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story.lead_photo.caption Sarah Wright reacts as a calf licks her hand during a tour of a dairy in Bentonville on Tuesday. - Photo by David Gottschalk

Around 9 a.m. Tuesday, a dozen people filed into the milking room guided by Susan Anglin, one of the few remaining dairy farmers in Bentonville.

Above her, the bovines lined up with mechanisms attached to their udders that sent milk up and over the group's heads into a cool collection tank that's picked up every other day and sent to a Hiland Dairy plant in Fayetteville.

Looking around, one of the tourists nudged her friend: "This has come a long way since I was a kid."

For the sixth year, the "Moms on the Farm" program gave dozens of women, and a couple of men, a glimpse of the agricultural industry in Northwest Arkansas with a free tour on Tuesday through dairy, beef and poultry farms.

Janeal Yancey, a program technician in the animal sciences department of the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, said it's an opportunity for the public to talk to farmers and agricultural experts about the state of the industry and learn about where their food begins.

"We're trying to make folks feel better about the food they're eating," Yancey said.

The program is sponsored by the University of Arkansas, the Arkansas Beef Council and the Arkansas CattleWomen's Association.

In 2011, Yancey first worked with Geneice McCall, former president of the Arkansas CattleWomen's Association, and planned the first farm tour for women interested in agriculture. In years past, they've alternated between showcasing farms in Benton and Washington counties. McCall said she hopes to include Yell and Carroll county farms in the future.

"I think it's a good thing for people who have no idea where our food comes from," McCall said.

This year, dozens of participants toured a beef farm in Decatur, a Tyson chicken farm, and a Hiland Dairy operation called Triple A Farms.

In the collection room, Anglin stood by a round tank, which keeps milk between 36 and 38 degrees. If it's too warm, it gets dumped. If there are traces of medication in the milk, it gets dumped.

According to Anglin, dairy is one of the most highly tested and regulated food products in America.

Milk cartons on store shelves now carry labels such as organic, pasture-raised and antibiotic-free. The labels have been frustrating for dairy farmers who follow state and federal quality guidelines. There can be no traces of antibiotics in milk suitable for drinking, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. However, Anglin said, the labels insinuate otherwise.

"I don't like the fact that it confuses consumers," Anglin said.

One of the participants asked Anglin where she gets her milk.

"Honestly, I pick mine up from Wal-Mart," she said.

At the next stop, the tour group members slipped into navy biosecurity suits and patted their plastic booties in powdered bleach before stepping into a Tyson chicken house. They then entered one of the two high-tech warehouses housing about 40,000 3-week-old chicks.

Grower Jackie Smith said roughly five to six flocks are sent to each poultry house every year, and the work can be tiresome.

"I joke with my husband, we take it one flock at a time," Smith said.

Technological advancements have made growing easier, she said, including surveillance software and alarm systems.

Over the past three years, Tyson Foods has also transitioned most of its broiler flocks to be raised without antibiotics. The transition, however, wasn't seamless.

According to Zach McGee, a Tyson employee who oversees about 10 million birds at a hundred poultry farms in the region, annual bird losses rose 2 percent from the average rate when Tyson stopped antibiotic use.

Since then, numbers have gotten better, McGee assured the group.

To round out the tour, beef ranchers Ronny and Paula McGee guided the group through their 160-acre cow pasture via passenger bus. Paula McGee said the land at one point was used for orchards, then chickens; now they use the coops for hay storage. After touring the dairy and poultry farms on foot, the group didn't mind the bus ride. Still, Ronny McGee apologized for the air-conditioned tour.

"It's OK; this one smelled the best," one of the tourists joked.

Business on 10/25/2017

Print Headline: Tour showcases farmers' work

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