Voice of Reason: Iowa Pork Producer Dave Struthers Offers Top 10 Tips to Speak Up for Ag

 

With 40 years of hog production under his belt, Iowa pork producer Dave Struthers has seen it all, from pasture production to confinement barns to hoop barns. He’s also willing to help set the record straight about modern pork production and encourages other farmers to do the same.

“There’s a lot of misinformation out there about modern agriculture and livestock production,” said Struthers, a past president of the Iowa Pork Producers Association who farms near Collins. “Since people often don’t take the time to investigate or seek out more information on their own, it’s important for farmers to offer their perspective.”

Here are Struthers’ top 10 tips to help share agriculture’s story:

  1. Be a voice of reason. Who knows more about the realities of modern agriculture than the farmers who live it every day? “I tell people there are pros and cons of every swine production system,” said Struthers, who runs a farrow-to-finish operation along with a row-crop operation with his family. “I try to offer a practical point of view and provide a voice of reason.” Struthers takes a practical approach when non-farm audiences raise concerns about whether pigs are happy in confinement barns. “What tells me a pig is happy is when it’s healthy and growing,” he said.
  2. Say yes to opportunities. When the local newspaper, area radio station or major news outlet comes calling, be willing to go on the record, said Struthers, who raises approximately 250 sows and also has hoop barns. Along with participating in many media interviews, Struthers has appeared in the Humane Society of the United States’ documentary film “At the Fork” and has hosted international visitors on his farm. In addition, Struthers and his wife, Elaine, have helped with a bacon festival in San Francisco. “Don’t be afraid to engage,” he said. “It’s good to have these conversations and keep the lines of communication open.”
  3. Explain what motivates you. Farming is a multi-generation tradition for the Struthers family. “We’re in this for the long haul and care about our animals,” said Struthers, who has raised hogs since he was 9 years old.
  4. Share your practical experience. This extends from livestock care to nutrient management. “Just explain what you’ve seen and experienced on your farm,” said Struthers, who points out things that are interesting to non-farm audiences, such as the fact that he checks his animals daily and keeps daily observation records of the hogs. “I also explain that swine manure is a valuable asset on our farm,” said Struthers, whose family received the Wergin Good Farm Neighbor award this October. “I note that we soil test every three years and test the manure’s nutrient content, as needed, so fertility is managed properly on our farm.”
  5. Don’t hold anything back. Struthers is willing to explain the production practices he uses, from confinement barns to biosecurity protocols to tail docking. “Just be open and honest,” he said. Also, acknowledge that farms are complex biological systems, and there are no silver bullets. When asked about various production systems, Struthers addresses the challenges of livestock production in Iowa. “Pigs outdoors are wonderful when it’s 75 degrees and sunny. It’s not so good in freezing rain or snowstorms. Indoors we can create a consistent, comfortable environment and also provide good ventilation and air quality.”
  6. Be prepared for hot-button issues. Acknowledge that many people are concerned about manure management, water quality and antibiotic and hormone use in livestock production. Struthers explains to non-farm audiences that he only uses hormones when a sow is having trouble giving birth. “I use oxytocin, which is metabolized by the sow’s body and excreted in about 30 minutes,” he said. “I also note that this treatment is similar to Pitocin, the brand name of the hormone oxytocin that women sometimes use to have a baby.”
  7. Use analogies. Linking farm-specific information to examples that non-farm audiences can relate to is key. Consider antibiotic use in livestock. “I ask people, ‘If your child gets sick, are you going to cross your fingers and hope she gets better? No. You’re going to give her the medicine she needs.’ If antibiotics are required to help a sick pig, it would be contrary to animal well-being not to treat that animal.” Struthers also tells his audiences that all meat at the grocery store is antibiotic-free, since there are mandatory withdrawal times, plus packers conduct tissue tests to make sure the meat is antibiotic-free.
  8. Help others learn. Be willing to host farm tours, share information through social media and blogs, answer people’s questions and find other ways to help them learn. “Be proactive, and share what you know,” Struthers said. “Become a trusted source of information.”
  9. Be realistic. Having all the answers isn’t a prerequisite for sharing ag’s story. “If you can’t answer a question, be honest,” Struthers said. “Also, refer the person to Iowa State University, the Iowa Department of Agriculture or other resource that can provide the answer.” In addition, understand that everyone may not agree with your point of view about modern pork production practices, but that’s okay. “It’s progress when these people say, ‘You know, I can see why you’re doing what you’re doing,’” Struthers said.
  10. Focus on continuous improvement. Struthers is Pork Quality Assurance (PQA) Plus certified, plus his farm has been part of a site assessment to ensure that best-management practices are being followed. Struthers also works closely with his local veterinarian. “I’m always trying to learn more and improve our farming operation,” he said.

Finally, keep connecting with non-farm audiences, Struthers said. “The more you share agriculture’s story, the easier it gets. “

This originally appeared in Farm News, Oct. 2016. 

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@Copyright 2016 Darcy Maulsby & Co. 


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