April 21 2020 03:20 PM

Please don’t contribute to the farm size debate by talking negatively about other farms.

In my previous blog, I wrote about how animal rights activist groups are attempting to sway farmers to their side by offering resources to switch from dairy to growing crops that can be used to make plant-based alternatives. While some of these initiatives are new, the idea of pitting farmers against one another to divide the industry is not.

There’s a reason activist groups continue going to that well — it works. An animal agriculture community divided by competition and in-fighting is much easier to criticize and depict poorly than one that is united and supportive of everyone in it.

Far too often, discussions around critical topics such as animal welfare and sustainability devolve into arguments about farm size and the idea that “big is bad.” This is even true about conversations happening within animal agriculture and seems to be especially prevalent within the dairy industry. I understand there are economic factors at play and emotions can run high, but demonizing our peers for how they run their operations doesn’t help any of us.

How can we assure consumers that farms of all sizes are committed to doing the right thing for people, animals, and the environment if we as the animal agriculture community can’t seem to agree on that?

Farm size isn’t the only topic of contention. Different housing systems, organic versus conventional, no antibiotics ever versus responsible antibiotic use . . . there are a number of practices farms can do differently for a wide variety of reasons. We anticipate the activist groups lining up to criticize, but unfortunately, other farmers sometimes add to the chorus of negativity as well.

Don’t think you’re safe to bash other farmers because you’re posting in a private Facebook group, either. Screenshots are forever, and anything you post should be considered public.

When having conversations about agriculture and our operations, we need to make sure we are always positive about the entire agriculture community. I’m not suggesting that we can’t have thoughtful discussions around practices or management styles. After all, continuous improvement is the name of the game. But we can have a thoughtful discussion of how we do things today and how we might do them differently tomorrow without making blanket statements about the superiority of one way of farming or the alleged inferiority of another.

If we downgrade certain types or sizes of farms, consumers become confused and will distrust the agricultural community as a whole. The last thing we want to do is plant doubt in consumers’ minds when they should feel good about the milk they are drinking. A rising tide lifts all boats, so let’s focus on raising the positivity level of discourse around animal welfare and other important subjects.

Hannah Thompson-Weeman

The author is communications director for Animal Agriculture Alliance.