Even with all of the challenges farmers face such as weather, market prices, disease, and pests, I am convinced the agriculture industry’s worst enemies are farmers themselves. This thought occurred to me because of a conversation I had this weekend.
I recently received some chickens to produce my own eggs. I didn’t do this to save money, which so far is quite the contrary, or because I don’t feel the eggs at the grocery are bad. I did it to show my children that we can be more self-sufficient. While I have read many online posts and books on raising chickens, I still have many questions. So, I found myself another “backyard” chicken farmer to ask questions about coops and how to tell the difference between the pullets and the cockerels at a young age. Other people were around, and the conversation turned into processing the chickens for meat and the quality of eggs.
This particular farmer said she thought the eggs from backyard chickens tasted better than commercially-produced eggs. Another chicken enthusiast chimed in that she thought they tasted exactly the same, but there was an obvious difference in the color of the yolks. The farmer then said that the chickens and eggs from small operations were better because they are free of steroids and hormones.
I had a “now, wait a minute” moment. I said, “I am 100% positive that steroid and hormone use is prohibited in poultry production, and it has been since 1954.” She responded that big chicken farmers still use them anyway.
You can see how consumers can be thoroughly confused and misled. Does this woman think she is really stating a fact, or is this just a case of opportunistic marketing? Knowing first hand that small chicken and egg production takes some time and money, are some small-operation farmers trying to justify to their customers that they should pay a premium by saying the commercially-produced food is somehow tainted?
This was not my first conversation of this kind. I was witness to a similar comment with regards to the beef industry. A niche-market beef producer insisted that just because law states animals must be antibiotic free before entering the food supply, many farmers don’t follow those rules. Again, I thought that this was a marketing tactic, and unfortunately it is ruining consumer confidence.
I can go on. We all know the damage done to the industry by terrible cases of livestock abuse or chemical abuse. If just one farm is a bad actor, the entire industry gets a black eye and is sentenced with increased regulations and rules that significantly impact everyone involved.
I try to look at it this way: Do we automatically think all parents are bad parents when one abuses their children? Of course not! So why is it that farmers have to spend so much time defending themselves these days to convince consumers that this is not the way the majority of them do business?
Fortunately, I have had the opportunity to work with a number of farmers from all size operations and see daily business first hand, which helps me filter a lot of the rotten information I hear about food production.
But who are consumers supposed to believe? This is one issue in which I would love to get feedback from our good farmers!