Agriculture should be welcome in our state

A headline appeared in my Google Alerts recently: “Opinions differ on Curryville’s pork proposal.” Of course, that piqued the interest of this ag journalist. I had to find out just what “pork proposal” was causing such a stink.

Turns out, stink is exactly the issue—or non-issue, so it seems. A resident just outside this town of 225 people in eastern Missouri wants to raise hogs inside the city limits. Not just any hogs, however. Show hogs. The producer, who is also an agriculture teacher and FFA sponsor at nearby Bowling Green High School, was going to buy property in town and raise hogs to help 4-H and FFA members who were interested in exhibiting livestock but lacked the facilities to do so.

The problem? Curryville ordinances banned swine from being raised within city limits. However, cattle, horses, goats and even limited amounts of poultry were allowed.

Arguments against the proposal centered around smell, even though the pigs would be raised indoors. Much of the excitement was over the excrement, but proponents pointed out that poop is poop. In other words, the feces of a pig smells no worse than the feces of any other livestock or even domesticated animals such as a household dog.

Ultimately, the council voted 4-2 in favor of amending the city’s ordinance to allow nine pigs per household.

On the surface, this is just a small-town squabble over swine. But to me, it’s more than prejudice against pigs. Arguing against someone raising show animals for youth livestock projects is another example of the disconnect between agriculture and the general public today, even in an agrarian town like Curryville.

We’ve all seen the statistics. Less than 2 percent of the U.S. workforce is involved directly in agricultural production today, compared to 40 percent in 1900, according to USDA. That means most Americans are far removed from ag experience. Consumers concerned about farming practices often turn to elected officials, many of whom are also disconnected from agriculture.

Agriculture is Missouri’s No. 1 industry, so you’d think that this disconnect wouldn’t be so pronounced here. But it is. Some 70 percent of our state’s residents live in urban and suburban areas, so rural Missouri is in the minority. We’ve even had to establish a program that allows counties to publicly declare that they are open to agriculture. Missouri Farmers Care, a coalition of 45 leading agricultural groups in the state—including MFA—developed the Agri-Ready designation in 2015 to recognize counties that create an environment conducive to ag.

The voluntary program is meant to showcase proactive commitment by local governments to encourage long-term economic growth in the farming sector, whether that means recruiting another business or encouraging someone who’s already invested in the county to expand or change the way they do business.

As of November, 46 counties in Missouri have been designated as “Agri-Ready,” including Pike County, where Curryville is located. That’s pretty good progress for a 2-year-old program, but that still leaves 68 counties to go.

The reason we need a program like this is the same reason McDonald’s has to put the warning “HOT” on their coffee cups. Someone sued. Likewise, nonfarming residents bring nuisance lawsuits against agricultural businesses, especially larger operations, and launch complaints about smell, noise, dust, pests and applications of fertilizer and crop protectants. Too often, these issues cause lawmakers to enact ordinances to “fix” or prevent the problem.

Local decisions to restrict agriculture can have lasting ramifications on farmers, ranchers and agribusiness. Restrictive ordinances increase risk, which can make obtaining operating capital more challenging, and create an environment that dissuades new business. The Agri-Ready program exists to help solve problems on the front end and promote agriculture as a strong foundation of a healthy local economy.

The fact that we need an Agri-Ready program in a state where agriculture has a total economic impact of $88.4 billion is hard to fathom. It’s also hard to imagine that we have to educate neighbors in a farm town that a few show pigs won’t decrease property values or create offensive odors. But that’s our reality, and these same challenges persist across MFA territory. If your county isn’t Agri-Ready yet, ask officials, “Why not?” If you hear of ordinances and laws being passed or challenged that would affect agricultural interests, speak up. Those of us who understand agriculture must continue to fight for the right to farm.

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