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Why do farmers have barns? Obvious (or not)

GRAND FORKS, N.D. - I always assumed it's obvious why farmers, especially in the Upper Midwest, have barns for their livestock. Sometimes it's really cold. Sometimes it's really wet or muddy or windy. Though animals are pretty tough and can handle some inclimate weather, sometimes they need shelter from the elements; barns provide that. Barns are humane and sensible, obviously. So obvious it goes without saying, right?

But today I learned it's not, at least to some people. A speaker at the Prairie Grains Conference here in Grand Forks, N.D., said some Minnesotans (apparently urban folks) believe that barns exist to hide ill treatment of animals from passing motorists and other members of the public. To the skeptics, barns are sinister, not humane and sensible.

Until today, it didn't occur to me that some people don't see barns as good and beneficial. But I grew up on a North Dakota farm with beef cattle. I know what barns are used for; I know livestock benefit from them.

A growing number of Minnesotans (and other Americans) have no direct connection with agriculture. They lack a firsthand foundation on which to build fact-based assumptions and beliefs.

Farmers and ranchers need to help establish that foundation. Make connections with urban residents, invite them to your farm, show them what goes on inside your barn. Remember, what's obvious to you and me may not be obvious to them.