Setting the Stage…

I first learned of Chris Leonard about 14 months ago when he called me for a phone interview.  He was writing an article and we had a lengthy visit discussing cattle marketing, modern beef production, and the use of beta agonists.

It became clear during our conversation that we neither shared the same perspective nor approached the politics of beef farming from the same angle, but I viewed the interview as a learning experience.  When I later learned that Mr. Leonard had written a book, I deemed reading it as a necessary intellectual exercise.

a

My goal is to provide good care so that this animal will achieve it’s utmost potential thereby growing great tasting beef all while using the natural resource of my farm wisely…

I have never believed that my job as a beef farmer ended when my animals were loaded onto the truck to leave the feed yard.  I recognize that my packing plant and its customers (grocery stores, restaurants, and ultimately each of you) are my partners in beef production.  With every decision that we make, we create both the economic market and the fundamental family beef eating experience.

Each one of us plays a role...

Each one of us plays a role…

The relationships that farmers have with both their rural communities and their packing plant partners are varied depending on their individual goals and resources as well as the type of food animals that they raise.   As with just about anything in our lives, all of these relationships are dynamic:  growing and evolving over time.

The idea of change can be both frightening and challenging, but it is the reality and often actually leads to improvement.  When I look at the modifications that I have made on my cattle farm in the last decade, I see positive progress.  Marked improvements in both animal welfare and beef quality offer the promise of sustainability for both my farm and my beef customers.

Good care and good nutrition makes for comfortable animals and great tasting beef...

Good care and good nutrition makes for comfortable animals and great tasting beef…

Chris Leonard stated publically this week that he believes the perfect outcome for modern food production would be to revert to the system of raising food animals as it was in 1982.  As a beef farmer, I believe that this would be detrimental to the welfare of the animals, my farm; and also the quality, safety, and cost of the food products that they provide.

From Beef Quality Assurance to Progressive Beef: My farm has made enormously positive advancements since 1982...

From Beef Quality Assurance in the 1990’s to Progressive Beef in 2013: My farm has made enormously positive advancements since 1982…

Suggesting such a goal tells me that Chris does not hold an in depth understanding of what I do every day as a farmer.  Further supporting this notion is the following quote that appears in the Prologue of the book:

The agriculture sector is one of the richest, most productive moneymaking machines in American life.  After all, a lot of the business simply involves sitting around and letting plants grow and letting animals get fat.  Mother Nature does the heavy lifting.  Then the farmer harvests the plants, kills the animals, and watches the money roll in.”

Chris Leonard, The Meat Racket

34 Comments

Filed under A Farmer's View on Foodie Thoughts..., General

34 responses to “Setting the Stage…

  1. John Butler

    This is a tough one

    John Butler Sent from my iPhone

    • Yes, it is. Books like these are misrepresentations and speak very poorly of farming. I view them as a threat to our livelihood.

      Thanks for reading.
      Anne

  2. Dawn

    It is obvious to me that he doesn’t as much as raise a head of lettuce for his own consumption. No idea of what can and often does go awry in all facets of food production.

  3. I am absolutely flabbergasted at the lack of knowledge and common sense this gentleman has regarding farming as evidenced by the above quote. How he was ever able to write a book, about a subject that he so obviously has no knowledge of, is beyond me. I can only shake my head. We only farm as a hobby but know how much work it takes to raise even a few animals let alone the hundreds and thousands that others do. The true reason for this is to negatively portray farmers to make himself feel better.

  4. Please plan to attend or listen to the Heuermann lectures given at the University of Nebraska titled “The Culture War over Food and Farming” on February 27, 2014 at 3:30 p.m. central time. We as agricultural advocates need to have the insight to promote positive awareness to the consumer. Thank you Anne for tackling a difficult subject with your positive and objective attitude. We applaud your wise perception!

    http://news.unl.edu/newsrooms/unltoday/article/heuermann-lecturer-to-address-culture-war-over-food-farming/

  5. cecilia

    Provacative words sell books…..

    • Yes, you are correct. It is unfortunate that solid stories based on the truth are not sensational enough to be passed along.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.
      Best,
      Anne

  6. Excellent article
    Need to share with consumers

  7. Jeff

    When has any modicum of “understanding” been necessary when it gets in the way of one’s idea of belief of reality…which would by necessity also get in the way of one’s pocketbook when they intend to write, publish and sell inflammatory musings based not on fact or experience, but instead based on intellectually flawed and practically invalid notions? Just saying that the mental gymnastics people with no practical experience, or any real effort to objectively examine an issue (do you really think he was trying to understand, or instead trying to manipulate something in that interview) has gone from amusing, to concerning to outright depressing. This guy is performing a “triple lindy” on something he has made no effort to understand, all with the intent to push his opinion (which is at best uneducated) for the purpose of profiting himself. The irony of that is not lost. It also verifies my opinion of people…

    • I always enjoy your comments, Jeff. The girls think that you write like a lawyer 🙂

      Good to hear from you and glad that I can still inspire you to think! I won’t share Matt’s thoughts relative to the book but I would guess that you could figure them out…

      Anne

  8. Robert L. Gwilt

    It is very clear that Mr. Leonard has no concept of what it take to
    Farm and raise animals. He is only trying to make a buck not at
    all interested in learning anything about farming.
    Love your blog Ann and read it every time you post it.

