Chris Herr, Executive Vice President, PennAg Industries Association
Brian Snyder, Executive Director, Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture
Chris Herr and his staff of seven represent the interests of more than 570 agribusiness and production agriculture operations. PennAg, which has been in existence more than 130 years, is a full-time, full-service membership association that represents businesses of all sizes and types. The organization advocates and lobbies for its members in government, public and media affairs.
Before joining PennAg, Chris served 18 years with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, eight of those as Deputy Secretary for Regulatory Programs. He served in the administrations of six different governors. Chris grew up on a family farm in Lancaster County Pennsylvania. The Herr Family currently operates farms in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Delaware. Chris is a 1985 graduate of Penn State University and has a degree in Agriculture Education.
Brian Snyder grew up in Indiana where both of his grandfathers had been dairy farmers, and his family operated a purebred hog operation. Brian holds two masters degrees; one from Harvard University (Theological Studies) and the other from the Isenberg School of Management at UMass/Amherst (Business Administration). In addition to writing and speaking on the subject of sustainable agriculture, Mr. Snyder also serves on several boards, including the Pennsylvania State Council of Farm Organizations and the FoodRoutes Network, where he currently holds the position of board chair. He also serves in an advisory capacity for the Pennsylvania Dairy Task Force, the Northeast Sustainable Ag Working Group and the School of Hospitality at the Penn College of Technology in Williamsport, PA.
Telling Our Story – Pennsylvania Food and Agriculture
PennAg Industries Association has existed for more than 130 years. It is a full-time, full-service membership association representing agri-business enterprises of all size and types. It has eight councils and more than 500 members. We work to create and maintain an effective, viable and competitive environment for Pennsylvania agribusiness to grow and prosper.
I grew up on a Lancaster County farm, graduated from Penn State and am a former Assistant Secretary of Agriculture for Pennsylvania. All along the way, I have been an advocate for agriculture, the environment and the welfare of animals. Agriculture is “always” evolving.
With proper management and an open mind towards technology and trends, I believe in the soundness of crop and animal production practices used in America today. When it comes to animal welfare issues, we should not confuse companion animals with food animals. I am not a fan of insincere politics getting in the way of telling agriculture’s great story, whether those politics come from the proponents of modern agriculture or its opponents.
Here are some important facts about food:
- About one third of all adults and 17 percent of kids are classified as obese.
- About 15 percent of U.S. households are food insecure.
- There has been a 44 percent increase in food pantry assistance in recent years.
- Two thirds of all kids in the school lunch program receive reduced-price or free meals.
- In the world, one billion people go hungry and in the U.S. 11 million go hungry.
- Twenty five thousand people in the world die every day from malnutrition.
The economics of food in our country and elsewhere are revealing. In 1908 Americans spent 50 percent of their disposable income on food. Today that figure is 10 percent. People in the United Kingdom today spend 22 percent of their income on food. In Japan today that figure is 26 and in India today it is 50 percent.
Here are some important facts about agriculture:
- In 1950, the U.S. population was 154 million and there were 5.6 million farms. It took one farmer to feed 30 people. In 2011, our population was 310 million and there were two million farms. One farmer fed 155 people.
- Today we produce 63% more milk than in 1950 with 58% fewer cows. That means 76% less manure that translates to a 63% smaller carbon footprint. We do all this with 65% less water and 90% less land.
- Today we produce 176% more pork per sow than in 1950 and do it with 44% fewer sows.
- We produce 333 more corn with only 11% more acres.
- We produce 53% more eggs with three percent fewer hens. And we produce 69% more wheat on 6% less land.
What is right when it comes to the food system? We should support systems that produce food responsibly. That means engaging others in discussions about food choices. Different types of farms and production systems are a good thing. Informed citizens should learn about their food supply, production systems and food policies.
Experts agree that, assuming that current world population growth trends continue, we will need to double our food production by 2050. That is a tall order given that we have finite resources. What factors might restrict our ability to accomplish this task? Regulations that limit farmers’ ability to produce at optimum capacity are one reason. This is particularly true if we are prevented from using new technology. As always, politics enters into this realm and could stifle production. And of course, public perception of farming systems and food can drive all of the above. This is why we must increase our efforts to educate the public about today’s agriculture.
