Money. Religion. Politics. You’ve probably heard that these are the things you should never discuss in mixed company. In 1947, the legendary Jimmy Stewart and Henry Fonda even got in a fistfight over their opposing political beliefs, but maintained a close friendship for years after that by never discussing politics again.
Most communities have historically kept certain subjects off-limits in order to keep everyone getting along (even if things never come to fisticuffs like with Stewart and Fonda). In farming, for years that might have meant not bringing up topics like greenhouse gas emissions or climate events. But the recent 2022 Waste to Worth conference, presented by the Livestock and Poultry Environmental Learning Community (LPELC) proved that the manure community is different these days. Speakers discussed all the roles that the industry can play in mitigating climate change –and the audience was receptive. Of particular importance during the week was the issue of water quality in Lake Erie, which faces complex problems including invasive species, excessive algal growth and more. With shores in New York State, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and my own backyard of southwestern Ontario, and feeling the impact of industries such as agriculture, processing, commercial fishing and more, many of the keys to improving Lake Erie’s water all come down to one concept: common ground.
In her keynote, Lara Fowler, senior lecturer with Penn State Law, discussed conflict resolution from a practical and theoretical standpoint. Her stories of how stakeholders came together to help protect livestock, the environment and the local economy following the 2007 Chehalis Basin flood supported her core thesis: while we may be divided in our positions, we are often united by the outcomes which we wish to see.
Ultimately, determining how to get to those mutually held goals involves starting with the uncomfortable conversations. We need to talk about the environment – our air, our water, our soil.
The most important conversations often start from taboo places. For example, mental health has never been an easy thing to discuss, but with many farms short-staffed in recent years, the physical dangers caused by mental stress are more evident than ever (see page 8 for more on mental health, fatigue and safety). Speaking of staffing, money is another topic most people would shy away from, but with manufacturers, farms and application businesses feeling the effects of the “Great Resignation” (page 16), it’s an issue that can’t be ignored.
It’s easy to see why the manure industry is willing to go to those taboo places – after all, manure has long been called a “waste” product when those who manage it know it’s anything but (for more on ensuring the most value for your liquids, see page 24). So let’s keep the conversations going.•