Corn Commentary

Fellow Farmers: Tell Your Story and Meet Growing Consumer Demand for Information

Today, Corn Commentary features a guest post written by CommonGround Minnesota volunteer Kristie Swenson. It originally appeared on the Minnesota Cornerstone blog and can be viewed there by clicking here.

Fellow Farmers: Tell Your Story and Meet Growing Consumer Demand for Information

Kristie Swenson is a family farmer in Trimont and CommonGround volunteer.

Kristie Swenson is a family farmer in Trimont and CommonGround volunteer.

Recently, I had one of the most intimidating experiences of my entire life: I did multiple live media interviews about agriculture.

Along with three other CommonGround volunteer farm women, I traveled to New York City to give TV and radio interviews about agriculture. During one of the interviews, we rattled off the eight GMO crops, and the interviewer was clearly surprised. “Wow,” he said.  “I had no idea there were only eight. It seems like there are many more than that because you hear about it all the time.”

THAT is exactly why it is so important for farmers to be sharing our stories. THAT is exactly why it is so important for farmers to raise our voices and answer questions. And THAT is exactly why it is so important that we, as farmers, become more willing to connect with consumers.

Farmers have an awesome and unique story to tell. How many times have you seen the sun rise in the East, set in the West, and stars fill the night sky – all in the same day? How many times have you planted seeds, waited, and watched for them to break through the ground? How many times have you been one of the VIPs watching (or helping) a mama animal give birth, and then cheering when the newborn gets to its feet for the first time? How many times have your children or grandchildren ridden with you in the tractor and fallen asleep on the buddy seat?

Farmers are blessed with these opportunities. They may seem “normal” or “everyday” to us, but to the average consumer who has never seen an animal being born or ridden in a tractor, these experiences are nothing short of exotic and rare. Farmers are some of the select few who get to see nature’s beauty at her finest hours. We have a deep appreciation for the earth and for the cycle of life. We understand that we need to care for and respect our environment, our soil, and our livestock, because we rely on them for our livelihood.

These are things that can be difficult to understand for the average consumer. The average consumer is bombarded with information and is ill-equipped to sort through it all for a simple, clear, and straightforward answer.

Kristie Swenson, left, recently talked food and farming during a media tour in New York City.

Kristie Swenson, left, recently talked food and farming during a media tour in New York City.

This is where we, as farmers, can answer questions and help clear up the misinformation. Farmers can be – no, farmers should be — the people consumers turn to when they have questions about how food is grown and raised.

What’s stopping us? Too busy? Not interested in that facemail twittergram stuff? Fear?

I can relate to those things. I have two small children, my husband and I farm with my parents, plus I have a full-time job. I’m only on Facebook and LinkedIn, and it is scary for me or my family to be attacked online. But even though speaking up for agriculture can be nerve-wracking, it’s necessary.

I am fiercely proud and honored to have grown up on a farm. I am privileged that my husband and I get to farm the same land that my parents and grandparents farmed. We want our children to have the opportunity to farm. My passion for agriculture and my desire for my children to have the opportunity to farm outweigh the excuses that “I’m too busy”, “I’m not interested in social media”, and “I’m afraid of receiving hateful comments”.

Fellow farmers: Becoming a voice of truth, encouragement, and clarity is critical. Farmers have often responded to consumer demands, and one of those demands now is to simply know more about how food is grown and raised. Most consumers don’t work with it every day; they don’t know what lengths farmers go to raise safe, healthy animals and crops. So let’s meet this demand, answer questions, talk about concerns, and help build understanding in what we do and why we do it.

Will you help me? Will you be a voice for agriculture?

Kristie Swenson is a CommonGround volunteer who farms in Trimont, Minn., and also works as an ag lender. You can follow Kristie on Facebook here.

Nutrients Are Pesticides: The Dose Makes the Poison

Today, Corn Commentary features a guest post from CommonGround Maryland volunteer and Foodie Farmer blogger Jennie Schmidt. To check out more posts from Jennie, click here.

Nutrients Are Pesticides: The Dose Makes the Poison

Most people find it odd that I am a Registered Dietitian who is licensed as a commercial pesticide applicator. I actually find it quite advantageous because what I studied in my nutrition degrees both undergrad and grad school, applies across multiple biological systems, not just human systems, but soil and plant systems too. Because I have a solid understanding of the science of nutrition, I therefore have a solid understanding of the science of pesticides. Many of the nutrients I studied as an RD, have applications as pesticides.

Paracelsus was correct when he coined the term “The dose makes the poison”.

First, let’s start with some definitions:

Nutrient: “Chemical substances obtained from food and used in the body to provide energy, structural materials, and regulating agents to support growth, maintenance and repair of teh body’s tissues. Nutrients may also reduce the risk of some diseases” Whitney & Rolfe, Understanding Nutrition, 9th edition (yes I know, my copy is dated. This is the one I used to tutor undergrads during grad school, not my copy as an undergrad!)

Pesticide: A pesticide is a chemical used to prevent, destroy, or repel pests. (EPA)

Any chemical can be toxic, whether its natural or synthetic, depending on how much you eat, drink or absorb. Nutrients are the chemicals make up of food.

Nutrients in high doses work as pesticides to control bacteria, fungi, molds and mildews, mainly in fruit and vegetable crops. Nutrients are typically used as protectant fungicides, meaning they are used proactively before disease appears to protect the foliage of the plant. Remember from high school biology how important photosynthesis is in the growth and development of a plant? Without foliage, or if foliage is damaged from mildews, a plant cannot photosynthesize efficiently. Photosynthesis is the process that converts sunlight into energy (carbohydrates). Photosynthesis is required for fruits and vegetables to ripen. Without sufficient foliage on the plant, grapes wouldn’t ripen and turn sweet, tomatoes wouldn’t turn red, watermelon wouldn’t get sweet and pink, strawberries wouldn’t turn red and sweet. Fungicides, in the form of nutrients like sulfur, copper, zinc, and manganese protect the plant in advance of any disease. They are not “treatments” and do not work after a plant has developed a disease, they only work to protect the plant from developing the disease.

