Last week, I spoke at the Great Lakes Regional Dairy Conference in Grand Rapids, Mich. During the conference, I presented three speeches. I spoke about the next generation of agriculture and how to start planning for a smooth transition. I also addressed the crowd on speaking out against animal rights activists, misinformed media articles and confused consumers. Finally, I presented a youth workshop to teach students how to utilize social media tools to start telling the food production story online. In addition, over the course of four days, I listened in on several intense sessions pertaining to the hot topics facing the industry today.
One speech that truly resonated with the participants was the keynote address given by Dr. Wes Jamison, a professor of animal welfare at the University of Florida. Dr. Jamison's topic was titled, “Animal Producers from Mars, Animal Lovers from Venus: Directing Agriculture through the curves of ethics, attitudes and expectations.” Dr. Jamison’s speech entered us into the minds of our opponents to better understand the reasons for this movement that is progressively changing the face of food production. Although Jamison gives props to operations that open up their farms for agri-tourism ventures, he doesn't think it wise for us to clean up the farm before visitors arrive. He believes that the industry needs more transparency and openness to survive the animal rights movement and gain the trust of consumers, once again.
“Don’t just show them the pretty side of the farm,” said Jamison, in his keynote speech. “Show them death; show them dirt; show them the rough side of food production. If we try to hide these things, the animal rights activists will expose and exploit these things for us. We need to be open and honest and tell our own story.”
So, what do you think? Is it time we start capturing videos of the realities of food production for ourselves? Instead of allowing animal rights activists to sneak in to shoot videos that misrepresent our industry, is it time for us to begin showing every aspect of agriculture to consumers ourselves? His idea was to show visitors more than the positive sides of the ranch; we need to show them the death, the sickness, the dirt and the manure in order for them to truly understand agriculture. Although Dr. Jamison addressed several key points during his speech, this is the area I would like to explore most. What is your take on this issue? What do you think about honest and open agri-tourism?