An open letter to consumers: 5 things farmers want you to know

Feb 21, 12 An open letter to consumers: 5 things farmers want you to know

Dear Texas Consumer,

As a farmer, I have a passion for growing things. I take enormous pride in providing your family the necessities of life—not only the food that nurtures them but the fiber that protects them from the sun, cold, wind and rain.

I wonder why many hold my profession in disregard. I see and hear it every day on the Internet, television and newspapers—industrial agriculture, factory farming, inhumane treatment of livestock—words that paint me as uncaring and unfeeling.

Maybe that’s my fault. I’d rather tend to my crops and livestock than talk. And when I do talk, I’ve lectured you about how what I do is based on science. I’ve had the attitude that because I’m a farmer and rancher, when it comes to food, I know best. I’ve told you that food is safe and affordable and abundant and that you should feel lucky you live in a country where farmers and ranchers are so productive and efficient.

I need to change my focus. I need to talk with you—instead of at you—because I have finally realized you have very real concerns about the food you provide your families. Because I grow that food, we need to have a conversation. I hope we get a chance to know each other. I’d like to share with you some things I feel passionate about…

  • I am a family farmer. I am not some faceless company that grows your food with reckless disregard for anything but profit. My family has farmed the same land for generations. I hope my children and grandchildren choose this way of life as well.
  • The environment is important. I cannot farm without the precious gifts of land and water. I must farm with care and caution and the practices I use must be sustainable—so the land will provide indefinitely and the water will be safe for my family and yours.
  • Food is all about choices.  Some consumers choose organic. Others prefer food that is locally grown. Most would rather buy their food off the grocery store shelves. That’s all okay. There is a farmer out there who is committed to ensuring your choice is fulfilled in a safe and responsible manner.
  • Inhumane treatment of livestock is not an option.  I assure you my livestock are humanely treated, are well fed and watered, and are looked after when sick. Proper care and nutrition—besides being the right thing to do—keep my livestock productive.  My income—and your choices at the meat counter—depend on it.
  • Farming is my job. I take my job seriously. A profitable farm ensures my children are well fed, clothed and enjoy the same opportunities as their friends in town.

I know you have a number of concerns about the food you eat. I want you to know that I share those concerns. I have a family, too.

Can we start a conversation?


A Texas farmer

Editor’s Note: Check out the top 5 concerns consumers have with farmers in Texas Farm Bureau’s other blog, Texas Agriculture Talks.


Cindy Wennin

Cindy Wennin is the Senior Graphic Designer for Texas Farm Bureau.

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  1. A friend shared this post with me, it’s very good.
    I work with companies in the Ag Field, and I have a great appreciation for farming.
    Before I worked in the field, I knew hardly anything about farming.
    Farmers are a key piece of the economy, so keep up your good work.
    Thanks for sharing :-)

  2. Can we start a conversation? Definitely!!! Let’s spread the word. A lot of fears comes from ignorance.

  3. mbarnett /

    So true, Zoe. And thanks, AJ!

  4. Thank you to all farmers who farm with regenerative practices in mind. I do not like what Monsanto and the rest of the biotech firms and the chemical firms are doing to farmers. They are telling them that the only way to farm is to use toxic pesticides and that genetically engineered seed is better than regular seed . It is simply not true. People are realizing that these practices are making our air, water and soil so toxic that we are poisoning ourselves and the environment in a way that is prevalent in many health issues we are facing today. Also, the loss of our natural pollinators, the butterflies and bees and natural pest controllers like bats are being affected by all the pollutants Farmers have a very hard job. I have helped on my stepmothers farm and although it was hard work , it was also joyous and rewarding. we did it all organically and we did not have to worry…
    I worry for the farmers and I am waiting to hear good news that they will be able to carry on farming in a way that does not hurt the earth and any living creatures. I know that many organic and certified natural farmers have had to face extreme difficulties in these times because of farms that have been taken over by big corporations, but it is time to stand up for our family farmers who work very hard and while they love what they do, they must also feed thier families and to do that they need to be able to keep thier farms.

