Filed under: Ag education, Animal care, family, Farm, farm animals, food, food safety, organic | Tags: agriculture, Agriculture education, common misconceptions, corporate farms, environment, farm, Food, food safety, small farms
Agriculture is very important for human life here on earth, but because less than 2% of the U.S. population actually works on a farm, it is often a misunderstood career. Because farm life was and can still be hard, dirty and smelly work, many left the farm for the easier life in town. As our population gets removed several generations from the farm there are even more misconceptions, some of them, sadly, are perpetuated by farm folks themselves as jokes on non-farm folks (Chocolate milk comes from brown cows is one of my favorites). Still it is right for you to be concerned about where your food comes from and how it is produced. We on the farm are also concerned. We want you to understand us so that you will be as proud as we are of American Agriculture.
That leads to this Top 10 misconceptions about Agriculture I saw today. The author is Matthew J. Lohr, Commissioner, Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, but the answers are good in any agricultural state.
MY TOP 10 LIST OF MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT AGRICULTURE
By Matthew J. Lohr, Commissioner, Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
As we approach Virginia Agriculture Week March 17 – 23, I decided this is the perfect time to address some of the common misconceptions about agriculture. Many of you will have a similarly-titled list, but our Top 10 may differ. If you want to share your list with us at VDACS, please e-mail it to our Communications Director firstname.lastname@example.org.
Like David Letterman, we will go from #10 to #1.
#10 – Small farms are unimportant. In many ways, small farms are the backbone of Virginia agriculture. They range in size from three or four acres to 150 acres or so, but they probably do the best job of any farms to provide local food. Many small farms sell directly to the consumer through roadside stands, on-farm sales, farmers’ markets and events. They are at the heart of the Buy Local movement and not only provide food but also provide that all important one-on-one relationship between farmer and consumer. They are also one of the fastest growing segments of Virginia agriculture.
#9 – All large farms are corporate farms. In Virginia nearly 90 percent of our farms are family-owned and operated. Many family farms are incorporated for business purposes or to ensure an orderly transition from one generation to the next, but incorporated is not the same as corporate. The vast majority of our farmers live on the land they work, and they have a very special bond with the land that may go back generations. Their roots run deep.
#8 – Farmers are destroying the environment. This is absolutely not true. In fact, farmers are the original good stewards of land and water resources. These resources are, after all, how they make their living, so it makes sense to protect them. I find it interesting that many of the complaints to our Ag Stewardship Program about perceived environmental problems are unsubstantiated. What the public perceives as an environmental problem often is not. At the same time that farms give us environmental benefits such as green spaces and wildlife habitat, they use far fewer resources than the average urban or suburban home.
#7 – There’s no future in agriculture. I’ll admit that for a few years, many of us were concerned about the future of agriculture and the next generation of farmers. But things are changing. Fox News recently ran a feature that said ag degrees are the hot ticket for job growth. They quote data from the Food and Agriculture Education Information System that says enrollment in U.S. college and university agriculture programs are up 21 percent since 2006. The data show more than 146,000 undergraduates in ag programs. This growing interest is critical for the future of food production, as world population growth is creating a greater demand for food, and the average age of farmers in many states is near 60.
#6 – Farmers are uneducated. This is a persistent myth and one we need to bust. The days are long gone when you learned everything you needed to know about farming from your grandfather. That doesn’t mean we discount grandpa’s advice, born from years and years of experience. It does mean that today’s farmers need post-high school training in a variety of areas: animal science, agronomy, environmental science, business, marketing, communications, perhaps even law and psychology. Today’s farmers also need to be life-long learners. If you’ve been on a farm recently, you’ve probably seen a farmer using his cell phone in the field to make decisions about planting or applying pesticides or fertilizer. That’s the kind of on-the-job training every farmer needs these days to stay competitive and make a profit.
#5 – The cost of food goes directly into the farmer’s pocket. A persistent myth in the eyes of the public and the media is that the only factor in food prices is what the farmer charges. Don’t we wish this were true? But in reality, only 15 to 16 cents of every food dollar goes into the farmer’s pocket. The rest goes for things like transportation, processing, packaging and marketing. Farmers can barely pass along their direct costs for feed, fertilizer, labor or insurance. Their indirect costs are even more difficult, and when drought, hail, hurricanes, flooding or other natural disaster wipe out a crop, they can lose most of their year’s income but still have to bear all of those direct costs.
