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U.S. FARMERS & RANCHERS ALLIANCE CEO: WE ARE BEING HEARD
by Randy Krotz, CEO, U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance (USFRA)

On November 11-12, 2014 U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance (USFRA) participated in the New York Time's "Food for Tomorrow" conference held at Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Pocantino Hills, NY - a place many would call a "foodie" mecca.

The theme of this event was "Farm Better. Eat Better. Feed the World". It was hosted by the New York Times with prominent positioning of Mark Bittman, Michael Pollan, Sam Kass, Tom Colicchio and many other celebrity columnists, activists and chefs. This event was closely monitored by food influencers and decision makers around the country.

The visibility and influence opportunity is why USFRA decided to be involved by sponsoring a panel of farmers on the topic of "Big Ag, Big Food: How being good for the Environment is not about Size".

We knew the attacks on "industrialized" agriculture and the American food system would be difficult and continuous, but we also knew that without USFRA's involvement, the voices of farmers and ranchers would not be heard.

I believe USFRA changed the tone of the conversation at this significant event from one of attack to one of dialogue - a key goal for us in conversation with all detractors. The USFRA panelists, as well as the farmers who came with us from our board and leadership, showed that American agriculture wants to be part of the dialogue on tough topics - and that we are committed to healthy food for everyone.

Please know, this would not have happened without our involvement.

As I was talking to attendees after our farmer panel, I heard over and over "it was so good to have different voices at the table" and "I'm so glad the farmers were here" and "this turned into a dialogue instead of a one-way conversation". This is a big part of what USFRA is all about.

Our panel was moderated by Frank Sesno, director of George Washington University School of Media and Public Affairs and former CNN Washington, D.C., bureau chief. Our farmers and ranchers included:

Julie Maschhoff, pig farmer and vice president, public policy and public relations, The Maschhoffs, Carlyle, IL

Bruce Rominger, farmer, Rominger Brothers Farm, Winters, CA

Joan Ruskamp, cattle feeder, Dodge, NE

Many panels after ours reflected on what our farmers had to say about sustainability. We saw a clear change in tone during the conference.

Mark Bittman, in particular, changed much of his language about large farming from the first day of the conference to the second day. Although he remained critical about antibiotic use, government involvement in agricultural regulation and the food industry in general, he seemed to welcome our farmers' voices.

We would never expect or really try to change Mark Bittman's opinions - he is clearly focused on radically overhauling government oversight of agriculture - but we would like him and others to understand and acknowledge farmers' and ranchers' commitment to providing healthy food for everyone in a sustainable way.

On day one he said things in his opening remarks such as, "America feeds the world is a lame excuse for the continuing the worst of industrial farming" and "I can't apologize for being more genteel -- there is a war here" and much, much more.


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