    • Thank you, Bob. I really appreciate your loyal support! You have been a reader of the blog for a long time.

      I agree with your thoughts relative to the book.

      Take care,
      Anne

  9. Clint Kaasa

    Obviouly the author of the book has never lived or worked on a farm and/or ranch, not much sitting around happens. And while the money may roll in, I doubt he realizes or cares how much rolls out. The margins are thin and it takes an excellent manager to run a successful farm and/or ranch business. I have also deemed reading the book a necessary intellectual exercise and have requested it from my local library.

    • Clint,

      I will be interested in hearing your perspective after you read the book. What struck me was the tone of the book — I took it to be very patronizing and casting a very negative shadow over rural American and agriculture. I also believed that it was narrow in scope which lead to generalizations that were not appropriate given the complexity of the food production system.

      I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
      Best,
      Anne

  10. Wow that last statement you put from his book shows his ignorance and lack of insight into what is involved in raising animals or crops for that matter… If he tried his method of raising crops or animals he would be broke after his first try (wouldn’t even make it to harvest most likely). It is hard work and takes so much effort, timing, forethought, and planning on a farmers/ranchers part to make sure animals or crops are raised right. Thank you for your post… I always enjoy learning as you do 🙂

    • Thank you, Kim. I agree that no one who would write a quote like that has ever cared for animals. I know that you can identify with this as you and your hubby have chickens to care for every day. I chose this quote as one to share because it is such a “tone setter” for the book. It also is one that can be used to show inconsistencies in the book because there are times that Mr. Leonard points out that farmers work long hours. The inconsistencies in the book took away from the central theme and left me wondering at times. I think that they speak to the fact that the book is very incomplete in its argument.

      I hope that all is well back east. We have snow again after having several days of beautiful spring-like weather last week. The weather has been a roller-coaster ride this year!

      Take care,
      Anne

  11. This man has no idea what goes into the meal on his table. My son in law is a farmer and most days works 14 to 16 hours a day. He tries to take Sunday off and attends church and some family time. He grows citrus among other crops. He is about to lose 3 to 5 thousand trees from green disease. He will replant and wait 6 years for a crop to pick. He will still be a farmer and just tighten his belt until there is cash flow again. He will still have to work and no big money will be rolling in. Sorry to run on but people that don’t know what they are writing about should not write. Maybe he should try working on a farm, making big money.

    • Good to hear from you, Ellie. It sounds as though Mother Nature is throwing some big challenges at your son-in-law right now. It also sounds like he takes it in stride in typical “farmer fashion”. I wish him the best as he replants. My husband drinks a gallon of orange juice a day and is very thankful for your son-in-law’s hard work!

      Take care,
      Anne

      • Many orange juice brands says juice from Florida but if you read the ingredients there is juice from Fl. But also concentrate from south America. We only sell to plants that us Florida juice 100 percent.

  12. Greetings everyone,

    Well – I cringed when I read that quote pulled out of the book. I will own up: That is a bone-headed way to phrase what I was trying to say.
    Ironically, that idea came to me years ago when I was working on a successful farm in Columbia, Missouri. I have worked on several farms in my life, although all of them were vegetable farms and not livestock operations. The thought I tried to convey there is a truth that every farmer knows: Farmers are stewards of nature. Mother Nature really does do the heavy lifting – transforming sunlight into edible energy and transforming grain into meat. Without that biological set of miracles happening every day, there wouldn’t be agriculture.
    Now, anyone who reads The Meat Racket will see clearly that farming is accurately described throughout the book as a seven-day-a-week job with a lot of risk. Farmers and ranchers are clearly the heroes of this book, as any casual reader will quickly be able to determine.
    (Also, having worked on both the farm and in the city, let me please point out: City folks don’t have it easy either these days. Office jobs can also be seven-day-a-week affairs, with lots of risk involved and very little return on a person’s labor).
    Anne – I look forward to you getting past the prologue of the book and getting to meat of it. The book shows how contract agriculture has turned chicken farmers into high-tech sharecroppers, and how the rise of contract feedlots is killing the cash market for cattle and closing the window on independent producers. I think everyone who makes a living in this business should care about that.
    Thanks so much for your time and consideration of this matter.
    Best,
    Chris Leonard

    • Welcome to the discussion, Chris.

      While I agree that Mother Nature plays a huge role providing resources for any farm, she cannot operate alone and the farmer is a vital component. I do not think what you described in the comment above is at all what you portrayed in the quoted passage. I also did not think that farmers and ranchers were depicted as “heroes” in the book. The villain was very clearly described, but I could not find a hero as I did not think that you described anyone involved in agriculture in a favorable light. I would say, rather, that you described farmers as “victims”. I do not think that I am a victim.

