When it comes to discussing food and agriculture, Joe Rogan struggles to bring relevant farming and ranching voices to his podcast. In 2020, The Joe Rogan Experience famously gave extremist and self-described “lunatic farmer” Joel Salatin a platform to bash the “mega-system” of modern food production. That wouldn’t be too concerning except for the fact that Rogan’s Spotify-exclusive podcast gets about 11 million streams per episode, so he does a more effective job at reaching the general public than ag communicators are able to do.
And while Salatin’s appearance on the podcast was problematic because of his activist leanings as seen in Food, Inc., his past undertones of bigotry and racism, and his ridicule of the impact of COVID-19 on human health, a recent Rogan guest was somewhat unsettling for other reasons entirely.
And contentious guests certainly bring a big audience.
On Nov. 3, 2022, Rogan had Will Harris, the owner of White Oak Pastures, on his show. The farm in Georgia was memorably the subject of a 2016 Audubon feature article titled, An Organic Chicken Farm in Georgia Has Become an Endless Buffet for Bald Eagles, which explored the impact of the nearly 75 eagles living at the farm. It made the farm a focal point of the debate over animal welfare and of the differences in health and safety of pasture-raised and barn-raised poultry.
At the time White Oak Pastures, whose 3,200 acres had made it the largest USDA certified-organic property in Georgia, estimated that bald eagles destroyed nearly 160,000 chickens over the years, resulting in over $2.2 million in losses. In 2018, the Farm Service Agency ruled that White Oak could be compensated for the loss and destruction of its poultry. The decision followed years of disputes between the farm and the FSA, the organization responsible for compensating producers and farmers under the Livestock Indemnity Program.
There have been no shortage of conflicting opinions about how this situation was handled and what could have been done differently.
Similar to Salatin, Harris is a pro at making the talk-show rounds and hyping his version of regenerative farming, while criticizing other producers who do things differently. Harris deserves a lot of credit for working to maintain a farm that dates back to the 1800s — there’s few who would see that as anything less than commendable. And he said in the episode that he has spent decades turning White Oak into a kind of property that succeeds, at least financially, despite the concerns fellow producers have shared over his approach to animal welfare, in which Audubon magazine described as, “The slaughter here is relentless.”
But White Oak’s hyper-organic-only focus isn’t functional everywhere, and in the same way that Harris defends the need for livestock and poultry in a sound ecosystem (amid the drum of public plant-based proponents), that same approach can be said for the need for both organic and conventional options in modern farming.
Analyses have shown that organic can be profitable because of the extreme premiums charged for those products, but while organic farms can have as much as 34 percent more biodiversity, they also deliver 18 percent lower crop yields compared to conventional growers. So major production factors — such as profitability, biodiversity, stewardship, and productivity — have to be weighed in the context of landscape, farming practices, and socioeconomic issues.
Other resources have discovered that despite strong public perception of organic agriculture producing better environmental outcomes, conventional agriculture often performs better on environmental measures including land use, greenhouse gas emissions, and pollution of water bodies.
Rogan’s full interview with Harris almost 2.5 hours long and throws around some disturbingly inflammatory terms such as “industrial” when describing farmers who don’t grow the way that Harris prefers to grow. But it’s not hard to think of many so-called “industrial” or “factory” farmers who would be happy to have the opportunity to speak with Rogan about the realities, innovations, and complexities of the majority of today’s dynamic agricultural sector. It’s not just the farmers on the fringe who have something interesting to say.