It would be awfully easy today to immerse ourselves in a negative spiral induced by a doom-and-gloom outlook on agriculture. There are some places to look, however, to snap us out of this.
I’m blessed with opportunities to interact with young people from the age of my sons in high school through to students in the undergraduate, veterinary and graduate studies curricula at Kansas State University (KSU). We’ve also welcomed students from 17 other colleges of veterinary medicine to our beef cow-calf and feedlot electives.
When you combine that with the young people (and parents) involved in 4-H and FFA, it’s hard to be overly pessimistic about the next generation of agriculture being raised in the country. Sure, we aren’t going to keep all of them on the farm or ranch, but I believe this new generation is hitting the ground with a new awareness of agriculture in society and the need for active communication and interaction with our consumers.
Our agricultural youth are teaching us all about finding our voice as a food animal industry in the seemingly hopeless maze of social media that is flying around in “the cloud” of cyberspace.
An example of these emerging leaders is KSU’s Food For Thought group (http://bloggingfoodforthought.
blogspot.com/). These students and recent graduates work to engage others in discussions about what really goes on in animal agriculture. All we need to do is support young people like these, give them science-based resources, and then stay out of their way. We have a whole new generation of leaders in agriculture bent on aggressively communicating our story to their peers.
If you’re interested in ramping up your communication for the beef industry, one place to start is the Masters of Beef Advocacy program provided by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. Check this out at www.beefusa.org.
I believe we’re also poised on the brim of an era in which we start to figure out how to actually manage the technology that’s been placed in our hands in the last 50 years. The work being done on managing feed and water resources is staggering. There are incredible strides being made in vaccine, anti-infective and performance-enhancement technology. Not all of it will make it to market, or make a difference when it does, but there are some real rock stars working on solutions.
Maybe it’s just me hitting the big 5-O, but more and more of us are realizing that all this technology is just part of the picture in attempting to make disease a very small part of our production settings.
Commonsense attention to genetic selection, environmental and nutritional stressors, and just plain taking care of the animals remain our biggest tools. It’s been a common theme in this column by all authors over the years that management doesn’t fit through a needle.
It’s probably dangerous to make this next statement in a time of anti-food animal activists using whatever leverage they can get, and of regulatory agencies forgetting that we have legislative branches of government. But, some of the outside pressures related to issues such as animal welfare, environment and the use of antibiotics have brought some good to the industry.
We’re talking about these issues, we’re less tolerant of those in our industry who violate our husbandry standards, and we’re engaging in talks about long-term outcomes of current practices. As an example, I feel good about advances in the industry related to animal handling and disposition of debilitated or down animals. We made the changes, but I think we would have to admit that some prodding to get with it came from outside the industry.
The industry will probably look different in the future, but we have the developing leadership to balance the spreadsheets, technology and consumer relations to assure that it will still be here.
Mike Apley, DVM, PhD, is a professor in clinical sciences at Kansas State University in Manhattan.