Friday, September 27, 2013

Chipotle is Wrong!!!

I am a pretty easy going guy, it takes a lot to get me fired up, but recently a Chipotle ad did just that. Some of you might be familiar with Chipotle restaurants; they are a chain selling tex-mex food. They have long been known for their social activism mainly using phrases like “anti-biotic free”, “responsibility raised “, “confinement free”, “free of industrial agriculture”; all of these are in quotes because they are their words and not mine.
Let me be very clear, this is nothing new for Chipotle. I have never and will never enter one of their establishments, nor will I ever. I refuse to spend my money in a place that mocks and criticizes something they know nothing about. They have long been enemies of those of us practicing modern, conventional agriculture. But now they have taken it to a new level.
Recently they released a web based, You Tube ad that belittles all of us working to produce food every day. I am sure some of you have seen it and it is fairly easy to find. It is an animated piece that features a very forlorn looking scarecrow. It shows the poor scarecrow going to work for Crow Foods, a big, nasty, uncaring, cold, industrial corporation exploiting animals, plants and workers to produce unwholesome food.
The scarecrow goes about his day watching as chickens are injected with medicines that make them swell up, cows are confined to crates, and crops are covered with nasty pesticides. Then the food is processed in unnatural shapes and boxed up to be delivered mechanically to mindless consumers. All they while, mechanical crows with red eyes bully everything around them.
At one point the scarecrow is on a train and a billboard proclaims that “Crow Foods feeding the world”. The world is a very barren, depressing desert with little or no signs of life. That is until our scarecrow arrives at his own humble farmstead. It is a small, wonderful, colorful, green place complete with a two story red barn, corn patch and very healthy looking little chipotle peppers (well isn’t that a surprise).
Mr. Scarecrow then comes up with the life altering decision to pick his produce and take it back into the wasteland of the city. He chops, dices and seasons this wonderful food that he begins selling to all of the consumers long abused by the big evil corporate Crow Foods. Oh and along the way he scares off the mechanical crow henchmen. It is a very well written, wonderfully produced piece of absolute propaganda and is totally fiction.
At the end of the ad I was so outraged and offended by the outright lies and total misrepresentations that I could not see straight. I waited a day (to cool off) and went to their corporate (yes they are a corporation, I find that ironic) website. They also have a scarecrow game and more propaganda about how responsible they are and how they would like to make those of us in agriculture more responsible (like them).
So let’s be very clear Chipotle. I do not, have never, and will never be a minion to a big corporation. Sure I benefit by using the innovations that have been developed by large corporations such as Monsanto, but they do not control me anymore than Ford controls you because you drive one of their cars. As for the accusation that I am not responsible because I utilize the best in veterinary medicines to care for my livestock, this is one of the most absurd statements I have ever heard.  Providing the best care I can for my animals is responsible, making a social statement is not by not using antibiotics is not.
At first, I simply ignored Chipotle, I did not agree with their ideas but they had a right to their opinion. Then they came after my chosen career and profession. Did they do this out of a sense of social responsibility? Maybe, but I would guess not. I suspect they are using scare tactics and fear mongering to sell burritos. That is wrong and should not be tolerated by those of us in agriculture.
I will say they are right about one thing. I think we all rely on processed food too much and we all certainly eat out too much. So my solution is that I and my family will not eat at Chipotle. We will instead utilize the safe, abundant, wholesome food grown on our farm and farms just like ours and cook our meals at home. The food I produce is safe, it is produced responsibly and I will not patronize establishments who do not share my ethics and values.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Climate Change for Real?

