Posted By Cathryn May 6, 2013
In recent conversations about the environment, some fingers have been pointed toward corn farmers. The finger pointers wrongly allege that growing corn emits massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
If you want to see an enviro-villain responsible for a far greater percentage of our nation’s CO2 emissions, just look out your front door.
Residential lawns actually emit more CO2 than corn fields according to a study recently published in the Soil Science Society of America Journal. As more exurbs push city boundaries further and residential developments move land out of agricultural production, the effect can even intensify according to David Bowne, an assistant professor of biology at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania who led the study.
Everyone needs a place to call home. Everyone needs nutritious, healthy foods. Instead of pointing a finger at a farmer because, as such a small subset of the population, very few outside of agriculture personally know about and have experienced our nation’s incredible farming and ranching tradition.
Farmers work hard to act as good stewards of the land, air and water upon which they depend for their livelihood. The original environmentalists, farmers want to work with their counterparts from all parts of the country to ensure that their children will be able to continue farming the land that their grandparents once did.
All fruitful efforts start when we extend an open hand instead of wagging a finger. So take a moment to look at the facts. We have all contributed to the problem. Now, we all must be part of the solution.
Posted By Chuck August 3, 2012
Finding new uses for corn… and ways to treat our environment a little bit better… were the hot topics at this summer’s Corn Utilization Technology Conference.
Jay-lin Jane, Ph.D., Iowa State University, chaired the discussion on how biopolymers made from corn can be a sustainable, renewable, alternative to petroleum-based plastics. “The most common use for this type of material is disposable types of materials, because it’s biodegradable and environmentally friendly,” she explained. Examples include plant pots that can remain in the ground and give nutrients to the newly transplanted flowers and vegetables and even fairway-friendly golf tees. “When the golf tee is broken and left in the field, it may become nutrients for the grass.”
Listen to my interview with Jay-lin Jane here: Interview with Jay-lin Jane
2012 CUTC Photo Album
Posted By Cathryn April 20, 2012
This Earth Day, a lot of people will gather in parks and at events across the country to both celebrate our amazing planet and look for ways to protect it.
In St. Louis, just a few miles down the main east-west corridor from the National Corn Growers Association’s headquarters, concerned citizens and eco-enthusiasts alike will converge upon Forest Park, weather permitting, in droves to discuss a wide array of enviro-issues. In previous years, conversations tended to hold up food-related movements, such as those toward organics or locavore lifestyles, as models of how the eco-conscious should live.
This year, instead of dismissing these celebrations as agenda-driven vehicles for anti-ag activities, farmers and those who support them need to join the conversation. Attending events, participating in open forums and telling the story of modern American farming, growers can bring an informed, balanced voice in support of their industry to the conversation.
In many ways, be it through the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance or CommonGround, farmers have already learned about the importance of telling their story. Many have even practiced doing so. Earth Day marks a distinct opportunity to take a moment out of the field and actively cultivate public understanding and dialogue.
A new website featuring award-winning videos produced by the South Dakota Corn Growers Association and Utilization Council, www.trueenvironmentalists.com, reveals why farmers should value Earth Day in striking clarity. Using the example of their home state, the videos focus on how taking care of the land, air and water while increasing productivity provides hope. Hope that farmers will be able to help sustain a rapidly growing, hungry world. Watching the population counter tick up rapidly, thinking about the need to produce more food in the next 40 years than was produced in the last 10,000 years combined, it becomes obvious that we need to share the message of hope.
Take the time to share the incredible hope that farmers have for our growing world. Activists who would falsely accuse farmers of destroying the earth while promoting practices that would starve a constantly increasing segment of the population have already spun their yarn standing under the Earth Day banner for years. Let’s take part in a day that celebrates the earth, air and soil central to the very core of every farmer.
Posted By Cathryn December 12, 2011
Imagine how differently a day at the office might have been in 1961. A secretarial pool takes the place of word processing software. Googling a subject might take hours and physical labor sifting through back editions of the paper or encyclopedias and still yield limited results. Email communications require a phone call, paper memo or even a written letter sent through courier or mail without the Internet. Once out of the office, communication ceases unless a coworker dials a landline nearby.
While most people have capriciously wished for an end to modern technology following a particularly annoying late-night text from an employer, only the smallest minority actually advocates a return to the workplace technology of 50 years ago.
So, why do so many people outside of agriculture think that a return to equally antiquated technology would actually improve farming?
