Five things I’ve learned about farmers and ranchers

In honor of National Ag Week, March 18 to 24, I’d like to share a few things I’ve learned while working for Oregon Farm Bureau since 2004:

1. There’s room for and a need for all types of farming.

Organic, conventional, biotech, no-tech, small-scale, mid-size, commercial-scale, direct-to-consumer, contract for food processors, international exports — all can be found in Oregon, and all have an important, vital place in agriculture.

The myth that one type of farming is “good” and another is “bad,” and therefore should be pitted against each other in an either/or scenario, is untrue.

I know farms in Oregon that grow organic crops on one field, conventional crops on another, and biotech crops, like GMO alfalfa or sugar beets for seed, on a third. Other farms stick to just one farming method.

Farmers decide what to do based on many factors, including their customer base, market potential, the farm’s location, the crop’s labor requirements, and equipment available.

Whatever means is used, farmers and ranchers are committed to raising the safest, highest-quality products possible. To do anything less would quickly put them out of business.

2. Big doesn’t mean bad.

The size of a farm or ranch does not dictate its commitment to a healthy environment, care for animals, treatment of employees or respect for neighbors.

A farmer with 2,000 acres cares as much about these things as does a farmer with 20 acres. Their day-to-day work may be different, but their values and integrity are shared.

Nearly 97 percent of Oregon’s farms and ranches — including commercial-scale farms — are family-owned and -operated. Some are “corporate farms” that are incorporated for tax purposes or succession-plan reasons.

These are run by families, people raising kids, often living on the farm, who are involved in their communities and are proud of what they do. They’re not in the business of harming their customers, their neighbors or themselves.

Sometimes, a bad actor who doesn’t follow the rules gives all of agriculture a bad name. But the many farmers and ranchers I know work very hard to do the right thing and follow, often exceed, the many requirements governing agriculture set by local, state and federal laws.

3. Part of sustainability is profitability.

Because eating food is such a personal act, there’s a tendency for consumers to forget that the people growing their food are also running a business. Unless someone is dabbling in agriculture as a hobby, even the smallest farms must ultimately make a profit to survive.

Few people get into agriculture to get rich quick. It’s often a labor of love with slim profit margins at the mercy of many uncontrollable factors, including weather, pests, fluctuating commodity prices, and rising supply costs.

This is compounded by the fact that almost every realm of public policy, from transportation to taxes, water to wildlife, directly impacts agriculture. When regulations bring new fees, compliance costs, and red tape, it’s very difficult for most farmers to pass those new expenditures along to their customers.

The price for most ag products is set by the commodity market, and farmers must take what they get.

4. There’s no such thing as a “simple farmer.”

Even low-tech farms and ranches do more than raise crops or take care of animals. Ag producers are also business owners, accountants, scientists, meteorologists, mechanics and marketers, among other jobs. Most have college degrees. Many are also eager innovators, always searching for the latest technology to help them produce more with less: less water, less fertilizer, less fuel, fewer pesticides.

5. There’s more that unites agriculture than divides it.

No matter the amount of acreage worked, farming method used, or number of animals raised, Oregon farmers and ranchers share core values: a deep love for the land, an incredible work ethic and an immense pride in their work.

During National Ag Week — and every day — we should thank these hard-working families for their invaluable contributions to society.

Anne Marie Moss is the communications director for the Oregon Farm Bureau.

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