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Rural ag summit advocates 'food not feed'

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Mark Moran

(Iowa News Service) Progressive agricultural growers returning this week from the Food not Feed Summit in Washington, D.C., are asking their fellow farmers to consider a big transition.

The summit focused on shifting federal farm policies away from huge, corporate mega-farms and raising animal feed, to adopting more environmentally-friendly practices for growing food.

In Iowa, at least 5,000 Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations dot the landscape.

Tanner Faaborg, president of Des Moines-based Urban Ambassadors, said many families started large-scale operations on their land as a way to make extra income, and the trend has been growing.

"The tide has been shifting in the wrong way," Faaborg contended. "There's been a proliferation of CAFOs where everyone seems to be putting up CAFOs, with chickens and turkeys and hogs. So, it seems to be going against the grain."

Faaborg advocated moving away from what he calls the "industrial agricultural treadmill" and toward smaller forms of food production with a greater emphasis on the environment. Recent polling shows 55 percent of Americans favor a moratorium on factory farms.

Faaborg noted many families who put livestock confinements on their land, some as far back as 30 years ago, did so with the intention of making a second income, or to produce their own food. He said now, some of those producers are becoming more environmentally sensitive and want to change their operations, though he admitted the choice presents its own challenges.

"OK, so we're transitioning from hogs to specialty mushrooms," Faaborg suggested. "Let's say the design works and all of this is going great. Where do we sell our produce?"

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., has introduced legislation to limit large-scale ag confinements, with the hope the bill is adopted as part of the 2023 Farm Bill, scheduled to be debated in September.