Toward this end, PennAg Industries Association has invested in our Todays Agriculture display at the Pennsylvania Farm Show that shows modern farming at its best. The display has been a rousing success, attracting more than 400,000 visitors from the public. Encompassing 10,000 square feet, it includes a 6,472 square-foot field, stream and equipment display, a pole barn and ten animal displays with 168 animals.
It represents the effort of 100 different companies and is supported by more than 400 volunteers. The best way to understand modern crop and animal production is to visit a farm, but many citizens are not able to do so. So our farmers in essence brought the farm to the farm show. Visitors learn where their food comes from, how it is raised and can see the sophisticated equipment used in producing food. And, farmers are available to answer questions. We are able to engage consumers and emphasize progressive aspects of modern agriculture. And, the response from the general public has been overwhelmingly positive.
Sustainable Foodsheds for the Future
The Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) has more than 6,000 members. Most are from the Mid-Atlantic region, so we are really a regional organization but also have members from across the country. Our annual Farming for the Future conference is one of the largest of its kind in the country. We hold 20 to 30 farm-based education field days per year and do some research projects. We are also involved in policy advocacy.
We define sustainable farming as farming that is economically viable, environmentally sound and socially responsible. Social responsibility has grown in recent years and involves a number of issues such as ensuring healthy food reaches consumers, that producers look out for the welfare of their animals and that they protect habitat for wild animals. At PASA we do not deem a farm sustainable unless all three elements of sustainability are occurring at the same time – economic, environmental and social responsibility.
Key concepts of sustainable farming are diversity, balance, regeneration, continuous improvement and alignment. Diversity refers to having a variety of types of farms, having a variety of gender/ethnicity/background of the farmers themselves, a variety of crops and livestock produced, a choice of market venues and so on. This is the single most important factor in making a farm sustainable. Our organization does not consider “industrial” farms that grow one or two crops such as corn and soybeans sustainable over the long haul. It is not unusual for farms of members of PASA to be growing as many as 100 crops.
Balance refers to maintaining a balance of knowledge, both scientific and indigenous. Indigenous knowledge can be knowledge that goes all the way back to indigenous peoples or to knowledge accumulated over the years by farm families regarding what works and doesn’t work on a given farm. Regeneration refers to regenerating the soil and the environment — not just maintaining it but restoring it to its natural order. In other words, farmers should leave the soil and environment in better shape than they found it when they began farming. Continuous improvement refers to a cycle of improving practices on an ongoing basis. For instance, if an farmer becomes certified as an organic producer according to government standards, that does not mean his or her farm is sustainable unless there is a cycle of continuous improvement. Alignment refers to whether a farmer is responding to rather than manipulating nature. He or she should be following an ultimate purpose or holistic goals.
What is a foodshed? In many ways, it is analogous to a watershed. It is the geographical area of land required to provide a majority of the basic nutritional needs of any specific individual, family, community, state or defined region of a country or continent, including all aspects of the food system involved in procuring food from the farm(s) of origin to the final consumers. The Chesapeake Bay Watershed, for instance, is an area defined for a number of purposes not unrelated to farming. It is used by a number of organizations in and out of government for discussing and setting policy. It is also one of the most delicate ecosystems in the country. I suggest that we think of a watershed and a foodshed as basically the same thing. In other words, the place that gathers your water is the same place your food comes from. When we look at resource maps we see that the same structure as watersheds is still there.
These sheds are important because if we are going to save them we need the cooperation of multiple bodies of government to do it. In fact, food- and watershed boundaries are more important that state boundaries because they extend beyond them. People in Baltimore and Washington need to be concerned about what farmers in Southern New York State are doing in regard to water quality. And, a lot of food grown in the Northern part of this foodshed ends up in Baltimore and Washington. In fact, we can think of farm sustainability as a quotient of water quality. We can develop a mathematical equation to express this relationship. Schematically, we can think of it as a triangle with farm sustainability and one corner, water quality at another and human health at the third corner.
At PASA we have created Good Food Neighborhoods that link local food, farms and people. More information is available at www.goodfoodneighorhood.org.
In an effort to provide wide-ranging views and perspectives regarding the practice of and issues surrounding agriculture, the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture (PSPA) seeks speakers representing a variety of perspectives. The statements and opinions they present are strictly their own and do not necessarily represent the views of PSPA.