Friday, July 23, 2010

Room for All the Food on the Table

It seems lately that we are constantly bombarded with the message to buy our food local, buy organic, unhealthy food should be taxed and that modern agriculture is somehow the enemy. I truly believe most of this is a product of agriculture's success. How is that? Well, most of us don't have to worry about having enough food. In short, the fact that our bellies are full make it easier for us to fall prey to sensationalized media reports and propaganda provided by anti-agriculture groups.

Let me also say that I am totally in favor of the local food movement. I think it is great that more people are aware of where food comes from and the hard working men and women who grow it. Our ranch has began marketing our beef directly to consumers and it has been a very rewarding experience.

However, I think locally raised foods provide a better product but not necessarily a healthier one. The vegetables and meat you can purchase in your local grocery store are every bit as healthy as those in the farmers market. My hope is that (at least in our case) I am providing a higher quality product. Along with that higher quality comes a higher price tag. That is where I often have a disagreement with the hardcore local foodies.

Many in this great nation struggle each day to provide the basics, including food. They rely on the lower prices afforded to them because of the productivity of all of our farms and ranches. While the quality in terms of taste of the food may be a little less than the produce in farmer's markets, the nutrition is just the same. They simply cannot afford to pay the premiums those of us directly marketing our produce need to charge. We need both large agriculture and producers like myself to provide a product acceptable to all consumers.

I have also seen an article in the past week saying that researchers have found no difference in the safety of organic and non-organic produce. Again I am fully behind anyone who chooses to eat organic produce and pay the premium needed to produce it. It is a choice that some cannot afford and the science is just not there to say that organic is healthier or safer than conventionally produced food.

Finally, more and more politicians want to pay for their spending problem by taxing "unhealthy" foods. First, I think it only masks the problem of politicians spending money they don't have. Second, how we eat is a personal choice and if you choose to eat unhealthy foods and risk your health, then so be it. I don't think you are making a very good choice, but I don't think parachuting is a good choice either and I don't think it should be taxed. Teach people how to prepare fresh foods and rely less on pre-packaged and most of the nutrition problem will solve itself.

The bottom line is that we are incredibly blessed to live in a nation where we have such an abundant food supply that we can cast a critical eye toward it. Many people in this world are only worried about how to get their next meal. However, those of us who are fortunate enough to make a comfortable living should not impose our own views on those who have fewer choices. There is enough room in the food market for the conventional, local foodies and the organic to peacefully co-exist. Well, as long as we aren't taxed to death.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Cows, Instinct not Logic

This evening we will be rotating cows to a new pasture. Hopefully the cows will cooperate and things will move along easily. That is not always the case, even though we are moving them to better pasture. Our logic tells us that they should want to move because there will be more to eat, but there in lies the problem with applying human logic to animals.

Come to think of it, applying any logic to an animals is a critical error in thinking. This is an error that many who do not spend time around animals make. Animals (and yes, this includes your dog or cat) act upon instinct and not logic. Their brains are pre-programmed to re-act in a certain way given a certain trigger. Their actions are based on finding comfort, safety, food or reproducing, period, nothing more, nothing less.

Often I think that line is blurred because of the movies put out by movie production companies like Disney such as "Bambi", "Lady and the Tramp" or even "Charlotte's Web". These movies give human emotions and thoughts to animals. This opens the door for the anti-animal agriculture groups to pray upon the naive emotions of those who don't understand animal behavior. They put themselves in that animal's place, applying their human thought process to a given situation.

Those animals were put on earth for our use. We are the ones with logic and emotion, we are human and that sets us apart from the animals. As much as we want our pets to be able to communicate on a deeper level, they or any other animal cannot.

Does this mean we can treat animals any way we want. Absolutely not, because we have been given dominion over them we must take care of their needs and make them as healthy and comfortable as possible. On our ranch we utilize low-stress cattle handling methods, rotational grazing and a solid vaccination and health plan to make sure our cows are well-cared for.

