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.

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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.

Ag life: Growing up caring

I came across this picture the other day, shot by farm parents of their daughter.  It was a classic of how I grew up, how kids in agriculture grow up.  It’s about caring.  This girl wanted to be with her calf, making sure it was OK.  I remember the many, many nights as I was growing up we would check our cattle throughout the winter and bring in cold calves to the shed to dry off, keep warm, and take back to their moms the next morning.  We might have to bottle feed them.  We’d rub and massage them to get them warm, and we’d stay with them as long as needed.  Sometimes, we might even fall asleep with them.

The image you see here is the standard of the way I, and my neighbor kids, grew up.  It was about taking care of and respecting our animals.  This is agriculture.

In the eye of the beholder

You hear a lot about media bias.  And yes, I believe there is a great deal of it, to the point that I believe very little  journalism exists from the network level down through major dailies, and even below.  Sometimes it’s not even hidden, sometimes it’s by omission, and often it’s by headline because many people are just headline readers.  You’ll also see bias in how some information not really wanted, but that must be included to at least imply impartiality, will be slipped in as late in the story as possible because so many others don’t take time to read all of an article.

Well, I ran across such an article the other day.  I’m not even going to get into the subject matter of the article itself and whether the action was right or wrong, that’s not the point.  I Just wanted to show the effect of the written word, depending on your views.  Here is the original article, word for word.

 

California Approves Use of Cancer-Causing Pesticide
Fresnobee.com via AP

FRESNO, Calif. — California pesticide regulators have approved a cancer-causing fumigant for use by fruit and vegetable growers, despite heavy opposition from environmental and farmworker groups.

Officials announced Wednesday that the state Department of Pesticide Regulation will register methyl iodide as a substitute for the pesticide, methyl bromide.

Methyl bromide is being phased out by international treaty.

The agency tentatively approved methyl iodide’s use in April, despite concerns by a scientific advisory panel that it could poison air and water.

Regulators insist the chemical can be used safely and say strict guidelines will be followed.

Tests have found no traces of the carcinogen in fruit from treated soil. The pesticide already is registered in 47 other states.


OK, from the headline on, you get the gist.  They may as well have said, “How could these people have possibly done this?”  As if to avoid it, at the end, if a reader goes that far, you finally see that 47 other states have approved it, and tests show no traces of chemical on the fruit.

But, if a regular observer/consumer is reading this, what if it said the following? Note the information is the same.

 

California joins 47 other states to approve agricultural economic tool
wherever.com

In what some are saying is overdue and could restore the fruit and vegetable growing sustainability of the region, California regulators have joined 47 other states in approving methyl iodide, a protective fumigant for fruit crops.

Following tentative approval in April, the state Department of Pesticide Regulation has now officially approved the crop tool, citing testing that show no traces of carcinogen in fruit after its use.

Methyl bromide was targeted for phase-out by some countries as part of an international treaty, forcing a substitute for the protection of California fruit crops.

In spite of safe testing results, some environmental groups are opposing the action, but regulators stress that the tool can be used safely and effectively under the guidelines imposed.

 

Sound a little different? If anything can be taken away from this, it’s that we should be careful of not only what we read, but how we read it.  We also need to make an attempt to put personal bias aside, and see if there is actually a jewel or two of truth we can discern.

Still plenty to be thankful for

Sometimes you wonder.  All the political bickering, the bashing of agriculture, misinformation by some groups who are trying to mislead the public, or just don’t know better.  What a mess!

But wait, let’s take a breath. Here are a few things to remember and be thankful for.  Call it a top ten list, not necessarily in any order.

1. OK, this one’s in order for me. First, thank you God for my life, your work in it, and the work I know is left to be done.

2. I’m thankful I can have Thanksgiving with my wife, daughter and other family, and pray for those who can’t.

3. Thanks, AgChat Foundation, for helping to get farmers to tell their story, so consumers can better know the truth, and know that the people who grow their food care about the land and animals.