Recently, a column in Stock and Land magazine examined the impact of a large-scale return to the farming methods of our forefathers, a romantic notion with dismal consequences. Instead of growing a crop large enough to share with the world, U.S. farmers would produce only enough food to feed half of the country’s current population. Maintaining levels of dairy, meat and milk production would require two-thirds more land. Increased environmental degradation and social unrest further complicate this already hungry scenario.
Simply, removing technology and scientific advances from modern life seriously damages productivity and effectiveness whether done in corporate or agrarian America. Notably, the negative impact on farming creates a food shortage thus depriving an incredible number of those in towns and cities of the sustenance needed to survive.
Instead of buying into the soft-focus vision of farming that replaces knowledge and understanding with a vague sense of nostalgia, get the facts. Question the farmers and ranchers who produce food about how and why they use the technology and practices that they do. Look at the bounty of healthy options U.S. agriculture offers. Become part of national discussion about food that seeks a better tomorrow instead of a rose-tinted version of the past.
Posted By Cathryn November 17, 2011
Local food is sexy. Like any trend, interesting, powerful people seem to love it. From Michelle Obama to a slew of celebrity chefs, everyone seems to be talking about the exact farmer from which they purchased their lettuce. The hottest restaurants include menu descriptions that read like a list of the most prominent family from every bordering local community. On the surface, local foods appear to be the epicurean’s equivalent of retro chic.
Scratch beneath the surface, though, and the local food movement isn’t always what it seems. A complete cultural shift to a paradigm in which local foods reign supreme would yield some ugly results for the economy and for our health.
Simply, local food proponents do not account for basic economic realities in their public policy platform. From the economic advantages of specialization and trade to the realities of scale of economy, the shift toward a government-favored status for local foods, already well underway, would both make food more expensive and increase pollution.
On top of that, the foods which would become the most expensive in a local food world would be those needed for a healthy, balanced diet. Obesity already plagues the United States. If locavores get their way, the poor would be condemned to a sentence of junk food options for the crime of being unable to afford their nutrient-rich, lower-calorie counterparts.
So speak up. Trends and fads come and go. Fashions and crazes like leisure suits and pet rocks pass naturally through the cycle of cool. Don’t let this trend, and all of its harmful repercussions, be written into our laws and regulations. Tell the government to keep our options open instead of basing public policy in popularity.
Posted By Cathryn September 1, 2011
America has a love affair with farmers. From iconic imagery, like American Gothic, to reality television shows that help a handsome young farmer in his quest for a wife, we have inherited a respect for their independence and dedication. Even with 98.5 percent of the population completely removed from agriculture, images of the American farmer permeate our culture and construct our heritage.
The coupling of this healthy respect with a desire to return to what many view as a simpler, more thoughtful lifestyle has heavily influenced many foodies to recreate small portions of their lives. From city dwellers keeping chickens in backyards to urbanites building community gardens, a growing number of Americans want to explore farming in a real, tactile manner.
As these trends receive increasing attention, it becomes increasingly important that these noble, well-intentioned desires also become more informed. Fresh laid eggs on subdivision breakfast tables and shopping bags of fresh basil aside, the business of farming is serious work.
So, what would it really take to feed the average family of four intent upon growing and raising every scrap of food to hit the table? It would take about two acres.
This idea seems somewhat hard to imagine. Luckily, a group called One Block Off the Grid developed this infographic to show exactly what this family would have to raise and the amount of land these crops and livestock would require.
Notably, said family would have to adopt some dietary changes that the majority if Americans might not consider acceptable. Beef and traditional milk would not be an option. Instead, they would need to adhere to a diet that allows only limited portions of pork and poultry with dairy products created using goat’s milk. For many months of the year depending upon the climate, even on this hypothetical farm based in a nearly ideal climate, vegetables would only come from the supply they spent many hours carefully canning and stocking on pantry shelves. Fruit would actually have to be viewed as a treat and not what mom substituted for real dessert. Incredible hard work and significant land ownership aside, this family would hardly be living the locally produced dream that is so easy to envision in the fine dining restaurants that tout the movement’s virtues.
Examining this scenario can turn up many ideas and feelings as unique as their creators. What it should turn up almost universally though is a healthy respect for American agriculture.
Our society enjoys an abundance and variety of food heretofore unimaginable. We have access to nutritious, affordable food that the vast majority of the world envies. Despite rising rates of obesity, the prevalence of calorie-laden options and a general propensity toward the often deliciously decadent, the vast majority of Americans have the luxury of pondering their food issues with a full stomach.
Maybe, we should thank our farmers. They do work tirelessly cultivating the vast tracts of land needed to feed a growing population. They keep abreast of the newest technology and practices to constantly improve their operations. While most of us sleep peacefully, farmers are already awake and in their fields making sure that we have something on our breakfast plates.
