Common Misconceptions of the Hog Farmer
There’s a Problem with the Farmer’s Modern Image.
Most farmers get a bad rep these days. Usually when a hog farm shows up in the news it’s a lawsuit about their smell bothering the neighbors. And animal housing continues to become a more complex issue as consumers see images from farms with only half the story, and then demand what they believe is more humane practice from their meat producers. Not all portrayals of animal farmers vilify them, but even this seemingly unbiased documentary, “At the Fork” by John Papola, curves its portrayal a little against meat producers.
The resulting media image of the animal farmer seems to be a poop-flinging capitalist pig (pun intended), lounging on a pile of mud-caked money, wearing a monocle and top hat, which is far from the truth most of the time. So we’d like to address some of the major misconceptions about the hog farmer that continue to proliferate.
The Greedy Pig
While it’s true that there are many successful hog farms in the country, it is not a typical path to wealth, and it’s definitely not certain. Any type of farming, big or small, is a risky venture since it’s constantly at the mercy of weather and, now, global politics and economy. That’s probably why most people doing it were born into it. In fact recent studies show that 97% of US farms are family owned. And it’s odd that the nation lost the image of the quaint family farm when almost 90% of modern farms could be considered small businesses. Hardly the money-grubbing pigs the average news skimmer envisions.
The Heartless Animal Torturer
It’s understandable that people would react strongly to pictures of sows squeezed between bars while her piglets suckle from the other side. This kind of thing creates the perception that if you don’t raise organic, you must be evil. For example, the National Hog Farmer points out that “At the Fork” never shows open range animals dealing with extreme weather conditions, and doesn’t really address the economics of small and medium farms versus massive operations (although, to be fair, it takes a much more neutral stance than Food Inc.).
Most people have no idea just how many pigs are involved in these operation or what it takes to change that operation and create more space for the animals, or the effect that would have overall on the entire farm and its distribution. Because of that lack of understanding, they reduce the farmer’s resistance to change down to pure greed and cruelty, when the reality is any change takes a lot of time and ingenuity because it comes up against systems established decades ago that have been pretty reliable so far.
We talk about poop a lot. We have to because that’s a fundamental part of every animal farm. Farmers know it, and all their neighbors do too. This civil suit in Warsaw, North Carolina is only the most recent in a long line of lawsuits that have become the norm for hog farms across the country. There’s a phrase in that CBS article that nicely encapsulates the image these suits produce:
“North Carolina’s 2,000 hog farms pump waste into storage lagoons. Overflow is sprayed onto fields as fertilizer, but sometimes, according to residents, the sprayers miss their marks, hitting homes nearby.”
The whole thing reeks of careless stupidity: waste and overflow, pumped and sprayed and missing its mark pretty naturally makes you think of a fat man standing in his yard with a hose spewing manure into his neighbor’s face.
Of course, farmers do care (the article makes a point of mentioning that as well), but farms produce a lot of waste that needs to be dealt with somehow. Fertilizer was half the reason some colonial farmers started raising animals. Now the scales are a bit different, but the mentality of the farmer hasn’t really changed. It’s not that they’re cruel, greedy, or careless. They do what they need to in order to keep their difficult livelihood running. What people really need to understand about this industry is that things change slowly according to need. When a farmer seems to be doing something careless or even immoral, they don’t need a screaming mob telling them to stop. If anything, they just need a little patience and room for innovation.