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 email@example.com.
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, Ag promotion, Farm, food, P & E, science | Tags: agriculture, Agriculture education, Engineering, farm, Food, Math, science, technology
Want to have a job when you graduate from school, think STEAM. That stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Agriculture and Math. Agriculture? Yes, Agriculture!
Actual farmers make up just about two to four percent of the American work force. But people who work in related industries that depend on what farmers do account for at least a quarter of the entire work force. That includes everyone from people in food services jobs to Kraft executives to commodities traders.
Many folks in Agriculture are experts in one of the other areas also. It is nearly impossible to work on a farm today without knowing something about all of the others. To be a part of Agriculture today you may not even have a degree in Agriculture, but you still will be involved in feeding the world. That’s Agriculture!
Filed under: Farm, Politics, science | Tags: agriculture, computers, factories, farm, jobs, machines, monetary poilcy, politics, robots
Back many years ago when I was in college we were talking about the changes in farming and how machinery was replacing people. Farmers were embracing the new machines that were being designed for agriculture and greatly advancing the amount of work they could do. Because there were more, better paying, jobs in town, young folks were not staying on the farm. They were taking the cleaner, less demanding, jobs that were available in town. Farming was changing from a labor intensive job, to a machine intensive job.
As time has gone on, farmers in the developed countries have embraced the machinery that makes their lives easier. It has made farming a capital, as in money, intensive occupation. Now it means that every farmer must manage large amounts of money. We are becoming like the factories in our cities in that we use machinery to do many things that were once done by hand. That same thing is now happening in our cities.
I was recently at a seminar put on by my bank where Michael Swanson Ph.D.was talking about all of the problems our countries economy was facing right now. One of the things that he talked about was our current monetary policy. The U.S. monetary policy now is promoting low interest rates so that people and companies can borrow money at low rates. The idea is that this low interest money will promote factory and business start ups and thus employ more people. It seems that the opposite may be happening.
Today it is cheaper to build and own computers, machines and robots to do the jobs that were once done by hand. Business owners are taking this cheap money and building businesses that do not need many people to operate them. Even the military is using many machines to do dangerous, dirty jobs, that used to need and endanger many people. In other words, the low interest rates are actually taking away jobs rather than producing them. This does not employ nearly as many people as we would hope.
What is left for the working person? More and more jobs are being taken by machines every year, and a cheap interest policy by the U.S. Government will only hasten the movement. People are more and more having to move to jobs that cannot be done by todays machinery, and many of those jobs are changing from people to machinery every year.
The day of the working person getting a living wage in the U.S. is rapidly disappearing. Unless you can run or repair the machines of modern society you are going to be left behind. Service jobs are all that are going to be left. Jobs that need a hands on human touch are all that are left, and many of them are low paying. Jobs are already leaving China for places like Africa and Southeast Asia, where people will still work dangerous, repetitive jobs for pennies a day. If you are not the lowest cost producer you do not get the job.
Business is quickly following in the steps of Agriculture. If a machine can do the job, it will increasingly be done by machinery. Only the lowest paying jobs will be left for the working person. Money is replacing jobs in more and more places. This is good news for those with the correct training, it is terrible news for those without that training.
Filed under: Corn, family, Farm, farm animals, harvest, Soybeans, summer, travel, weather | Tags: agriculture, Colorado, Corn, farm, gas prices, harvest, hot, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Soybeans, summer, travel, weather
Our family had a reunion in Colorado this past week. As a farmer you know I was watching the crops all the way. Since I drove I do not have any pictures, but I do have a few thoughts to share.
With all of the problems we have had this year getting in the crop I was interested to see how other areas of the country were doing. Over all it was evident on our trip that others had the same wet spring we did. Even in areas that rely heavily on irrigation you could see places were the crops had had a tough time getting going. Wet areas, places where the crop was missing altogether and other stresses we in most fields.
Our trip took us from Southwestern Minnesota, across the corner of Iowa to Sioux City, down 77 to Fremont, Nebraska, west on 30 to Grand Island, on I-80 to the Colorado border, then down I-76 to Denver. This is some prime cropland that starts out as corn and soybeans and then starts to add in alfalfa as you get into cattle country. As you go west and conditions get drier we saw wheat, oats and barely as well as sunflowers and potatoes. The driest areas of Colorado were pasture land with some irrigated crops mixed in.
Here are some crop notes from the trip.
- There was an area near Worthington, MN that you could see had gotten the crop in and well off to development, and then had so much rain that it drowned out 6 foot tall corn.
- The Missouri river was still well over its banks. There were even roads closed because of high water near Sioux City.
- The Platte River was down some, but still held more water than usual for this time of year.
- Irrigation systems were going everywhere as the farmers poured water to their crops in the heat. Temperatures of 90 to over 100 were common and the wind was sucking up the water.
- Small grain harvest was mostly done, and the straw was being baled in many of the fields. Harvest crews were waiting to move to the next area.
- Hay fields were cut all over the areas of our travels. Most of the hay looked to be in good condition.
- Pastures looked dry. There was a lot of pasture, and not a lot of cows on them.
Gas prices were also interesting. We started out with gas prices of $3.75 around home. Our lowest price paid was $3.47 on the Winnebago Indian Reservation and went as high as $3.99 at Ogallala, Nebraska. Otherwise prices were mainly set at $3.65 to $3.69. Even in the mountains of Colorado we did not see a great variation in prices.
Our reunion was at a resort near Breckenridge. We were at an elevation of over 9000 feet. Even at that altitude it was warm. Highs in the 80′s and lows in the 50′s were a relief from what we had here, but when the sun came out it got HOT.
It was good to get away and be with family for a while, but it’s good to be home now.
Filed under: Biofuels, ethanol, Fishing, science | Tags: agriculture, car, cars, dead zone, ethanol, farm, pollution
Many are trying to blame ethanol and other agricultural practices for the Gulf of Mexico dead zone. They obviously have not checked up on what is happening in the gulf.
Last year the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico was estimated to be about 3,000 square miles. Last year, the U.S. produced 10.8 billion gallons of ethanol. In 2001, the dead zone was 8,006 square miles, and ethanol production in the U.S. was 1.8 billion gallons. How do critics of ethanol explain how the dead zone shrunk while ethanol production increased by more than 6 times in the U.S.
If agriculture is changing the size of the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, it is not a bad change. In fact I think maybe folks should be thanking agriculture for helping to clean up the gulf.
The BP oil spill is making a change on life in the Gulf of Mexico, one that will cause problems for those who live there for a very long time. Perhaps we need to look at who is really doing something to clean up the world. I look to agriculture rather than big oil.