Answering agriculture’s critics

I’m a big believer in taking the high road. When media present inaccurate or incomplete portrayals of U.S. agriculture, my job and the job of Farm Bureau is to help them understand where they went wrong and to set the record straight. We had our work cut out for us with a recent New York Times opinion video. It was so disappointing to see a respected media outlet present a distorted picture of agriculture without so much as acknowledging that farmers play an essential role in stocking America’s pantries.

AFBF jumped into action. We drafted a response and had a productive conversation with decisionmakers there, but unfortunately, they declined to accept my guest essay, which provides a more complete and honest picture of agriculture. What a disservice to their readers and to the disappearing tradition of honest debate. So, I’ll use my own platform to share my response.

Before I do, I’ll note that I’m intentionally omitting a link to their piece. These days, media measure success in clicks and views and this piece simply isn’t worthy of your time or their publication. Still, it’s important to set the record straight.

I want to be clear about something else. People have every right to their opinions about agriculture whether positive or negative—even the New York Times. We can take fair criticism. But every news outlet has a responsibility to provide accurate information and a balanced perspective.

So, here’s the rest of the story. American agriculture leads the world in climate-smart farming, making up just 10% of greenhouse gas emissions, much lower than transportation, electricity generation and industry. It’s not by chance that America has made progress quicker than our international counterparts. Through public and private partnerships and investments in innovative technologies, America’s farmers and ranchers have been able to reduce per-unit emissions of livestock over the past 30 years by 8 to 26% depending on the species. We are able to grow more food using fewer resources than ever before.

The beef industry, which has become a target in the environmental debate, is also making great strides. Beef production accounts for just 2% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, much lower than the global average. Almost half of all farm acres are used as permanent pastureland. Those lands are good for raising cattle, and the soil remains undisturbed, which ensures it can continue retaining carbon. It’s estimated that the land cattle graze contains 10 to 30% of the carbon stored in soil, making them crucial for carbon sequestration.

These advances are being made in all 50 states and Puerto Rico by families on both large and small farms. Critics like to point the finger at so-called “factory farms,” but the reality is, of the just more than 2 million farms in America, almost all of them are family owned and 1.9 million of them are classified by the government as small family farms. We need operations of all sizes if we are to feed a country that is about to surpass a population of 330 million people and a world that will soon pass the 8 billion mark.

Together we can be proud of the advancements we have made in climate-smart practices and our commitment to continuous improvement. Can we do more? Absolutely. But it will take all of us, not just the farmers and ranchers, to create a better world. That doesn’t happen by mandates or by perpetuating a false narrative. It will happen through honest dialogue about investments in innovation and partnerships with farmers.

It’s really important for us, as farmers, to deliver the message about our commitment. Remember that 87% of the public trusts farmers. However, very few understand how food is produced. Farmers are in the best position to provide an honest window into agriculture. Sharing real, positive stories from the farm is one of the most effective ways to counter misinformation. America is listening. Let’s reassure all those who put their faith in us that we are humbled by it and determined to do the right thing for our land and our animals.

Zippy Duvall is president of American Farm Bureau Federation.