For more than a month and a half now, Occupy Wall Street protesters have taken over city parks and the national news programs protesting social and economic inequality and corporate greed and power. Within weeks of its beginning, the movement grew not just geographically, with satellite protests springing up across the nation, but also internally. By now, some protesters even carry signs with such articulate messaging as “I AM VERY UPSET,” as seen on the front page of a recent New York Times
Guess what? A lot of people are upset about a lot of things. But, as the many causes associated with the demonstrations multiply, some food elitists have started joining the “99%” while pushing an agenda that is not supported by the masses. Delivering misconstrued messaging that purportedly promotes democracy and touting dubitable sources, these fear mongers hype a plight that does not exist.
A recent blog post on Civil Eats outlines what the food-motivated occupiers actually want. The outcome of their desires would effectively squelch the freedom of average Americans to select the diet they prefer in favor of dictating a “healthier” America. By painting a seriously skewed picture of American agriculture, the elitist radicals deny the basic tenets of capitalism, an idea most Americans closely link with freedom. They condescend, offering only scant information provided by sources which either speak out of their field of expertise or have been debunked time and time again. Relying on a conception that Americans will embrace this emotionally charged propaganda without meaningful consideration, they aim to dictate both the choices of consumers and the ability of farmers to produce an abundant supply of healthy food choices.
Since an early age, children learn that they can “vote with their pocketbooks” as, in a free society the laws of supply and demand provide a tool with which they affect corporate America directly through their purchasing decisions. Yet, these protesters instead pose the idea that “75 percent of the population are obese or overweight and many are chronically ill with diet-related diseases” because of a corporate-controlled food supply. In doing so, they offer the easy out to anyone who makes poor choices by denying the long-valued ideal of personal responsibility.
Americans are not spoon-fed or force-fed the oversized portions of high-calorie foods that lead to weight gain. Instead, they choose a diet that they enjoy. Average Americans may not make the same choices as these activists, or even base them upon the same values, but that does not discount their opinions.
That argument sounds strangely familiar…
Many people take the easy academic out and blame corporations for producing the choices that they secretly favor. So, the protesters validate them. By blaming obesity on the corporations, these master debaters place the blame on faceless, callous mental images of corporations. These arguments further disguise an elitist agenda under the blanket of anger against corporations spun with the threads of discontent with financial entities whose corporate irresponsibility pushed our nation toward recession.
While these protestors claim to stand up to corporate farming, they rage against a corporate machine that doesn’t exist in the way they portray it. g. In all reality, 95 percent of all farms in America are still family owned. These growers, most often the descendants of a proud tradition of the rugged individualists who first made farming flourish here, make informed decisions every year on what to put in their fields. Farmers understand what types of climates and soil produce certain crops. They know first-hand that selecting seeds that can resist stressors common in their area will increase the chance of a successful harvest. They study their land, growing the most abundant crop possible in a way that preserves the environment- the single greatest resource as growers.
Pushing this reality aside, the blog post in particular jumps to the idea many espouse: somehow, big companies are behind what farmers produce. While a variety of companies do sell seeds, as consumers farmers select what they see as the product that will grow the best crop given their particular circumstances. If they did not see value in biotech, they wouldn’t pay for it.
Pointing to the rapid growth of sales for corn seeds with the Roundup Ready trait, the blog implies that, in order to achieve this type of success, the seed provider must be exercising some sort of secret power. In a way, successful seed providers are exercising a power that may be mysterious to the protestors. They make effective, proven, safe products that farmers like. Most average citizens understand that, when you make something that people like instead of just empty rhetoric, it tends to become popular quickly. Mystery solved.
The activists cite self-proclaimed “experts.” Again relying on the inaccurate assumption that the average Americans they claim to represent will be too lazy to examine these experts credibility, their arguments rely heavily on the claims made in the Oscar-nominated documentary Food, Inc. (To read up on the problems of the documentary, read American Agri-Women’s Food Inc Analysis.)