First, let’s look at the recommended dietary intake of nutrients for humans:

Nutrient RDA UL Major functions:
Zinc 8-11 mg/d 40 mg/d Cellular metabolism

Protein synthesis

Wound healing

Cell division

DNA synthesis

Manganese 1.8-2.3 mg/d 11 mg/d Activates many enzymes that are critical to metabolism, bone development, and wound healing.
Copper 700-900 µg/d 5000-10000 µg/d Critical in the function of enzymes that control energy production, connective tissue formation, and iron metabolism.
Sulfur No RDA-Metabolic

breakdown of the

recommended intake for

protein and sulfur amino

acids should provide

adequate inorganic sulfate

for synthesis of required sulfur-containing

compounds.

No UL The body does not use sulfur as a nutrient by itself. Contributes to protein structure. Acts as a bridge between amino acids in hormones like insulin.

Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA): average daily level of intake sufficient to meet the nutrient requirements of nearly all (97%-98%) healthy people.

Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL): maximum daily intake unlikely to cause adverse health effects.

Next, let’s look at the recommended application rates of these nutrients as pesticides as approved by EPA:

Pesticide Rate/Acre Oral LD50 Controls For:(grapes/tomatoes)
Zinc 3-4 lb/acre 1400 mg/kg Phomopsis, Black Rot, Botrytis, Downy Mildew
Manganese 1-4 lb/acre 5000 mg/kg Anthracnose, Early Blight, Late blight, Bunch rot, Downy mildew
Copper 0.75 – 1.75 lb/acre 1847 mg/kg Downy Mildew, bacterial spot, anthracnose,
Sulfur 3-20 lb/acre 2000 mg/kg Powdery Mildew, spotted mite, red spider mite.

For comparison purposes – Vitamin D is highly toxic with an LD50 of 10 mg/kg, whereas table salt (sodium chloride) has an LD50 of 3000 mg/kg.

What is LD50?

Oral LD50: An LD50 is a standard measurement of acute toxicity that is stated in milligrams (mg) of pesticide per kilogram (kg) of body weight. An LD50 represents the individual dose required to kill 50 percent of a population of test animals (e.g., rats, fish, mice, cockroaches). Because LD50 values are standard measurements, it is possible to compare relative toxicities among pesticides. The lower the LD50 dose, the more toxic the pesticide.

A pesticide with an LD50 value of 10 mg/kg is 10 times more toxic than a pesticide with an LD50 of 100 mg/kg.

We went from milligrams per day as a recommended dietary allowance to pounds per acre to control for disease. The vastly escalated dose converted these nutrients from dietary healthfulness into effective pesticides.

You can see, although these pesticides are “natural”, as in nutrients, they are still toxic. By definition, a pesticide must kill or control something.

There is no such thing as a nontoxic pesticide.

Click here to see a good graphic
that depicts the toxicity of natural versus synthetic pesticides:graphic

If this topic is of interest to you, I recommend these excellent additional readings:

The Dose Makes The Poison

Dietary Pesticides (99.9% all natural)

Are Synthetic Pesticides More Dangerous Than Natural Ones?

As an RD, I know these nutrients are essential for health and wellness in our diets.

As a pesticide applicator, I know these pesticides are essential for the health and wellness of my fruit and vegetable crops.

The nutrients in your multi-vitamin are not toxic but these nutrients are not edible at the pesticide dose.

The dose makes the poison.

CommonGround Volunteers Take Stories from behind the Farm Gate to Consumers Over Breakfast Plates

Today, Corn Commentary shares a guest post authored by Iowa farmer and CommonGround volunteer Julie Kenney. The narrative, which discusses her recent work taping an episode of “The Balancing Act” on GMOs, originally ran on her blog www.farmeatscitystreets.com.

TV Interviews and Kid-Friendly Sloppy Joes

I have been traveling a little bit lately. Not a ton, but just enough to scratch the itch of getting out of town for a while and being around some amazing, brilliant people (and great friends, too!). I couldn’t pass up the opportunity last week to travel to Florida to tape an interview with The Balancing Act on Lifetime Network. The host, Julie Moran, asked me all kinds of questions about food, farming and GMOs.

Kelsey Pope, a rancher from Colorado, also did an interview about her ranch and how they care for their cattle. I hadn’t met Kelsey before, but was so impressed with her and loved hearing about her ranch. I’m thinking a trip to Colorado for a nice, juicy steak on her ranch might be in order.

balancingact-juliekenneykelseypope

Working from home and around the farm these days doesn’t lend itself to getting dolled up much anymore, so having someone do my hair and makeup was an added bonus! After the interview, Julie Moran gave us a tour of her dressing room and wardrobe collection. If she wasn’t an itty bitty size 2, I might have asked to borrow something. Kidding (kind of).

balancingact-juliemoranjuliekenney

My interview is scheduled to air on Lifetime Network in April and Kelsey’s will be on in April and May. I’ll let you know when the exact dates are set.

To read the full post, including how Kenney sets her family up for success at the dinner table while she shares stories from the farm with consumers at their breakfast tables, click here.

Interested in CommonGround and how it brings together the women who grow and raise food with those who buy it? Visit www.findourcommonground.com to learn more about the women at the heart of this program, which is supported through a collaboration of NCGA, USB and their state affiliates.

Top 10 Annoying Words about Agriculture

Today, Corn Commentary shares a year-in-review style guest post written by Jennie Schmidt, who farms and serves as a CommonGround volunteer in Maryland. The post originally ran on her blog “The Foodie Farmer.”

 

A few weeks ago, I emailed around a poll to my farm and Ag friends both near and far to ask them to give me their top 10 words that most annoyed them that are used in referencing agriculture and farming. I received a lot of interesting responses. There were many, many repeats which I have ranked in order from top to bottom. What it boils down to is that as a culture, we want everyone “in their place”. We want to define the people whose opinions differ from ours and confine them to a box. Social media is littered with examples of people and organizations lumping together and defining those who hold different beliefs in a negative way. It is a way of stereotyping, generalizing, misrepresenting, and for some, the ulterior motive of spreading misinformation. Thanks to my friends who contributed.

