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Summer Rain

Rain in the Heartland

Photo courtesy of KOMU 8 and Michele Ridenour from Montgomery City, Mo.

Thank God for rain in the Heartland yesterday morning! After about three weeks of hot, dry and thirsty fields, Monday morning brought heavy storm clouds to our Mid-Missouri farm and the surrounding area. The rain had perfect timing as far as we were concerned, though we would have taken it gladly had it arrived a bit earlier. Sunday, as my family and I got my little brother registered and settled in at UCM Music Camp, my uncle finished harvesting the last of our 500+ acres of wheat. Harvest took just five days – but hundreds of gallons of fuel. 

Have you ever thought about how much fuel (& driving time) it takes to bring in a harvest? Well, obviously there’s the combine operator, but there’s also the grain truck driver, the taxi driver (this is my job when I’m home), not to mention the tractor, sprayer, water truck, and all the errands that have to be run just to get a good crop ready to harvest. As the taxi driver, I get to drive a normal truck around to the different farms to help my dad get all of the equipment he needs from point A to point B before he gets started.

It’s like those awful riddles from elementary school:

“Once upon a time a farmer went to market and purchased a fox, a goose, and a bag of beans. On his way home, the farmer came to the bank of a river and rented a boat. But in crossing the river by boat, the farmer could carry only himself and a single one of his purchases – the fox, the goose, or the bag of the beans.

If left alone, the fox would eat the goose, and the goose would eat the beans.

The farmer’s challenge was to carry himself and his purchases to the far bank of the river, leaving each purchase intact.

How did he do it?

This is part of everyday life for farmers. In fact, Sunday afternoon I ran the taxi for my dad to prepare for the rain that we sincerely hoped was coming. We made several trips back and forth between the different fields where he had been working and the storage facility that would protect the equipment and product (grain in trucks) from the rain. Dad had to figure out what to take first and how to park the different machines to make sure it all fit. I had to figure out how to drive his long bed four door pickup truck, which is far too new for me to be allowed to drive (my car is a 99, and I’m not even sure about it all the time because it’s big and low to the ground).

Problem solving skills are sometimes a mystery to me – I like to think that I’m good at that kind of thing, but really I’m good at the intellectual and informational side. Putting the same skills to practical use is a different story. When I got Dad’s truck sort of stuck in a hole driving across a waterway (which he told me to cross), all I could do was throw up my hands and radio Dad behind me for help. He’s sort of a pro at fixing problems for other people, too. He’s come to my rescue for dents, flat tires, and other motor vehicle mishaps – even when I was over an hour away from home.

Do you have a favorite farmer to call when everything goes wrong? Or are you the one who gets all the phone calls from common sense challenged people like me?

Maybe schools need a class in common sense. I’d enroll. 🙂

Farm Out Loud!

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Cruelty-Free Eating?

Today on my college campus, just like every day it seems, there were some random people passing out random pieces of paper that will soon end up in a trash can.

Veganism Booklet

Many of the people who spend their days giving information to people who are less than interested possess radical beliefs about controversial issues. The paper they distribute is usually an advertisement (these are the more “normal” people), or propaganda supporting their cause. Today, I got the latter – a booklet about veganism and factory farms. I would love to just brush this off, laugh at it, maybe even publish a parody version about the mistreatment of plants. However, the spread of misinformation is an ever-present problem for agriculture, and this example is no different.

I don’t doubt that some people who operate animal harvesting facilities do so inhumanely. I don’t doubt that some animals live their lives in dismal conditions – food animals or not.

However, the challenge is how reliable and timely this information is. I don’t know anything about when this booklet was published or what methods were used to acquire the photos, but I do know that other similar materials have been known to use and reuse photos and video from one example – as in, you’re seeing the same video of the same cow from 1998(ish) nearly every time a news source comes up with a scare about mad cow disease.

The booklet raises other questions, as well. Obviously, the funding for the handout came from vegan sources, and not from animal farms. A photo has been floating around Facebook in the past couple of weeks, which makes an interesting point (check out the photo to the right). I agree with one of my Facebook acquaintances who made this comment, “[This photo is] aimed at those people (most of whom have never even visited a farm/have no animal science education/consider all animals to be pets) who tend to “tell” ranchers and farmers that the way that they do things is wrong and inhumane when said ranchers and farmers have spent years and generations working with their animals and caring for them 24/7 (many even studying for years in college on animal behavior and psychology).”


