One of the most important things we do at North Carolina Farm Families is try to change the way people think about farmers. There are so many misconceptions, and downright falsehoods, out there about how we operate, and our job is to set the record straight and put a face on our family farmers.
So, when I got a message several weeks ago from a national reporter who said he wanted to take a fresh look at how the nuisance lawsuits had impacted our community, I decided it was worth the chance. I invited this reporter to my family farm in Duplin County, hoping I could show him what it’s like to live and work on a farm that’s been in my family for nearly 250 years.
I should have been suspicious right from the start when this Chicago reporter showed up at my farm, dressed in all black from head to toe, on a warm May morning. I sat at my kitchen table and told him a little bit about NC Farm Families and how we had formed to fight back against unfair attacks from the Waterkeepers and others. Then, I took him on a tour of my farm, showing him the barns where we raise pigs, the lagoons, the works.
I explained that our family is centered around this farm. Not only does my family live here, but so does my father, many aunts and uncles, and several cousins. All told, we have about nine homes located right by our farm.
Toward the end of our visit, the reporter made a few bizarre comments about the Chinese’s purchase of Smithfield Foods. At the time, I didn’t think much of it. It’s common for reporters to ask about the long litany of falsehoods that our critics throw our way. The line that North Carolina farmers are working hard to raise pigs for China is a common attack — and one of the easiest to refute.
Here are the facts:
North Carolina exports less than 25% of the pork we produce each year. Most of it goes it our neighbors in Mexico and Canada — Mexico accounts for the largest volume of pork exports and Canada ranks third. China is our fourth largest export partner. According to the latest USDA statistics, China imports about 70 percent less pork than Mexico. (Full disclosure: Exports to China will likely increase this year because they are dealing with an unprecedented outbreak of African swine fever that has resulted in the loss of millions of pigs.)
What’s interesting is the type of pork products we traditionally send to China — it’s mostly what we call “variety meats” and by-products that largely consists of things that no one in America wants. Think pig bladders, kidneys, snouts, uterus, tails, tongues, and the like. I say, let ‘em have it.
As for the fear that we’re going to start supplying a majority of China’s pork, consider this nugget from the NC Pork Council:
“Last year, about 96 percent of the pork consumed in China was produced by … drum roll, please … Chinese hog farmers.”
It goes on to explain that farmers in China produce about 450 million hogs each year. For comparison sake, North Carolina’s entire hog and pig population is about 9 million. And most of the pork that China imports comes from the E.U., not the U.S.
I say all this because, low and behold, that Chicago reporter published his story this week at an online site called Real Clear Investigations. The headline: “Here, Hog Farming’s as American as Chinese Food.”
Don’t ask me what in the heck that means. I have no idea. But the gist of his story is that when it comes to North Carolina hog farming, the Chinese are calling the shots. He even includes references to Chairman Mao and the Chinese Communist Party.
Go ahead… take a moment and let out a laugh.
My favorite part of the story — his allegation that NC Farm Families is “brought to you in part by the Chinese.” I’ve been on the job for almost a year now, and I’ve had conversations with lots and lots of people across North Carolina who care about our family farmers.
I’ve talked with equipment dealers, insurance companies, and car dealers who have rely on farmers for their business and have generously contributed to support our efforts. I’ve met with large integrators and local farmers who want to be involved in our cause. And I’ve spoken with small businesses and local residents who are concerned about how our farmers are being unfairly attacked.
One group of people I haven’t spoken with since joining NC Farm Families: the Chinese.
There are two quotes in the story that demonstrate the absolute absurdity of this “investigation.”
The first, from a Wichita State professor who studies Chinese business, says this of our friends at Smithfield: “Everybody will march to Chinese orders.”
The second quote is from Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who founded the Waterkeeper Alliance and served as its president for many years. Just seven months after 9/11, Kennedy declared that “large-scale hog producers are a greater threat to the United States and U.S. democracy than Osama bin Laden and his terrorist network.”
As a family farmer from Iowa so eloquently said at the time, “You have to be a complete wandering idiot to make that statement.”
I couldn’t agree more. It certainly puts into perspective the type of outrageous people our family farmers are dealing with here.
I guess it should come as no surprise that some reporter who spent a handful of days in eastern North Carolina thinks I’m taking my marching orders from Shanghai, or wherever WH Group is headquartered, instead of our elected board of directors. It is complete nonsense.
It’s a shame that I couldn’t get this reporter to tell the truth about our farmers, but I won’t stop trying to share our story every day. And I’ll continue to live the American values that have made me proud to call myself a North Carolina family farmer.