Editor’s note: This week, several articles appeared in newspapers across the state blaming farmers for allowing tons of poultry waste and liquid manure into the Shenandoah River. Below is a response from cattle and grains farmer Nathaniel Dirting of Shenandoah County:
A lot of things come to mind when I think of challenges on the farm. I think about fighting the weather – constantly worrying if the crops will have enough rain water – worrying about the possibility of hail or severe winds – worrying if a late frost could kill the early corn we were so fortunate to get planted. I think about fighting diseases in our crops and sickness in our cattle. I think about fighting the markets as prices for our commodities constantly change due to circumstances beyond my control.
But one very real fight I have come to realize is one I never thought I would have to put up – having to fight negative public perception.
I read an article earlier today in the Washington Post (and also published in the Northern Virginia Daily) titled “Nearly 200 million chickens, turkeys and cows are making a mess of the Shenandoah River”.
My first response was anger. How could anyone say such a thing about agriculture in my community? Making a MESS of the river? After so many efforts on my own family farm have gone towards fencing livestock out of ponds, creeks and tributaries – the title is misleading at best, and in my opinion, down right slanderous to agriculturalists.
My anger soon calmed, and turned into sadness. An aching sadness that’s been eating away at me all day. Do people really think farmers are out to get them? Do people really believe that we would intentionally pollute or poison the very resources we depend on for our livelihood?
I feel fortunate each and every day that God has blessed me with the opportunity to care for his beautiful creation. I’m a third generation farmer on my family farm and I look forward to protecting the business and the resources it will take for this farm to continue to the fourth generation. Am I going to try and convince everyone reading this that the practices implemented on our farm are perfect? Of course not! Do you always throw that aluminum can in the recycle bin instead of the trash? – do you ride a bike instead of driving your car? Did you ditch your smart phone because the manufacturing process is harmful to the environment?
My point is this – we are all human. We all make an impact on the environment around us. As an avid agriculturalist I pride myself in being a steward of the land. I do the very best I can to ensure that what I have will be cared for and left better for those who come after me. It really hurts and strikes me deep when I am accused of doing the exact opposite.
Have a question about agriculture? Ask a farmer. I would be glad to share my story with anyone. But please do not jump to conclusions assuming we are out to get you. I feed my two beautiful children the same food that I produce for you and your family. We are all in this together.