This quote (left) from the booklet caught my attention as well. Although I certainly don’t agree with the manner in which this idea was presented, I must admit that I’ve wondered some of the same things. Is it possible that people in the agriculture industry are too often on the defensive, trying to prove that no one should be telling them what to do, when consumers are demanding something completely different? Perhaps we should be thinking about how to be transparent and welcoming instead of defensive and proud. I’m not sure what an ideal balance between transparency and the right of citizens to operate businesses with limited oversight – I just know that something needs to be done.

One of the last things included in the booklet, after a long description of how veganism works, was this phrase: Cruelty-Free Eating. I think that people have varying definitions of cruelty, but in general would be alright with “cruelty-free” just about anything. In fact, many farm families choose to buy their meat and other products from local sources because they know more about how the products are made, cared for, harvested, etc.

This booklet offers veganism as the only alternative to buying from “factory farms.” While much progress has been made regarding conditions in large farms (which, coincidentally, are just as likely to be family-0wned as many other farms), it is possible to reduce your support of practices that you are uncomfortable with, without giving up meat and animal byproducts altogether. You can research the companies you are giving your grocery-store purchase dollars to, and decide how you feel about them. If any of them give you a bad impression, you can choose to buy from a local meat processing business, ranch, or other farm with whose practices you are comfortable.

Maybe our best bet is to open our doors, take some photos, and produce a booklet much like this one – only with factual content and unedited photos. Perhaps if we let our voices be heard, someone will listen.

Farm Out Loud!

Farmer’s Hands 2012 Missouri Farm Bureau Video Contest Winner

Check out one of the winners of Missouri Farm Bureau’s state video contest. The winners were announced at the 84th Missouri FFA Convention in Columbia, Mo. this week. This video was created by the Walnut Grove FFA Chapter.

I love all of the awesome facts they incorporated into the video, some of which I had heard before, and others that were new to me.

I spent the convention working in a basement room behind the Missouri FFA Convention stage. The people in that room worked incredibly hard, volunteering their time and effort to get the news out to the public. Each story that passed my desk as one of the editors (and there were over 400 press releases written and edited in that room) represented at least one big and exciting success of an FFA member, advisor, or supporter. My big and exciting success was practically running across the stage, one of over 700 people in blue jackets who were raised to the highest award/degree a state association can bestow on an FFA member – the state degree. I am the proud owner of a brand-new, shiny gold, emblem-shaped nerd medal!

Eating Intelligently

I told you in my last post that in my public speaking class, we had been writing and delivering career speeches. I wrote mine about Agriculture Advocacy, or “Ag”vocacy. I’m not sure if that counts as a “career” per se, but my professor was okay with it, so I went with it.

For a little background, I am majoring in Agricultural Communications and Agricultural Education at Missouri State University (not Mizzou, in case you were wondering). My dream job is to work with professional agriculturists (farmers, ranchers, businesspeople, marketers, etc) to manage the authentic on- and off-line presence of their sector of the agriculture industry. It’s becoming more and more important to be transparent as an industry in order to build and maintain trust in our consumer base, regardless of whether we feel we are doing anything wrong. I would also love to work as an FFA Advisor, expanding the opportunities of upcoming generations of “ag”vocates, or to work for a university extension program, helping farmers to become more efficient and more knowledgeable about new findings and technologies. However, for the purpose of my speech, I went with the communications side – an advocate for agriculture.

Interested? Here it is, for your viewing pleasure: my career speech.

Eating Intelligently: Agriculture Advocates and You

According to Terrence Loose in a recent Yahoo! News article, Agriculture is the number one most useless college major. As an Agricultural Communications student at MSU, I would like to challenge that assertion. Does the agriculture industry have a significant effect on your day to day life? It is the job of agriculture advocates to serve as the voice for food and fiber producers to consumers. Agriculture advocacy is both an engaging job and a career that can truly make a difference.

