Farm scene

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — It’s a simple question: What do you call someone who raises pigs to produce pork?

But the answer depends on who you are talking to. If you are talking to a consumer, its best to call the person a “pig farmer,” and if you are talking to a farmer, “pork producer” may be the descriptor of choice.

Surveys undertaken by the National Pork Board show that the term “pig farmer” has more appeal to the consumer, said Jenny Jackson, director of communication for the Illinois Pork Producers Association.

“They don’t want to think of it as a businessman just out to make money,” she said. They prefer the more historical image of a pig farmer taking care of animals.

On the other hand, often farmers prefer the term “pork producers” which might designate they are running a profitable business with all the respect and knowledge that entails, Jackson said. The agricultural trade association that represents them — the Illinois Pork Producers Association — has served them for more than 50 years using that name.

But most farmers aren’t really that fussy about what you call them.

“In my career we have changed from ‘just a pig farmer’ to ‘a pork producer’ with a change in mindset that we are producing food, not pigs,” said Phil Borgic, a pork producer/pig farmer in Nokomis, Ill. “Today we are back to pig farmers. The surveys show that the consumer relate better to that.”

Borgic jokes, “I do not care what you call me, just call me for dinner.”

Sick of ‘sustainability’

But there do seem to be some terms in agriculture that nag at farmers because they have been over-used, lost their traditional meaning or they have developed a negative connotation today.

The word “sustainability” has become one of those.

“It is supposed to do with being a good steward of the land. It gets taken the wrong way. I’m sick of it,” said Josh Plunk, a third-generation farmer, at the Ag Tech Innovation Summit in Champaign in March.

At the summit, farmers shared words that bug them. Ken Dalenberg, a Mansfield, Illinois, farmer, said the term “soil health” has been over-used to the extent that it can lose its meaning.

“Synergy” is the term that takes Jason Little, an ag tech innovator who grew up on a dairy farm, back to high school chemistry, and he thinks it’s over-used and misused in ag business today.

Chris Harbourt, a University of Illinois professor and managing partner in Hatch Ag Group, an ag tech consulting company, doesn’t know the solution to dealing with such annoying words, but the word “solution” is on his list.

The word “sustainability” also frustrates Joni Bucher, the Illinois Beef Association president. It’s a word that infers that farmers aren’t already following practices that are good for the soil and the environment, she said.

“In the beginning, sustainability was a positive word. It has worn out its welcome. When will this buzz word go away?” she said.

The list of synonyms for “sustainable” is substantial, including feasible, reasonable, defensible, workable, rational, maintainable, viable, supportable, bearable, passable, livable, allowable, sufferable, acceptable and tolerable.

More people are using the phrase “regenerative agriculture” to distinguish a kind of farming that goes beyond “sustainable” — but that term isn’t new either. It was made popular by Robert Rodale, son of American organic pioneer J.I. Rodale, in the 1970s. It has become the title of workshops and even college classes today.

Economists, bankers and farmers sometimes use the term “sustainable” to refer to the economic viability of a farming operation.

With the attention to water quality and soil health, it seems like a term that will continue in many conversations in the future.

Meeting new ‘meat’

Terminology also plays an important role as new food products are developed.

Marketers are working on names for new lab grown “meats” — also referred to as cell-based or protein-based products. Livestock producers tend to think of them as “fake meats.”

Bucher said consumers should be free to buy these products if they choose, but there needs to be fairness in labeling. She objects to “fear-based marketing.” For example, the label of “no hormones” on such products makes consumers think that beef — not labeled that way — is not safe.

“It is USDA inspected. It is safe. We are confusing consumers and that frustrates me,” she said.

The beef producer would like to see an end of “food shaming.” Marketers make people who can’t afford food labeled as “clean” or other such terms feel they are letting their families down, she said.

She said beef producers need to stay proactive. They can see what has happened in the dairy industry as many products that are not lactation-based have been able to use the “milk” term over the years.

“Protecting consumers and producers from fake meat and misleading labels is a top priority for the Illinois Beef Association. We cannot allow fake meat manufacturers to use deceptive marketing claims that disparage beef,” said Jill Johnson, Illinois Beef Association executive director.

“Many more details need to be worked out before any lab-grown products enter the market, but the good news is that USDA will have primary jurisdiction over food production and labeling. We pushed for USDA oversight because they will ensure that any fake meat products sold on the market are safe and labeled appropriately.”

Policy coming out of U.S. beef groups is clear: The definition of beef should only include products derived from actual livestock raised by cattle farmers and ranchers and harvested for human consumption, she said.

Phyllis Coulter is Northern Illinois field editor, writing for Illinois Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Missouri Farmer Today.