    I admire a certain farmer by the name of Joel Salatin. He is very down to earth and has an approach that I hope one day to carry on as well. I would like farmers to be able to farm the land the way they want, and not how corporations tell them. People want healthy whole food. It may seem that we are in a slump about that, but again, in the face of all the epidemics in our country this is changing. Organic farm practices are showing us the way to keep our world, the entire world , whole and able to sustain us for many many more years without further damage to our ecosystems.

  5. mbarnett /

    Maria, I think you many misconceptions about real world farmers.

    You make many sweeping statements about toxic air, soil and water caused by agricultural practices leading to health and environmental problems. Is that why life expectancy is higher than it has ever been? Is that why farmers are realizing bigger yields on fewer acres while using less fertilizer and pesticides?

    Farmers–large and small–are the most independent people I know. Large corporations are not telling them how to farm. Farmers use a variety of practices–such as planting genetically modified seeds as well as conventional seeds and using herbicides and pesticides judiciously, or not using them at all–because it fits their situation. Many times they choose a particular tool because it helps them be more efficient in conserving precious soil and water resources. Sustainable? I belive so. They are employing best practices that fit their situation.

    I think any farmers will tell you that choice is a good thing and would respect your choice to go organic. You say many small organic farmers are being forced out business by huge corporations. That is simply not true, in my experience. I know organic farmers who have targeted a niche market and are making a great living serving that niche.

    And that’s where I think we are in agriculture. Some serve the organic market, others serve the local market, many are large farmers. Some 97 percent of all these different kinds of farmers are family operations. They are responding to market forces and all are in the business of feeding and clothing people.

  6. THank you for your post mbarnett.
    I am speaking about how farmers are being told how to farm by corporations that do not hold the farmers or consumers best interest at heart. Right now, genetically engineered crops are being planted by farmers and these have many problems that go along with them. The biotech’s vision of agriculture is adulterated . They see $$ and that is their sole interest. The propaganda about feeding the world is just that.. they tell farmers that gm crops are better than what they have been planting and that these will require less pesticides and herbicides. Right now the chemical companies are lobbying to have very toxic chemical deregulated. 2 4 D is one such chemical that I know of and I know I do not want sprayed anywhere near the food that my family eats. This technology is deregulated, untested and the products unlabeled. This is not fair. The gm crops contaminate the crops of farmers who do not want to plant this . Livestock owners are having trouble sourcing non gmo feed for their animals and I do not want to buy animals fed gmo feed. I feel that farmers will have to rethink the way they farm if they use chemicals and gm crops. In the past we relied on tilling the soil and crop rotation. Now farmers are planting vast monocrops that are not regenerative and deplete the soil of nutrients that organic farming relies on.
    We do not need vast monocrops to feed people. With the technologies available right now , organic agriculture is the best way for us to produce our food protect our resources.
    Ag secretary TOm Vilsack is on a crusade to have our nation be a leading biofuel producer. That is a mistake and a bad idea. We must stop the cycle of chemical and toxic farming. Our life expectancy is longer but many of us are being affected by health issues that are on the rise. Allergies, eosinophilic esophagitis, cancers, diabetes, a d d and other diseases are becoming more prevalent. Wildlife and biodiversity is affected. Our water supply is affected,The water in my town has toxins above the federal limit and we are told this is normal and to go on drinking. With time, this will only get worse. It is time to address this and agriculture has a lot to do with the issues of our environment.

  7. Yes. I have a question for cattle producers who sell their cattle to feedlots.

    Can someone please educate me on what happens to the cattle you raise, cared for, and tended to after you sell it off to the feedlot to the time it’s slaughtered. What happens that last 60-120 days of it’s life?

  8. Thank you for trying to reach out to people. I’m not a farmer but live in Ag Land and greatly appreciate all my farmer neighbors and friends.
    It has pained me to see the few unacceptable and inhumane farms, or spot snippets of video showing a poor scene without the real story behind it, and touted as “This is what your farmers are all doing” I know this isn’t true.
    The hours farmers keep and the low income they make compared to other business make it definately a labor of love, built on God’s time which insensitive neighbors moving from the city to the picturesque country do not understand or appreciate. The loud noise the farmer makes which must be ceased because it disturbs their peace is not noted when they pick something off the shelves of their grocery.
    You have our support

  9. mbarnett /

    Mara, you say farmers will have to rethink the way they farm as you imply they are shills of giant corporations. Farmers rethink the way they farm every day. That’s why they continue to make progress toward getting more out of less–less land, less water, less fertilizer, less inputs.

