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Virginia Cooperative Extension -
 Knowledge for the CommonWealth

Extension Educators Should Be Involved in Issues Related to the Environment

Livestock Update, October 1997

Allen Harper, Extension Animal Scientist, Swine, Virginia Tech

The National Pork Producers Council held their 1997 Swine Extension Educators conference September 3 through 5 in Des Moines, Iowa. Broderick Gant, an agent temporarily located in Buckingham County and myself were fortunate to be able to attend the conference with support of a grant from the Virginia Pork Industry Board. There were many excellent topics addressed including evaluation of swine contract agreements, producer networking, working with new producers, siting new units, pork quality improvement and solving reproduction problems. But perhaps the topic of greatest concern for Extension agents and specialist from across the county was dealing with the current concerns related to the impact of modern swine production on the environment. Stated another way, what is Extension's role in helping independent swine producers, contract growers, and others in the swine industry address the environmental protection issue?

John Hoehne, an Extension Agricultural Engineer in Missouri, led a very informative discussion on this topic. With his permission, a summary of Dr. Hoehne's presentation is reprinted in the following paragraphs.

Environmental issues are a very important part of the swine production industry. Not only being aware of environmental issues, but taking a proactive role in environmental affairs is going to be required for producers to remain viable in the industry.

My personal experience is that those of us that are Extension Swine Educators must also be sensitive to those environmental issues that producers face. It is imperative, in my opinion, that we provide the best scientific information that is available to all who request it. At times, we also must take a proactive educational role in assisting both producers and the general public to better understand these issues.

Environmental decisions and regulations pertinent to the swine industry need to be, in my opinion, based on good science that is applied in a reasonable manner. Too many of these environmental decisions are being made based on fear and emotion rather than from a "knowledge based" position. Efforts by all informed persons are needed to provide this required knowledge base to the public.

Environmental Compliance: Environmental compliance is required for all industries. Economic viability of agriculture and animal production operations requires adopting production practices that are economically feasible and environmentally sound. There are several reasons why swine producers must use those production and manure management practices that will keep their operation in environmental compliance.

  1. Federal and State Regulations require that a confined animal feeding operation (CAFO) does not pollute. "It's the law!"

  2. Society requires that agriculture, along with other industries and organizations, operate in a responsible and socially acceptable manner. Management of natural resources is a long term benefit to the general public.

  3. It is part of being a "good neighbor." Being concerned about and treating neighbors as you would wish to be treated continues to be a major component of a producers public relations effort.

  4. "It's the right thing to do." Agricultural producers have traditionally been wise managers of natural resources. Each producer must develop a personal commitment to make wise choices in the use of their natural resource base. This commitment must include the adoption of operational and management practices that do not cause degradation of the environment.

Extension Swine Educators, in my opinion, should emphasize the importance of environmental compliance both to the producers and also the general public that they serve. An educational program that provides facts and recommendations based on scientific data is a service to both the swine industry and the general public.

"Perception is reality!" This non-attributed quote seems to define the status of swine production and environmental concerns in many communities. Accurate production and manure nutrient system management facts and information from a credible and unbiased source are required to have an informed public when swine production and environmental concerns or conflicts arise. This is an opportunity for extension educators to make a real and valuable input that can change inaccurate or wrong perceptions.

Specific Reasons: There are also some specific reasons that should encourage swine producers to maintain an awareness of and to actively participate in environmental activities important both to swine production and production agriculture.

Summary: Swine producers who desire to remain as "players" in the food production industry need to:

  1. Maintain a constant awareness of environmental issues.

  2. Actively pursue a proactive position in implementing environmental systems.

  3. Provide accurate information to any governing board for use in the formation of environmental policy or regulation.

  4. Support other agricultural commodity groups and organizations that pursue a reasonable and sound approach to environmental regulation and interpretation of those regulations. Remember that environmental regulations ultimately affect all producers.

  5. Be active in the local community.

  6. Always be a good neighbor.

Extension Swine Educators need to:

  1. Always provide accurate and unbiased information to all who request this information.

  2. Continue to remind producers of their environmental obligations and of the benefits of being proactive in the environmental management arena.

  3. Seize every opportunity to dispel unfounded perceptions with facts and information so that environmental decisions are "knowledge based" rather than "emotion and fear based."

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