Here are the results:

1. “BIG” – In the context of activist groups, “big” is a derogatory term linked to the perception that the majority of farms are corporate farms.Frankly, the term “big” used in this context sounds rather kindergarten-ish. It has little to do with size but more to the idea that family farms are small farms whereas big farms must be corporate. In fact, 96% of all farms in the US are family owned and operated.  Farms vary widely in size as USDA defines a farm as any entity generating $1000 or more per year. (Which includes my daughter’s 4H projects I suppose). $1K sets the bar pretty low in terms of defining a farm.

 js1
My daughter’s 4H livestock sheep & hog projects meet the $1000 USDA threshold to be defined as a “farm”.

“Big” is also used negatively by some who insinuate that because “Big Ag’ is seen through corporations, that some how we farmers are not able to make independent decisions about our family farms. That some how “Big Ag” dictates what we buy and what we do on our farms. We aren’t beholden to any corporation. We like most consumers, look for quality and customer service. Those two elements dictate our purchasing decisions and who we do business with.

A good example of double-speak however, is Chipotle who started a “big” campaign to redefine itself as “small”. Established in 1993, Chipotle has expanded to over 1500 restaurants and ranks 2nd only to Taco Bell in the Top 50 QSR (quick service restaurants) in the Mexican food segment. Chipotle’s 3rd quarter 2013 profits increased 18% to $827 Million. Let’s be clear, if there is “Big” in food and agriculture it is Chipotle, not the US farmers supplying them.

2. “Factory” – Activists now define climate-controlled barns as “factories”. If you are defining animal agriculture by agenda driven documentaries such as Food Inc, then you have chosen to limit your perspective and specifically elected not to look for balance in the whys and where-fores of food production in the current day. Personally, my preference is to talk to farmers, and not just the ones I perceive I am going to agree with.

 Jen_HogFarmer
Photo Credit: Edwin Remsberg

On a recent farm tour, someone remarked to my friend Jen, who is a hog farmer, how much extra space there was in each of her hog pens. If someone were to take a close up photo of the hogs to sensationalize animal spacing, the hogs would look packed together. Selective photography (and photoshop)  is a method used by some to spread myths about farming. In reality, the term “pig pile” comes from their natural preference, in barns or outside, to pile together to sleep.

3. “Industrial” – in modern agriculture, industrial is a word used to demonize progress and technology. Efficiency is apparently acceptable in other sectors, but not in farming. Not all that long ago, we as consumers did not have microwaves, dishwashers, smart phones, remote controlled – (fill in the blank), home computers, the Internet, etc…. We as consumers have adopted significant amounts of modern technology in our daily lives. Farmers have done the same. So if farmers are industrial through use of technology and efficiency, then we as consumers must be “industrial” too, right? I mean if the shoe fits, wear it! So do we all want to go back and stop using our technology so that agriculture will no longer be “industrial”?

 cutbarley1
A “combine” is named such because in one piece of equipment it combines the tasks of reaping and threshing, 2 vocabulary words foreign to most people today.
  1. Douse” – A word used to describe pesticide application. This is the type of rig used to apply pesticides and fertilizer. There is a fine mist (which in this pic happens to be fertilizer) guided by our GreenSeeker to apply only what the crop needs. Our family eats what we produce. Agricultural inputs are expensive. Why would we “douse” anything we grow with pesticides or fertilizer? Our approach is to look at the soil and plant health and apply what is “prescribed” from scouting and soil and tissue analysis. Much like your visit to the doctor, farmers diagnose and treat their crops according to their health and well being.
  1. Pump“- The word “pump” made the list thanks in part to Panera Bread’s failed @EZChicken antibiotic campaign that illustrated in cartoon manner, chickens being injected with antibiotics and that farmers who use antibiotics are lazy. “Pump” really goes in line with the word “douse” as in every thing farmers do, we’re believed to do to the excess. Any good business person will tell you that makes no sense whatsoever, but I suspect most of those who throw these terms around have never run their own businesses. Its easy to criticize someones business when your paycheck is funded by “unnamed donors” to a non-profit.

    Earlier this year, the FDA had to issue a response to the Environmental Working Group’s interpretation of an antibiotic resistance report..  The fact of the matter is, judicious antibiotic use is an issue for everyone and finger pointing does little to further the conversation. We don’t like the finger pointed at ourselves but let’s face it, human users of the health care system and those who prescribe antibiotics are as much at fault if not more so than farmers. How can I say that? This article from the Wall Street Journaldiscusses human prescriptions of antibiotics. And this report from the CDCshows which diseases and pathogens are most associated with antibiotic resistance, the majority of which are not farm related.

 human-vs-animal-antibiotic-sales-are-relatively-different-v21
Infographic credit: Dr. Scott Hurd, DVM
  1. Corporate“- as I said in #1, the majority of farms in the US are family owned and operated. They may vary in size, and they may be “incorporated” for tax purposes (C or S Corp) and for liability protection (LLC for example). I’m not a fan of Mother Jones, but they recently wrote an articleconfirming this fact. In terms of farms owned by corporations dictating the actions of the farmer, its pretty much a myth.
 47624_FINAL_CorporateFarms_Infographic-resized-300
Infographic Credit: CommonGround
  1. GMO/Frankenfoods” – Wow, this one is hot in social media these days. One of the prevalent anti-GMO claims is that the foods made from genetic engineering (GE) technology haven’t been studied and are not safe. A study in the journal Critical Reviews of Biotechnologylooked at a decade of research on “GMO” foods and found no credible evidence that GMOs threaten health or safety of humans or the environment. A review of the study can be found here.

    GMO describes what humans have done for centuries – domesticate, modify and improve the traits of plants for a specific use, such as tomatoes, corn, potatoes and the majority of foods we consume on a daily basis. Activists use the term “GMO” and “Frankenfoods” to define foods produced through a specific technology and use it as a means for fear-based marketing. Here is a good blog about fear-based food marketing by DairyMoos.

