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Letter -- Boody responds to questions about what LSP wants

By George Boody

The parties proposing a large dairy operation in Ripley Township asked in the April 21 issue of Agri News what the Land Stewardship Project wants for the future of agriculture.

But actually the question should be: What do farmers, rural residents and people in general want for the future of agriculture?

Asking that question -- and giving citizens the opportunity to answer it -- is critical to the future of rural Minnesota.

LSP wants more financially successful farmers raising both crops and livestock on the land in ways that enhance the environment, provide healthful food and foster viable rural communities.

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LSP's membership is a mix of farmers and nonfarmers. The farmers represent a broad spectrum of production systems: from row crops to grassed-based livestock production. The rural citizens and urban dwellers who belong to LSP want to support farmers growing food with high levels of stewardship.

Do we think there's bright future for Minnesota's agriculture and rural communities?

Yes, LSP's members believe that an agriculture based on many independent family-sized farms spread throughout the countryside is the best ticket and should not be abandoned by our policymakers. We believe it's far more sustainable than concentrating production amongst a few operators.

LSP is proud of the role it plays in providing farmers information on low-cost, alternative ways to farm profitably, including management intensive rotational grazing, the use of resource conserving crops in rotations, and deep-straw pork production.

The key to success on the land is to remain flexible and not tied into one way of doing things.

Providing farmers and rural citizens information on organic and grazing production systems or regional food production isn't elitist, as the backers of the Ripley Dairy proposal would want you to believe. It's just the opposite.

Too many times farmers are told that the only way for them to stay in business is to invest millions of dollars in single-use facilities that remove all flexibility from their farms -- and from a community's future. How many farmers can afford to build a dairy housing thousands of cows?

Remember, 96 percent of all Minnesota dairy farmers are under 200 cows.

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A lot of political lobbying and citizens' tax dollars are being put into creating a system built on high production, low margins and a "get big or get out'' mentality. Such an approach benefits processors and exporters, but is not good for the majority of independent family farmers or rural communities.

There are good reasons why community members might be concerned about the future of their community when a very large factory farm is proposed. Studies here and throughout the Midwest show that the percentage a livestock operation spends locally declines dramatically as its size increases.

Large-scale livestock operations do account for some jobs, but they come at the cost of losing independent family farmers, say economists. And with those farmers goes a lot of Main Street economic activity, not to mention support and need for institutions such as churches and schools.

People in places like Ripley Township are not willing to throw all their eggs into the large-scale factory farm basket, and that's why they asked for LSP's assistance.

People who care about the future of their community aren't involved in a "smear'' campaign. And groups like LSP that join with these people in speaking up for themselves and their communities aren't outside agitators who manufacture trouble where it doesn't exist.

Tension is created in a community as soon as a development's backers assume their particular proposal trumps the concerns of residents who have to live with it on a daily basis.

When such tension emerges in a community, and preferably before that, as many people as possible, not just a few special interests with powerful friends, need to be involved in articulating visions for the future. Such involvement is bound to make some uncomfortable, especially when the answers generated aren't what they want to hear.

-- George Boody is the executive director of the Land Stewardship Project

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