Amanda Radke: A Cowgirl’s Perspective 10-10-11
October 11, 2011
The Food Dialogues, presented on Sept. 22 by the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance (USFRA), captured the attention of farmers, ranchers, food groups, consumers and journalists across the country.
USFRA said the program was created because, “Today’s consumers have a lot of questions about how food is grown and raised and how food impacts our health and the health of the planet. In an effort to lead a conversation and answer those questions, The Food Dialogues brings together different viewpoints on farming and ranching and the future of food. Four panels in Washington, D.C., New York, Fair Oaks, Ind., and Davis, Calf., consisting of leaders and voices across the food spectrum, address Americans’ biggest concerns about how their food is grown and raised. But, this discussion is just the start of a long-term effort and will continue on our website, http://www.FoodDialogues.com.”
The first panel from The Food Dialogues was titled, “The Voice of Farmers and Ranchers” and featured Max Armstrong, Farm Progress Companies, as the moderator, leading the discussion of panelists including: Malcolm DeKryger, vice president, Belstra Milling Co.; Phil Bradshaw, Illinois soybean, corn and hog producer; former vice chairman United Soybean Board and vice chairman, USFRA; Casie Conley, state president, Indiana FFA Organization; Gary Corbett, CEO, Fair Oaks Farms; and Wendy Wintersteen, dean of the College of Agriculture, Iowa State University. Here are the highlights:
“An astounding 93 percent of farmers, ranchers feel consumers have an inaccurate perception of food production,” cites Armstrong, in his opening comments as moderator. “According to a survey we conducted, just two in five Americans say they personally have enough information about how food is grown and raised.”
Additionally, the study showed that 93 percent care some or a lot about food pricing. Fifty-four percent say they are dissatisfied with how farmers and ranchers are addressing food prices. Eighty percent of consumers care about what it takes to feed a growing population.
The panelists were asked to converse on this statistic. A few of my favorite quotes came from the first panel.
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“We have such a safe, productive food system, and we have taken our food for granted for such a long time,” said Wintersteen. “Today, there is a great separation of the farm and the consumers, so it’s time to start the conversation.”
“Ranchers used to feel like the world ended at the farm gate,” added Corbett. “Less than 2 percent of us are involved in production agriculture, and today, we have decided to take a more proactive approach and invite folks to see what we do on our farms. It’s important to start the dialogue and interaction. Consumers aren’t bad people; they simply haven’t been exposed to today’s agriculture. We want to show folks that today’s modern farms are still family-owned. They may just be larger or more sophisticated, but families are still involved.”
Key topics from the four panels included: animal care, antibiotic and hormone use, the economics of farming and ranching and how it results in difficult decisions about balancing profitability, sustainability and consumer demands, and consumers’ role in guiding farmer and rancher decisions. Other topics included government policies, animal rights activities, food safety and nutritional labeling, large vs. small operations, buying foods locally and what today’s consumers are wanting from U.S. food producers.
I thoroughly enjoyed watching the town hall meetings as they progressed online, and I think you will, too. To view video highlights from this panel discussion, visit http://www.FoodDialogues.com/Gather/Live-Event/. And, just because the meetings are over, the conversation is not. This is just the beginning. Once you get to The Food Dialogues site, you can start conversations with consumers and answer questions they may have. Having an open chat between producers and consumers is what the U.S. truly needs right now, and I’m happy to be taking part in the conversation. Will you join me?