 Selling-Fear1-300x180
Photo Credit: DairyMoos
  1. SuperWeed”-Let me just say it like it is…. Weed resistance is not a genetic engineering issue, it is an agronomic issue. Weed resistance to herbicides did not begin with RoundUp or with GE crops. The chart below is from the International Survey of Herbicide Resistant Weeds. It shows that resistant weeds were occurring well before GE crops were ever on the market. Notably, glyphosate/RoundUp which receives the most media attention, is 6th in chronological increase after 5 other classes of herbicides. You should also know that glyphosate/RoundUp did not come about because of GE crops. RoundUp was developed in the early 1970’s and became commercially available in the US in 1976, 20 years before the commercialization herbicide tolerant crops. Its worth repeating – weed resistance is an agronomic issue, not a GE issue.
    chronologicalincreaseresistantforwebpng
  2. Shill” – while I consider “big” to be a rather kindergarten-ish word about Ag, “shill” is definitely a high school bully word. If you take the time to read the comments section of a polarized discussion on social media, often the first stone thrown is “you’re a shill for Monsanto”. Sometimes kindergarten is combined with high school and the commenter says “you’re a shill for Big Ag”. I wasn’t directly called a shill, but the insinuation was there in the New York Times article I blogged about in Stay Calm & Farm Onearlier this year. More recently, following an article I wrote for the Boston Review on Why Farmers Choose GMOs, I had the below twitter interaction with PoetryBoston who without knowing me, decided that I knew little about what I was talking about, following which they pointed out that I was one of Monsanto’s America’s Farm Moms of the Year for which I received prize money. I’m proud to have been selected by the American Agri-Women’s Association as one of only 5 farm women in the US to be recognized. I make no apologies for the award nor am I embarrassed by it. It also does not influence my message which are data and results from our farm’s experience as growers of conventional, organic and GE crops (yes simultaneously, and no… no longer organic. A topic for another day) Shill is intended to be derogatory and offensive. It shuts down any chance of meaningful conversation and civil discourse. It is possible to disagree without being disagreeable but that is rare if one spends any time reading the comments section.

 PoetryBoston tweets
From my @FarmGirlJen twitter page
  1. Agrarian” – Picture “American Gothic. The word “agrarian” brings a romantic notion of the days of old, and therefore, not being appreciative of where modern agriculture has brought our society as a whole. It demeans the profession that we love, and that somehow, all of society would be better off if we went back to subsistence farming. Agrarian, after all, is a society where the majority of citizens participate in farming, not the current 1.5% of the US population.
 Grant_Wood_-_American_Gothic
American Gothic by Grant Wood, 1930

My hope is that the conversation can become more civil by illustrating each of these words from a farmer’s perspective. Farming is essentially a profession of many introverts and often an isolated job on a day to day basis. The story of agriculture and family farms has been told for us, often inaccurately. We as farmers don’t all stand up and speak our minds publically about how we feel about these terms that are frequently used in reference to what we do.

People probably don’t understand , we don’t get to leave our jobs and go home at night. Our home is IS our farm and our job is a tapestry of our lives – of family, farm, and faith. Words that demean or misrepresent aren’t words targeted just a me or my husband, but at my kids, my in-laws, and my 96 year old grandmother (who by the way does not resemble the woman above).
Its personal. You wouldn’t want your family talked about that way.

 

We love our jobs, we love our farms, we love our family. We don’t own a pitch fork.

We are today’s modern farm family.

 

 MeGrapes
Photo Credit: Edwin Remsberg

 

It’s Time to Speak Up!

Today, Corn Commentary shares a post from CommonGround Wisconsin volunteer Kim Bremmer. To find more posts on a wide variety of subjects authored by CommonGround volunteers, click here.

It’s Time to Speak Up!

Kim BremmerOne of my favorite ways to start the day is at the counter of my favorite coffee place, ordering a grande triple shot caramel macchiato and a spinach and feta breakfast wrap. But I ALWAYS ask them to use regular eggs instead of cage-free eggs.

I am usually met with looks of question, not only from the barista but also from all the people in line with me. The response is always a disappointed, “I’m sorry, we can’t do that, ma’am.”  I then smile and ask them to please pass on my message to the corporate office that I would like the choice.

But the best part is that I then have a captive audience for the next 20 seconds or so.

I use that time to explain that I prefer eggs from chickens grown in cages. I used to raise chickens outside, and I know how much they like to eat things out of the dirt, including bugs, grubs and more. I also have friends who have some really nice chicken barns, where they raise very healthy, happy birds in cages.

It’s time to speak up.

With less than two percent of the population actually farming today in the United States, we have opportunities every day to talk to about food production with a very large audience that has never actually “been there and done that.”

We now live in a time when the opinions of journalists and marketing that plays on emotions trump solid peer-reviewed science every single day.

All of this well-funded creative marketing wants consumers to buy the latest and greatest trend: organic, natural, GMO-free, rBST-free, cage-free, hormone-free, antibiotic-free, humanely raised, responsibly produced and the list could go on and on. Consumers are led to believe that the latest buzzword must be good and conventional food production must be bad. But, all of these strategically worded labels come at the expense of consumers’ trust in agriculture.  The story of agriculture is being told by people selling stories, not by those actually involved in agriculture every day.

Well, it’s time for us to sell our story.

Another one of my favorite things to do is go to the grocery store either on Friday afternoons at 5:00 or Sunday mornings right after church. Some of my very best conversations about farming and food happen then!

It is so easy to strike up a conversation with someone comparing labels in the dairy aisle or meat counter and ask if they have any questions. I tell them I am simply a mom who understands the importance of feeding my family the healthiest food.

I also tell them I get the great opportunity to work on different farms every day. I can share my perspective on the different food-production practices because I work with all of them. The real tragedy is how truly scared people have become of food, even though we are producing the safest food in history, using fewer resources than ever before. My mission at every visit to the grocery store is to give people permission to not fear their food.

It’s time to speak up.

