This month you will start seeing stories about the top news events of the year. Farm publications will run articles about what were the top stories in agriculture in 2013. The Farm Bill, or lack thereof, the wet spring, the RFS debate, the Dodge Truck Super Bowl ad, the spread of PEDV, and the cattle disaster in South Dakota will all likely make these lists of top ag stories. While these are all noteworthy events, what may be more important is what did not make news in 2013.
For example, according to the USDA’s latest “U.S. Hogs and Pigs report,” United States inventory of all hogs and pigs on September 1, 2013 was 68.4 million head. This was up slightly from September 1, 2012, and up 3 percent from June 1, 2013. But what did not make the news was that 99.99999% of these hogs were not abused, mistreated, or neglected. While on-line videos tried to suggest otherwise, the largely unreported fact is that the pork production system increased the number of animals and did not increase incidence of inhumane treatment. Why this was not reported as news is easy to understand. Most reporters will tell you this is not news, and they would be right. People obeying the law and doing what they are expected to do is not news, but in this case perhaps it should be. When abuse of animals on farms goes viral on the internet, perhaps the fact that the overwhelming majority of farm animals are well treated and well cared for should be news. It would give the public a better perspective on livestock production.
In 2013 the US will produce one of the largest corn crops in history. In my state of Indiana corn growers will, for the first time ever, produce over 1 billion bushels. Outside of the ag press, this achievement has gotten very little notice. Contrast this to last year when a drought-shriveled crop sent prices skyrocketing and the press, policy makers, and the public worried what would happen if we ran out. There were predictions of food shortages and price hikes. This year an ample supply of grain has sent corn prices down to, at, or even below the cost of production. Absent have been reports of massive food surpluses, falling retail food prices, and concerns about what are we going to do with all this corn. In fact, the government has recently proposed a policy change that would reduce the demand for corn and increase the surplus even more. I mean, isn’t only logical that, if a short corn crop really makes food prices go up, a large crop should make prices go down? Perhaps if this really became news, consumers night get a better idea of what really impacts their grocery bill.
There are several other examples of significant events in agriculture that did not make headlines in 2013, including how much topsoil was not lost by farmers employing conservation methods, how many gallons of herbicides and insecticides were not used because growers planted biotech crops that have built-in protection, or that many millions of people consumed billions of pounds of food without getting sick or obese. When only the negative makes news, it is not surprising the public has a distorted view of our food production system.
By Gary Truitt