The irony of ‘slime’

Well, even though it’s settled down some, there is a huge ‘dent’ of damage left over the so-called ‘pink slime’ debate held recently.  People lost their jobs.  Businesses closed. Consumers were scared.  And all for nothing.

But one of the biggest parts is the irony of the entire issue of finely textured beef.  Opponents, just as it is many times when people knee-jerk react before they look at facts or think about consequences, actually hurt their own cause.

Now I know you should never assume, but just for grins, let’s say these finely textured beef opponents also claim to care about the environment and food safety.

What are they fighting against? Finely textured beef is perfectly safe.  When steaks and roasts are cut, it creates the “trim” that becomes ground beef.  The compaines supplying lean finely textured beef use a process to remove a lot of the fat from the lean beef in the trim, which is then added to ground beef as a concentrated, lean source of protein.  It may also be SAFELY treated, just as many other foods are today, to eliminate possible bacteria contamination.  In short, the beef is safe, so says the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.

Here’s more.  Finely textured beef eliminates waste because it uses all the true beef available.  If it’s not used, the extra lean beef is thrown away.  Is that good for the earth, or for hungry people?

According to the amount gained, if finely textured beef isn’t used, beef demand would require another 1.5 million cattle.  Let’s see, 1.5 million times all the extra feed, water, extra space, etc. etc. etc. Does that make sense?

None of this yet deals with the bottom line.  Without finely textured beef, the price of your hamburger goes up, for no reason.

Then there is the issue of labeling.  Finely textured beef is just that…beef.  I guess the label could say “beef, with added beef.”  Would that be better?

Finely textured beef has been around for more than two decades, when the technology and idea became available to not waste this valuable lean protein.  All these folks who jumped on the ‘slime’ bandwagon so fast, without looking at facts or consequences should know this.  Lean finely textured beef is not necessarily ‘pink,’  It’s actually very environmentally ‘green.’  Next time, they should stop and think before their actions damage an industry, hurt other people, and hurt the environment they claim to care so much about.

More info and sources:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GDiPjmsKeh8&feature=player_embedded

http://www.kfb.org/news/newsimages/pinkslimeisnt.pdf

http://beefisbeef.com/

Labor Dept. needs some country living

People love to talk about ‘change.’  It’s understandable, because many things have changed over the years.  Probably one of the most easily recognizable is technology.  I now e-mail, tweet, post to facebook, watch video, check markets, navigate through cities, find restaurants and gas stations and a lot more on my ‘smartphone.’

Sometimes, I even make a phone call.

Girl and her calf on a Jackson, County Kansas farm

Modern Agriculture has changed dramatically too.  The amazing advances in technology make it the most efficient, productive, and environmentally sound food, fiber and fuel producing system in the world.

But a couple of things about agriculture have never changed, and the Department of Labor doesn’t understand it.  That’s why we now have what could be the most misguided proposal for the overregulation of agriculture we’ve ever seen.  You see, the Dept. of Labor wants to basically keep kids from helping, or working on the farm.  In the real world, that’s absurd on so many levels.  But Washington D.C. bureaucracy is not the real world.

Apparently, the Dept. of Labor doesn’t think youth under 16 can be around cattle, operate a mower or tractor, milk a cow, or cut weeds.  That’s just a few of the restrictions the new proposal would implement. In other words, many things I did growing up on our family farm, and all others before and after me, would be illegal.

I was starting to drive a tractor, ‘driving’ a pickup in a pasture to fix fence, riding horses to move cattle, and feeding cattle at around 9 yrs. old.  Could some of this be dangerous?  I suppose so.  But does the Dept. of Labor actually believe that my parents wanted me injured or killed?  Just as farmer Chris Chinn from Missouri told Congress in her real-life testimony on the issue, She, and I, were hurt more often and much worse at school than we ever were on the farm.  The farm is the perfect place and opportunity for parents to teach common-sense safety rules and precautions, the responsibility of handling expensive equipment, and the values of work.  That work ethic, and other skills and values I learned on the farm, has served me very well as an adult in my employment, relationships, finances and more.  We don’t need to keep kids from working on the farm, we need to get more out there.  I remember my city friends at school who came to see me on the farm, and some worked during the summer.  Their parents knew it was good for them to learn the responsibilities of taking care of animals, the value of equipment, the importance of a work ethic.  These kids were better adults because of their time on the farm.

The Dept. of Labor needs some country living.  Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran has invited Labor Secretary Hilda Solis to Kansas to see personally how these proposed rules can threaten the family farm and its historical value.  I hope she comes.  She needs to see the value system, the work ethic, and the skills learned on the farm.  I thank Sen. Moran and others in the Kansas delegation who are keeping up the fight to do away with this misguided overregulation.  If you grew up or work on a farm, you can help, too.  Just go to www.keepfamiliesfarming.com and tell your story.  Much of Washington D.C. doesn’t ‘get’ the value of rural living.  We must teach them through our action, or lose a heritage that will hurt everyone.