I am proud of conventional agriculture and not afraid to feed my family conventional food. I see how the animals are raised every day and how the land is cared for. I have friends who are organic farmers, but I would never pay more for the food they produce.

The biggest misconception is that a label means something is safer or healthier. A great example of this is the fact that added steroids and hormones aren’t even allowed in poultry production in the United States, yet consumers continually pay a premium for “hormone-free” chicken in the grocery store.

I believe that it doesn’t matter which production method a farmer uses because it is really the human element that makes all the difference. I always encourage people who have questions about agriculture to visit a farm instead of just “Googling” it.

Or ask a farmer by contacting a farmer-volunteer at www.findourcommonground.com. I could take you to visit a beautiful 35-cow dairy or a beautiful 3,500-cow dairy. Both use very different management practices, but both provide safe, high-quality food. If the farmers I see every day choose to do their job by responsibly using antibiotics, GMOs, rBST, cages and barns, I feel they should be able to.  I don’t ever want to be forced to pay more for food with a fancy label when I understand the safety of conventionally raised food and get to see how it’s produced every day.

I am proud of agriculture today. You should be, too. Share the real story.

It’s time to speak up.

Random thoughts from Corn Congress and Washington DC

Today, Corn Commentary features a guest post from Kansas Grains blogger and Kansas Corn Growers Association Director of Communications Sue Schulte. In this post, Schulte provides insight into the experience of attending Corn Congress. Don’t miss intern Paige McFarland’s post from the State and National Communications Summit last month too!

Random thoughts from Corn Congress and Washington DC

I was in Washington DC last week for the National Corn Growers Corn Congress. I extended my stay to do some sightseeing with my grown son, so I ended up spending 6 days in DC, which is way too long. I’ve been smiling nonstop since I returned home, just happy to be here, somewhere normal! It’s not my first trip to DC, but I did accumulate a lot of random observations.

I spent most of my time with farmers from Kansas and many other states. Words that describe my farmer friends include the following: kind, intelligent, polite, funny, sophisticated, outspoken, focused, professional, friendly, well-rounded, honest, informed. Our farmers sat through long committee meetings, two delegate sessions and visited every member of our Congressional Delegation. All the while, they were also using their smart phones and tablets to keep track of the markets, check email, and kept in contact with their families at home who were running the farm in their absence.

With Senator Robers

With Senator Roberts

With Congresswoman Jenkins

With Congresswoman Jenkins

There were many farewell speeches at Corn Congress this year with NCGA Exec Rick Tolman retiring, as well as Nebraska Corn’s Don Hutchens, Monsanto’s Marsha Stanton and John Deere’s Don Borgman. Our own Jere White was honored at the March Corn Congress session for his retirement. New leaders will rise to take their places, but those are some big shoes to fill.

Speaking of leaders, I was so impressed with the members of the DuPont New Leaders Program offered through NCGA. Farm couples are encouraged to go through the program together. This cultivated two new leaders from Kansas: Tom and Sandy Tibbits of Minneapolis. The program’s final session was held around the Corn Congress event. We were happy to have them along on our Hill Visits and Tom was able to help Kansas Corn by serving as a delegate. Tom is already on the KCGA board and we have plans to use make use of Sandy’s skills as well as an advocate for agriculture.

Speaking of Hill Visits, many of the Congressional offices have offered Russell Stover candies to their visitors for years. With the new Mars candy factory in Topeka, many of our offices have candy bowls with Peanut M&Ms and Snickers bars as well! And Cheezits. Did you know all Cheezits are made in Kansas?

I serve on the Corn Farmers Coalition steering committee, an image program that aims to educate and inform Washington DC decision makers about corn farmers. This year’s campaign has just begun and I saw our full page ad in The Hill newspaper, as well as ads online and intheMetro trains. This year’s ads have an innovation and technology theme because the focus groups we used when planning this year’s campaign were fascinated by the use of technology on our farms. I remember one focus group participant saying, “It’s kind of neat to think that those farmers are using the same iPad as me.” It is not always easy to overcome the stereotypes about farmers that many people have. On one hand, they are surprised to learn that 98 percent of all corn farms are family farms–many folks think that our farms are owned by big corporations. On the other hand, they think farmers look and work on the farms just like they did 50 years ago. When we talk to these people about GPS guidance and mapping, precision agriculture, they get really excited.

This Metro passenger was extremely interested in our CFC ad!

This Metro passenger was extremely interested in our CFC ad!

There is some corn planted in front of USDA. And the US Botanic Gardens is featuring a wheat display called Amber Waves of Grain.

I saw a lot of advertising in DC. I saw an excellent ad in a Metro train placed byHumane Watch. It explained that HSUS, the Humane Society of the United States, only gives 1 percent of its funding to local humane shelters and encourages people to donate to local humane society shelters instead.

On the Metro, we sat next to a woman holding a takeout bag from Chipotle. Over the years, I’ve discouraged my kids from eating at Chipotle for various reasons (primarily because it’s danged expensive!), but also because of how the corporate burrito company bashes farmers who grow the food. Sitting next to my son, who is a devout capitalist, I pointed to the bag in the woman’s lap and told him to read it. This quote is from Chipotle’s “Cultivating Thought” Author Series.

If no one must work, who will make the burritos?

If no one must work, who will make the burritos?

I’m all for love and peace, but just sitting around feeling love for one another might get a little boring after a while.  More importantly, Chipotle, if no one works, where will all that free food come from? Who will make the burritos? I’m for free speech and an open exchange of ideas, and I enjoyed reading the bag that held a nine dollar burrito. But I do have the right to disagree. My capitalist son, who in the past has been disturbed by Chipotle’s anti-farmer statements but still ate the corporate burritos, was even more disturbed by that quote.

Norman Borlaug is the new guy in Statuary Hall at the Capitol.

Norman Borlaug is the new guy in Statuary Hall at the Capitol.

We saw the new statue of Norman Borlaug, the Father of the Green Revolution, during our tour of the Capitol. That an Iowa plant breeder is honored in this way Statuary Hall in the Capitol is significant. His work which created a high-yielding, disease resistant wheat is credited for saving a billion lives. Borlaug was a strong supporter of the promise of biotechnology and urged people to stand up to the anti-science crowd.