#4 – Food costs too much. In some parts of the world, this definitely is true. It not only costs too much but is unavailable to many people. But in the United States, we have one of the most abundant and affordable food supplies in the world. In 2011, the share of final household consumption on food in the U.S. was 6.7 percent. The percentage in Switzerland was 10.2; in Japan, it was 14. China checks in at 21.3 percent and in Cameroon it’s 46.9. (Source: Economic Resource Service, USDA)
#3 – Our food is unsafe. Sometimes we get overwhelmed by the headlines of a problem with one commodity or one producer. The reason these stories are called news is because they are not normal. Normal in the U.S. is a safe, abundant, affordable food supply. I Googled “safety of the U.S. food supply” just to see what would pop up, and I found many articles and studies with this same fundamental message: The American food supply is the safest in the world thanks to industry and government efforts. Because our food supply is so safe, we have a luxury people in many countries don’t have; we can take it for granted.
#2 – Farmers abuse their animals. The very idea sends me into orbit. In any industry you will find a few bad players, and agriculture is not immune. But consider this, why would a farmer abuse his or her animals when those animals are the source of his livelihood? That’s just nuts. It may be a marketing ploy, but there is a lot of truth to the statement that “Our milk comes from contented cows.” Contented cows are going to produce more milk than cows that are stressed, neglected, starved or otherwise treated ill and farmers know it. The same goes for any other food animal.
#1 – All farmers are rich. Do I hear the farmers among you laughing? I can’t think of a single farmer I’ve known whose goal was to get rich. In Virginia it’s usually more like, “I hope I can make a decent living for my family.” If your goal is to get rich, frankly, there are many ways to accomplish that goal that are easier and quicker than getting rich through agriculture. We do have some wealthy farmers in Virginia, and I am proud of them. But even among those who are wealthy, I think the motivators for farmers tend to be of a more noble nature. We farm because we love it or because we love the lifestyle or we think it’s a good way to raise our children. We may farm out of a deep-seated desire to help, to make a positive difference in the world. Or we simply may realize that farming is not only the world’s oldest profession, but that it is the only one that is truly necessary. Bottom line, when we can’t feed ourselves, nothing else matters because we will be dead in four or five days.
Filed under: Ag education, Farm, food, house | Tags: Agriculture education, dirt, environment, farm, farmland, Food, housing, housing development, nature, science
Today we have 922,095,840 acres of farmland in the United States. In 1978, that number was 1,014,777,234 – a decrease of 92,681,394 acres. Nine percent of our nations farmland is gone. Where did it go? Most of it went to housing.
When I travel to any city it is obvious to me that people do love to live outside the city. Suburban housing developments around cities are converting some very good farmland to street after street of houses. Nice flat fertile easy to farm land. As of now that land has a greater value as housing than as farmland. Despite losing 9% of some of our countries best farmland farmers have produced more food than ever before.
Farmers and agri-businesses are constantly improving crop yields so that more food and feed crops can be grown with the same, or even less inputs. We now use less water, fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides, fuel and labor to produce ever more and more food for the world than we did when I started farming 40 years ago. Our farming methods have changed in ways that reduce erosion. Although our machinery may be bigger we now use methods that do less damage to the soil. Indeed farmers are conservation minded.
Farmers are doing their best to protect the land. Dirt is our most precious resource and we treat it well.
Filed under: Ag education, Ag promotion, Animal care, Farm, farm animals, food, food safety, genetic modification, GMO, Music | Tags: Agriculture education, children, family, farm, Food, food safety, history, parody
Do you want the real story, or will you believe the “shocking” news of some entertainer? I’ve seen it so many times, a TV celebrity makes a statement or brings on a guest who makes a statement, that is totally at odds with the truth, and people actually believe it. When they make those comments about what we do here on the farm it can really hurt. I’m proud to tell you that a broad array of farm folks are stepping up to tell the real story. Among my favorites are the ladies at “Finding our Common Ground.” These young mothers are telling about what happens on the farm in a way that other young professional women can believe. One that came across my facebook feed today is about GMO’s. (http://findourcommonground.com/food-facts/corporate-farms/)
I’ve also watched the Peterson Brother do their thing in song parody that both entertains and informs. These young men and their sister are entertaining and informative. Check out one of their videos at
Today a really good video came to my computer from Midwest Dairy producers that is one of the best I have ever seen.