Tending a plot of tomatoes is an excellent way to explore our heritage while cultivating something to proudly serve guests. At the same time, it is imperative that we continue to embrace our respect for the farmers who make life as we know it possible.
Posted By Cathryn June 29, 2011
In an age of new media and self-proclaimed experts, getting credible information on food can feel like playing telephone in grade school. At the end of the game, the message doesn’t sound at all like the original, and no one is quite sure who changed it.
The many myths surrounding “magical” grass-fed beef illustrate this point precisely. Oft touted for its environmental and health benefits, proponents rely on the halo-effect that foodies grant nearly any item produced by a small-scale operation that involves a hefty price tag. But when you get down to it, statements promoting the sustainability of grass-fed beef are as accurate as if they had been transported through a children’s telephone play chain.
Luckily, real, non-biased experts are setting the record straight. Hudson Institute Center for Global Food Issues Director of Research and Education Alex Avery’s message is clear – corn-fed beef is a more environmentally-friendly, sustainable choice.
Noting that he “loves the sustainability question, if it’s an honest discussion,” Avery offers concrete data to back up his assertions. In place of dubious claims involving hip buzzwords, he explains his analysis citing studies that conclude corn production reduces greenhouse gases emissions and land use in beef production. An avid proponent of the practice, he confidently has presented arguments to corn-fed beef ranchers that they should place labels on their packaging to help consumers understand that their product is actually environmentally-friendly and sustainable.
It’s time to stop relying on feel-good messaging created by agenda-driven propagandists disguised as friendly hippies. Don’t play telephone. Share real, concrete information by posting a link to this article on your Facebook or Twitter page.
Posted By Chuck October 19, 2010
The emcee for the Global Farmer to Farmer Roundtable conducted by Truth About Trade & Technology was Bob Thomson. He says the participating farmers were looking at what it’s going to take to thrive in the next several years. High on their list is modern technology. He says they realize that to feed the projected population equivalent of two more countries the size of China in the next forty years it will take very high productivity agriculture. The alternative will be massive destruction of forests and that will lead to a lot of undesirable results.
Bob says a real concern and frustration expressed, especially by European participants, was the extent that some activist organizations have dominated the debate and how little their governments are doing to help them. It’s hard to be competitive when you’re overburdened by regulations. Participants from countries like India said that biotechnology products will be critical for them. They weren’t so much interested in subsidies as being on a level playing field. A need to communicate their stories was also expressed.
You can listen to my interview with Bob here: [audio:http://www.zimmcomm.biz/ncga/tatt-roundtable-thompson.mp3]
TATT Global Farmer To Farmer Roundtable Photo Album
Posted By Chuck October 12, 2010
NCGA board member, Pam Johnson, is a northern Iowa corn and soybean grower. She farms with her husband and sons and is one of the participants in the Truth About Trade & Technology, Global Farmer to Farmer Roundtable. She is not only participating in the roundtable discussions but was also on the panel of this morning’s Biodiversity World Tour town hall mtg.
I spoke with Pam before the afternoon roundtable session got underway. She says this discussion has been great for her because farmers share a lot of the same issues and concerns around the world. She thought this morning’s town hall meeting was a good one with an audience that understands that there are a lot of definitions for terms like sustainability. She says that the point was made that farmers are working hard to be productive while maintaining a viable business and taking care of their land and other resources. She hopes that the farmers visiting the United States will take away the idea that they have to be able to operate in an atmosphere where their government policy, the public and consumers work with farmers. In other words, it’s not an “us vs. them” situation.
You can listen to my interview with Pam here: [audio:http://www.zimmcomm.biz/ncga/tatt-roundtable-johnson.mp3]
TATT Global Farmer To Farmer Roundtable Photo Album
Posted By Chuck October 12, 2010
The participants in the Truth About Trade and Technology Global Farmer To Farmer Roundtable started their day at the Biodiversity World Tour town hall meeting with Sec. of Agriculture Vilsack. Before we departed for the meeting on the campus of Iowa State University I spoke with Chairman, Dean Kleckner.
He says that there are 16 farmers here this year from various countries including the United States, to have a discussion on farming where they live, and to do it in a public forum to foster better understanding between countries and the general public. He’s says it has been interesting to hear how similar the challenges are throughout the world. I’m planning to feature some interviews with the farmer participants during the next couple days.
You can listen to my interview with Dean here: [audio:http://www.zimmcomm.biz/ncga/tatt-roundtable-kleckner.mp3]
Photos will be posted to the TATT Global Farmer To Farmer Roundtable Photo Album.