Trust but Verify…

I did an interview last week with a reporter who asked,Why does your farm participate in 3rd party animal welfare audits?”

My answer: I ask that my customers trust me to be a good farmer, but I open my farm to auditing so that they can verify that I practice what I preach.

No matter how good a job you do on your farm, an audit is a stressful time.

  • Hundreds of pages of documents are checked to make sure that records accurately demonstrate daily animal care practices.
  • Hours are spent checking the farm’s facilities (feed and feed mixing areas, cattle pens, water tanks, and corrals) to ensure that animals have good living conditions.
  • Cattle handling is observed to ensure that good welfare exists while animals are interacting with their human caregivers.
  • Caregivers are asked questions about farm protocols on many different issues relative to animal care to ensure that those folks who provide daily care for the animals are well trained and educated.
They gather closely around me because they are thoughtful and curious.  They choose to do this despite the large amount of space in the pen that they call home...

They gather around me because they are comfortable, confident, and curious. They choose to come close to me despite the large amount of space in the pen that they call home…

I wear several “hats” at my feed yard. I am the owner and boss lady in addition to being one of the laborers who provide daily cattle care. I tend to greet audit day with mixed feelings. The boss lady realizes how important the audit is, but the farm hand struggles to accept outsiders interfering in the daily workings of life on the farm.

It is hard to have someone from the outside critique everything that you do – there is also no way to have an audit without disrupting the daily schedule of the farm. The combination of these things makes audit day on the farm long and stressful. Additionally, because I love my farm so much, opening it up to the judgement of an auditor creates a feeling of personal vulnerability. I feel it in my heart, and I know that my crew does as well.

Their care is important to me.

Their care is important to me.

Two weeks ago the feed yard had its first 2015 audit. I came home that night with a myriad of emotions fluttering through my head, the greatest being anger. Not anger toward the audit itself, but anger toward an ever growing vocal subset of the population who distrusts and dislikes American farmers like me. Tired from the long day, all I could think about was Why do I bother to go to the extra work of an audit to verify my farm care when nobody trusts me anyway”.

As an active advocate for agriculture, I am painfully aware of the distrust that exists toward modern farmers. An ever growing group of elitist philosophers breed this cynicism by employing an effective blend of zealotry and scare tactics. No matter how much I care or how hard I work to responsibly grow beef – these people ensure that I carry the label of the evil factory farmer. I open the newspaper or bring up the internet and find dozens of derogatory statements about how farms like mine abuse our animals, the environment and ultimately the people that we feed.

I honestly don't understand how this is evil and abusive...

I honestly don’t understand how this is evil and abusive…

Put yourself in my boots for a moment.

  • I work long hours on the farm.
  • I come home at night to write blog posts and share pictures of how I grow beef.
  • I patiently answer questions from reporters and customers.
  • I open my farm to both audits and tours.

And, at the end of the day, I am still belittled by the people that I have dedicated my life to feed.

So, I ask the important question:

What is it going to take for Americans to trust farmers and the practices that they use to grow food?

I believe in Trust but Verify, but verification is simply a burdensome chore if trust is unattainable.

18 Comments

Filed under CAFO

18 responses to “Trust but Verify…

  1. John Butler

    Well done !

    John Butler Sent from my iPhone

    • Thanks, John. I appreciate it. We’ve got to figure this one out — it’s an important one. Would be interested in your thoughts as to how to approach it.

      Anne

  2. Wendell Davis

    You are to be commended for your efforts, but we are past the point where the opinion of a vocal segment of the population can be changed. These are radical vocal people, and will not be happy until everyone is a vegetarian.

    • My hope, Wendell, is that we can still influence the other 90% of the population. This is a great challenge, but I think that it is one that agriculture has to try and meet. There are days that I get so frustrated that I don’t know what to do, but we can’t give up. Our farms are our livelihood — our legacy — and our dreams all wrapped up into one. In my mind, that is worth fighting for. What I struggle with is how to be strategic and effective — hopefully someone smarter than I can figure it out!

