Last week, while reading my email, I found my latest copy of the Minnesota Milk Producers (MMPA) Newsletter. MMPA is a group I proudly joined a couple years ago because of their dedication to Minnesota Dairy farmers, specifically in relation to legislation happening in our state that affects the farmers' way of life. As I was reading this newsletter, I was immediately drawn to an letter in response to Land Stewardship Project (LSP). A few weeks previous LSP circulated a letter to rural Minnesota citizens, calling them to action against a proposed "factory farm" in Stevens County Minnesota. I remembered that I had also received that letter and went to the mail pile. I had actually filed it with all of my junk mail, because while I appreciate the principles that LSP work for I don't appreciate their approach (scare tactics).
When I opened the envelope and read the contents I was torn between being sick and being angry. Sick, because I hate the fact that farmers and rural leaders are pitting themselves against other farmers, and angry for the same reasons. There were examples of facts that were most certainly being exaggerated in addition to emotionally heavy words like "corporate agriculture", "factory farms", "toxic pollution", "environmental nightmare" and many others. There were also false claims of health and environmental dangers.
If you want to read the scare tactics, you can go to the LSP web site, and if you want to read MMPA's response please see this link. I think MMPA has a great response to LSP. As dairy farmers, we're all in this together. We need to focus on educating the public on farming practices from all styles of farming rather than scaring them into believing that a large farm will be the death of their rural economies and environments.
I know first hand the struggles even a small dairy has with environmental regulations. In our county we were required to notify all land owners within a one mile radius of our farm of any additions to our animal units or manure storage. We were also required to submit manure management plans each year and expected surprise annual inspections from our county officer. I'm not going to lie, these regulations were a pain in our butt, however I am glad that we have them in place to keep all farmers honest in their practices....big or small. I think the key factor all consumers, rural leaders and farmers forget is that we're all in this together. We share the same resources, we share water, air and soil. We want and need to farm in a way that is sustainable, but because we share our environment, what we do to our environment will also affect us. If a large or small dairy pollutes their water, they are also polluting water for their cows, employees and families. It's not in anyone's best interest to destroy our environment.
Moreover, the accusation that large dairies will put small dairies out of business is absurd. Having a larger dairy will help to keep local business running, whether that's feed companies, agronomy companies, lumber yards, equipment dealers, banks, hardware stores, trucking companies, manufacturing/processing plants, and so many more. $1.00 of milk sold from any sized dairy will generate about $3.00 worth of local economic activity! Smaller dairies also help local communities! We need farms of all sizes and styles to have a thriving industry. Why to small dairies sell out? They can't afford to upgrade, there isn't another generation to take over the farm, the business plan didn't work, there are many reasons, but to point fingers at large dairies is ridiculous. We need all sizes, we need each other, and at the end of the day, farming is hard enough the way it is.....I hope we all make it!