By Jo Manhart
Globe guest columnist
Your piece “Bill gives boot to CAFOs” sure hurts my feelings. That acronym seems to have become a free-standing, four-letter word bearing no relationship to the thing it originally represented.
I think the genesis of the now-familiar word “CAFO” was a document called “EPA guidelines for concentrated animal feeding operations” published in the late 1980s or early 1990s. At the end of the document, a name and phone number was provided to call if you had questions. I had a question, so I phoned “Willie Mae” or whatever her name was. We had a nice talk, she seemed to appreciate my call, and in passing I said “Have you ever been on a poultry farm?” She said she hadn’t; then I asked if she’d ever been on a farm of any kind, and she said she had not, but would sure like to.
Instead of not knowing, as was the case here, it would be good to “know.” When farmers invite people to tour their facility, as Kip Cullers of Stark City did last July for a “Lunch and Learn” tour of his soybean farm, there was an opportunity to also tour a Butterball turkey-rearing barn. (By the way, Kip set the world record soybean yield, and the fertilizer he used was turkey and broiler manure.)
Missouri’s livestock and grain producers plan to offer more tours in 2008. In each case the local press is invited, and I surely hope you accept the invitation to see for yourself, and not be like Willie Mae, who helped produce an important document without a lot of real information.
I feel sure your facts about the porous nature of the Ozarks is absolutely correct, but I have trouble figuring out what that has to do with pigs, turkeys, broilers or layers. Instead of being in the open barnyard where runoff could occur, they’re under roof, and their manure is strictly managed. Today I learned that layer manure goes for $40 per ton in Indiana, $300 per ton if granulated for golf courses. There’s enough manure in the state of Missouri to fill the need, all we have to do is get it from one place to the other.
Livestock rearing has evolved in response to demand for more product, and raising animals in modern facilities makes as much sense for farmers as the newspaper industry upgrading its own facilities and equipment. Intensive farming on fewer acres leaves more open space for recreation and wildlife. No way could Missouri produce what we do without thousands more farmers, and thousands more acres. Whatever criticism comes our way, we attempt to address the issue. We never disparage the farmer who wants to raise animals the way they were raised in Biblical times. It’s hard work (the hardest of which is marketing), and they deserve every penny extra they charge for their product.
It does not overstate the case to promise that if agriculture is driven out of the state and others, we’ll buy our food from Mexico, China or Brazil. Missouri corn and soybean farmers consider livestock farmers one of their biggest customers; if modern livestock is forced out, they shrink as well.
The comment comparing farmers raising animals under roof with certain felons was entirely uncalled for and supremely insulting to an industry that is the leading economic engine of our state.
Jo Manhart works for the Missouri Egg Council.
By Jo Manhart
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