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.

Our rural getaway


Cattle among Kansas windmills

We dearly love our disabled daughter.  She is the best teacher we’ve ever had, and her example of unconditional love and acceptance of others is a lesson she teaches everyone she meets.  However, as with any parent, sometimes it’s nice to escape with your spouse for a short ‘getaway.’

Now, ‘getaways’ can be across the world, across the country, across the state, or across town.  The point is it’s a great time to catch up, recharge, and enjoy whatever surroundings you have.

Most of the time it’s thought the best getaway is in the city and all of its stores, restaurants, entertainment options and whatever.  But this time, we chose to go the other direction, to western Kansas.  What?!??  you may say.

Well, we headed to our alma mater, Fort Hays State University, to see what had been done over the years since our last visit, planned to take in a Saturday football game, and just enjoy the western Kansas cropland, farming communities, and in general small town, rural Kansas.  It was good to see the contented cattle in the Flint Hills, the rural economic development of the large wind farms doing their part for our energy needs, the farmers cutting soybeans and planting wheat, providing everything from bread for the world to tofu for, well, those who eat tofu.

Other good things:  A smile from those who didn’t know us, but have that rural hospitality about them that makes you feel welcome, no matter who you are.  A wonderful jump back to the past remembering the sites and special places on campus where we studied, goofed off, played tons of tennis, took special walks, and fell in love.  Cheering for our team, maybe over zealously, but feeling that we helped them almost defeat a highly ranked opponent, even though it really shouldn’t have been much of a game.

We saw some old friends, too.  They hadn’t changed.  When you grow up in rural America you’re instilled with values and a work ethic that stays with you for a lifetime, and is a reassuring constant for that ‘culture.’

We had a fantastic time.  We got recharged, we got back to some basics, we had a chance to appreciate rural America, and small-town America.  We don’t get too many chances to get away, and we have such a great time with our daughter, our supposed getaways often include her anyway.  But the next time we go, we have a new option.  It may not be the city lights, the restaurants, the crowds, the whatever.  We may get back to our roots again, and enjoy the special places and special people that are rural America.

Fall harvest: A cycle of life

Growing up, I always liked September.  Along with cooler weather, the new car models were introduced, football season was upon us, and as a farm kid, fall harvest was a major event for the year.  This year was no different.

Loading the grain cart on the go

Now, though, I appreciate it even more. The equipment is more modern, some of the crops have changed, and the markets are much more volatile, but the feeling of caring for the land and the appreciation of the crop it produces is the same thankfulness of long ago.

For a farmer, this recurring cycle of life from the land is a rite of passage renewed each year.  It’s that cycle that supports the family, feeds local consumers, and feeds the world.  A farmer has a real advantage over most others.  In no other profession can you each and every day help support the lives of so many people.  The family that farms our land affects many.  Not only does their work help support our family, and the other families they farm for, it also supports their own four families, and the several other families and individuals that work for them each year, either year-round or seasonally.  That doesn’t begin to include the local grain handlers, transportation providers, grocery stores, millers and other processors, livestock feeders, ethanol producers and others.

Grain flowing on a perfect harvest day

When a harvest comes in, there is a tremendous satisfaction that a year’s labor has been worth it.   Whether a hundred years ago or today, when the grain is flowing, there is a thankfulness that comes from knowing that again you’ve been blessed with a crop.  It’s fun to see the looks on the proud faces of all those workers involved.  Everyone is part of the harvest family.  The owners, the farmers, the farmworkers, the grain elevator staff, everybody who has a part in bringing in the harvest, shares a joy few can imagine.

Our friend and tenant Darrell harvesting

Even though I now work in the city, I hope I never have to miss this time of year.  It lets me leave the stress and chaos of  ‘city life,’ and gets me regrounded in what I believe is the single most important industry in the world.  When you see the faith, the work ethic, the caring for the land and each other, and the pride of farm life, you never want to leave it, and if you must, you long for the next chance to return.  There is no better place to be.

Big Ag cares

Darrell and I during corn harvest '09. We'll harvest the '10 crop in a couple of weeks

The family that farms our land in Kansas is a great one.  I grew up with Darrell, went to school from 1st grade through college graduation, and he was best man in my wedding.  Our families were always close and doing things together, so when it was clear our farm couldn’t support both my parents and my new family, it was really logical that Darrell should farm our land for us as part of his family’s operation.