First, I’ll give you an agriculture advocate’s job description, and then I’ll show you how this career is important to consumers.

Advocates for agriculture, also called public relations professionals, engage in dialogue with producers and consumers alike.

A job description might include things like:                                                 
1. Writing press releases
2. Planning corporate events
3. Making sales pitches
4. And even managing the internet presence of a business or public figure through Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and other sites.
Agriculture public relations is all about engagement.

It includes working with farmers to help them tell their story directly. It also involves explaining the science and technology of agriculture to a consumer base that is worldwide and largely generations removed from the family farm.

I’ve explained what an agriculture advocate might do on a daily basis and what the overall goal is for the career. Now I’d like to highlight the importance of this career in your daily consumer life.

Agriculture public relations can make a huge difference in how consumers view the companies that have a hand in food and fiber production. I asked earlier about the agriculture industry’s effect on daily life. I would contend that the industry has a significant part in day to day life. To make use of an old cliché, everyone in the world has to eat.

In fact, the relationship you have with your food and its sources is very important. It determines what you eat, where you buy, and how good you feel about what you consume. It may also determine how you vote on ballot issues.

Having a good food relationship depends on the consumer learning enough about how the food is produced, stored, shipped, and cooked to feel confident eating it.

This is where the agriculture advocate comes in. To find out about your food, you might look to a number of sources. You may check out the Food Safety page on Tyson Chicken’s website. Maybe you’ll find a news article that could open your mind to the idea of genetically optimized seed. Perhaps you’ll come across a YouTube video of a local farmer giving a tour of his cattle operation, so you choose to buy beef directly from the farm. All of these are examples of ways agriculture public relations can help consumers make informed decisions when it comes to food.

Public relations professionals in agriculture help us make decisions about our food by providing valuable content online. They also work with producers to help them show their consumer base what really happens on the farm.

The French writer Francois de La Rochefoucauld said,

“To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art.”

Will you join me in allowing agriculture advocates to help us eat intelligently?

If consumers eat intelligently, and producers continue to produce intelligently, wouldn’t we have an easier time of it? I think it will take our industry being transparent and open to questions, even when accusations are flying. It’s tough, but it’s worth it.

Farm Out Loud!

thanks to Agriculture Impressions for the factoid photos. Check them out on Etsy for more.

Saving the World… Through Science

Guest Blogger! Well, almost.

In my Honors COM 115 class (public speaking), we’ve been writing and presenting speeches about our chosen careers this past week. As one of only 2 “ag” students in my class, naturally I was interested in what the other would have to say. I gave my speech on Agriculture Advocacy (talk about a mouthful); he gave his on Genetic Engineering. It’s difficult to talk about any career for 3+ minutes and make it interesting, but even more so for topics that are technical in nature, or that people just don’t know much about. I must say, I was impressed with my fellow aggie’s speech. Enough so that I was willing to be a dork and ask for a copy of it for my nerd farming blog.

So here it is: for your reading pleasure, a speech on the importance of  a career in genetic engineering by Justin Conover, a Cell and Molecular Biology major at Missouri State University.

Saving the World, One Plant at a Time

“Have you ever wanted to save the world?

When I was younger, I dreamed of being just like my favorite superhero, Superman. I dreamed of flying around the world, lifting large rocks off beautiful women and saving babies from evil, all while living the life of a businessman.

Now, however, I am dreaming of becoming a different kind of superhero, one who saves the world using science.

My name is Justin Conover and I am a freshman honors college student at Missouri State University, planning a career in genetic engineering.

Today I want to explain to you how genetic engineering can save the world, what qualifications it takes to become a genetic engineering research scientist, and tell you some of the benefits being this career has in today’s world.

First, let’s take a look at why the world needs superheroes and how genetic engineering can save the world.

Currently there are 6.7 billion people on Earth, but according to a report in 2010 by Dr. Pamela Ronald, a professor of plant pathology at the University of California at Davis, this number is projected to be close to 9.2 billion by the year 2050.

The question is how will we feed them?

There are already people around the world that do not have food to eat, not because they can’t afford it, but because it is not available to them. And with the traditional agriculture production yield, there is no way that we will be able to produce enough food to feed everyone.

