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Diversity is good for agriculture and consumers

Diversity is good for agriculture and consumers
There are a lot of folks these day pointing fingers and declaring loudly that there’s only one right way to farm. I don’t believe it.

I’ve been at this a while and one thing I’ve learned visiting lots of farms in Iowa and other states is that there’s plenty of good ways to raise crops and livestock. It’s also become pretty clear to me that one size really does not fit all. What’s just right on some farms, doesn’t fit well on the next farm or maybe on one a couple of counties over.

Sure, every farmer worth his or her salt has similar goals: protecting land, water and other resources; caring for animals and meeting changing consumer demands for tasty and wholesome foods, and of course, providing for their family. But, the methods farmers use to accomplish those goals can be very different.

Many Iowa crop farmers produce for the commodity markets, using the latest equipment and biotech seeds. I’ve visited with others who have found a niche raising fruits or vegetables for local restaurants or farmers markets. There’s no right way, just different ways of raising wholesome food.

It’s the same in livestock. Some farmers choose to raise their pigs indoors or their cattle in hoop barns. It keeps the animals safe from disease, out of the mud and, in a winter like this one, the bitter cold. Others raise animals outside because it fits their facilities and can bring premium prices. Once again, no right way, just different ways to farm.

There are also farmers who have feet in both camps, embracing diversity because it just works well for their family or farm. I’ve seen more of that lately as younger people return to farm and search for ways to get a foothold in agriculture with less land and equipment and see an opportunity in the market for local foods.

That’s why I think that negative advertising campaigns like the recent one for the burrito chain Chipotle are so frustrating and potentially destructive. (Zach Bader, farm kid and Farm Bureaus’ online community manager recently posted a great blog on the Chipotle campaign. You can read by scrolling a bit lower.)

Of course, campaigns like Chipotle’s are designed to sell more burritos, or whatever. But instead of simply claiming that product X is superior to product Y, they work to get consumers to believe that some types of agriculture are bad.

Iowa and the United States needs a diversity of farms to meet the world’s growing, and rapidly changing, food demands. It’s one of our strengths in this country, and something that should not be sacrificed in the name of burrito sales.

By Dirck Steimel. Dirck is Iowa Farm Bureau News Services Manager.