An article in a recent electronic newsletter was another reminder that the mainstream media usually presents only one side of the story when it comes to agriculture, especially environmental issues.
From our vantage point, the mainstream media is all too eager to cater to environmentalists. Anyone can call themselves an environmentalist — no credentials needed. Given the media's lack of knowledge and/or preconceived notions about agriculture, wining the PR wars is an uphill battle.
The latest example is an April 4 Washington Post article on the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges that was initiated by an environmental group. The article got the attention of the Klamath Water Users Association (KWUA) and its members, and rightfully so.
A statement in the KWUA's letter to the Post struck a chord. The article “leaves the reader with the impression (that) agriculture is harmful to waterfowl and other wildlife and is wholly inconsistent with the purposes of wildlife refuges,” wrote Dan Keppen, KWUA executive director.
Grower Steve Kandra, the KWUA's president, was interviewed for the story and expressed his objections to the final article in a letter to the Post. His letter contained the following comment: “The tens of thousands of snow and white front geese that are now grazing my farm for 30 to 40 days during the spring migration appreciate the symbiotic relationship between wildlife and agriculture.”
Anyone who has spent even a limited amount of time in agricultural areas can easily recognize that wildlife can and do thrive in and around agriculture. If a journalist wants to write a balanced article, there's a wealth of readily available information on the contributions of different crops to wildlife enhancement. It's a subject, for example, that's documented in CAFA's 24-page four-color booklet, Alfalfa, Wildlife and the Environment, which is available on the Internet at www.calhay.org .
A major chapter in the booklet, “Wildlife and Alfalfa…A Natural Partnership,” provides a thorough discussion of how wildlife benefit from alfalfa and why many species prefer it to other habitat. Some examples include a stable habitat, cover for many species, high feeding value, frequent irrigations, and open space for birds of prey. According to wildlife biologists, surveys have shown that of the 675 wild animals and birds that occur regularly in California, 27 percent use alfalfa.
Last year an attorney representing a grower group told us the booklet would be an important piece of information in pending, water rights litigation. What caught his eye was a sidebar article in the wildlife chapter that explains why alfalfa is “The Beginning of a Food Chain.” The article ends with this sentence: “Alfalfa is the beginning of a food chain that supports not only millions of farm animals and human beings, but many forms of wildlife that are important to the earth's ecosystems.”
The Washington Post article is just one of many examples of the need for agriculture to respond and set the record straight. The KWUA deserves credit and a pat on the back for defending not only its interests, but the interests of all growers.