Young American farmers are optimistic about the future of agriculture but say they are concerned about criticism, often from people who have never been on a farm, that they are heartless and cruel to animals.

The young farmers say they are also concerned about restrictions on exporting food and fiber abroad and criticism that farmers are using too many chemicals and too much energy to grow food and fiber and are damaging the land.More than 800 farmers from throughout the United States ended their five-day National Young Farmer Educational Association National Institute Saturday at the Marriott Hotel.

Highlight of the event was a public speaking contest to decide who will represent agriculture in talks with media and the public next year in major American cities.

Jeff C. Anderson, College Ward, Cache County, one of 16 young farmers who competed in the national Spokesperson for Agriculture Contest, said farmers, "as thoughtful caretakers of animals, are confused and even offended by skilled alarmists who continually cry wolf."

"Members of animal welfare activist groups, who have never been on a farm and who have no concept of production agriculture, increasingly set themselves up as judge and jury."

Anderson said these activists' proposals are innocent sounding, but potentially very dangerous.

"As American farmers, we are committed to maintaining strong, healthy animals. The vast majority of us treat them with kindness and concern. Our economic well-being depends on the absence of stress, disease and discomfort in our farm animals."

The three top winners of the national spokesperson contest, Lisa Moss, Clay City, Ind.; Leslie Liere, Bryan, Tex.; and Steve Meredith, Glendale, Ky.; agreed with Anderson.

Moss said some of the things agricultural scientists are doing and some of the modern techniques farmers use to grow food have been misunderstood.

"Hog farmers have been criticized, for instance, for putting baby pigs in farrowing crates, but rather than being cruel, the crates confine and protect the baby animals so they are not abused by the larger pigs, stepped on or otherwise injured while they are small."

She said animal researchers and genetic engineers have been under fire, but, she said, "research is the key to successful farming today" and she applauded scientists who are finding ways to increase yields and get the most from the land.

Liere said he believes most people like farmers and believe they are doing a good job, but, he said, "I think we will always have pressure from some people who will be watching us and how we do business.

"If environmentalists can prove that our farming methods are destructive to the land, air or water then we will certainly change our methods, but I don't believe reasonable people will find that we are hurting anything."

Liere said America profits from agricultural exports. "The more food and fiber we can produce and export, the lower food prices are and the more jobs are created.

"It has been estimated that, for every billion dollars in farm exports, 35,000 new jobs are created. Today, 24 million people in America are employed in some aspect of agriculture, from production to retail sales and delivery."

He said agricultural commodities are the only products that we sell more of abroad than we buy, creating a profit that helps reduce the overall trade deficit.

Meredith said farmers are conserving topsoil to ensure America's future food supply, but soil conservation should be a major goal in any federal farm program.

"The marketplace does not pay more for a bushel of grain grown by a producer who practices good stewardship of the land. American taxpayers may be quick to reject additional expenditures in the face of huge budget deficits, but government assistance in the form of information, education and financial aid is necessary to help guarantee America's future food supply."