    You say biotech’s vision is alduterated. I would say you have a very alduterated view of the family farmer. The ones I know are independent. They are making the right decisions based on the best technology for their situation and the needs of their consumers based on years of experience.

    Here’s how one farmer I have the highest regard for would answer your charge. This is a direct quote from our Texas Farm Bureau Facebook page on this very same topic:

    “Farmers have taken decades to learn how to deal with the changing times while our customers still see us often in the days of Lassie.”

    Agriculture has made tremendous strides toward conserving precious land and water resources while meeting the needs of a growing population.

    And that growing population, as I mentioned before, has various and diverse needs. There’s a farmer to meet everyone of them.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog.

    • Maria, while obviously quite intelligent, you are SO misinformed…..If you think Organic Farming is the answer to the all your/our woes, you are dreaming. Not to mention, the hidden skulduggery that goes on in that sector of Farming.
      Organic farming, for one, would produce less than half the food now produced…..I dont think I need say what that would cause!!
      I personally have a major HATE for Monsanto, but for reasons that most wouldn’t understand. Perhaps you should do a little more research on GM crops, and the benefits, not drawbacks they provide us, as farmers.
      MBarnett….you are spot on!!

      ps. There is one Organic grain producer near here, and it disgusts me, to see what he has done to that land, not to mention how it has affected every producer down wind from him. THAT, is criminal.

  10. mbarnett /

    JC, when cattle go to the feedlot, they are receive fresh feed daily, where they are going to gain 500 to 600 pounds over a 150 day to 240 day period on a nutrient rich diet formulated by cattle nutritionists. The animals are kept comfortable–if they weren’t comfortable, they wouldn’ eat. They don’t eat, they don’t gain weight. And they receive regular health care, probably better than you or I. And yes, at the designated time, they do go to the packing house to become the meat that meets the needs of Americans and many across the world.

  11. M Barnett,
    You misunderstand me. Farmers are heroes. I love all farmers. I do not love the biotech industry which is misleading some farmers into planting crops that put money in the pockets of monsanto and co. I have spoken to several farmers who were told by thier seed suppliers (selling monsanto seed, monsanto has purchased 80% if not more of the seed companies in the usa) who said they were told that gmo seed is “organic” and requires less pesticide and is better. This is misrepresentation and some farmers trust thier seed suppliers. This angers me.
    I am all for changes to help family farmers, I would do anything for farmers, but I do not want to see them fall victim to the lies of the biotech /chemical industry. They have loads of money and will do anything to keep the bucks coming. I stand for farmers and I want to see farmers use technologies that will keep them independent from monsanto seed.

    • Maria – this has been said several times, but once more…Farmers do business with corporations. They are not held hostage. GMO technology selects for genetic traits that could be done by conventional means if one wanted to take the time. GMO’s accelerate the process. Many of the things posted on the Interet about this are a fantasy. No human DNA in corn, no scorpion DNA in tomatoes..and so on. Much land currently under cultivation could not be farmed if not for this technology. If you think about it, to say that farmers, among the nation’s most independent business people, are somehow forced to plant under economic threat – is just a bit insulting. We can agree to disagree, but extrapolating the tiniest theoretical risk and reporting them as dead certainty has gone on entirely too long.

      • Ghall, as a fruit breeder, your comments stating that “GMO technology selects for genetic traits that could be done by conventional means if one wanted to take the time” is incorrect. I cannot breed my apricots to have BT insecticide within each cell, like the BT corn that was developed using GMO technology, no matter if I had centuries to do it. GMO breeding allows two species not normally compatible, to be bred together, so while there isn’t scorpion DNA in tomatoes, I hate to say it, but they use Rat DNA. As a person who gets a kick out of technology, I admire the accomplishment behind the science, but just because we can do something, it doesn’t mean we should. Would anyone really want to eat corn that has insecticide built into each cell of the plant?

        The argument that GMO crops will allow us to feed the growing world, is false; there is no marginal land land around here that is now under cultivation because GMO crops are able to grow in it. I certainly don’t think the big bio-tech companies started GMOs to the premise of saving humanity.

        Drought resistant GMO corn is no more drought resistant than current conventional corn varieties, so what is the point?

