed out Wintersteen. “Midwest farmers are truly the fabric of our nation. They contribute greatly to our communities.”

“We are extremely bullish about opportunities in agriculture today,” admitted Corbertt. “We understand consumers priorities will change with time, but I’m confident we can adapt. It keeps us on our toes trying to meet the demands of our consumers, and it’s more fun that way!”

The panel then went onto address the complexity of modern agriculture while associating real names, faces and stories with these challenges. Key topics included: animal care, antibiotic and hormone use, the economics of farming and ranching and how it results in difficult decisions about balancing profitability, sustainability and consumer demands, and consumers’ role in guiding farmer and rancher decisions.

editor’s note: to view video highlights from this panel discussion, visit http://www.fooddialogues.com/gather/live-event/.


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