A commentary by Gloria Hafemeister, a correspondent from Hustisford.
During the last week I had the opportunity to attend some very interesting meetings. One featured a speaker from British Columbia who shared her insight on future demands by consumers relating to the way farmers care for their animals. Another was a two-hour hearing for the expansion of Wisconsin’s largest dairy farm.
Both of these meetings were a staunch reminder to me that we farmers have our work cut out for us when it comes to educating nonfarmers about the realities of today’s agriculture.
As for the proposed farm expansion, I remain neutral. I’m as nostalgic as the next guy when it comes to wanting to see little red barns scattered around the countryside with happy cows grazing in a lush green pasture. But that’s not reality.
I grew up on a farm where my dad milked 23 cows and made a living at it, but he didn’t have enough income to have any hired help. Every morning and every night, whether he was sick or healthy, he had to milk those cows. He never got a vacation or even a weekend off. I don’t know about you, but as much as I like farming, that’s not for me and it’s not what our son, who is taking over our farm, wants either. That’s why our farm is a bit bigger. But the size we choose to operate our farm is, and should be, our own business.
It disturbs me when I go to these events and hear so many totally false statements made about farmers and our methods of farming.
One person testifying at the hearing said she had driven by the farm in question and observed these were not “happy cows.” How did she know? Did she ask them?
I wanted to jump up and say, “Hey, I talk with farmers all the time who spend all their time and money striving for what they tell me is the number one priority on their farm – cow comfort.”
The meeting featuring the Canadian speaker was all about designing our facilities for cow comfort. Legislators in some states are now dictating to farmers how much room farmers will need to give their cows. The idea is a cow should be able to turn around in her bed without touching the animal next to her.
Hey, that’s more of a luxury than most people have. Have you ever tried to roll over in a double bed without kicking the person next to you?
We all know how much money and time goes into balancing the ration for our animals so they will have a perfectly balanced diet that keeps them healthy and controls their weight. That’s more than we do for ourselves.
There are other industries out there of varied sizes for different reasons.
There are cement companies that have 100 trucks on the road and others that have three. It’s a business management decision by the owners of their companies and no one else’s business.
There are microbreweries out there that create some of the finest beer around and there are also large breweries that fill the big demand for the product. While we would all like to see all of our beer brewed in these small facilities where we can watch the process while we eat our meal, the cold hard fact is there are just too many beer drinkers out there and these small breweries could never fill the demand.
Small farms with a few cows grazing leisurely on pasture could never fill the world’s demand for milk, cheese and dairy products, either. Just as importantly, these small producers could never supply enough milk to keep our dairy plants operating efficiently. If that would happen, those plants would pack up and move west where the milk is. Where would that leave Wisconsin’s economy?
The statement was made that large dairies discourage investors, environmentalists and sportsmen from coming to Wisconsin. My answer to that is, so what. Dairy and other commercial farming enterprises pay the bills in Wisconsin. Land sitting idle as “open space” does not. Deer, sand hill cranes, geese and wild turkeys do not generate income. Cows do.
I’m not saying I’m in favor of a such a large concentration of animals on one farm, but that’s their business how they want to run their farm. I would not want to manage a $2 million annual payroll. I have enough problems paying the part-time help on our farm. Again, it’s an individual decision how a person wants to run their business.
I realize not all farmers support the concept of such a large farm, but all farmers, big or small, ought to be concerned about the misinformation that floats around out there. Statements about drug usage on farms, manure composition and “dumping waste” on land are simply false.
Decisions regarding farming operations must be made on facts, not emotions.
Wisconsin needs all size farms and farmers. Like other industries, they should be able to adapt the latest technology without those who know nothing about the business dictating how their business should be operated.
Farms like the one in question this week are more regulated than any. As a reporter, I’ve been on many different types and sizes of farms. One thing I can tell you for sure, look at the financial numbers. Farmers aren’t in the business to get rich. They are in it because they care about the land and their animals. Why would they abuse either?