This is where genetic engineering comes in. Genetic engineering is the use of recombinant DNA technology to alter the genetic makeup of an organism which improves its yield and nutritional value, along with added benefits such as pharmaceutical advantages and ecological gains.

Examples of genetically engineered plants include Bt corn, which includes an insecticide from a common bacteria; Round-up ready soybeans, which are resistant to Round-up, a herbicide manufactured by Monsanto; and golden rice, which contains small amounts of vitamin A used to prevent childhood blindness in many third-world countries.

These genetically engineered crops have led farmers to have higher production rates, provided consumers with lower prices of food, and given vitamins to those who otherwise could not get them.

The people that create these genetically engineered crops in the lab are called genetic engineering research scientists. Most genetic engineering research scientists have a doctorate degree in a biological science such as genetics or microbiology, which takes an additional four years after the completion of a bachelor’s degree to obtain. Many of these scientists have both their doctoral degree, or Ph.D., and their doctor of medicine, or M.D.. They spend most of their time working with a small team in a laboratory with strict cleanliness and safety standards. Research scientists often spend 35 to 40 hours a week in the lab, but additional hours are occasionally required for special projects.

Genetic Engineering research scientists also have great benefits. The average research scientist makes 65,000 dollars a year, according to stateuniveristy.com. Some of the benefits they can receive include paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and pension plans. Plus, they get the satisfaction that what they are doing will make a direct influence on someone’s life and that they may save hundreds of lives by testing and creating genetically engineered crops. But perhaps the greatest benefit of all is knowing that their work will not only affect those close to them and alive today, but it will help people around the world for generations to come.

Just like Superman, being a genetic engineering research scientist requires you to take action and save the world, but instead of sheer strength and the ability to fly, research scientists use the power of science to complete their tasks. Being a research scientist is a very rewarding career, as you will most likely make decisions and discoveries that will affect people around the world. People are in desperate need of saving from poverty, starvation, and malnourishment.

That is why I have decided to become a genetic engineering research scientist and start saving the world through science.”

Justin Conover is a freshman Honors College student at Missouri State University majoring in Cell and Molecular Biology pursuing a career in Genetic Engineering. He is a 2011 graduate from Pattonsburg High School in Pattonsburg, MO. In high school, he was a part of FFA, FBLA, Student Council, National Honor Society, and was the Class of 2011 Secretary. He served as the Pattonsburg FFA Chapter President and as the Area II Treasurer. He competed on multiple contest teams in FFA, including Prepared Public Speaking, Poultry Evaluation, and Farm Business Management.

Farming out loud is more than just what I call “geeking out” with others in your field. It’s having the courage to speak up and tell you story when you know not everyone listening is on your side.

Farm Out Loud!

Ag Day Agvocacy

National Ag Day is coming up March 8. What are you going to do to celebrate?

What is National Ag Day? It’s sponsored by the Agriculture Council of America, a non-profit organization made up of leaders in the ag industry. Here’s what agday.org says about the day:

National Ag Day is a day to recognize and celebrate the abundance provided by agriculture. Every year, producers, agricultural associations, corporations, universities, government agencies and countless others across America join together to recognize the contributions of agriculture.

The site also has a great outline of goals for Ag Day.

Every American should:

  • Understand how food and fiber products are produced.
  • Appreciate the role agriculture plays in providing safe, abundant and affordable products.
  • Value the essential role of agriculture in maintaining a strong economy.
  • Acknowledge and consider career opportunities in the agriculture, food and fiber industry.

There are lots of ways that you can get involved in the celebration. The best way I can think of is to tell your story somewhere where people outside of agriculture can see/hear/read it. You can highlight something about what you do, why it’s important, and why agriculture plays a big role in America. A fellow blogger, Ryan Goodman at agricultureproud.com, is hosting a month’s worth of guest posts from people in different aspects of agriculture about what they do and why they are proud to be a part of agriculture. You can read about how to contribute here.

What should you write about? Well… if you’re a nerd farmer, and I suspect that you are, then you’ve probably done something pretty cool in the last year that you’re proud of and excited about. I’ll give you an example: my dad.