A reflective harvest

Getting ready to unload on the go

Harvest is a tremendous time of year.  Growing up on a farm, and now working in town, harvest is an annual event I so look forward to.  It gets my mind clear.  I love the open air and space, I love reconnecting to a unique and wonderful group of people who grow food for all of us.  These people are the salt of the earth.  Their values, their caring for each other,are a tremendous boost whenever I’m there.

So, when our tenant called last Friday morning and said the corn dried out earlier than predicted, and they’d be in our field in the afternoon, I called my wife, we loaded up, and headed to the farm.

As we happily drove, with excited anticipation of being on the combines, tractors and trucks, watching the culmination of the miracle of growth of a crop, we saw some sobering sites.  As we passed many fields on the way to our own, we saw that this year would be different.  Farming in SC Kansas, we were on the edge of the severe drought that hit the Midwest this year.  We saw dryland and irrigated crops that didn’t look like year’s past.  We knew what that meant.  Many farmers would struggle this year.

Making room for more

What we also knew was ours was far from the worst.  Further west in Kansas, and into Oklahoma and Texas, many farmers had nothing.  The further we went, the more we reflected on our fortune.  No, we wouldn’t have the crop of past years, but we were blessed to have what we did.

We made it to the farm, rode the combines, tractors and trucks, and watched the corn flow.  It was still a wonderful harvest, but we did take time to talk about and ponder what could have been, and what was reality just a few miles west and south of our farm, as well as some who were not as fortunate right in our area.

Farming can be a teacher for all aspects of life.  When we think we don’t have what we want or all we’d like, we should consider others, who would be ecstatic just to have what we have.  We always try to count our blessings.  This year some of those blessings came in small yellow kernels a lot of good people didn’t have.  Take some time to count your blessings.  I’m betting you have more than you think.

Food with Integrity? Maybe Not

Sometimes I think agriculture is falling into a well-conceived trap.  We’re told we should market to the consumer, provide what the consumer wants, and it’s the only way to be successful.  While there clearly is merit in that belief, even to the point that it may be hard to survive without doing it, it begs a question of what has happened to that consumer, and where are they getting their information?

Before I continue, I must say that I believe one of the greatest words in the English language is ‘balance.’ So understand that I believe there is room for all kinds of agriculture.  I just don’t like it when one group misleads the public about another to boost a self-serving agenda.  Yes, I realize not all do, but some with large pocketbooks certainly are.

Just today, I learned of a new video from Chipotle, the burrito-making bunch.  It has some great music (though it’s sad Willie Nelson is drinking the cool-aid) with a well-done animation of a farmer, who is putting animals in fences and buildings, then sees the ‘error of his ways’ and releases them all, into this nirvana of open pasture, much to the delight of Chipotle.  The purpose and message behind the video and the Chipotle website is what they call ‘Food with Integrity.’  Well, to make their claim, they say, or imply, you must never use hormones or antibiotics, fencing or housing animals is not caring for them, and a host of other agenda-driven hype.

I can spend a lot of time talking about science-based and practical reasons why housing animals save many of their lives annually, especially this year during the heat and drought.  I can talk about predators, prudent use of antibiotics, the ‘natural’ presence of hormones, and a lot more about animal welfare and food safety.  But my real concern goes beyond all this.

I am concerned that the consumer is getting inaccurate and misleading information on purpose.  If  ‘modern’ or ‘traditional’ agriculture isn’t torn down, then other forms cannot be nearly as successful.  So, at whatever the cost, the public is being misled by some to believe that if a hog is housed, the farmer doesn’t care about its welfare, when actually just the opposite is likely true.  Hey Chipotle (and others this applies to), lying about food production hardly sounds like ‘Food with Integrity.’   It seems before we blindly accept ‘marketing to the consumer,’ we must continue and improve our effort to provide the consumer the truth.

Will grow food for rain

Drought is something farmers and ranchers deal with from time to time, though it can vary in degree.  This year, in some parts of Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas the degree is high.

Our family has a farm in SC Kansas.  We grow corn, soybeans, wheat and milo.  About half of the farm is irrigated, the other half dryland.  It can boggle the mind of some not familiar with agriculture to grasp the investment, and risk, our tenant and others like him have made in equipment, seed, inputs, etc.  just to put in a crop.  Depending on the size of the operation, it could reach millions of dollars for tractors, combines, irrigation systems, planters, trucks, grain carts, etc. etc.  That does not include hired help, fuel, and the many other expenses included in operation of a farm.  If all is perfect, can he make some money?  Yes.  But take a look at the pictures here.  That’s far from perfect.

This year, many farmers in the areas mentioned above will lose a substantial amount of investment.  Not only that, their loss will translate into less for grain handlers, trucking companies, livestock operators, local groceries, local machinery dealers, local pickup and car dealers, local charities, and the list continues.

It’s been estimated by USDA and others that nearly 20% of the nation’s workforce through processing, packaging, transportation, retail, etc. is directly tied to agriculture.  That’s why urban residents can go to the nearest grocery store and have a bountiful supply of food ready to simply put in their cart.

