Years ago farmers wore two hats. They were both livestock and grain farmers.
Most farmers produced grain to feed their livestock, and their livestock was produced to feed their families. However, like every other industry in the world, things change. Agriculture has changed.
Today’s farmers must specialize in one division of the agricultural industry to be successful. Margins are small. Even farmers who still grow a few crops, raise a few livestock, and milk a few cows are typically growing for a niche like “locally grown” or “organic.” While this creates an opportunity for local farmers to become professionals and the entire agriculture sector to grow, it has also created conflict.
Due to the growing demand for ethanol and other market factors at play in the world, corn prices are on the rise. While this is a positive for the grain farmers, livestock farmers are having more difficulty making a living and are having to learn to manage risk more than they have in the past. Livestock farmers often attack grain farmers on this issue. Similarly, grain farmers unjustly have issues with siting new livestock farms and accuse them of ruining water supply, ruining roads, and smell issues. Is this fighting between agricultural pursuits positive for our industry?
Many people outside of the farm community do not really see or understand what goes on within it. All farmers need to work together as much as they can and be good “farming neighbors.” After all, collectively, we only represent less than two percent of the population. If we are divided, what will we gain?
In some areas we are still working well together. Some livestock farmers are spreading manure on nearby grain farmers’ fields in exchange for bailing their corn stalks. This creates a co-dependency where grain farmers utilize manure as a cheaper alternative to man-made fertilizer and livestock farmers use corn stalks as an alternative feed and bedding source. We do still need each other.
Additionally, though ethanol is seen as a thief stealing way livestock feed, one-third of every bushel of the corn that is being sold to the ethanol plants ends up being a by-product called distillers grain that works well as a livestock feed. Having an ethanol plant nearby ends up being a huge win for livestock farmers.
Farmers have always enjoyed a reputation of being good, trustworthy, cooperative individuals and we need to continue to embody that image. More often that not, we need to start at the farm with our neighbors and stand united as one agricultural industry.
Illinois Central College student