Dad participated in a couple of different row crop competitions during the growing and harvest season for first-crop soybeans this past year. The farm split a soybean field in half between two different varieties of seed from two of the biggest seed company competitors in our area, Asgrow and Pioneer. He chose a field that was unique – they had installed drainage tile (underground tubes that drain off excess water) in a pattern that meant that the whole field got tile every 40 ft. This meant the field could be planted earlier than normal because the ground would be dry enough, and that excess rain wouldn’t become as much of a problem. They also took systematic soil samples so they would know which sections of the field needed which nutrients to support a good soybean crop. Once the field was planted and marked for the different seed varieties, the whole field was treated the same.

They did a few things differently than they had in the past, including their methods for fertilizing and spraying insecticides and fungicides. Since they had the soil samples from each section of the plot, they were able to employ a variable fertilizer application method that made sure every section got what it needed without undue waste. Then they scouted the field for insects and other problems once or twice a week, and if they saw bugs, they sprayed.

In fact, the last time the field needed an insecticide application, the plants were so tall that the sprayer wouldn’t fit over them, so Dad hired a plane to fly over and administer the insecticide. Towards the end of the season, they also applied fungicide to the entire field to keep fungus out and keep the plants healthy.

When it came harvest time, a judge came out to make sure everything was done by the book, and Dad harvested 2 continuous acres of each variety of soybeans for entry into the contests.

In the competition sponsored by Asgrow and Dekalb, called Yield Chasers, a yield of 72.3 bushels/acre was recorded, winning first place in Central Missouri.

In the contest sponsored by Pioneer, called Missouri Soybean Yield Contest, the farm won 2nd place in Central Missouri with 71.48 bu/acre.

Basically, my dad and Brauer Farms are some of the best soybean farmers in the state of Missouri. In fact, as a senior in high school last year (the same crop year as the soybeans that won the trophies above), I was able to help with the soybean crop and submit samples of it to the State Fair FFA Contest in Sedalia. Does the following photo need any other explanation?

This little story has probably reminded you of a story you’d like to tell, whether it be about a contest, a gadget, or just a not-so-typical day on the farm. So tell it!

Farm Out Loud!

Chipotle, Sustainability, and Questions

At the Grammy’s last weekend, a commercial for Chipotle, a mexican grill, debuted. It has received a lot of attention from the agriculture industry, good and bad.

If you haven’t seen it yet, watch it here so you’ll know what I’m talking about:

When I first watched this video, I really didn’t know what to think. On one hand, it’s a great illustration of a company that prefers working with family farms that produce food organically. On the other, it’s a slap in the face to the agriculture industry. I don’t know which one is more correct.

I wonder what Chipotle meant the message of their ad to be. It’s probably safe to say that they were promoting organic agriculture. Their website refers to “food with integrity” and sustainable agriculture. Now, the chain restaurant is still supporting the ag industry, so they’re probably not trying to insult the industry. However, they exclusively serve relatively inexpensive burritos. My next question was who is the person behind the ad and the company? What I found out was rather odd. Steve Ells, the founder of Chipotle, has a degree in Art History and also attended culinary school. He doesn’t have a background in agriculture, but on the company’s website, he claims to know a lot about how food is produced.

As Chipotle began to grow and expand, I learned quite a bit about the way most of the food in the US is produced and processed — and what I learned was pretty grim. Pigs are raised in stark confinement, produce is grown on vast factory farms with little or no regard for the environment, and dairy cows are confined and injected with hormones that make them produce 8 times their normal amount of milk.

I don’t deny that in this country exist farms that might fit this description, or have at some point in time. Once in a while, somebody gets caught up in new technology or making money and loses track of what customers expect about their food. However, the issue with Mr. Ells’s view on the subject is the word most. Most of the food in the US does not come from the ugly farm he describes. Most of the farms in the US don’t look anything like that. It is also possible that the description is an exaggeration of the truth. Many farms feel the pressure to deliver low cost food, which cannot economically be produced on a farm with descriptors like “free range, organic,” etc.