The aforementioned blog post in particular also cites a doctorate. Instead of the logical selection of citing a medical doctor for information on human health, or even a biologist, nutritionist or dietician, the information sourced are the opinions of a physicist. While a doctorate requires mental aptitude and dedication, it seems like a large leap to place trust in someone speaking so far outside of their area of expertise. If a physicist is in no way licensed to practice medicine or dispense dietary advice, it might appear more credible if the expert cited in these areas were thus raising the question of how the author made such a selection. The word “desperation” comes to mind…
Instead of occupying a park only to spout propaganda, those seeking to occupy our nation’s fields and stomachs should face reality. The food system, while as much of a work-in-progress as any other human endeavor, is functional. Every year, farmers provide an abundant supply of quality food. They do so at prices lower than anywhere else in the developed world. They do so despite challenges both from the weather and from the very people eating the food they grow.
Do not let the occupiers win. The monopoly they seek to create would take away choice, push up prices and kill the efficiency that allows farmers to feed the actually impoverished, hungry masses they pretend to represent.
In a summer plagued by extreme weather, farmers along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers watched as water swelled from its banks and, eventually, covered many of their fields. These farmers continue working to salvage the 400,000 acres lost to the flood. This is about more than flooded farms and homes though– this is about people’s lives and livelihoods.
2011 has been a devastating year for farmers along the rivers. In May, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers blew up three levees in southeast Missouri, flooding 200 square miles of homes, fields and businesses along the banks of the Mississippi River. Shortly thereafter, they released historic amounts of water from the Missouri River Reservoir System, flooding an estimated 400,000 acres of prime farmland for four months. Stress, frustration and a sense of hopeless rolled in with the water.
The Missouri Corn Growers Association and Missouri Corn Merchandising Council are working along these growers that the government does not turn its back on the farms that they chose to flood. Through a new documentary, Underwater and Overlooked: Crisis on the Missouri River, the groups bring the facts to the forefront, holding the Corps accountable for the 2011 flood along the Missouri River banks and pushing them to take steps to ensure this never happens again.
The Army Corps of Engineers made the decisions that changed the lives of Missouri farmers. Now is the time to hear their stories, understand this tragedy and join with those supporting the victims as they rebuild. Click here to see what actually happened in Missouri’s farmlands as they sat flooded for 16 weeks. When the water goes down, the cameras go away and the spotlight dims, keep this story in the public eye until the levees are repaired and flood management is recognized as the top priority by the Corps.
Usually farmers like to have dry weather in the fall to get the crops out of the field – just not too dry!
Harvest season two years ago was so wet that crops in some areas went unharvested until the following spring. This year is a totally different story. Combine fires setting fields on fire have been happening all over the corn belt this season because it has been so dry and windy, the worst areas being Iowa, Nebraska and the Dakotas.
“Extreme conditions in South Dakota this fall created a perfect storm of high temperatures, low humidity, dry crops, and high winds producing extreme risk of fires during harvest,” said Daniel Humburg, professor of Ag & Biosystems Engineering Department at South Dakota State University.
There is still plenty of harvesting yet to be done and while most farmers understand the risks of combine fires and how to prevent them, a little reminder never hurts. University of Nebraska farm safety specialist Dave Morgan offers these safety tips:
- Keep your equipment clean and in good repair. When you get done for the day, take time to clean your machine thoroughly with an air compressor, power washer, or even a broom to dislodge any crop residue or chaff from the combine.
- Fix any fuel, hydraulic or oil leaks. When it’s this windy, vegetative matter breaks up into really fine material that readily accumulates on oil and fuel leaks, Morgan said. This creates a source of solid and liquid fuel. From there, it doesn’t take much to start the fire — a dry bearing or a slipping belt can quickly heat up or spark.
- Check fluid levels and carefully refill, being careful not to spill any oil or fuel on the equipment. But don’t overfill fluid reservoirs. With high temperatures in the mid 80s, oil expands and may “burp” out the vent, creating another fuel source for fire.