        Insects are overcoming the built in insecticide in BT corn & BT cotton, so farmers are having to apply other pesticides to overcome this, so what is the point?

        Weeds are overcoming the herbicides that are being sprayed on herbicide resistant GMO crops, so now cotton farmer have to employ workers to hand weed the fields, so what is the point? Now, harsher chemicals such as 2-4-D are being looked at as answers to this problem.

        Having bio-tech companies submit their safety findings to the government, which is then rubber stamped for approval is not the way to ensure safety. We have enough of a problem when government agencies tell us what is and what isn’t safe, but now we are going to believe and for profit corporations?

        For every paper promoting the benefits of GMO’s, there are 5 that say the opposite. For the general consumer, who are they supposed to believe, the “left winged environmentalists” or the “right winged evil corporations”? There are extremists on both sides.

        All I know is, I can sleep at night with the food that I produce, knowing that I have done everything in my power to make it safe. How can any farmer who uses pesticides and GMO crops feel the same? All they can hope for is that the information that has been given to them from corporations is honest and accurate. If you look at the past record of DDT, Agent Orange, etc. I don’t know how there could be a high level of trust there? A child cannot accidentally kill himself playing with a gun, if there is no gun to begin with, which is why I don’t grow with pesticides and GMO’s.

        • You know Dean, your is a well thought out and reasoned response that I considered not responding to. Until I got to the part about rat DNA in tomatoes! I conducted a pretty exhaustive study of all the research I could locate on GMOs since our first dust up on our other blog a couple of years ago. I am certain there is no GMO tomato on the market today. The Calgene tomato was the first and so far only effort here and it was simply a manipulation of the gene that influences ripening to give it longer shelf life. I am also certain there is no cross species genetic manipulation going on with food products. The visions of teaching a plant by GM modification to manufacture insecticide is a little far fetched, since I’m already typing. What they do is select for a TRAIT that is insect repellent or immune to certain chemical herbicides. My search included dozens of phone calls, far beyond what I’d get just by mining the Internet. Your other claims? My research indicates some different conclusions. We’ll have to agree to disagree. There are quite a few independent and peer reviewed studies out there. The govt didn’t just accept the developer’s research and let it go at that. But as I said, we’ll agree to disagree. I don’t have any hope of changing your mind and you have none of changing mine. I’m just more comfortable with the technology. And today, I don’t have the energy or time for one of those long circular conversations this subject always generates. I’ll give you the last word. Good luck to you.

          • Gene, I appreciate your response. I just need to clarify a few things I guess I didn’t explain well enough.

            Indeed, the GMO “Flavor Savor” tomato is not on the market anymore, but the fact remains that in the process of inserting genetic material from a normally incompatible species, some additional DNA must be inserted which acts as a carrier, and Rat DNA has been and continues to be used for this purpose in creating GMO organisms. This isn’t wild speculation, this is just part of the process.

            You are correct, BT corn does not produce a petroleum based insecticide inside the plant; scientists cannot do that as of yet. However, BT is a naturally occurring soil bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis. This bacterium produces a protein that kills Lepidoptera larvae, in particular, European corn borer. So although the concept of having a plant that produces it’s own insecticide(naturally or synthetic) seems far fetched, it is a reality. Again, I have to ask, how safe is it for humans or animals to eat food that has insecticide in each cell?

            You state that you are “certain that there are no cross species manipulation going on with food products”, but that is the whole point of GMO’s; they are creating organisms that cannot occur in nature. How about inserting a gene from the Arctic Flounder fish in Strawberries to help protect strawberries from frost? Not something you would find in nature!

            As for government testing on the safety of new GMO’s, just ask them, they do not do any testing on them, only review the tests results from the bio-tech company.

            It’s true that you and I probably won’t ever see eye to eye, and there are many people on both sides of this issue. Of course, when you disagree with me, you can just let it go at that and continue on your life. But people such as myself, who believe that GMO’s & pesticides are destroying our world, find it pretty difficult to just walk away without trying to “save the earth”. When we sign petitions, or walk in protests, we are labeled as “left winged enviro-terrorists, treehuggers, fear mongerers, and anti-technology”.