      Best,
      Anne

  3. lindsaychichester

    Reblogged this on Agricultural with Dr Lindsay and commented:
    Please take a moment to read Anne’s post today, and sign up for her blog if you do not yet follow it. Anne is a very well respected cattle feedlot owner and operator, who is very hands-on with all day-to-day activities. Anne spends a lot of time sharing what she does on her feedlot via this blog and through various public venues. Thanks Anne for what you do!

    • I appreciate the re-blog and your kind words of support, Lindsay! Together we can make a difference —- Keep up the good work that you do.

      Thanks,
      Anne

  4. SF Ferguson

    Anne, all you can do is hang in there and keep doing what you do–change comes slowly. I am very proud of you and the way you run your feedlot.

    • Thank you, Sue Fan, that means a lot. I haven’t given up — just get frustrated sometimes. I got home tonight from two days in Chicago talking about animal welfare and sustainability. Some days are long and tough, but I agree that nothing important comes easily.

      I hope that you all are well. Mom had a wonderful trip with you! Give my love to everyone.

      Anne

  5. Adele Hite, MPH RD

    Beautiful! I participated in the oral comments for the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Report, which recommends reducing or eliminating red meat from the diet for (an ever-shrinking list of) health reasons and (now) for environmental reasons (neither of which I find well-supported by evidence.) The woman in front of me was Marie May Smith, from May Family Farms. Her testimony was painful to hear. She told how, as a producer, she and her family had worked to raise leaner cattle to meet health recommendations–and now the goalposts were going to be shifted once again. I listened to others tell this same story & wondered if there was anything they could do as beef producers that would satisfy the demands of this committee, demands which very much inform the public’s thinking about these matters. My impression is that there isn’t–but it is important that these stories and voices be heard just the same. Thank you for this eloquent contribution to the conversation. You are asking an incredibly important question & those us who eat beef should be supporting you in pursuit of an answer.

    • Thank you, Adele. We have to keep sharing the real story. I pray that sometime it will fall on meaningful ears and our efforts be fruitful. I appreciate you reading and empathizing with us (farmers). Your support is critical to our sustainability — and also good for my psyche as it makes me feel like I am making some sort of a difference in the conversation🙂

      Best,
      Anne

  6. abcdne

    I think the media quotes HSUS and PETA too often by treating them as an authority about animal welfare instead of the domestic terrorists they are. I don’t think they should have the ability to weigh in on these conversations. Doing so only gives them undeserved authority about animal welfare. We are kidding ourselves in thinking that the elimination of things such as gestation stalls, and chicken cages will satisfy their agendas. I sometimes wonder if it’s not time for the Livestock associations to aggressively (not passively) discredit these groups the way that HSUS and PETA discredit livestock production.

    • An interesting set of thoughts — I agree with you. The struggle is how to be most effective, and I’m not sure I have figured out the best answer. We’ve got to keep searching, talking, and trying to reach those most vulnerable to the messages of these entities.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.
      Best,
      Anne

  7. Ann,
    I completely hear your frustration that an uneducated minority make a big stink over things and make changes that aren’t necessary or cause more harm for others. I fight the same injustice on a smaller scale and I know your frustration must be greater then mine. I want to let you know again there are some of us out here that know the truth an don’t react to bad information or scare tactics. We are here supporting you and the great work you do. I trust you and your beef and I proudly eat what you and other farmers like you produce. Beef is a healthy part of a well rounded diet. Keep up your good work.

    • Thank you, Kim. You are a great support for me, and I so appreciate your trust. I know that we have to keep moving forward and try to figure out how to fix this problem. I just spent two days in Chicago talking about animal welfare and sustainability — it is important that farmers reach out and participate in the discussion. I am glad to be home tonight. The Nebraska prairie is good for my soul🙂

      I hope that all is well.
      Best,
      Anne

  8. Alex

    Thank you for the job you do.

  9. Pingback: Monkey In the Middle… | Feed Yard Foodie

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