We as an industry have come a long way from the defamed “factory farm,” but we still have a long way to go. One of the issues the industry is facing is an ever-growing demand for agricultural products, meanwhile small groups of consumers and voters are tying our hands when it comes to meeting that demand. If a solution is found that allows more bushels of grain to be produced per acre, someone somewhere is against it. It’s even worse if the same idea is applied to animal agriculture.

Small groups of people make their voices heard on such issues, meanwhile a silent majority continues to buy (and therefore fund) the products as they are already produced. It’s confusing for producers. Do you listen to the loud minority, or follow the bottom line? If the average consumer truly prefers food from sustainable or organic sources, the best way to communicate that to producers is to vote with their dollars. The more people who are willing to pay more for the organic foods some say are the best, the more producers will sit up and listen.

Regardless of what consumers do, our industry does have a responsibility to work to find ways to operate in ways that are more sustainable. That is, once we can agree on the definition of the word.

What do you think about the Chipotle ad? How do you define sustainability? How should we react to people and companies who choose to get our attention this way?

I certainly don’t have the answers, but I do know that the voice that’s missing in the ad is ours.

Farm Out Loud !

Farming out loud

I’m the product of a rural school district in a small Missouri town, a farming community where I learned the value of hard work and the importance of faith. In high school, I got the chance to venture into uncharted territory and found that I can be comfortable even outside my bubble – on stage, behind a mic, in costume, on a four-wheeler, in the city, in the middle of nowhere, and in a blue corduroy jacket.  I am now a junior in college, settling into my area of interest, studying Agricultural Communications and Agricultural Education at Missouri State University. I am a proud resident of the honors dorm, which we affectionately call the Nerd Box. I have a passion for learning, and the more I get into agriculture, the more I realize there is to learn. I love representing my state and my school at conferences and events, and I’ve recently discovered a new love – covering events as a reporter for Missouri FFA Today and Cattlemen’s News, a publication of the Joplin Regional Stockyards. I’ve had the privilege of working as an intern at the Missouri Department of Agriculture, and I’m looking forward to this summer and the opportunities for great experience I’m certain it holds. It is my hope that I can contribute to the revolution of the agriculture industry by helping farmers to tell the story we’ve been in the middle of for as long as we can remember. I’m proud to say I’m a part of the minority – an American who isn’t even one generation removed from the family farm.

Since this is my first blog post, I think an explanation of this blog’s title and tagline are in order. Farm Out Loud is a combination of a couple of things – an old FFA slogan “Lead Out Loud,” and especially my favorite characterization of my father, the original “nerd farmer” in my life.

Dad finds people to visit with everywhere he goes, and he’s always talking about farming. Mom and I are supportive, but we know that it’s more likely than not that when we’re ready to head out for lunch after church, dad is behind the last row of pews “farming” with his friends. We smile and roll our eyes and Mom says, “Your father is farming out loud again.”  She even tells people sometimes that she teaches to support her husband’s farming habit.

All kidding aside, growing up with parents who are both passionate and excited about their careers made me the person I am today. I don’t know anything about choosing a major or a career for money – it’s all about passion. Having a job that takes up a lot more time than a typical 9 to 5 but doesn’t exactly pay that way is all I’ve ever seen, and I’m glad for it. Mom is a farmer’s daughter herself, Dad is a full-time row crop farmer, and agriculture has been ingrained in the whole family for as long as I can remember.

I can’t wait to enter the field as a liaison between farmers and companies, or even between farmers and customers. It’s unfortunate that many people seem to distrust their food sources. Regulation proposals based on misinformation are also a growing problem. There are exciting developments happening in agriculture too, like new technology, smarter equipment and stronger plant strains. My passion is to learn from any “nerd farmers” out there about how they would tell the story behind America’s agriculture industry. I believe that it’s time for farmers to join the conversation already in progress about food production and reliability everywhere it’s happening, including on social media. The good news about that? A lot of us are already here!

If my description of a “nerd farmer” sounds like you, I’d really love to hear from you! Leave a comment and/or a blog link if you want to help me out on this journey of discovery. If you have questions you want me to ask a nerd farmer, let me know!

’til we meet again, don’t forget to
Farm Out Loud!