My name is Casey Bieroth and I’m an agriculturalist. I grew up in a very remote little corner of the mountains of Northern Nevada. My family homesteaded in this area over a century ago and we’ve been in the same general location ever since. These days I fancy myself as an agricultural economist—by self proclamation for now, but soon by decree of Kansas State University. I graduated with a bachelors degree in Agribusiness from K-State, and now I’m working on a Masters Degree in Ag Economics with a research emphasis in beef marketing.
Blame it on my economics background, but I come at the world with a very science based approach to problems. I’m a big believer in markets and incentives. Give somebody enough incentive and you can get them do just about anything…good or bad.
Take HSUS and PETA for example. They would have the general population believe that their incentive is to protect animals from abuse and mistreatment- a noble goal indeed. As more and more people are discovering, however, these organizations are huge lobbying efforts that are driven by profits and a personal vendetta against animal agriculture. Don’t believe me? Take a look at how the HSUS divvies out its $100,000,000 budget. And yes that is a one hundred million dollar budget. No typos. If that isn’t scary I don’t know what is.
Now on the flip side, where are the incentives for American farmers and ranchers? They have a great deal of incentive to work hard everyday taking care of their land and livestock. How much incentive do they have to defend their practices day in and day out against attacks from activists? Well not as much as you might think for a couple of reasons. First, as anyone who has been around a full-time agricultural enterprise knows, it’s hard work. I challenge you to show me a farmer or rancher with tons of free time. They just don’t exist. Caring for animals is a job that keeps you on your toes everyday. Contrary to popular belief, livestock eat, get sick, get lost, and are generally needy on Saturdays, Sundays, Easter, Christmas, and even during football season. I’m not discounting the need for a counter attack, I’m just pointing out that agriculturalists usually put out the hottest blazes first and that leaves very little time for proactive PR work. Secondly, there is a free rider problem when it comes to agriculture advocacy. Forgive the economics lesson, but the free rider problem occurs when people consume more than their fair share, or shoulder less than a fair share of the cost of producing a public good. In this case, the public good is ag advocacy and the free riders are agriculturalists who assume that someone else is addressing the problem. Everyone will benefit from increased advocacy, but the ones who have to actually pay to produce the good will benefit less than those who don’t pay anything at all. Ag advocacy is time consuming and as I have already pointed out, farmers and ranchers are already short on this resource. Therefore the “advocators” net benefit will be their share of the public good minus their expenditure (time) used to produce it.
So long story short, we are behind the 8 ball on this one. Inherently, the best agriculturalists are the ones least available to take on the HSUS, PETA, Western Watershed Project, and so on and so on. We will all need to step up our game and shoulder our fair share of the costs of agricultural advocacy. There are organizations out there that are good at pointing out our flaws, but to the majority of the world we ARE still the good guys. We need to work hard to keep it that way.