*Andy Vance is an agricultural journalist, public speaker, commentator and entrepreneur who most recently led the broadcast team at Agri Broadcast Network and is an active member of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting. Vance grew up on a farm in Hillsboro, Ohio, and raises registered Shorthorn cattle and breeding stock. Vance's web site, "The Angle," is andyvance.com. He can be contacted at [email protected]
THERE is no "I" in "team," and there is no "we" in "U.S. agriculture."
Consider that we generally think of agriculture as a monolith, a teeming mass of individuals of a similar socioeconomic background with similar careers, similar interests and similar ideas. Experience and simple logic reveal that this assumption, however, is patently false.
Let's face it, agriculture may be an industry and/or community defined by a common cause -- namely, producing food and other natural resources through the stewardship of the land and its bounty -- but our hopes, needs and desires are as different as the products of our efforts.
This is why we have both commodity-specific agricultural organizations like the National Cattlemen's Beef Assn. and the National Corn Growers Assn. as well as general farm groups like the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Farmers' Union. This also explains why these various groups will be unified on any number of policy issues but then differ sharply on others.
I've been thinking about this philosophical dichotomy since reading a rebuttal from Gene Gregory, president of United Egg Producers (UEP), an organization I took to task in my Jan. 2 column ("Don't Let Fox Roam Hen House"). My comments centered on my basic criticism of UEP's landmark agreement with The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) to lobby Congress for a federal standard on hen housing systems.
Gregory's rebuttal to my argument, appearing in this issue of Feedstuffs, is cogent, concise and well-reasoned. We opinion writers are known for reflection, though not necessarily for admitting that another writer has made a point worth comment; Gregory's letter is worth reading.
UEP had little choice but to adhere to the maxim, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em." As he points out in the letter, fighting HSUS in California proved costly and fruitless. Numerous HSUS-sponsored/funded ballot measures across the country threatened to spawn a nightmare patchwork of animal care and housing standards for the egg industry -- a regulatory hodgepodge that could well have put egg farmers out of business.
My argument, since the infamous "Ohio Compromise" with HSUS, is that we need more Patton-like resolve toward HSUS and its radical animal rights agenda and less Chamberlain-esque appeasement. On this order, it does appear that the UEP experiment of working with HSUS is less about capitulating and more about keeping your friends close and your enemies closer.
By controlling the agenda on hen housing, UEP hopes to keep HSUS in check long enough for two things to happen: (1) for Congress to enact reasonable federal legislation that will supersede the mishmash of state regulations governing egg production while not putting farmers out of business and (2) for agriculture en masse to get its act together and figure out how to deal with the HSUS problem before its leadership achieves its goal of running all animal agriculture enterprises out of business.
This may not be a bad strategy, though it is necessary to remember that you eventually have to deal with your enemies.
I'm no less concerned now than before that getting Congress involved in livestock care is bad business, but I am willing to give UEP members the benefit of the doubt.
As Gregory points out, neither this intrepid columnist nor the numerous farm organizations that wrote to Congress urging them to ignore the HSUS-UEP legislation make our living producing eggs for the consumer. UEP members do. It has been more than a decade since I raised chickens, and my farm handled only 100 broilers at a time and only a handful of batches of those every summer.
The needs of the many may outweigh the needs of the few, to quote Mr. Spock. The collective outrage of the many in agriculture who don't like the idea of farmers cozying up to HSUS, however, probably doesn't seem all that important to the (relatively) few egg farmers concerned about staying in business and feeding their kids.
Those outside the egg industry will have to wait and see if UEP's gambit pays off or if our worst fears come to bear. These farmers -- our comrades in arms, in a sense -- are doing what they think is right for their family farms and enterprises; far be it for me to tell them to do otherwise.
There is no "we" in U.S. agriculture; there's just "US."