I recently had a discussion with a friend of mine about misconceptions that happen about her chosen field. She works with nuclear power plants for a living, and some activist segments are mission-based to complain about energy. Maybe the form of energy is inefficient or it’s not green enough, etc. But when you learn from people like her, the engineers that do it for a living, you have to wonder why the activists choose to ignore the experts and the facts about just how far they’ve come with technology and how eco-friendly many of their businesses really are.
This can happen in so many careers, especially for us as commercial farmers. Most people don’t know a real commercial farmer, and it can be easy to fall victim to myths if you don’t get to fact check.
Here are six of the biggest myths spread on social media and in the mainstream media, and some stuff we as farmers are frankly really sick of hearing.
1. GMOs are bad. GMOs are now grown on 444 million acres in 28 countries around the world and for good reason. They allow us as farmers to often use fewer and less-toxic chemicals and save crops from disease, they are more resilient to weather elements, create a higher quality of crop, and can produce more on less land with fewer inputs and tillage. Not only that, but literally everything we eat has been modified in some way, so the term “GMO” is scientifically meaningless despite its use in labeling and pop culture. The people who want you to believe GMOs are bad usually come from food companies trying to sell a product (the Non-GMO Project and the organic label are now valued at nearly $85 billion) by using fear and a lot of viral imagery. Non-GMO does not mean growers or buyers are making a greener choice. In the U.S., there are currently only 10 GMO foods, so genetically engineering isn’t as pervasive as the public is made out to believe.
2. “Factory farms” wreck the environment. Feeding 8 billion people and tens of billions of pets and animals will never be perfect, but I wish the people making these claims had even the slightest clue how tough the regulations are. As one example, a local pig farm by me that raises 800,000 pigs per year must pay hundreds of dollars to the DNR and draw up a “manure management plan,” a very thick book detailing exactly how they’re going to manage it — or they can be heavily fined. Buffer zones have improved, equipment is precise. Everything nowadays is tracked by data, and most everyone cares about the environment. Also, animal byproducts are all around us and no, livestock aren’t destroying the planet, as explained here.
3. Farmers all love Donald Trump. This one irks me like no other. There are plenty of farmers who didn’t vote for him, some who will always love him, some who regret voting for him. This is the same with any occupation, so please don’t lump us all in the same category. The tariffs are hitting production agriculture pretty hard right now, and it’s a sensitive subject for many. Farmers are not a single collective mind, and each voted as he or she saw fit at the time.
4. Farmers are rich and get government subsidies. Farming is a volatile business with many aspects out of the control of the grower. They have to deal with fluctuating market prices, weather, breakdowns, debt, activists, etc. Direct pay subsidies for farmers ended several years ago, and now farmers need some help during these tough times of trade negotiations, as the cost of goods is currently below the cost of production. This is completely out of the farmers control, and without occasional help, a lot more family farms would go out of business and lose everything. Yes, they can have a good year once in a while, but the bad years can be absolutely devastating. The system is far from perfect but farmers deserve a lot of respect.
5. Agriculture is run on illegal immigrants who aren’t treated fairly. It’s true that approximately 75 percent of U.S. farm workers are immigrants, usually from Mexico. But again, the regulations and hoops farms have to go through to hire them is, frankly, quite exhausting. They have to prove in so many ways they tried in the U.S. first and that immigrants are a last resort. There are numerous programs in place to help make sure they’re documented, legal, receive a good wage, etc. Sometimes they’re given on-site housing, childcare, and other tools and resources. These employees are valuable, as finding quality help proves very difficult and immigrants oftentimes do the work that Americans don’t want to do. Without these workers, the industry would suffer greatly, so it only makes sense to treat them fairly to get them to stay.
6. Food safety concerns. No, your food isn’t drenched in pesticides and, as the saying goes, the dose makes the poison. NO, livestock aren’t “pumped full” of hormones and antibiotics. Yes, everything we eat is regulated and inspected, with some of the highest food safety standards in the world. The USDA and FDA have scores of regulatory and guidance documents that farmers follow to ensure high levels of safety from planting season through harvest and processing.
To learn more about this, ask any larger-scale farmers about their regulations, which vary by region. The Facebook group My Job Depends on Ag is a great place to connect and learn. Click all the highlighted links within the article for sources, and campaigns like Peel Back the Label, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Safe Fruits and Veggies, Commonground, U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance, A Fresh Look, Dirt to Dinner, and all these other sources are good as well. As with anything, activists often aren’t reputable, and corporations are trying to sell you something. The truth lies somewhere in the middle, so make sure you ask real commercial farms about farming.
Michelle Miller, the Farm Babe, is an Iowa-based farmer, public speaker, and writer, who lives and works with her boyfriend on their farm, which consists of row crops, beef cattle, and sheep. She believes education is key in bridging the gap between farmers and consumers.