So tonight, I will use my knowledge of cattle and their instincts with my logic to help move them to better pastures in a low-stress manner. And until the cattle tell me different I will continue to do that as I work to provide you with the best beef in the world.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Antibiotics, Katie and the Truth

This week CBS aired a piece on their evening news about antibiotic use on farms and ranches. Katie seemed very proud of herself for exposing the alleged abuse of antibiotics on livestock farms and ranches and the possibility of congress regulating their use. I viewed the piece and I am here to tell you that it is biased and very one-sided.

The truth is that there has never been a documented case of antibiotic resistance directly traced back to the use of these very necessary medicines in food animals. The use of antibiotics have allowed those of us in agriculture to greatly reduce disease and illness in our livestock. This allows us to produce a healthier, faster growing animal thus resulting in a safe, abundant, affordable source of protein for our families and neighbors.

In my short career in agriculture I have seen great improvements in the medicine available to farmers and ranchers. They allow us to use smaller doses, treat animals sooner and cure their illnesses faster. Just as advancements in human medicine have allowed us to lead healthier lives, advancements in veterinary medicine have allowed us to provide our animals a healthier life.

The assertions that antibiotics are abused and used in excess is just not true. We only use what is necessary just because we know the more antibiotics are used the less effective they become when we really need them. There is absolutely no proof that this transcends species, but we know we need to reserve their use for when we really need them. You could say prudent use gives us more bang for our buck, which leads to the next reason they are not over used in agriculture. Profit margins in farming and ranching are very thin. If you think antibiotics are expensive for your children try buying them without insurance. A small bottle of antibiotic for my cattle will often cost more than $100. We simply do not use them if we don't have to.

I ask you to contact your congressional delegation and tell them that agriculture needs full access to modern antibiotics. I feel that it is my responsibility to do everything in my power to keep my animals healthy and to provide them with the best care modern veterinary medicine affords them. Remember, we feed the same meat to our families that you feed to your family. We would never, ever do anything to jeopardize that safety, no matter what Katie might say.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Farmers and Ranchers, Ultimate Environmentalists

Yesterday I had the unique opportunity to take part in a survey administered by two K-State geography students. This survey was gauging how those of us in agriculture viewed climate and the environment around us. As I answered I realized those of us in agriculture go to great lengths to protect our environment. Here is what I shared with them.

Farmers and ranchers have always been keenly aware of the land, water and air around them and we have always tried to protect those valuable assets. But in the past ten years we have come to an even greater understanding of how to protect and improve the world around us. Improvements in technology (yes, the same technology the radical fringes would try to use against us) have allowed us to preserve more of the soil, water and air we all depend on.

Advances such as genetically modified crops have allowed us to use better herbicides allowing for less invasive weed control methods. Many of us now use herbicides such as Round-up to control weeds rather than mechanically cultivating the ground. Mechanical cultivation tills the soil allowing for erosion due to the wind and water. By not tilling up the land we are also keeping more of the organic matter on the soil surface. This not only helps hold the critical top soil in place but also helps with the overall fertility of the soil.

No-till farming practices coupled with soil conservation methods such as terraces and water-ways help to insure that we will never see another Dust Bowl. Not only protecting our soil but our air quality too. Our farmland is not only healthier but more productive than it ever has been and we are striving to improve it everyday.

I also noted that we have improved our native range. Many ranchers are utilizing methods such as rotational grazing to improve the health of our native warm-season grasses. We have a better understanding of the growth patterns of our grasses and we can tailor grazing programs, prescribed burning of those native ranges and herbicides to keep them growing vigorously and free of invasive brush. Our tall grass native prairie in the Flint Hills is a very fragile ecosystem and must be maintained with regular burning and grazing. Our ranchers have an intimate understanding of the ecosystem and work tirelessly to maintain and improve it for our future generations.

The final part of the survey was about climate change. The students looked at me with furrowed brows when I told them I thought it was fairly egotistical of us to think we could change the earth's climate. Personally I believe everything runs in cycles and we must work with those cycles. However, I am also equally sure that as farmers and ranchers we are doing everything we can to both protect and improve the environment around us.

