Indiana is the seventh state to join forces with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) to form an agricultural council, designed to bring local farmers together with the Society to provide guidance and help foster better practices.
James Benham, president of the Indiana Farmers Union, has been a farmer in Versailles for the past 40 years.
He joined the newly formed council because he says rural family farmers have very little representation at the state level – and a lot of people who are making the rules don’t have agricultural experience.
He says education is key to bridging the gaps.
“Trying to convey what goes on on a farm and actually what goes on in an urban setting to both sides,” he adds. “And you know, without that communication nothing ever gets done and at the end of the day, nobody wins.
“So my job, I think, is to basically just be a voice for both sides.”
According to the society, its mission with the state agricultural councils is to receive assistance from local farmers and provide a place where family farmers can gain assistance with marketing opportunities – so the society can highlight farmers who are good stewards for the animals as well as the environment.
Other states include Colorado, North Carolina, Iowa, Ohio, Nebraska and Missouri.
Benham says there have been many changes in farming over the last few decades.
With a push for cheap food, many family farmers are being priced out of business with large commercial operations taking their place.
He says the general public has a very different perception of what is really going on with food in this country.
He cites many commercials for big companies that show small family farmers.
“Then when reality hits and they go down the interstate and you see a feed lot that’s three miles long,” he says. “What the heck’s happened to us?
“So, those kind of things need to be discussed and talked about and why we’ve gotten where we’ve gotten.”
The environmental impacts from feedlots have been well documented and vary from state to state.
Joe Maxwell, a hog farmer and vice president of outreach for the Humane Society of the United States, says between 1997 and 2002, Indiana lost almost 10 percent of its family farmers and since 1978, the U.S. lost 1 million family farmers.
He says his group hopes to expand the state councils to include ranchers and farmers in about 20 to 25 states.
Indiana News Service