Any other particular current active trends that are influencing food production ?
Well , the trend of sustainability will continue to increase — and sustainability , of course , can mean so many different things to individuals , but connecting the planet and personal health has continued to evolve , and it should . So , I think , many times , individuals are also seeing that , “ If I eat locally , if I support my local producers , then I ’ m eating more sustainably .”
So , in that case , looking ( at ), as we move forward , on a global standpoint , sustainability and food systems — even though it was an active trend , this whole global pandemic has really promoted more conversation . In fact , in September ( 2021 ), there will be a UN Food Systems Summit in New York where , really , we ’ re looking at the whole concept of trends and regionalization , as well as global food systems . So , that will definitely continue the conversation .
Have transparency and the trust that it can engender — have those things taken on more importance among consumers these days ?
They have . And I think we have to recognize — especially ( in ) the agriculture community — the importance of trust and transparency . The good news is that consumers do trust farmers , but sometimes , at the same time , there is a disconnect in communication and transparency .
We always have to realize that less than 2 % of the population really has a direct connection to agriculture these days . And so , therefore , it becomes imperative that the agriculture community really communicates what ’ s being done — you know , why are we doing what we are doing ? Whether it ’ s using or not using antibiotics or how plants and animals are grown or whether or not we ’ re using gene editing or are genetically modifying individuals , explaining what it means to the farmer but also to the consumer is really important .
And so , and we know the fact that if we ’ re not transparent ( on our own ), ultimately , we will be , because of the amount of information that ’ s available on all levels . And so , it ’ s really important that you — ( that ) those who know — actually provide the information and open the area for those who don ’ t know to talk about it .
Well , perception can be everything in a lot of situations . And I noticed on your blog that you write about trust — and specifically , you cite a national poll conducted by the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future that finds that most people just don ’ t like industrial agriculture , but , as you just mentioned , if just farmers are listed , the trust goes up . What are the dynamics behind these distinctions ?
Well , I do think , in many cases — and some of it is perceptions and what you hear , as well as in surveys — is that in some individuals ’ minds , people imagine that farmers should be small , always small . And ( they ) give that illusion of kind of the “ mom-and-pop ” type of farmer .
And so , unfortunately , sometimes , the label of “ industrial farm ” or “ factory farms ” are given to really large agriculture production ( that ) is still family-owned . And so , it is a misconception and ( is ) easily used by individuals who want to kind of frame that conversation , that big is not always good . And it seems like big food ( and ) big ag gets a negative connotation , but at the same time , as consumers , we readily accept big technology and big food distribution systems .
So , it is a challenge . I think we constantly have to be able to distill the distinction and really talk about the percentage of ( large ) farms that are ( family ) owned and that farms , regardless of their size , you know , they have to be profitable if they ’ re going to be sustainable . And you know , the larger farms , sometimes , can actually be much more innovative in technology as well as sustainable practices . So , this is an area that we all need to continue to work on to break down some of those perceptions .
Well , continuing that perception thought , I wonder if it ’ s generally understood that to be a successful farmer , you have to be , in essence , a scientist . I mean , it can amaze the non-farmer to hear and read about what actually goes into the work of producing our sources of food . Do you think this “ brain power ” aspect could use a boost in the public dialogue ?
I do . I think , for some , the mental picture of farming is , many times — and , I , like anybody , love farmer ’ s markets , but you know , ( with ) the farmer ’ s markets , you get that close connection of food and individuals , and you — sometimes , you don ’ t always understand what goes into it , how much prep time and science has gone into it .
I would say today , you know — and I can ’ t quote the exact numbers — but most in farming today definitely have a college education or ( have ) been involved in constant training .
You know , my father was a dairy farmer ( for ) over 51 years . And even though he was a World War II vet who did not go to college , you know , farming still — it was about his understanding ( of ) the science . And so , I do think we forget that it ’ s very scientific , and if we really realize the technology and the science that has gone into farming over the last 50 , 60 years , where we are able to only use the amount of , if needed , pesticides or chemicals or etc . based on a particular small area of the land , that we can really have integrated pest management — we ’ re so much better at being able to control these inputs than when I was growing up . And the amount of technology ( and ) computerization that goes into farming — to the average individual , I don ’ t think they do understand that , how much science goes into it . And especially as we continue to look at sustainability practices of reducing animal production or reducing greenhouse gas inputs , you know , we ’ re moving forward .
Looking at carbon farming , all the different technologies , it really does — it is about science and in knowing technology . It ’ s a highly sophisticated profession , ( even though ) some individuals don ’ t regard it as such .
You ’ ve mentioned sustainability a couple of times . We hear so much about it now — even more so as the new Biden administration in Washington is rolling out its agenda . Where do you think agriculture will fit into that picture ?
I think agriculture is really the foundation of this picture . But the important thing — it ’ s going to be so important for agriculture to be at the table . I have been involved in some webinars , listening ( as a ) participant or discussing ,
6 THE FEEDING TIMES