A corn capital at the Capitol

A corn capital at the Capitol

I couldn’t help but wonder if anyone has ever counted up the number of Greek columns in DC? It made me remember the Architecture Appreciation class I took at K-State where we learned about Doric, Corinthian and Ionic columns. Speaking of art and architecture, if you are a corn grower, look around in DC–there are many depictions of corn in the Capitol and many other places. In fact, the photo here shows a corn capital in the Capitol. A capital is the top of a column. According to the Architect of the Capitol: Carved by Giuseppe Franzoni from Aquia Creek sandstone, these columns were installed in the Hall of Columns of the U.S. Capitol in 1809. The fluting of a conventional shaft was recalled by bundled corn stalks. On the capital, husks were folded back to reveal the cob and kernels of corn.

I was struck by the friendliness of the people in DC on this trip. I think this was influenced by the unusually cool weather. One cab driver told us that the cooler weather was a disaster for cabbies because everyone wanted to walk instead of taking a cab. He joked that he would have to charge us double. Judging by his meandering route to our destination, I don’t think he was kidding.

 

 

Women Finding “Common Ground” Through Food and Talk

Today, Corn Commentary features a guest post from CommonGround Minnesota volunteer and social media maven Wanda Patsche. In her post, Patsche offers links to common questions CommonGround volunteers hear and offers the inside scoop on the group’s recent dinner event.

Women Finding “Common Ground” Through Food and Talk

Cooks of Crocus Hill.

Cooks of Crocus Hill.

What happens when 24 urban women join 5 farm women and cook a meal together?  Let’s just say you would have seen a roomful of conversations, joy, and camaraderie. Food is an emotional topic for many of us and this night of talking about food and preparing it was no exception. We talked, laughed and truly enjoyed each other’s company and at the end of the night, learned a little more about each other. Yes, we found common ground through food and talk.

CommonGround is a volunteer organization of farm women who connect with other women answering questions they may have about their food. CommonGround invited a cross-section of women from the Minneapolis/St. Paul area to participate in a cooking class held at Cooks at Crocus Hill. These women represented academia, mommy bloggers, nutrition and dietetics and media.

Cooks of Crocus Hill is a kitchen cookware and gadget store in St. Paul.  In addition to their retail store, they also provide cooking classes. Their cooking philosophy surrounds two words –joy and connection. And that describes our evening as we cooked and enjoyed a meal together. The evening started with wine and appetizers, followed by a short introduction of the CommonGround volunteers. We immediately broke into five random groups, where each group was assigned to cook a certain portion of the meal. Just imagine a large kitchen with nearly 30 women cooking and preparing a meal together! You may think chaos, but it was the exact opposite. The cooks of Crocus Hill had everything in place and were very helpful in keeping us on task. Here is the menu that we prepared (along with recipes and pictures!):

Warm French Herbed Potatoes

Roasted Root Vegetables with Gremolata

Boston Bibb Salad with Walnuts

Pork Medallions with Mustard-Braised Leeks

Fresh Berry Mini-Shortcakes

As we were preparing the meal, the chefs gave us cooking tips and information. I must admit I grilled Chef Mike on how he cooks pork. Let’s just say he knows his “pork.” When we finished, it was time to eat. And I must say, the food was fabulous!

There is no question there is a food movement happening in our society.  People are wanting to cook more healthy foods in their own homes and even though I am a “church cookbook” type of cook, I would definitely make these dishes again. My favorites were the pork medallions (they were so moist and tender they practically melted in your mouth – cooked the way pork was meant to be cooked) and the berry shortcakes (can you say heavenly?)

After we finished eating, the CommonGround volunteers sat together in front of our guests for a Q & A forum. With food being such an emotional topic, no question was off the table. The majority of the questions centered around animal antibiotic use and GMOs (genetically modified organisms). There were great questions and we as CommonGround learned a lot also by listening to concerns and questions our guests had about the health and safety of food. Something we all share.

On a personal note – I don’t think you can downplay the openness and connectedness that I saw with this roomful of women.  Another observation was the genuine passion for agriculture showed by the CommonGround volunteers. It really took me aback as I listened to the other volunteers speak . I am proud to be a part of this group.

At the end of the night, I was pleased how well the evening went. I had never been to a cooking class before and somewhat sheepishly, I must admit that I am not very adventurous in my cooking endeavors. But that may change! The only problem of the evening? It ended too soon! Great comments of the night were received and many of them told us they hoped to be invited again. And I do too.

Do you have food questions? Be sure to check out CommonGround  or Minnesota’s CommonGround for answers to your questions!

Here are a few more links to other questions you may have about your food.

Why It Is Okay to Feed Your Family GMOs

Top 5 GMOs Myths From a Mom’s Perspective

Why I’m Pro-GMO

Antibiotics are Rampant in our Food Supply

CommonGround is a program to increase awareness among urban and suburban consumers of the value of modern production agriculture in their lives.  As the name implies, the program emphasizes that urban and farm families share the same values and concerns and that urban consumers can trust the process and the people that provide their food.

With more Americans growing up in urban and suburban areas, miles from farm life, there is an increasing disconnect between consumers and the people who grow their food.  CommonGround is an effort to tell the truth about modern agriculture – that thanks to modern American farmers, U.S. families enjoy the safest, healthiest and most affordable food choices in the world.

CommonGround is a shared collaboration between the National Corn Growers Association, the United Soybean Board and their state affiliates.  It is built upon broad messages that promote modern agriculture of all kinds.  It does not focus on corn or soy issues necessarily, but rather works to promote the importance of our country’s efficient and effective system of agriculture.

To find out more about CommonGround, click here.

I Grow GMO: Not Ashamed or Embarrassed

Today, Corn Commentary features a guest post from blogger, CommonGround volunteer, farmer and dietitian Jennie Schmidt. Schmidt testified March 11 in opposition to a state bill which would require labeling of certain products containing GMOs. As similar battles rev up across the country, she offers not only her perspective as a farmer but also as a registered dietitian who earned an advanced degree in science.