From 1st grade, Darrell was a farmer at heart.  While my friends and I would play with cars on the sidewalk at recess, Darrell would be in an open dirt area with his John Deere tractors.  There was never a doubt what his vocation would be.  After his graduation from college and marriage, Darrell and his wife instilled a love for the farm, the land, and the lifestyle in their children.  Now, his two sons plan to come back to the farm, and at least one daughter just might be there, too.

I suppose some would call Darrell’s operation ‘Big Ag.’  The farm includes his two brothers and their families, his father, until his passing just a few years ago, and whatever children may return when the time comes.  Yes, they have thousands of acres.  Mostly corn, soybeans, wheat, and milo.  But this farm supports those four families, helps support our family, and the families of those working for him, both year-round and seasonally.

But one thing that was paramount in my dad’s mind when he was on the farm, and in Darrell’s dad as well, and now clearly in Darrell’s, was the desire to have the farm in good shape and ‘sustainable’ so it could be passed on to the next generation.

That’s why our discussions each year deal with input amounts and safety, water use, new crops, no-till or minimum-till, and many other ‘sustainable’ issues.  The idea that our parents, or that we, would do anything to harm this land or water and possibly keep that next generation from farming this land is unthinkable. Darrell is a very proactive guy.  He serves and has served on several boards and works with government agencies to find science-based, common-sense solutions to farming issues.  He loves and cares for the land.  He wants to watch his children take over the farm.  I’m glad he, and others like him, farm our land and the land around us.  We are blessed to have caring farmers in this country, and we should be thankful daily.

AgChat Foundation brings ag family together

I’m old enough to have been to many conferences in my working life, so it’s a little surprising, even to me, to say I just attended the best one ever.

In Chicago this week, a group of about 50 attendees, and 20 or so AgChat Foundation members and presenters, got together to learn, share, and get excited about ‘agvocating’ for our industry.  If you haven’t heard the term ‘agvocating’ it just makes sense.  Advocating for agriculture is the mission, social media is the vehicle.

I knew some about social media like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, blogging, etc., but the knowledge gained at this meeting from experts, and those who have become experts just out of their passion for agriculture, was incredible.  I have never returned from a conference with so much information I can put into use immediately to improve what I’m doing for my job and our family farm, share with other staff, and develop into guides for members.

By the second day, it felt like attendees were a family, and it was so great to ‘chat’ face to face with them, after meeting them online as colleagues working together for agriculture.  It was motivating to see the heartfelt dedication and passion of these people, and to know that this group, who share this commitment to a cause, can bring others into the fold, and assure the health and wellness of agriculture into the future.

Want to learn more?  Go to the AgChat Foundation website to start.  If you care about growing food, fiber, and fuel, join us all for #AgChat, 7pm -9pm CT on Twitter each 1st, 2nd, and 4th Tuesday of the month.  The third Tuesday is reserved for #FoodChat.

McDonalds’s board shows some spine

It was good to see the story recently that the McDonald’s Corporation board of directors has recommended that the company’s shareholders vote against a proposal to require that five percent of the eggs purchased for the chain’s restaurants in the United States be the cage-free variety.  Obviously, this was another proposal brought forward by the Humane Society of the United States.

Other corporations that have caved in, at least at some level, to bogus HSUS banter that cage-free somehow means better are Burger King, Subway, Wendy’s, Sonic, and the retailers Wal-Mart and Trader Joe’s, among others.

But the McDonald’s board said that the science was not there to support a switch.  Hooray for some common sense and a show of some spine by McDonald’s.  The HSUS is, without a doubt, the most dangerous and deceptive organization that wants to end animal agriculture as we know it.  They claim all they want is humane treatment, but their words and actions speak louder, they want to eliminate meat from your diet

Another item that speaks louder for the HSUS is their budget.  It’s now become more widely known that HSUS does not support your local animal shelter, though the tear jerking images of sheltered dogs and cats are the basis of their national ad campaigns.  The fact is that, barring some chump change from their 100,000,000+ budget, they lobby, pay huge salaries and benefits to their staff, and spread a host of misinformation about agriculture.  Part of that misinformation is about cage-free systems.  Cage-free eggs can actually be worse for chickens.  The birds are not protected from predators or each other.  Constant pecking, broken bones, more diseases, stress and death from predators, are all prevalent in many cage-free systems, and the list goes on.

What has happened in the boardroom at McDonald’s actually could be seen not only as a vote against the HSUS, but a vote for more humane treatment of chickens!  Let’s just hope McDonald’s holds their ground, and other corporations start seeing the truth about agriculture, and the deception of HSUS.