These are only a few of the many good efforts being made by agriculture today. The truth is that we few are a misunderstood group. What we do is shrouded in mystery because what we do is often hard, dirty work. Work that is rewarding in ways that many city jobs are not, but often so hard that many of our ancestors left the farm for the easier life in cities.Not only hard, but today very costly. It is harder and harder to get into farming without lots of money. For most of my life I struggled to make a living and feed my family on a farmers income. Because I was able to work with my dad I was able to keep going and now, 40 years later, can feel good about the life I live and the income I make. Today land and machinery prices are even higher and I wonder how the next generation will be able to farm.
My life is not “shocking,” but it is complex. We do things on the farm today in new ways because we have a heavier burden on our shoulders. When I started farming the average farmer fed 26 people, today he feeds 155. 98% of the farms are still family owned and account for 85% of the food you eat. In the last 100 years the average farm size has gone from 140 acres to about 500. Of interest is that there are now more farms today that there were 10 years ago, not hobby farms, but farms that are actually viable, $500,000 per farm gross profit farms.
So the next time someone tries to tell you how things really are on the farm, check out their bonafides. Do they really know what goes on on the farm, or are they telling you “shocking” story to get you to buy their book. You all are invited to check out the many farm stories that are now on the internet, and I know any one of us would love to hear from you. We’ll tell you what really happens down on the farm.
Filed under: Farm, Farm Bureau, food, food safety, Minnesota, Politicians, Politics, travel | Tags: farm, Farm Bureau, Food, food safety, Minnesota, politics, travel
Part of March was spent in the halls of politics for me.The 8th of March my bride and I went to D.C. to visit our daughter who is in grad school and see what life is like for her this year. (http://minnesotafarm.wordpress.com/2013/03/16/into-another-land/)
While there the rest of the Minnesota Farm Bureau delegation arrived. We got a chance to visit with American Farm Bureau President Stallman and see D.C. from his 10th floor office.There were 20 of us from Minnesota and we usually split into two groups to visit with congressional members and all 20 of us in a senate office.
The week we were there was the time that Obama was pushing congress and the senate to do something about the budget. That meant that our pre-arrainged times could be changed if the president decided to visit. We were lucky to get to the offices of 7 of the 8 representatives from Minnesota. We presented out requests, tried to add in a few personal stories, and left hoping they would get something done.
Until the “Sequester” is figured out there is really going to be nothing that can be done in Washington. One of our concerns was in the meat packing industry. Because of lack of funds, meat inspectors were going to have their work weeks shortened. This could mean a lack of inspection and possible problems for our food supply. That issue seems to have been taken care of, but the concerns about paying for government services are still there.
I was only back a few days and I was off to St. Paul for our Ag Week visit to our Minnesota legislators.
Farm Bureau members from several areas of the state were in town to express our concerns about future legislation. These visits rarely do much more than help out representatives put a face on a name. It will be our future contacts on behalf of upcoming bills that will really have an impact. I always enjoy the visits and the chance to be brought up to speed on what is happening in politics. I hope to see you someday on one of my visits.
Filed under: Ag education, Ag promotion, Animal care, Biofuels, ethanol, Farm, farm animals, Farm Bureau, food, food safety, genetic modification, Minnesota, Politicians, Politics, travel | Tags: Agriculture education, biofuels, ethanol, farm, Farm Bureau, farm bureau members, Food, food safety, government, Minnesota, minnesota farm bureau federation, politics, travel
Filed under: cars, church, Farm Bureau, Politicians, travel | Tags: cars, D.C., Farm Bureau, machines, politics, POTUS, presidential motorcade, travel, washington national cathedral
Whenever you visit Washington D.C. you hope for a sighting of the President. Needless to say very few do catch sight of him without a planned event invitation. Our Farm Bureau members could not get that far. I’ve heard stories of close and unplanned sightings of presidents of the past. There are those who saw a president several years ago at the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, popularly known as Washington National Cathedral. Or story of the jogger who would see a former president out for an early morning round on the National Mall, and found himself face down in the grass when he reached for a camera. Most people in D.C. will never get close enough to be sure he is even there. Our encounter was not even close, but we know he was there.