I Grow GMO: Not Ashamed or Embarrassed

Yesterday, I testified before the Maryland State Senate Committee on Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee. I was speaking against SB778 “Genetically Engineered Foods – Labeling Requirements”

My interview with WBOC on GMO labeling.

My interview with WBOC on GMO labeling.

Introduced by Senator Karen Montgomery, of Montgomery County, the bill synopsis states:
“Requiring specified raw foods and packaged foods that are entirely or partially produced with genetic engineering to display a specified label beginning on July 1, 2015; requiring a manufacturer to include a specified label on specified foods; requiring a supplier to include a specified label on a container used for packaging, holding, or transporting specified foods; requiring a retailer to place a specified label on a shelf or bin containing specified foods; etc.”

She introduced the hearing legislation by asking why people acted “ashamed or embarrassed” about GMO. She claimed she was a supporter of biotechnology and wasn’t afraid of it but that consumers have the right to know.

But many of the groups who claim that consumers have the “right to know” are actually working toward a ban of the technology.

Organic consumers Association: “Once GMOs foods are labeled, informed consumers will move to protect themselves and their families by not buying them. Once enough consumers shun GMO-tainted and labeled foods, stores will stop selling them and food manufacturers will stop putting GMO food ingredients in their products.”

Center for Food Safety:  “Labeling #GMO food is not enough. We must keep new GE crops out of food supply to begin with take action @TrueFoodNow”

March Against Monsanto: “Many presume the March Against Monsanto is a protest about GMO. While food plays a very big role in the global protest, there are many insidious tentacles to the biotech giant. MAM seeks to destroy the root.”

Truth-Out: “GMO labeling laws are the cornerstone of the anti-GMO movement. But consumers are also expanding the fight by demanding outright bans on the growing of GMO crops.”

In fact, two consumers who testified at the same hearing in favor of labeling voiced the very same thing, that labeling didn’t go far enough, that biotechnology needed to be banned.

The Consumers Union, Food and Water Watch, and Union of Concerned Scientists had their legal team of suits presenting. I’m not going to restate their position because if you google Michael Hansen or Doug Gurian-Sherman, you will find pages of testimony nearly word for word identical to what they told the senate hearing yesterday, including continuing to claim the validity of the retracted Seralini study.

In response to Senator Montgomery’s comment: I am an unashamed and unembarrassed supporter of biotechnology. On my Maryland farm it has resulted in higher yields and lower pesticide applications, year after year, wet season, dry season, normal season. Even when Hurricane Irene knocked our corn flat, biotech held its ears better than non-GMO corn by 26 bushels per acre, which in a very crappy year, makes a world of difference to our family farm’s ability to stay afloat.

Our corn yield comparison data

Our corn yield comparison data

Our soybean yield comparison data

Our soybean yield comparison data

Biotech outperform our specialty seeds: non-GMO & Identity Preserved. Yes, we grow and segregate a variety of different types of grains and seeds, all of which are tested and verified as pure to the variety they are supposed to be. This year, we will have 900 acres of grains and seeds under some protocol for identity preservation. The seed must be genetically consistent and true to its traits, uniform in shape, size and color, and free from weed seed and contamination. They are tested and verified to meet those standards. So co-existence of conventional, biotech, and organic/Identity Preserved/nonGMO grains and seeds is possible. We do it every day on our family farm and have for many years now. Biotech threatens none of our niche or specialty markets. These farming systems are not and should not be considered mutually exclusive.

When you combine higher yields consistently, with less man hours on a tractor, burning less diesel fuel, and saving pesticide sprays, you have a far more sustainable family farm on the environment: less greenhouse gases, less fuel consumption, less pesticide use = protecting and preserving more resources.

But to the larger picture, biotechnology has brought us Humulin, Epogen, Herceptin and many, many other excellent lifesaving medical therapies.

Biotechnology means we don’t harvest insulin from hogs or cattle pancreas anymore.

Biotechnology means we don’t harvest the enzyme chymosin from young calves to extract rennet from their stomachs which is then used to coagulate milk in the cheese making process.

To me, this is progress. To me, these are reasons to oppose mandatory labeling of “GMO”. It is both safe and efficacious in medicine and in food.

Science and research concurs. Published last year, An overview of the last 10 years of genetically engineered crop safety research reviewed 1783 studies, 312 of which were GE food & feed consumption studies finding “no scientific evidence of toxic or allergenic effects”. The researchers concluded that “that genetic engineering and GE crops should be considered important options in the efforts toward sustainable agricultural production.”

1783 studies… 312 of them on consumption of GE food and feed. That’s a safety track record.

Nicolia, et al, 2013. Critical Reviews in Biotechnology

Nicolia, et al, 2013. Critical Reviews in Biotechnology

The technology is valuable in both medicine and food. The technology has many benefits to mankind. No one but the activists are saying biotech was supposed to be a “silver bullet”. Farmers know it’s one of many tools in the tool box to improve sustainability and produce more food on less land.  Efforts to undermine the technology through mandatory GMO labeling that falsely implies there are safety concerns where none exist is misleading and a disservice to consumers.

I oppose Maryland SB778.

Interested? Read more posts authored by Schmidt on her blog, The Foodie Farmer, or follow her on Twitter @FarmGirlJen.

 

CommonGround Volunteer Shares GMO Insight

The following blog post was authored by Minnesota family farmer and CommonGround volunteer Kristie Swenson. Swenson participates in CommonGround, which is a joint project of the National Corn Growers Association, the United Soybean Board and their state affiliates, to help moms off the farm know how the moms on America’s farms grow and raise their food. By sharing her stories, she hopes to help consumers enjoy their food without fear.

 

kristie swansonThe topic of GMOs is complex, challenging, and emotional, regardless of your stance.  I have yet to have a straightforward conversation where we simply talk about one aspect of the GMOs because it’s so hard to talk about just one aspect when there are so many sides to the issue.  If one starts talking about the science itself, or the methodology used to genetically modify an organism, the conversation often goes on tangents like research, ethics, side effects, chemical use, labeling, corporations and so on.  It is so hard to separate each individual issue because they are connected and they are all valid issues that should be addressed.

