Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Feelin' Good 'Bout Food!

It seems the debate and discussion over proper and good food production takes a new level or approach every month, or even every week. This is a wonderful discussion to have since consumers should all be aware of where and how their food is produced and producers should be held accountable for their production and management practices. But there seems to be an idea swelling within society that veers towards one acceptable and respectable method only - small and local.

Courtesty of www.imdb.com
While I haven't seen the full movie yet, I will be watching Farmegeddon in the near future in an attempt to better understand this way of thinking and how some people perceive ethical food production. However, I have seen the trailer for the movie and one quote in particular caught my attention. Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm, who became popular in the movie Food, Inc., is discussing his style of operation with free range chickens, organic hogs, and grass-finished beef. Salatin makes this remark, "Look at this, it's beautiful! Good food production should be aesthetically......sensually romantic." I believe Salatin hits the nail on the head when it comes to the ideology of people who advocate and pursue the small, organic, local trend.

I will reemphasize that I support all types of agriculture production as long as those participating do so with the right intentions and no one industry sells itself as being superior. However, as my last blog addressed, the idea of small and local farms has begun taking hold as being healthier, morally superior, and more environmentally conscious than modern production practices. Instead of being pleased that the current US food system has become highly efficient in management, production practices, and genetic improvement while keeping costs at minimum and environmental impact positive, many consumers feel this system has removed the emotion and personal connection associated with healthy food production. They feel large farms and ranchers compromise the health and safety of not only the animals but the consumers and only strive to make profits.

There is nothing more beautiful than a pasture full of fat, slick haired cattle!!!
Courtesy www.minmixmineral.com
People want to feel good about what they eat, not only from a health conscious standpoint, but also from a moral and ethical perspective. This is when Salatin's remark becomes the truth to these people. 100 years ago, almost everyone was connected to a family farm in some regard. Everyone produced enough beef, pork, chicken, eggs, produce, milk, etc, etc to provide for their family and maybe even sell some. 50 years later, commerce had captured great popularity and farmers began to build their operations to gain more business and help feed the world's growing population. And now, in the beginning of the 21st century, people are led to believe that the standards and practices of 100 years ago are what should be the norm.

I am in the process of reading The Locavore's Dilemma by Pierre Desrochers and Hiroko Shimizu. The book analyzes the "local food" movement trend vs modern food production and argues in favor of "The 10,000 mile diet". In the book's introduction, Desrochers and Shimizu make this statement, "If widely adopted, either voluntarily or through political mandates, locavorism can only result in higher costs and increased poverty, greater food insecurity, less food safety, and much more significant environmental damage than is presently the case.....Consumers who bought into locavorism because they sincerely cared about making our food supply ever more secure, safe, affordable, and sustainable while supporting their local community should reexamine whether the supposed means actually leads to the desired ends."

Now there is something to be said about raising your own garden, and providing your own eggs and meat, or supporting someone who does. It's always a great sense of accomplishment when you're able to raise and grow your own food. Therefore, if you are able to do this, I applaude your determination, desire, and devotion to caring for your family and working the land.

But like it or not, the modern and "good food production" as Salatin puts it, does not and will never again lie in the backyards of rural America. It won't be seen as hundreds of Rhode Island Red hens scurry over a wide open pasture, subject to predation, or as Chester White sows and their piglets lay in the lean to, risking aggressive swine behavior to one another and crushed babies, nor as 20 dairy cows being hand milked in an ol' stanchion barn providing raw milk. No, the good food production will consist of farmers dragging 24 row planters across a wide open field in North Missouri, harvesting wheat with five combines across the Oklahoma prairie, examining all 1,500 dairy cows as they walk through the milking parlor, calculating the input cost on 250 steers going to the feedlot in West Kansas, and spending everyday devoting their life to feeding this growing nation and world. No matter how big the operation, how many people are required to run the business, or how far the product has to travel before it reaches consumers, seeing a farmer work the land, care for their livestock, and feed the world is the most beautiful, aesthetic and sensually romantic picture ever!!!
These combines cover thousands of acres of wheat in Kansas and Oklahoma
during the summer harvest in June and July.
Courtesy www.okwheatcommission.wordpress.com

What do you think about Salatin's statement? Do you believe modern food production can be viewed this way as well? Do you think this is a good depiction of how people feel about the way their food is produced?

Until next time, you can find me off the beaten path and ridin' for the brand!!!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Large or Small, We Need Them All!!!

I want to start this post by saying that my intention with this blog is to educate, empower, motivate and provide personal insight into faith, country life, agriculture and the beef industry. I personally believe writing a blog without a defined purpose and goal doesn't make much sense. With that said, what I'm about to write is more of a personal stance and perspective if you will. I guess you could even consider it an opinion post. However, at the same time I truly hope that you will learn something, gain a perspective and understanding and maybe even an appreciation for what I have to say.