      You are right that all farmers care about the markets. I would even take it a step further and say that many farmers in 2014 care ever further down the chain than the markets—all the way to the consumer. At least relative to the beef industry, there are many “independent producers” left. The way that we do business relative to the markets is constantly evolving and changing due to consumer needs, but being resilient is what gives us sustainability.

      I was saddened by the underlying negative tone of the book which touched every single topic that was broached—that is a different perspective than the one that I have.

      Thanks for stopping by. Feel free to keep reading.
      Best,
      Anne

      • Jeff

        “Mother Nature really does do the heavy lifting – transforming sunlight into edible energy and transforming grain into meat. Without that biological set of miracles happening every day, there wouldn’t be agriculture.”

        Generalized statements that can be molded to fit within whatever spectrum the author wants. Maybe it would be more accurate to say:

        “Mother Nature really does do the heavy lifting – transforming ________ into __________ and transforming ______ into _____. Without that biological set of miracles happening every day, there wouldn’t be _________.”

        Fill whatever you want into the blanks, but in reality, without that little thing called DNA and biology, there wouldn’t be any ______. What we do with that wonderful stuff, including the base that biology supplies, like: human ingenuity, work ethic, and what not, is really, in the end what determines the outcome and the level of risk that those willing to take it, take. Doesn’t really matter if a person turns soil, feeds cattle, or rides a desk for a living. All of it is grounded by biology, the outcome is however influenced by the individual ethos to a much greater scale.

        Anyone can plant a seed in the ground, or buy a cow, or go to school and get fancy pieces of paper to go on a wall. None of that ‘stuff’ means diddly without the motivation, logic, ethic, work, perseverance, and gumption of the individual. What is done with the decisions made about the when and the what, and what goes into those decisions, while intrinsically woven with biology, matters most. Working on farms is much different than managing farms, just like shuffling paper from one side of a desk to the other is entirely different than what goes into what is on the paper.

        The other irony…at the root level, city dwellers are dependent on the farmer / rancher to make the ‘right’ decisions to a much greater degree, if any, than the farmer / ranger is dependent on the city dweller. So, taking the thesis of the prologue, and assuming that the farmer / rancher doesn’t do much lifting, and is along for the ride…where’s that leave the city dweller that needs the product of the farmer / rancher to survive, but does no lifting at all?

        Oh, Anne…a big DUH to the first. And to the second…educated guess says they’re part and parcel with mine…

    • Joan

      Mr. Leonard, I have not read your book. I would like to comment on the quote since you have confirmed that you put in in your book. Much of life can be lumped under “Mother Nature does much of the heavy lifting”. As an EMT I am reminded often about what goes on in our bodies every second of every day that we are totally oblivious to. That does not mean we shouldn’t spend time intentionally helping our bodies with food, sleep and exercise. As a farmer and cattle feeder I intentionally care for the land and animals in much the same way-working with Mother Nature and using the best information available to do the best I can. It is concerning to me that there are voices at the table using opinions about food production versus valid research to inform consumers.

    • Paul

      I finished your book and when I read the quote that has everbody’s panties in a wad I was taken aback. I don’t understand it’s point or value in your tome. The rest of it was an interesting historical narrative of the vertical integration of ag. I did find the saga of the different families and cultures that took their positions in the chicken business to almost plagiarize Upton Sinclair’s ‘The Jungle’ but at least you didn’t point out how every part of a pig is used except the squeal! As for people in the beef industry that think there are a lot of independent producers left we have at this time gotten to the point that beef future prices have at times not had enough of a cash basis behind them to establish a cash value for the animals and that fact has been mentioned in market reports, USDA studies as well as placed in the public domain via lawsuits. ‘Captive Supply’ is now 80-90% of the cattle supply. That is not indicative of an independent producer situation in regards to fat cattle. The only true price discovery that is indicative of an independent producer supplied market is the auction which it could be said does represent the majority of the cow/calf sector that supplies the feeder cattle. However, cash prices are directly tied to the futures price which in turn can be depressed by the large amount of captive supply cattle owned by the big four. When they use captive supply cattle to fill their chains and don’t fill slots by buying in the cash market then the cash market is depressed.(USDA studies verify this) This is the world in which the ‘independent producer’ is not so independent. We are lucky today that there is at this time a lull in the numbers of cattle in the USA to support the feeder cattle price however the cure for high prices is high prices. The market will be supplied either domestically by an increase in the USA herd or the packers will outsource for a supply of the meat or animals that they need. Brazil and the US are negotiating now on this subject. The coincidence of this is that our largest packer is a Brazillian company. If we repeat the history demonstrated in your book in our business then money will talk and the packers have the money and the lobbyists via AMI, NCBA etc to get it done. I hope they don’t!

  13. farmeriniowa

    Y’all (and Mr. Leonard) might find this an interesting read:http://americastwoheadedpig.com/

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