- Carry at least one, and preferably two, fully charged 10 lb ABC fire extinguishers on all equipment. (Be sure to have your fire extinguishers inspected annually and refilled as necessary).
Entering its second season, the Missouri Corn fall promotion builds on last year’s successful campaign in which weatherproof stop signs were featured in 25 corn mazes across the state. The 2011 maze materials continue the theme with yield signs answering some of the most common questions about field corn. Partnering mazes also received a free Many Uses of Corn poster and Corn in the Classroom education materials for visiting teachers.
“We want to help the next generation explore agriculture,” said Missouri Corn Outreach Coordinator Hilary Holeman. “The goal of Missouri Corn’s educational efforts is to help today’s children better understand the relationship between our nation’s top crop and its impact on our daily lives.”
Taking it one step further, three corn mazes were selected to participate in a pilot program featuring a series of oversized displays highlighting the top uses for Missouri corn: feed, fuel and exports. The interactive exhibits invite visitors to post pictures to the Missouri Corn Facebook page for a chance to win $50 in free fuel.
The report heralds that agriculture is “On the Doorstep of the Information Age” – using mostly information from 2005-06. According to the report, “recent data from the Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS) show that use of yield monitors, often a first step in using precision technology for grain crop producers, has grown most rapidly, and was used on 40-45 percent of corn and soybean acres in 2005-06.”
The information for the study relies primarily on 2001 and 2005 surveys of corn and the 2002 and 2006 surveys of soybeans – “the 2010 corn survey results were not yet available when this report was prepared” – which was this year. While there is some interesting data in the report, it is woefully out of date. Just think, if the survey had included questions about the use of smartphones on the farm, it would have been zero, since it was January 2007 before the first iPhone was introduced – and we’re now on the fifth generation. Point being, the adoption of all types of new technology has literally skyrocketed in the last five years.
Be that as it may, the most interesting findings in the report show that precision really does pay for farmers. For example, they found that corn and soybean yields were significantly higher for farmers using yield monitors compared to those who did not. In addition, farmers using yield monitors had lower per-acre fuel expenses. Average fuel expenses were lower, per acre, for farmers using variable-rate technologies for corn and soybean fertilizer application, as were soybean fuel expenses for guidance systems adopters and adopters of GPS mapping and variable-rate fertilizer equipment had higher yields for both corn and soybeans.
With all this new technology, you would think that USDA could find a way to gather, compile and disseminate information a little bit faster.
To do so, they conducted a two-year study at the ARS Northwest Irrigation and Soils Research Laboratory in Kimberly, Idaho to see if farmers who use conventional tillage and fertilizer application methods could increase corn yields by banding fertilizer with strip tillage instead.
The scientists found that using strip tillage and placing fertilizers 6 to 8 inches directly below the seed increased corn grain yields on the higher elevations–where severely eroded soils were largely devoid of crop nutrients–by 12 percent the first year and 26 percent the second year. This translated into yield increases between 11 and 26 bushels per acre.
Could this be the start of a new Corn Belt? Probably not, but it could mean increasing production in an area of the country better known for potatoes than corn.
After over five years in development the Indiana State Museum has officially opened up “Amazing Maize: The Science, History and Culture of Corn.” The exhibit will run for the next 16 months at the museum in Indianapolis, during which time the city will host two National FFA Conventions and the Super Bowl.
The exhibit highlights the 10,000 year “genetic journey” that is the evolution of ancient maize to our modern day corn. “It’s all about corn,” said Jane Ade Stevens, executive director of Indiana Corn Marketing Council. “Corn, or maize, is one of the most important crops in the world,” she says. “Our civilization was really started in part because of maize.”
Having the exhibit in Indianapolis for the 2012 Super Bowl provides a great opportunity for the exhibit to reach a large audience. “We plan to have farmers here during that time with shirts on that say they’re farmers so that when people come through here for the Super Bowl, farmers are going to be right there in the middle of it,” Jane said.
