Monday, August 23, 2010

Agriculture and the Next Generation

When you were a teen, how much did you know about your parent's occupation or the family business? My guess is unless you grew up in agriculture the answer would be not much. Agriculture is different from many other businesses or occupations because of the family involvement.

The children of farmers and ranchers are indoctrinated in agriculture at an early age. Often the conversation around the dinner table (yes, most of us still gather around the dinner table) centers around the family business. Most of us started working side-by-side with our parents and grandparents at an early age. By the time we were in our teens we knew much about the family business and the day-to-day operations. That was made very clear to me this weekend.

I had the honor of coaching the 4-H Livestock Sweepstakes team from our county this weekend. The livestock sweepstakes is a series of four contests that test the knowledge of 4-Hers as it pertains to the production of livestock and meat. The youth that participated in these contests demonstrated a knowledge of the business that most adult workers don't have in their respective occupations.

The 4-Hers taking part in this competition identified equipment used in various phases of livestock production. They performed complicated calculations used on a daily basis by farmers and ranchers. Participants were tested on their understanding of biological processes, anatomy, nutrition and economics that pertain to the production of the meat on your dinner table. They also had to be able to articulate their understanding orally. In short, they demonstrated an understanding of the business that takes many other occupations years to learn.

I wish you could have attended this competition with me and I am sure you would have been equally impressed. Not only did the 4-Hers compete in this highly technical series of contests but they also modeled professionalism, courtesy and ethics during them. You would have seen an impressive group of young professionals who were articulate, well-dressed and professional.

I guess I am bragging about our farm and ranch kids but I do so to give you more insight into our lives. Farming and ranching on any level (from the smallest truck farm to the largest corporate farm) is a family affair and all generations are involved at a level most other businesses cannot understand and only dream of. In any case, rest assured that the next generation of farmers and ranchers are already on the job and they are incredible.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Controlling the Uncontrolable

This week has been kind of frustrating. Actually the past three weeks have been pretty frustrating. 100 degree temperatures and no rain tend to make life frustrating to a farmer. But as my Dad says, "there is nothing you can do about the weather so why worry about it".

Waiting,hoping and watching the weather are a big part of agriculture. This year the crops got off to a slow start because of all the rain and cool temperatures. Now, just a couple of months later they are rapidly maturing because of hot temps and dry conditions. Why is this a problem. Soybeans are indeterminate meaning that they will keep blooming, adding pods and ultimately more soybeans as long as they have good growing conditions and moisture.

More beans mean more bushels to sell and more money. The soybeans we sell are our paycheck for the year (after we take out our expenses) and the money we have to live on and plant a crop for the next year. So a short growing season means a smaller paycheck for the farmer. in agriculture we live on a very small margine. Do you see my stress here?

Despite the fact that we have done everything right by planting on time, controlling weeds and utilizing the best management practices our yields are hurt by something we cannot control, weather. But there is hope for those of us in growing regions that can become arid and it is in the form of new technology.

New technology in soybeans? Yes, the seed companies (you know like the dreaded Monsanto) are coming out with drought resistant soybeans and corn. These varieties will yield more with less water, thus insuring a more secure food supply. Did you hear me. Monsanto is working on crops that will make our farmers more productive and increase the food supply. Doesn't sound like an evil empire to me and gmo crops that will save lives by growing more food. The fact is that we need modern technology to produce a growing population on fewer acres of farmland.

I can tell you that I think anything that will make me sleep better in July and August and spend less time on the Weather Channel website is a blessing. I say keep up the good work Monsanto and keep that new technology coming. In the meantime I will try to listen to my Dad and not worry about things I cannot control.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Food, the Farmer Isn't the Problem

Today, I engaged in a friendly conversation with a couple of friends about the safety of the food we eat. More specifically we were discussing the hormones used in the production of livestock for meat and whether they had anything to do with the early onset of puberty in girls. Now I am not a scientist by any means but I do think I have a good grasp on this subject.

Let me first say that the food we raise on our farms is safe, the medicines we use and the feeds we give our animals have been tested and proven safe. The herbicides and fertilizers we use to grow the abundant food supply we all enjoy have bee tested and retested. We also adhere to strict withdrawal times to doubly insure that the food you serve on your dinner table is the safest in the world.

So if the food is safe coming off the farm, why is there a problem. Honestly, I think it is more of a lifestyle problem than a food problem. We all live such hectic lives that we rush from one thing to the next. We rely on processed foods and order from the drive through instead of going home and preparing food from the basic ingredients. We choose food based on the ease of preparation and not on nutrition.

This hectic lifestyle also leaves us without time to exercise. If we can't prepare food, we sure aren't going for a walk. The problem isn't with our food, it is with our schedule. It is a mixed blessing to have the awesome agriculture foundation that we have. The hardworking men and women on our farms produce so much food that most of us actually are suffering from eating too much of it.

The majority of this world don't have worry about whether their food is safe, they spend most of their time worrying about having enough. I am not sure, but my guess is that starvation kills far more than all other food related problems combined. That is why, we in agriculture, need to utilize all of the technology we can to feed our ever growing world population.

I am not sure what the answer is but this I do know. Your food is safe when it leaves my farm. I suspect that if we all took the time to properly wash and prepare our food from its raw ingredients many of the health concerns in our nation would be a thing of the past. Mix in a less stressful, less hectic lifestyle and more exercise and we would all be a lot healthier. Come to think of it that would make us more like the farmers and ranchers who raise our food.