On a bright, sun-drenched afternoon last September, a handful of people gathered along a remote gravel road in rural Marshall County to protest the construction of a new 2,400-head hog barn. They waved banners, posed for the cameras and argued that the new livestock farm - owned and managed by a fifth-generation farm family - was unwanted.
Standing by their side was Roxanna Haynes, a news reporter from a prominent Des Moines TV station. Haynes traveled more than two hours to visit with the protestors and assist them in telling their story. Later that same day, her story titled "Hog havoc" led the station's 6 p.m. newscast.
"With thousands of hogs soon to be moving in next door, neighbors are helping to get the message out that they're not welcome in their neighborhood," Haynes reported, adding that the new farm would also burden the neighborhood by increasing traffic "by at least one feed truck per week."
Iowa hog farms help local communities
Three months later, construction of the new, environmentally-friendly hog barn was finished. On a chilly December evening, nearly 250 people gathered to celebrate its completion and congratulate the hard-working farm family for its investment in Marshall County's future. Guests included neighbors, bankers, friends, family, local and state elected officials, community leaders and farmers.
They toured the building and enjoyed a grilled pork burger supper served by local 4-H youth. And nearly everyone participated in a spontaneous fund drive that raised more than $200 for Marshalltown's House of Compassion.
"Agriculture is all about community and this event is a perfect example," Iowa Ag Secretary Bill Northey told the crowd. "We can take ag for granted so easy in this state because we're used to it. But we need to take the time to tell our story and to showcase the families involved in the occupation. It's terrific to see so many people here to be part of the celebration."
Public gets unbalanced view of livestock
Unfortunately, Roxanna Haynes wasn't on hand despite receiving two invitations to attend and offer a balanced follow-up to her Sept. 22 report. When contacted by the Coalition to Support Iowa's Farmers or CSIF the next day, the station's news director defended her absence, adding "in a perfect world, we'd be able to get to all such events, but in these busy times two weeks prior to the caucuses, we're doing the best we can to keep up with as much news as we can."
"Unfortunately, this approach offers Iowans an unbalanced view of livestock farming and its support in communities large and small," says Aaron Putze, executive director of CSIF. "After all, 17 people who gathered to protest a farm family's desire to grow their farm responsibly received the lead spot on a prominent TV station's weekend newscast. But more than 250 people who gathered to celebrate the very same farm's construction and its owner's contributions to Marshall County…well, they received a cold shoulder.
"At the end of the day, good livestock news warrants coverage," he adds. "And there's a lot to report. Each year, thousands of Iowans attend open houses and ribbon cuttings in support of the construction of new livestock farms. Throughout the state, families voluntarily plant vegetative shelterbelts around their livestock farms reducing odor transport and creating valuable wildlife habitat."
Livestock benefit Iowa in many ways
"In a growing number of communities, ethanol plants are taking root thanks in part to the proximity of livestock, a valuable market for coproducts derived from renewable fuels production," says Putze. "An increasing number of Iowans are also exploring the potential of converting methane captured from livestock manure into power. And the list goes on.
"When it comes to livestock farming and the families involved in the profession, there's a lot of good news waiting to be reported… in Marshall County and beyond. Let's hope these stories make headlines and broadcasts in 2008."
Putze writes a twice-per-month column online. He grew up on a grain and livestock farm near West Bend in north central Iowa and holds a degree in communications, public relations and a minor in journalism from the University of Northern Iowa. His column, "Feedyards & Backyards" authored twice-monthly, provides commentary on news and issues related to animal agriculture, farm families and rural communities. An archive of past columns can be accessed at: www.supportiowasfarmers.org/news/feedback/default.aspx.
The Coalition to Support Iowa's Farmers
CSIF is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization launched in 2004. Its mission is to help Iowa livestock farmers grow responsibly and successfully. Since its launch in May 2004, CSIF has offered a helping hand to nearly 800 farm families in meeting and exceeding regulations, finding good locations for new livestock farms and enhancing relationships with neighbors. CSIF does not lobby, develop policy or maintain a membership base. Six farm and commodity groups founded and fund the organization: the Iowa Cattlemen's Association, Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Farm Bureau, Iowa Pork Producers Association, Iowa Poultry Association and the Iowa Soybean Association.