4. A big #foodthanks to the farmers and ranchers who grow the food for this world, and especially all of those who are joining the #agvocate ranks.

5. Thanks to those who haven’t always agreed with me this year.  Some of you are hopeless :-), but truly, most of you have been great to visit with, and I’ve truly enjoyed the exchange of information.  I hope the learning and respect has gone both ways.

6. I’m thankful to live in a country where we are still free, and where our food is safe and abundant.

7. I’m thankful for my travels, where I’ve seen hungry people and know with the right plan farmers and ranchers can feed them, where it’s possible help them better feed themselves, and also feed a growing population, even through political challenges.

8. I’m thankful my work life brought me back to agriculture, where I can stay in touch with farmers and ranchers, help them do their jobs better, and support their ability to grow my food, and food for the world.

9. Thanks to the soldiers, the men and women who fight so we can take so much for granted, even though we shouldn’t (see no. 6).

10. Thanks for one of the best parts of my year, going back to the farm for harvest, and being refreshed by the farmers and ranchers who care for their land, water, and animals, and for the genuine honor they have, the humble attitude, and wishes to pass their legacy on to the next generation.

An additional thanks for the hope that we can have another year ahead, and somehow, some way, it can be better.  Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Stupid is as stupid does

It’s hard to find a really good movie these days, but one good one a few years back was Forrest Gump.  The story was OK, but I will remember the great phrases, such as, “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.”

In agriculture, that’s certainly true.  It seems in the last few years there has been a new concentrated attack like never before.  Whether you call it traditional, modern, conventional, or whatever, it is now considered by some the worst of the worst in ways to feed the planet.

The same goes for animals.  Everyone can pretty much agree on animal welfare, and abhors what is seen on some ‘undercover videos’ that are released.  The problem is the Humane Society of the U.S. and PETA videos have little to do with animal care.  Their agenda through showing these very rare abuse cases is to get us to stop eating meat.

If you ask most ag people, they roll their eyes that people are swayed by such efforts. “Don’t these urban people know what these groups are trying to accomplish?”  “I can’t make a living if I abuse my animals, they won’t grow efficiently, sickness will cost more, and dang it, I know I grow them for food, but I care about those animals, I love being around them.”

Well, in the words of Forrest, ‘Stupid is as stupid does.’  I’ve had encounters with people who think we shouldn’t worry at all about feeding the rest of the world.  And, get ready for this, that anybody in say, Egypt, should just have their own ‘Victory Garden’ and supply their own food.  Now, if that should happen in places like Egypt, it’s a given for the U.S.

OK, sorry, that’s stupid.  Just as it is to mistake the difference between animal welfare and animal rights.  Yes, some animals are grown for food.  If some choose not to eat meat, that’s their business, but it’s not the choice of the vast majority, and some of the misinformation and misguided efforts by those who want to achieve their no-meat agendas are…stupid.  But why does anybody listen?  Why doesn’t simple common sense take over?  Well, it’s a must to understand that most of the population is two, three or more generations away from the farm or ranch. They’ve only known food to be readily and abundantly available.  And, in too many cases, the only information they’re hearing is from the agenda-driven groups, not the farmers and ranchers that safely grow their food and care for farm animals.

I’m glad groups like the AgChat Foundation and farmers and ranchers in general are starting to recognize the problem, and are getting much more active in telling their story.  Because if they don’t, only one side will be told, and it’s not the real side.  In other words, farmers and ranchers out there need to get busy telling their story, or they can fit into the category as well.  You see, ‘Stupid is as stupid does’…or doesn’t.

Who hijacked ‘Sustainable?’

Did you ever wonder about a word?  In agriculture, one of the most used (and misused) terms around is ‘sustainable.’  Just what does that mean?  The World Dictionary definition of ‘sustainable’ says “to keep up or keep going, as an action or process.”