            Unfortunately, with this issue there can’t really be a compromise as pollen from GMO plants will infect their non-GMO cousins until one day there won’t be any plants that will be GMO free. The conspiracy theorist inside me says, this is the plan all along.

  12. mbarnett /

    All: We are not here to condemn nor defend Monsanto or any other group. Let’s keep the discussion to the merits or disadvantages of whatever kind of farming you are interested in keep the conversation civil. Thanks all for your interest and participation!

    • Said I was done here…but based on subesquent conversations that are near 100% in error, I’ve got to log on one more time before I’m off to enjoy the Houston Rodeo. Based on several year’s conversation with actual scientists and reading the record…not relying on the web for my conclusions…Here are some facts. There is no rat DNA in any food product, no human DNA in corn and no artic flounder in strawberries. None, nada, zilch. Biotechnology is about selecting for desirable traits, nothing more. That’s the truth. This subject is the World Wide Web’s heavyweight champ for misinformation, misdirection, half truth and outright falsehoods. It’s a shame that Luddite thinking has such a hold on so many good people.

  13. Hey all. Every morning I wake up, I have my farmers to thank for putting food on our table. I hold Farmers in the very highest regard, because I know how hard they work for the greater good. I am so lucky to be able to purchase my food directly from my farmer through a food co op and this is the very best I feel I can do for my family.

    I would like to hear a little more about you mbarnett and your farm. What do you grow/farm? How do you go about it? If I had my wish I would be out there on the field right now,but sadly, my time has not come yet. What goes on in the life of a farmer? I would like to know!

    • mbarnett /

      Maria, I am not a farmer. I have been an editor for agricultural publications for over 30 years–the last 25 as editor of Texas Agriculture, Texas Farm Bureau’s newspaper for farmers and ranchers. I am also one of the moderator of this blog.

  14. and wow George, I am curious what happened on that organic land that you are talking about? Can you tell us more?

    • Certainly… has been farmed ‘organic’ for many yrs. now. It is so badly infested with weeds, that it produces only a small fraction of what it is capable of. Yet the owner made a comment to my Father, a number of yrs. ago, that “this organic farming is a license to print money”. I highly doubt it….sure he gets considerably more for his grain, but the severe reduction in yield, in no way can catch up to higher $$ for his product. When you can SEE the ground, travelling by on the highway at 60+mph, in a mature crop of wheat, you can imagine the amount of grain that is there. And that is on summerfallow, not recropped!!
      As for his poor downwind neighbors….i can only feel sorry for them, and wonder why they dont contact the County, to stop the spread of the noxious weeds seeds, that become airborn, and spread countless miles.
      And just for the record, I am in my 36th yr. of actively farming dryland.

      Thanx for yor comments, MBarnett. I just stumbled on to this site, from a post by a friend on Facebook.

  15. MARIA
    I would be interested in hearing more about yor farmer friends, that have apparently been told that GMO seed is ‘organic’. Someone sure needs to be corrected, for the good of all/anyone involved.

  16. Did a farmer write that original letter – is it the one in the picture? Strange the letter is not signed by a real person – how can we be sure to have a conversation with an anonymoous source. Or maybe I’m missunderstanding, and it is intended to be a “general conversation” about issues, etc.

    It has the feel of marketing – but maybe I’m just way off-base?

    • Brent, the idea behind the post is so that people like you can initiate your own conversations – the letter (as stated below) was written as a conversation-starter and not by a farmer, per se. This organization is doing a great job of communicating with consumers, but just as it is our job to communicate with you, you must communicate with us. We’re here to answer questions – just ask!

  17. Mike Barnett /

    Brent, you are right that this was intended to be a general conversation–or a discussion starter–about the food we eat.

    We tried an experiment, on our two blogs and Facebook page, here at Texas Farm Bureau last week, which was Food Check-Out Week. We posted two letters composed by our own writers.

    One, on our farmer and rancher blog, Texas Agriculture Talks was from a composite consumer, laying out concerns about how food is grown in the U.S. This post, on our consumer blog, Texas Table Top, explains what a typical farmer would like consumers to know.

    The letter from the consumer was based on extensive public opinion research. The letter from the farmer was based on years of observations and conversations with Texas farmers and ranchers.

    A third post, that ran on both blogs, tied everything together and explained what we were doing.