I guess it is fall, the calendar says so. It is kind of hard to tell when the temperatures are this hot. Of course, I know that by writing this column and complaining about the temperature I am causing it to change. By the time you read this it will probably be snowing and we will have freeze warnings. I know we live in Kansas, where if you don’t like the weather all you need to do is wait five minutes. However, snow in May, cool temperatures and lots of rain in August and 100 degrees in September, that is extreme even for Kansas.
All of this is making me a believer in climate change. Last summer we had extreme heat and even more extreme drought, surely we were in the grips of global warming. Soon we would be toasted, roasted and hung up to dry. The polar ice caps were melting and the Okies would be selling ocean front property. We needed to go green or everything would turn brown.
Then in the midst of the global warming apocalypse came last spring in all of her chilly glory. I am not sure that I attended a baseball game or track meet without a heavy winter coat. Spring planting was delayed because of cold soil temperature, moisture and snow in April and May. Maybe that snow drift in Montana was the southern edge of the polar ice cap. The next ice age was upon us.
Even more evidence of the return of the ice age was county fair season this year. I have never seen so many coats and gloves adorning the spectators of a beef show in July. I, myself, started to shiver and turned the heater/defrost on after judging one show this summer. I fully expected to be judging yak shows next year. I envisioned opening a snow cat dealership.
But as quickly as it started the next ice age melted away in late August and early September.  As cool as our county fairs were, I think the first weekend of the Kansas State Fair had to be one of the hottest weekends ever. A tax on iced tea and bottled water would have funded the state of Kansas for a whole year.  Global warming again reared its ugly, fiery head.
So what does it all mean? Are we going to freeze or is it getting hot in here? Where is Al Gore when we need him? My prediction is that by the time you read this column there is a fifty percent chance that it will be hot and a fifty percent chance it will be cool. We may or may not have had precipitation and that precipitation will take the form of rain, snow, sleet, hail or all of the above.
I know the Old Farmer’s Almanac has predicted a cold wet winter. They may very well be right. I would guess they are right just as many times as any other “expert”. Maybe I ought to go into meteorology. After all, it is the only profession you can be wrong in most of the time and still have everyone hang on your every word. Shoot, you can even change your mind midstream and make your predictions right.
OK, my weather predicting friends don’t get too mad at me. I know it is an inexact science, one that works with the unpredictability of wind currents, cold fronts, upper level moisture among many factors. I understand inexact, unpredictable studies; I have a degree in agricultural economics. I can’t predict the direction of the markets with any accuracy, but I can draw a graph to prove I am right.
It all boils down to something Dad tells me nearly every day. The weather is something we have no control over. We should worry about things we can control and not worry about what we can’t, like the weather. Don’t misunderstand me; I think it is a good thing to protect our environment. We should make sure we leave it cleaner and better for our kids, conserve our natural resources; but I just can’t buy into the idea that we cause changes in the weather.
I guess, in the end, variety is the spice of life. If we didn’t have really hot days, the first cool day of fall wouldn’t be so refreshing. You also have to admit that the first really warm day of the spring feels pretty darn good too. So I guess in the spirit of being prepared I will put on my stocking cap and coveralls over my short sleeve shirt and shorts, who knows I may need them all today.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

College, Education and Agrculture

The college experience is a great time in everyone’s life, for many of us it is a time to start living on our own, to gain new experiences and to see what the rest of the world is like. It is also a time when most of us are exposed to many points of view and not all of them are good or truthful.  College newspapers are a good source of “new philosophy” and recently once such column was brought to my attention.
The column was about the benefits of organic farming and the evils of conventional agriculture. Right off let’s make one thing clear; I have no problem with organic farming. All of us in the realm of agriculture are on the same team and I am supportive of my organic counterparts. Producing food and fiber is a tough job, no matter how you go about it and we all need to stick together.
I do, however, take offense to those who directly attack conventional agriculture. I do not know this writer’s background, I am fairly certain they are not directly involved with farming or ranching and that they get the majority of their information (if not all of it) from the internet. The column was filled with bad theories, twisted assumptions and outright fiction and it needed to be answered.
Right off the title of the article said organic farming was more efficient and healthier. Let’s look at the efficiency part first. We all know that the development of new technology like gmo crops have made us far more efficient. Before the introduction of Round-up Ready crops we all spent more time cultivating and weeding our crops. Prior to no-till many more passes were made in preparation during planting season. We are far more efficient whether we are talking about fuel, labor or any other input.
The author also asserts that the soil in an organic setting is healthier. I whole heartedly disagree with this. No-till on our farm has allowed us to build the organic matter back to levels that have not been seen since the sod was broken. It does my heart good when I can see the remains of the last two crops on the ground under this current crop. Because we are not tilling the residue slows the rainfall down and we lose much less soil to erosion.
The author also makes the assumption that organic farmers are promoting a more environmentally sound method of agricultural production because they rotate crops and do not promote a monoculture. We all know crop rotation is something that bridges across all segments of crop production. We have all learned that a diversified mix of crops is good not only in terms of pest management but also for economic well-being. No one wants to put all of their eggs into one basket.
Finally, the columnist alleges that organic food is healthier for us to eat. No credible research has ever borne this out. I have seen no peer reviewed, fact based articles stating that conventionally raised food containing gmo crops pose any kind of a health risk. The only articles I have seen stating there is a health risk are those on the internet from dubious sources with no iron clad research to back them up.
What I saw in the Collegian’s column was the same inter-net based rumors and outright lies that the author had extrapolated into a very well written attack on conventional agriculture. The column went on to say that all the food we need could be grown locally, even in cities. While this theory is nice and may even work on paper, those of us in agriculture know that it will not work.
The accusation was even made that modern agriculture was somehow contributing to hunger and starvation. That is the most outright lie in the whole mess. It is a well known fact that we need to increase production of food significantly to meet the demand of a growing population and we need to increase it on a curve steeper than the one we are on right now. I am sorry, but this cannot be done in any other way than to increase and continue to develop those technologies available to agriculture.
The bottom line is that the column highlights the misinformation our next generation of consumers is being exposed to. We need to step in and provide them with the facts and tell our story. If we stay silent more people like this columnist will fill the void with sensational propaganda and influence a whole generation of consumers. We must all be vigilant and take the time and opportunities to dispel bad information with the truth. That truth is that we are all proud producers, using the most up-to-date technologies to feed an ever-growing world.