It’s easy to take our food, and the people who grow it, for granted.  It’s worth taking a minute, especially this year, to understand many of those dedicated farmers will not have a successful year, that their investment has literally burned up before their eyes.  While much is already lost, much more could be if the rains don’t come soon.  You see, even irrigated crops need rain, and it’s so dry in some areas, even irrigation isn’t enough.  And high prices for crops don’t do much good if you don’t have the crop to sell.  So, remember these struggling farmers and ranchers this year, and say a prayer for some rain, they really need it.

Real agri-culture on display

I know there are good people in the world, though sometimes it seems they are harder to find.  It also seems more and more people are willing to sacrifice values, truth, and service, just to further an agenda, and talking sense to them can sometimes seem like talking to a telephone pole.

But I had that all put aside as I read a story today about ‘real’ agri-culture.  It was the story of the kind of people I grew up with, the kind who have faith, who put their neighbors ahead of themselves, who believe in serving others in their community.  People who just have an embedded culture of  true ‘good’ that most can’t comprehend. Many others out there who grew up on farms in the Midwest and other places will know what I mean.

This story is from the Salina Journal newspaper in Kansas, and chronicles a day in the life of agri-culture.  Neighbors, friends and family coming together to bring in the harvest for a community member unable to do so.  It was a special site to a man and his family, to have multiple combines, trucks, and so many people bring in his harvest in a fraction of the time he could have, even if he wasn’t recovering from neck surgery.

Want to know what else?  Cargill, you know, those horrible ‘big ag’ people, helped supply semis, the co-op dove into their ‘big ag’ profits and supplied fuel, and the local ‘Papa John’s’ Pizza donated food.

Another reason this story ‘hit home’ so much.  It’s deja vu for me.  When I was 10, my dad was thrown from a horse, and broke his knee.  He ended up with bolts and screws in his joint to hold it together.  Some remained the rest of his life.  It was wheat planting season.  He couldn’t do it.  But when the neighbors learned of his accident, we had about 20 tractors, drills and food coming in from everywhere around the community.  Our crop was planted, we all had a huge community meal to celebrate, and it was a humbling and amazing experience I will never forget.

In all the hoopla of the present-day world, and all the ‘cheap shots’ taken at agriculture these days, it was so refreshing to know, decades after a special time in my life, that the real farmers and ranchers who feed this world haven’t changed.

As the world turns, will it be fair to ag?

After a break to step back and reflect, nurse a replaced knee, and a few other things, this blog is back wondering about this world, its finances, and just where agriculture may fit in the mix.

I was able to travel to Europe a few months ago.  My nephew is stationed in Germany with the Air Force.  He is an avid traveler and expertly guided us through several countries during our stay.  The best part of the trip was that we went beyond the normal ‘tourist’ spots and included small villages, farms, small retail stops, and some other ‘off the beaten path’ areas.

One thing was clear.  Europe is broke.  If it weren’t for Germany, though it has its own problems, the EU would be folded now.  With Greece, Spain, Italy and others in dire financial shape, the future is more than uncertain.  People there are worried.  But interestingly, not just about the EU, but also the U.S.  In talking with people there, their fear is that the U.S. is trying to be like them.  Their advice?  Don’t do it, you can’t afford it!  A wonderful lady we spoke to who owned a small shop in Lucerne, Switzerland was the most blunt.  Switzerland is not part of the EU, and they still have the Swiss franc as currency, but she had plenty to say about the EU and its Euro currency.  “Some people don’t understand there is no money!  They expect the government to create it!  You can’t keep taxing entrepreneurial people and companies, they create the jobs.  More taxes, fewer jobs.  Workers want more, more, more.  Well there is no more, too much has been given already.  Everybody must take less.”

Sound familiar?  The same conversations are happening here in the U.S.  So what do you do?  Some want to tax the wealthy.  Well, according to my Switzerland friend, that’s a job killing action.  Some want to cut deeply into government spending.  Sounds good, and must be done, but how far do you go?  The trouble is our Congress is looking for any easy way out.  At the top of the list is agriculture.

We can expect that direct payments are probably gone.  Other payments may be, especially to farmers who ‘make too much.’  The problem is many in Congress are looking at gross income rather than net, and also don’t understand the finances of agriculture at all.  A farmer can make a half million dollars pretty easily, but when it takes nearly that much (or more) to make that money, or the experience of a crop loss devastates cash flow, it’s easy to see there isn’t much left when the dust settles.  Let’s keep in mind everybody eats, and protecting an agricultural ‘safety net’ is important.

Should farm programs and payments be looked at?  Yes.  Should farmers have to be part of the cuts in government spending? Yes.  But, should they only bear a fair portion of the cuts, just like everyone else?  Absolutely yes.  Congress needs the courage to tackle all spending, not just ‘easy targets.’  Agriculture, and the jobs it creates (nearly 20% of the workforce) deserves at least that.  We’ll see how it goes.