During our week in D.C. President Obama was actively out visiting with senators and representatives to get something going on a budget and get the “sequester” settled. That meant a presidential motorcade. We were walking back to our hotel after one of our meetings one afternoon when we noticed that the street was strangely bare of all but police cars. No one was even being allowed to cross the street on foot. Thencame several motorcycle cops, a whole string of black limos and some black suburbans, what looked like a armored Hummer, an ambulance and then more police, and it was over.
There were some squealing girls across the street who thought they saw Obama through the car window, but I never saw him. Security was impressive, those folks know what they are doing. It’s no wonder that it is cheaper for the president to fly in a helicopter than drive.
So, no visit with the POTUS, just a few pictures of the motorcade driving by.
Filed under: Ag education, Farm, fertilizer, food, organic | Tags: Agriculture education, environment, farm, Food, organic, organic farming, sustainable farming
There is a big push by some in the food industry telling people that they need to be raising the food we eat sustainably. So what is sustainable? Do small organic farmers fit? How about large organic farms? Can you be sustainable and raise your crops conventionally using herbicides, non-organic fertilizer, insecticides and/or fungicides? Many have tried to tell me that only organic food is sustainable, is it. Some have tried to raise crops organically and had to sell their farms since they could not earn enough income.
I was just reading a post from One Hundred Meals called “Supporting our Farming Habit” <http://onehundredmeals.com/2013/02/17/meal-seven-supporting-our-farming-habit/> where Grant was writing about organic farmers who’s businesses were failing. So if you produce food organically and you fail are you still a sustainable farm? There are many farmers who raise their crops in a non-organic manner who’s farms fail, where they not sustainable?
The truth is that the way you farm does not make your farm sustainable. A farm is sustainable if it can earn enough to cover expenses. There are organic farms and non-organic farms that are sustainable, they earn their owners enough to pay the bills and a living wage.
I understand the idealism of those who profess to be organic only proponents. They truly feel that there is only one way to farm, but to do so, they must be willing to pay more for their food, in some cases a lot more.
My parents and grand parents were raised on organic farms. In those days it was not known as organic, it was just the way you farmed. When my grandparents were born farm folks earned barely enough to feed their families. When my parents were born, a farmer supported maybe two families. When I was born a farm family could feed bout 20 people. All of this was done with hard manual labor, very little machinery, the only fertilizer used was produced on the farm, no herbicides, no insecticides, no fungicides. More than half of a city persons income would go to paying for food. In those days people died young, living without the medicines we take for granted and could not travel far from home. So much has changed since then.
Many of the practices that are called unsustainable today are those practices that allowed our children to get city jobs. They are the reason that one farm family today supports 155 off farm consumers. Yes, some farmers still struggle to earn enough to pay the bills, but their places are being taken by those who can sustain farm income in a manner that pays the bills. I do not believe that because a farmer does not grow his crops a certain way he is unsustainable. The consumer will tell him by either buying, or not buying his produce if he is sustainable or not.
So here it is, if you want to eat only organic food, do not buy it because you think it is sustainable, but because you think it tastes better, if it does. Those still left on the farm are doing their best to supply you with the foods you want. Support them, and be willing to pay the prices they ask for their labor. Organic farming is not sustainable unless you do.
Filed under: Ag education, Ag promotion, Animal care, Farm, food | Tags: Agriculture education, agvocate, farm, Food
Talk about food and people can get very emotional. Talk about how our food is raised with a farmer and you also get raw emotion, especially if you try to portray his life’s work as damaging to the land, our environment or those who eat the food he raises. As the consumer gets further and further from the farm, some have started to portray agriculture as something gross and dangerous. That can get farm folks a little bit prickly and some have been known to lash out. What we all need is some civil conversation.
Some in the farming community have started to understand that we need to tell our story ourselves or someone else will tell it for us and we may not like what they say. Since many of those who are spreading the untruths of our food are using social media, it has been natural that social media has also been the method used by farm folks to tell what really happens on the farm.
Don’t get me wrong, there are bad apples in farming as there are in all areas of life. The majority of the farming/ranching community does not condone the things they do. We do not, however, like it when the worst of the worst gets portrayed as the norm. There are also some common practices in agriculture that the consumer does not understand. These practices are based on science and our critics are using emotion, the two are not equal.