I am not sure what they thought of my answers. They were very polite and told me they would share the results of the survey with me this fall. What I am sure of is that as I answered their questions, I once again reaffirmed my belief that those of us in agriculture are the ultimate environmentalists. After all we are the stewards of the land who rely on the air, soil and water around us to make a living off of the land and we are the same stewards of the land dedicated to protect it for future generations.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Reasons for the 4th

No matter the headlines in the news or what the political analysists might say, the 4th of July is a time for us to celebrate the greatness of the United States. I love the 4th of July and I love Sunday, so it makes sense that the 4th on a Sunday is a great day. Today has reminded me of all the reasons that make this day (and our nation) so special. It all started this morning.

The drive through the Flint Hills cloaked in all its green glory, the fertile farmland and the green grassy native range. I was reminded of bountiful food supply, the freedom from hunger and solid foundation of the agriculture in the great land. I worshipped in my church, ever mindful of the freedom to worship where I want and the many blessings God has given our nation. We should never forget that this country was settled in a quest for religious freedom and founded in a belief in God.

I then settled in for a BBQ dinner, celebrating the bounty of the land. We are so lucky to live in a land of plenty, with full shelves in multiple grocery stores. The abundance gives the majority the ability to focus on something other than producing food. My 4th would not be complete without the parade and fireworks so well done by my hometown.

The flags at the beginning of the parade remind me of the sacrifices of those who helped found this nation. Many of our founding fathers lost their lives, many more lost loved ones in our fight for independence and others lost all their possessions. All to insure our freedoms in this great country. The veterans marching in the parade remind me of the sacrifices of our armed forces. From those who gave their lives to insure the freedom of all men in the Civil War, those who served in the World Wars protecting from tyranny, those who fought the horrors of Vietnam and the brave soldiers who are now fighting those who would destroy our way of life.

Every parade has horses, they remind us of our rich heritage and were the mode of transportation that settled our country. The cars in the parade remind me of the industrial power of this great nation. The rest of the world look to us for leadership in the realm of technology and business. Older citizens along the route remind us of the generations that built this land The children remind me that we have a great hope for the future. Even the politicians walking the parade route are a sign of our great democracy. In many parts of the world political discussion are not a two sided affair.

The grand finale of my hometown 4th of July celebration is the fireworks. Each year I am struck by the beauty and the colors of the display. I am also aware of the fact that we can watch the display, safe in the knowledge that it is only a display. In many parts of the world loud explosions are a thing of fear and not a sign of joy.

That is why I love the 4th of July, it is a time for celebrating where we came from and where we are going in the future. No matter our disagreements or problems we must remember why this nation has thrived. We are incredibly blessed to live in a nation where we are guaranteed our freedoms and we are free to pursue our happiness. That is why I love the 4th of July.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

A Different Take on the Weather

Like many people in this area I am anxiously watching the radar this morning, wondering when the thunder storms will move in. I suspect my reason for radar watching is different from my non-ag friends. We have been haying all week and are hoping to bale the 30 acres we have mowed down before it gets wet.

I would also suspect that unlike most of my friends I welcome the rain. This rain is forecast for the 4th of July and many are worried about it ruining their celebrations. Don't get me wrong, we have plans to watch the festivities and fireworks, but even still I welcome the rain. To those of us in agriculture it is a matter of our annual income.

Farmers and ranchers understand that a rain during the summer is a rare thing and often determines our success or failure for a whole year. A well-timed rain in July and August can greatly increase the yields for our corn and soybeans and often the increase in yield means the difference between profit and loss. That profit is the income that we live on for the upcoming year.

Often it is also the only way many of us will stop working to take in the festivities. I can remember as a kid hoping for rain so Dad could go with us to watch the fireworks. In agriculture, it doesn't matter if it is a holiday or not, the work has to be done. We rest when it rains.

So, while I understand why the weatherman may talk about a disappointing 4th with all the rain, I beg to disagree. While I will be disappointed if the fireworks are rained out, that disappointment will be greatly tempered by the realization that an inch of rain in early July can make or break our year. So here is to hoping it rains on our crop fields and somehow misses all the celebrations out there.