  18. Matthew S /

    I am an nth generation farmer from Saskatchewan, Canada, and I very much appreciate the effort to educate consumers about the food that we all provide and eat!

    I do believe that there should be more education about the different farming sectors to the general public, with retorts from each one publicly (such as this!). As MBARNETT has said, each sector serves its own purpose and group of consumers.

    Today’s agricultural practices have come so far technologically in order to provide the safest and most effective farm management practices in history.

    On that note, I find it offensive that there are accusations from consumers about certain methods of agriculture. Rather than make accusations, we need to realize that agriculture has become a consumer-driven industry. Consumers hold food safety, availability and quality above all else so that is what we provide. Each method just does it differently.

    Instead of making accusations, ask questions and see what the people who are in the industry have to say.

  19. Angie /

    I am also originally from Saskatchewan and have great respect for our farmers, as my dad, grandfather and great grandfather have all be farmers in there time. I am annoyed that this wasn’t a real letter from a real farmer but I am not surprised. Sure there needs to be a conversation about all of this, so I will forgive the misleading start to the dialogue. Firstly, lay off the organic farmers weeds, a weed is just plant whose virtues have yet be discovered. Yes it is nice to see a beautiful crop without weeds but there are real costs to the environment as well.
    Our farm land is currently leased out to a neighbor who last year sprayed like crazy and the chemicals when sprayed have made my mom feel sick for days from it. She is not a fan of the amount of chemicals used. She has sen a negative impact on our land. She is also not impressed with how Monsanto has SUED farmers, the are a horrible company.
    Monsanto has been buying up all the seed companies and a monopoly by them is in NO ones best interests.They say their products are safe but they have NEVER even tested the GM crops for safety. And they are trying to shut up the scientists who have found negative effects such as causing cancer and infertility in lab animals. Search the natural news sites to get the scoop on that. If I get the land passed on to me I will not allow one Monasanto product on it.
    My friend Maria who is in her 80’s and has her farm still near Kenndy, SK , calls what is going on chemical farming and thinks it is horrible. So not all farmers love the way things are right now. GM seeds need to be tested for safety and labelled, and by some one independent.
    It is unfortunate though that it is so hard to make a living at a family farm on the prairies and higher yeilds are important, so it is a tough position to be in. Also the switch to organic takes years to go without pesticides and herbicides and is a difficult transition to make. Why are we not finding ways to make it easier for the small family farms to survive, the Conservative party in AB, the Saskatchewan party in SK and the NDP party in MB, none of them have done enough. As voters non farmers need to voice there concerns and support for help for farmers as well. Which ever type of farming you choose we need to be careful. Let us not turn this into a war between farmers and consumers. We need to protect each other and support each other. Also it isn’t the farmers fault if he is buying seeds that he is told are tested and safe and will give his family the best chance of surviving, and those seeds were maybe not so well tested by Monsanto. Long live the family farm!

  20. Angie /

    Also sorry for my typos and bad spelling. I feel so passionately about these issues that I was in a bit of a rush to comment. :-)

  21. Frank /

    There are concerns now that gentically modified seeds are not safe. Search Ibu Robin Lim who is seeing changes to the umbilical cords of women who started eating gm soy products, or the multigenerational feeding study done in Austria with gm corn, showing higher mortality and decreased fertility. Look on youtube or natural news (.com) and research this topic. Monsanto has spent soo much money on their gm seeds they do not want to admit they aren’t safe.

  22. mbarnett /

    Angie and Frank,

    We are perfectly willing to carry on a reasonable discussion about the perceived merits and disadvantages of genetically modified seeds. What we will not do is get into Monsanto-bashing. We are not here to defend or deny their business or practices and will not post any more comments–pro or con–on that company.

  23. Hirek /

    I,m not aware that their is so much corruption with our food .As a consumer I will start thinking before I buy.Thank you for advise.I support hard working farmers and their concerns


  1. The conversation begins between farmers and consumers | Texas Ag Talks - [...] consumer, laying out concerns about how food is grown in the U.S. The other, on our consumer blog, here …
  2. Letter from a Concerned Consumer | Texas Ag Talks - [...] Editor’s Note: Check out 5 things farmers want consumers to know on Texas Farm Bureau’s other blog, Texas Table Top. …

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