I have been very happy to watch many of my peers take on these misconceptions in agriculture in the social media. Most of these agvocates are young and female, but there are a liberal number of young men and even some of us older folks in the mix. Groups such as “Finding Our Common Ground” have popped up that are populated with these agvocates working to answer the questions of our food buyers.
Now there is a soon to be released book, out February 14, 2013, by one of these young agvocates that hopes to bridge the gap between farm and foodie, it’s called No More Food Fights! Written by Michele Payn-Knoper, the book is ”a call for decorum instead of mayhem in the conversation around food and farm.” Michele’s blog “Cause Matters” <http://www.causematters.com/> was one of the first I found when I started my blog.
Instead of a front and back cover, there are two sides to Michele’s book – the food side and the farm side. It is designed for both farmers and foodies to read about issues from each prospective. I know the book will get a lot of interest from the farmers and ranchers, and I’m looking for a similar interest from foodies. Hopefully this book will help us all to get rid of the pricklies.
Filed under: Ag education, Ag promotion, Farm Bureau, Minnesota, Politicians, Politics | Tags: Agriculture education, Farm Bureau, farm bureau federation, farm bureau members, Minnesota, minnesota department of natural resources, minnesota farm bureau, minnesota farm bureau federation, minnesota pollution control, politicians, politics
It’s been a long week. But one of the most interesting days I had this week was spent in St.Paul at the Farm Bureau Council of County Presidents meeting.
Each year the Minnesota farm Bureau’s county presidents get together to find out what is going on in our state and national politics. We have people from many different state, and if we can get them, federal organizations come in and brief us on the things happening in their area. It is a chance to get to know each other and to find out about issues we will be dealing with. Below is a picture of myself with some area Farm Bureau members as we greet our State Senator Bill Weber.The Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation (MFBF) recently held the Minnesota Farm Bureau Council of County Presidents meeting on February 5 at the University Club in St. Paul with 120 Farm Bureau leaders, elected and appointed officials in attendance. County Farm Bureau presidents heard from state legislators, as well as Minnesota Agriculture Water Resources Center Executive Director Warren Formo, Minnesota Board of Animal Health Executive Director Dr. Bill Hartman, Minnesota Department of Revenue Commissioner Myron Frans, Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Vice Chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs Douglas Knowlton, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Commissioner John Stine, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Deputy Commissioner Dave Schad, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Policy and Government Relations Director Bob Meier and Minnesota Department of Agriculture Deputy Commissioner Jim Boerboom. Pictured left to right are Dave Van Loh-Minnesota Farm Bureau District III director, Kevin Bock-Redwood County Farm Bureau vice president, Mike Wojahn-Cottonwood County Farm Bureau president, Senator Bill Weber (R-Luverne), Susan Hansberger-Nobles County Farm Bureau, Tim Hansberger-Nobles County Farm Bureau president and Rachel Daberkow-Jackson County Farm Bureau president.
Filed under: Ag education, Ag promotion, Farm, history | Tags: Agriculture education, farm, history
Paul Harvey’s recitation of “God made a Farmer” in the Superbowl ad has a lot of
people talking about the changes in farming. So how much has farming changed
since Paul’s speech in 1979 and today?
Using the numbers from our most recent U.S. Agriculture Survey (2007, a new one
is being conducted for 2012), here are some interesting comparisons:
In 1978, there were 2,257,775 farms, averaging 449 acres each. In 2007, those
numbers reduced to 2,204,792 farms averaging 418 acres each. Farmers today
are actually smaller by 31 acres.
Today the market value of farmland and buildings is $1,892 per acre. That is up
from $619 per acre in 1978 – an increase of $1,273 per acre.
Today we have 922,095,840 acres of farmland in the United States. In 1978, that
number was 1,014,777,234 – a decrease of 92,681,394 acres.
In 1978, 56% of farmers claimed farming as their primary occupation and 44% of
farmers claimed zero days away from the farm work.
Today, 45% of farmers claim farming as their primary occupation and 35.3% of
farmers claim zero days away from the farm work.
Our average farmers have aged almost 7 years since 1978. Today the average
farmer is 57.1 years old.
The numbers have changed, and so has much of the technology farmers use to
produce much more food on much fewer acres, but the person remains the same.
The characteristics, values, hard work, determination, and grit it takes to work day
in and out, producing food for a global food supply, still holds true 35 years after
the late Paul Harvey first made his description.
My Thanks to Ryan Goodman for putting these figures together for me.