Well, let’s apply that to agriculture.  In 1996, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman issued a memorandum on USDA sustainable agriculture policy. It stated, “USDA is committed to working toward the economic, environmental, and social sustainability of diverse food, fiber, agriculture, forest, and range systems. USDA will balance goals of improved production and profitability, stewardship of the natural resource base and ecological systems, and enhancement of the vitality of rural communities.”

If that statement is broken down, you see economics and the environment share equal footing in providing diverse food, etc. systems. That means both economic and environmental concerns are important.

Then, maybe the biggest word of all is used.  The next part reads, ‘USDA will BALANCE (bold/caps added) goals of improved production and profitability, natural resources and vitality of rural communities.’

It seems that word ‘balance’ has been lost in the discussion.  I know some people, and have met others on social media sites, that prefer organic, only locally grown food, or as close as they can get.  They also understand that while that’s their preference, it takes modern agriculture to supply the needs of the rest of the U.S. and the world.  They also understand the business of farming is just that, a business. They know a profit is necessary, or nothing can be ‘sustainable.’

I’ve also come across activists out there that I’m not sure care about the economic side of agriculture, or anything else for that matter.  They just want their version of ‘sustainable.’  To some on the fringe it may be all organic, everybody around the world with a Victory Garden, an acre or less per family to feed itself, forget the rest of the country, and certainly the world.  Leaving the science of nutrition and safely applied crop inputs aside for the moment, this fringe thinking is as goofy as it gets.  I’m guessing they’ve never been hungry.

Remember that word ‘BALANCE?’  It’s what we need in the discussion.  There is a world to feed.  Only a handful of countries on this planet grow more food/grains than they consume.  Those few countries have to feed the rest.  As mentioned before, any agricultural effort must be profitable, just as any vocational venture.  If it’s not, it certainly won’t be ‘sustainable.’

Also, I’ve heard the flap that if the U.S. changed its agriculture policy, all these other countries could feed themselves.  Well, that’s just not true.  Try a visit to the Middle East, Africa, parts of Europe or Mexico, and it will be clear no amount, yes, that’s no amount, of investment will allow many of those countries to be food self-sufficient.  If the land and the climate aren’t there, it’s not going to happen. Welcome to reality.

The world population is growing.  The need for more food must be ‘BALANCED’ with the environment.  If we truly ruin the environment, that’s not sustainable either.  I think that’s why you will find that modern/traditional agriculture has found ways to use dramatically less chemicals in recent decades, why technology has been able to increase yields without having to cultivate more land, why conservation efforts like no-till and minimum-till practices are on the rise, and the list can go on.  All of this advancement is critical to protecting the environment.

One thing I’ve noticed among those that are on the fringe of the ‘sustainable’ movement, is a marked cynicism.  They can’t seem to believe a farmer may truly care for the land and animals, and want to pass a lifestyle and value system learned on a farm down to the next generation.  Well, here’s a newsflash for you.  There are some true, caring, patriotic, value-based people out there.  And many of them are farmers.

By the way, here’s just a thought while everybody seems to want to define ‘sustainable.’  Think of 4,5,or 6 generations on the same land, drinking the same water, eating the same food, using technology to increase production and environmental stewardship, with the main goal of caring for the land, water, other resources, and animals so the farm can be passed on to the next generation.  That sounds pretty sustainable to me.

The fact is organic farmers and consumers should have their choice.  Locally grown food should be greatly appreciated.  If a group of people in the middle of a city can have a rooftop garden, or an open lot to grow food, that’s wonderful.  There is room for all kinds of agriculture, and one group shouldn’t be putting down the other.  All sorts of agriculture must be ‘sustainable’ to provide the abundant diversity of safe, wholesome, and nutritious food we enjoy.

Let’s don’t put down agriculture by hijacking a word.  Let’s understand the balance of the diversity and the need to feed a hungry planet.  We’ll be better off getting off the fringes, and working together.