What’s wrong with ag and the ag universities

I attended a pastured pig conference all day yesterday in Greensboro. The conference was very well attended and very well produced. It was really worth my time and I learned a lot. It will take me hours to document everything I learned in a post but hopefully I’ll have some hours shortly to get it done.

There were people there from NC State, NC A&T, and a few other universities in Texas and Colorado. Everything on the agenda was about raising pigs outdoors, marketing outdoor pigs, managing outdoor pigs, etc so this was all about producing healthy, sustainable pork that we can market with confidence to our customers. However there was one comment that day that stuck with me because it demonstrated the disconnect between what consumers want and what the people advising and training producers perceive.

One of the presenters, a man with a PhD who has spent his life in Ag science, made the comment that consumers wanted anti-biotic free pork. Yep, that’s true. I hear it all the time. Then he made the comment that what consumers didn’t know was that they were getting anti-biotic pork already from every producer including Smithfield and any other mega producer. But he cautioned us not to bring it up because it was a marketing advantage for us small producers. Basically wink wink, keep lying to your customers. Now I’m sitting there confused, because all I know is that big producers use anti-biotics routinely. Luckily he continued on to say that before any of the producers process their hogs, they have followed the withdrawal period ( a short window of non use before slaughter, can be as little as one day) for anti-biotic use so the hogs “don’t have anti-biotics.”

I didn’t challenge this gentleman, because when you are there to learn you use the one mouth, two ears philosophy. I also appreciated overall what he was teaching us, but this comment stuck with me. Effectively the opinion of the university staff was that if we follow the withdrawal period guidelines then the pig has ZERO anti-biotics and is the same as a pig I raised that has NEVER had anti-biotics. It wasn’t viewed that that was somehow tricking the consumer. It was more that the consumer was too ignorant or misinformed to know the difference but don’t worry, we can use that ignorance to our advantage. Hmm, not real pleased with this.

I certainly don’t agree with this philosophy but if was an interesting bit of insight into the disconnect between the ag universities, big ag producers, and you the consumer. Even at a conference that was all about open production and sustainable farming, this kind of thinking was still evident. It was also said from the beginning to the end that pigs cannot make it on anything less than a grain based diet. Sure, put them on pasture but you have to give them corn or some type of purchased ration every day. Again, I held my tongue. Who I am to challenge somebody with a PhD and a lifetime in this field. Maybe when I’ve been doing this 10 years I’ll have a stronger opinion but for now I’m still learning. Either way, it pays to know your farmer and what you are getting.

2 Replies to “What’s wrong with ag and the ag universities”

  1. In many ways we are in the early days of re-discovering sustainability. Over time, this line of thinking will become the exception, not the rule. I’ve seen a similar renaissance take place in medicine and IT. Sunlight is the best disinfectant.

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