 

Straight away, you should know that I am pro-GMO.  I do not believe that GMOs are the silver bullet or the solution for everything, but I do believe that GMOs have merits that should be considered on a case-by-case basis.  Do I think every single organism needs to be genetically modified?  No, I don’t.  But I do believe that genetically modifying some organisms can provide us with benefits, and I think those modifications should be researched.

 

Take papayas, for example.  In the 1990s, Hawaii’s papaya crop was devastated by the ringspot virus.  A Hawaiian scientist, Dr. Dennis Gonsalves, developed a virus-resistant variety of papaya through genetic modification and found a way to help the papaya industry.  In Hawaii today, both GMO and non-GMO papayas are produced.  (Read this article for an interview with Dr. Gonsalves.)

 

Am I saying that since I see GM papayas as a good thing, that all GMOs are a good thing?  I’m not going to use one positive situation to blanket the entire topic of GMOs.  I am just saying that there are other industries that could benefit from genetic modification.  The citrus industry comes to mind as it has been hit by citrus greening (the scientific name is Huanglongbing, or HLB).  In this particular case, biotechnology could save our citrus.  Here are two articles that further explore the citrus greening issue: Article 1 and Article 2.

 

To me, genetic modification and biotechnology are tools.  Having multiple tools to pick from enables us to determine which tool fits the best for the situation at hand.  People will choose tools based not only on the situation, but also on their personal preference.  You and I may be faced with the same situation, yet we may choose different tools to achieve similar outcomes.  And that’s ok – it is ok to have different opinions, different beliefs, different comfort levels.

 

I understand people have questions and concerns.  It’s so easy for us to look to sources of information with which we are familiar, or which share our perspective.  In today’s society, with the constant barrage of information and the vast amount of information available, it is so hard to sort out what’s fact from opinion; what’s twisted from what’s true.  What one person finds credible may not be a credible source for someone else.  I encourage you to seek out sources of information that provide facts rather than perpetuating myths, to have respectful conversations with people who work with biotechnology, and to think critically about what you find.  I encourage you to continue asking questions until you are satisfied with the answers, and to know not just what you believe but why you believe it.

 

 

Journal to Retract Seralini Rat Study

Today, Corn Commentary shares a guest post that originally ran on The Farmers Life. This blog, authored by Indiana farmer Brian, provides a window into ag and thoughtful, open conversation about the issues impacting farmers today.

Journal to Retract Seralini Rat Study

Last year French scientist Gilles-Eric Seralini made news when a paper by his team was published in Food and Chemical Toxicology.  Data concerning long-term feeding of genetically modified Monsanto corn and the herbicide glyphosate (Roundup) in the Seralini study suggested the rats being studied developed cancerous tumors.  Of course this news spread around the internet like wildfire among those who detest biotech crops.  Finally they had a really high profile study published proving their point.

Criticism of Seralini Study

The scientific community widely criticized the study’s statistical methods.  The number of rats used was questionable, and the data drawn from test and control groups seemed incomplete at best. Test groups of Harlan Sprague-Dawley rats used in the feeding study were given various amounts of NK603 corn over a two-year period.  Test subjects were also given varying amounts of glyphosate in drinking water.  Control rats received non-GM corn and regular drinking water.  Rats fed GMO corn and glyphosate developed tumors during their two-year life span, and pictures of tumor riddled rats plagued the internet.

Seralini rats as described by scientist Kevin Folta. “Sometimes the way data are presented can expose the relative objectivity and hidden intent of a study. Left-rat that ate GMO corn. Center- rat eating GMO corn and roundup. Right- rat fed roundup. Their associated tumors shown on the right. Wait! What about the control rats, the ones that also got tumors? How convenient to leave them out!”

Seralini rats as described by scientist Kevin Folta. “Sometimes the way data are presented can expose the relative objectivity and hidden intent of a study. Left-rat that ate GMO corn. Center- rat eating GMO corn and roundup. Right- rat fed roundup. Their associated tumors shown on the right. Wait! What about the control rats, the ones that also got tumors? How convenient to leave them out!”

But what about the control rats?  They developed tumors as well.  Sprague-Dawley rats are known to develop tumors during their lifespan. In fact a majority of them are known to do so within two years.  Further analysis of Seralini’s data shows rats fed NK603 corn and Roundup-laced water sometimes had less incidence of tumors than the control group.  Shouldn’t that bit of information thrown up some red flags possibly before the study was originally published inFood and Chemical Toxicology?  Flags were thrown for and by many scientists, and now the tables are turning as the editor of the journal, A. Wallace Hayes, stated this week he would retract the paper from the journal if Seralini did not withdraw it himself.

When I first heard news of Seralini’s study in 2012 I was skeptical as you might imagine.  Livestock have been fed GM corn and soybeans for almost 20 years now.  If it was so awful as to cause all the ailments claimed by those who seem to pander to anti-GMO sentiment I think it stands to reason that farmers would have backed off the stuff long ago.  But that kind of logic doesn’t fit the narrative of GMO = Bad.  The Seralini paper was, and likely still is, validation for those who were predisposed to interpret it as definitive proof that biotechnology should be outlawed.

Seralini Going Forward

Although I am glad to see this fear mongering study being pulled from publication I’m afraid the damage has already been done.  And if you’re a GMO hater you can still easily feel like you’ve won.  I’ve already seen the internet gearing up to portray the retraction as a result of great pressure applied to the journal by Big Ag and the politicians supposedly paid off by industry money.  People who believe such narratives don’t have to change their minds when new information comes to light.  Even if the old information was questionable to begin.  All they need do is move the goal post.  Kevin Folta agrees “we’ll see the wagons circle“ while suggesting steps for Seralini to take since he is standing behind his team’s research.

Science is a process, and I’m happy the process is working.

To view the original post, click here.



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