Through six different sections, the exhibit highlights the 4,200 different uses for corn, features artifacts such as hand-powered farm tools, stone and wood corn grinders, and examples of dozens of different species of corn, leading up to how present-day genetic modifications have improved productivity of the crop.
Amazing Maize is sponsored by Dow AgroSciences, Ford Motor Company, Case IH, National Starch, Indiana Corn Marketing Council, Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance and Brock Grain Systems.
Brownfield Ag News Indiana Farm Director Meghan Grebner was at the museum for the opening of the exhibit on Saturday and provided the interview with Jane and the photos. Thanks, Meghan!
Like the signs in the stores that read “You break it, you buy it,” southeast Missouri farmers are telling the Army Corps of Engineers who flooded their farmland by blowing up a levee, “You broke it, you fix it.”
The Corps basically wants to put a band aid on the Bird Point Levee, which they blew up in May, sacrificing over 200 square miles of prime farmland and communities to save other downstream cities from potential flooding. The Corps’ current plan is to rebuild the levee to only 51 feet – 11 feet lower than its original height. The river has crested higher than that 12 times in the last 21 years. That’s kind of like rebuilding a house and not putting a roof on it.
“If the levees aren’t rebuilt to their original height, farmers near the levee will have to question whether it makes sense to farm that ground at all,” said Missouri Farm Bureau president Blake Hurst in a recent editorial. “The Corps blames budget constraints for the decision, saying they need an additional 20 million dollars to rebuild the levee to its original specifications. The Corps is holding Missouri farmers hostage to budget fights in Washington.”
At issue is 130,000 acres of prime farmland that has the potential to feed more than one million people a year, not to mention the thousands of jobs that $85 million worth of crops support. Hurst says if President Obama wants to save or create jobs, this is one way to do it. “The President might find that repairing the levee is not only the right thing to do, but also an example of economic stimulus that makes sense,” he says.
Find out more about what can be done to fix this government-made disaster on the “Disaster at Birds Point” website and watch the video below to see just what kind of damage was done. The video was produced by staff members of the St. Louis-based agricultural ad agency Osborn & Barr who have farming and family roots in southeast Missouri,
The first woman officer for the National Corn Growers Association will become first vice president as of October 1 and I had the chance to catch up with her at the 2011 Farm Progress Show.
Pam Johnson, pictured here with NASCAR team owner and American Ethanol supporter Richard Childress, is a farmer from northern Iowa with her husband and two sons. She says the partnership with NASCAR is exciting for corn growers and the ethanol industry. “With NASCAR we’re reaching people outside the Midwest, all over the country from Richmond out to California,” Pam said. “So we are getting the message out to a whole new group of people who need to hear the story told and we think NASCAR’s a great vehicle for that.”
Pam is also happy about NCGA’s involvement with the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance and the upcoming Food Dialogues on September 22. “I believe it’s really the right program at the right time because we have found that we have a disconnect between the people on the farm and all of the consumers,” said Pam. “So we want to address that disconnect and we want to do it in a common language that we all resonate with.” She also is excited about the CommonGround program that gives a voice to people, especially women, on the farm.
As for being the first woman officer of NCGA, Pam says she’s no “token.” “I’ve come up through the ranks just like all of the men have done and I look forward to working on the issues.” she said.
Combing through the daily ag-related headlines, considered by some an occupational hazard for communicators, often leaves a distinct impression that very, very few positive things happen today. From government melt-downs to weather-related catastrophes, the negatives pile up so quickly it becomes tempting to joke that the end-of-days must be upon us. What was once a cause for concern has become commonplace.
The opportunity to help turn a horrifying situation into a miraculous story does not present itself every day. Yet, by helping friends and neighbors understand the danger of grain bin entrapment and how to avoid it, each of us who cares about farmers can play a small part in averting potential tragedy altogether. So, let’s make our own news by working together for a safer harvest and reversing the disturbing trend toward increased incidence of grain bin entrapments.