It appears that agriculture is finally embracing the fact that if the industry doesn’t take measures to toot its own horn and enlighten the public about the benefits found in safe and plentiful food and fiber — then very few others will.

In fact, documentaries like “Food, Inc.” and books such as “Fast Food Nation” and “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” coupled with the constant attacks and lawsuits from powerful environmental extremists — which may or may not be motivated by the best of intentions — are actually crippling the ability of farmers to produce the food, fiber and the plants that we all depend on.

So it is both refreshing and encouraging to see agricultural commodity groups, farmers, dairymen and ranchers all across California — and across the nation for that matter — coalesce around the common cause of setting the record straight as to just what it is that they actually do. Since the emergence of the almighty Internet appears to be the modern-day delivery mechanism utilized by green groups, it makes sense to venture into this arena to level the playing field.

Evidence abounds that agriculture has “seen the light” by entering the fray to set up Web sites, establish accounts on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, and create blogs to become a power player in the daily rapid-fire exchange of ideas, viewpoints, crusades and controversies available in the modern public forum know as “Social Networking.” The Western Plant Health Association — www.healthyplants.org — along with other trade associations such as CropLife America and the California Farm Bureau Federation, represents just a few of the farming associations that have produced educational videos for the Web to enlighten the general public about the true benefits of the agriculture industry.

This brings me to the focus of this month’s article. You are encouraged to explore www.knowacaliforniafarmer.com, a valuable ag Web site that came online on Sept. 1. Without doubt, this site is like no other when it comes to spreading the message about who is growing our food and the shaky and tenuous times that California farmers and ranchers are currently facing.
With fewer than 2 percent of all Americans engaged in farming today, consumers have become increasingly isolated from the source of their food supply. Adding to this growing detachment is the fact that the public is only hearing one side of the story — and it’s not from the farming side. Furthermore, few people understand the reality that farmers are overburdened with regulatory schemes laid out by politicians in Sacramento and Washington, D.C. that only make matters more difficult.

Response to Prop. 2

The new Web site has been two years in the making; a direct response to the passage of California’s Prop. 2, the initiative sponsored by the Humane Society aimed at prohibiting the confinement of certain farm animals.

This was the beginning of the California Agricultural Communications Coalition (CACC), a collection of California commodity groups and various agricultural associations of which WPHA is a member. However, the driving force behind www.knowacaliforniafarmer.com is California’s family farmers, ranchers, fruit and vegetable producers, rice growers, poultry farmers, dairymen and nut producers.

Through videos, photos and blogs that they post on their own, participants can engage consumers in real-time dialogue about the many benefits agriculture provides to our communities and state. CACC and WPHA encourage industry professionals to visit the site, establish an account, read the easy instructions on how to post your contributions, and get involved in educating and sharing your experiences of spending “life in the trenches” in California — the largest agricultural state in the union.

While you’re at it, view WPHA’s most recent videos at www.healthyplants.org, featuring Frank Muller, of Joe Muller and Sons farms and Yolo Vineyards, talking about the benefits of modern-day farming and championing the technology of crop protection tools. And, while visiting www.healthyplants.org, feel free to engage us in discussion about the many agricultural articles we have on our blog site.

USDA report: Agriculture still a business of family farms

While viewing the above-mentioned WPHA video, Frank Muller makes it a point to separate his farming operation in Yolo County from the stereotypic “corporate” agribusiness conglomerates that are the usual focus of criticism from green groups.

Family farms such as Muller’s remain the “norm” in commercial crop production in this country. This fact is driven home by a recent analysis of demographic trends focused on American farms and ranches.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s report has some salient points listed below:

• Agriculture remains a sector dominated by family businesses. Ninety-eight percent of farms and ranches are family farms, the report said, and they account for 82 percent of farm production.

• Small farms — defined as those with annual sales of less than $250,000 — make up most of the nation’s farms and hold the bulk of farm assets, including farmland. Most farm production, the report noted, occurs on larger-scale family farms and non-family farms.

• Of the total number of farms in the United States, 88 percent qualify as small farms, the report said.

Those farms hold 63 percent of the nation’s farmland. The full 12-page report may be downloaded from the USDA’s Economic Research Service at www.ers.usda.gov by searching for it by its title, “America’s Diverse Family Farms 2010 Edition.”

This makes it all that more important (since there’s strength in numbers) for California farmers and ranchers to team up and take the time to enlighten the general public, via www.knowacaliforniafarmer.com and other Web sites, about the rewards and hurdles inherent in growing today’s food supply for an ever growing world population.