It seems that as of late, there is more and more scrutiny, opinions, ideas, criticisms, and debates over agriculture as a whole and the way our food is raised and produced. In recent years consumers have been encouraged and motivated to examine the origins and makeup of their food.  As a result, more and more people have become innately in tune to learning and voicing opinions of how they think their food should be raised, produced and provided to them. I'll stop right here and say I am very glad consumers are making a connection with what they eat and that they desire to know the facts about it's origin, and I believe it is healthy for society to desire the best food possible.

Even though they are in a confined area, these cattle receive
excellent care and treatment and are ensured to provide healthy
food to consumers.
Courtesy www.allamericancoop.com
Now, with that said, let me continue on a different path. What has seemed to come along with this movement is many misconceptions, a lot of misunderstanding, and even more ignorance in some areas. Just like every other societal push of thinking and new idea, there is a driving force behind the cause, belief, or motive. Unfortunately, and in some cases detrimentally, in agriculture's case the driving force has been those who feel the current food system is unsafe, unhealthy, and inhumane. The force has been people who believe that anything large when it comes to producing food is bad, that commercial and agriculture don't go together, and progress - well how dare that ever happen!! Instead, these people have promoted and encouraged consumers to pursue organic, all-natural, local, cage-free, crate-free, grass-finished, "sustainable" products ONLY. They have stated that modern production agriculture in essence is too big to care for the animal OR the consumer, only strives to make money, and provides unhealthy food.

It's time for me to get honest. I am so sick and tired of hearing people make accusations against modern and, yes it's ok to call it this, commercial agriculture saying it doesn't care for animal welfare, only cares about the dollar, and is "corporate". I am enraged, disgusted, and fed up with the belief that even though a farm is run entirely by family members, because they operate a 2,500 head feedlot, farm over 4,000 acres of crops and hay, and gross several hundred thousands dollars a year, could never care for all their livestock, raise all their crops the right way and be allowed to make a decent living by running their farm like a business!!!!!!!

Farming, not matter how big, is a tradition and business that
supports entire families who care about what they do!
Courtesy www.thegatewaypundit.com
We live in an age where technology, progress, and environmental stewardship is highly promoted and encouraged. Yet the very industry that combines all these components together the best is accused of using technology too much, having too much progress and not being environmentally caring.
It just so happens that the technology available to farmers today allows them to produce 60% more beef with 30% fewer cattle and using 30% less land, 14% less water, and 9% less energy than 30 years ago. Furthermore, in the same amount of time Nebraska corn producers have been able to raise an average of 50 bushels more per acre while using 37% less energy. Additionally, last year pork producers raised more pigs PER LITTER than PER SOW in 1978, and have done so while decreasing carbon footprint by 35%, water usage by 41% and land demand by 78% for every 1,000 pounds of pork produced. Now tell me that technology doesn't allow for healthy progress and strong environmental stewardship??!! And the best part of this all is not once has the industry been forced to put into jeopardy the welfare and well being of animals or put profits ahead of it!

Modern hog facilities are designed to provide the optimum
comfort level for animals, while keeping the environment
sanitary and reducing waste pollution.
Courtesy www.agweb.org
Now let me go back and address one thing. To avoid creating misconception and misunderstanding myself, I do not oppose any of the above mentioned practices. I believe they all have benefits and their place in the niche marketing realm. Where I draw the line of tolerance is when people claim these methods are SUPERIOR to modern production agriculture and blame the current practices for being cruel, inhumane, unethical and greedy.

I know I can never address all the issues within this discussion and I realize people may not fully agree with me on everything I say or all my opinions. So if you take nothing else away from this blog, please ponder this. All facts and statistics aside, the world's population is continually and rapidly growing. Countries all across the global are demanding better food and more proteins. The land available to produce beef, pork, corn, bean, and wheat is quickly diminishing and the need to be more efficient with production is ever increasing. While many things in the industry have changed, from production methods, to farm size, to marketing channels, and especially the way we perceive production agriculture, one thing has remained the same and will continue to last through the ages. Families and producers have and always will put the care and well being of their animals as first and foremost priority. No matter what the size, operation method, or marketing channel, the people of agriculture are loyal to their customer, their animal, and their industry. Ask any producer and they will tell you the cattle get dinner before the family, there are no days off, and the greatest satisfaction is seeing a healthy and happy animal providing food for the world.

So next time you hear a accusatory claim against modern agriculture or a statement of a superior practice, if you aren't sure of the information and facts, ask someone who you know is. If you know the truth, share it. And please remember that no matter what method or practice we choose, we're all in the glorious industry of agriculture and we're all a big family!!!

To wrap up, I want to share this video produced by the US Farmers & Ranchers Alliance. I believe it puts into perspective what this industry is really all about!

Until next time, you can find me off the beaten path and ridin' for the brand!!!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

"Cloud of Dust"

Courtesy of www.trbimg.com
Some say it's almost worse than the drought of '88. Ranchers are forced to liquidate what was already the nation's smallest cow herd and corn prices have nearly doubled as a result of the past three months of weather. Hay is already becoming a scarcity and those soybeans that did end up doing okay barely have anything in the pods. It's a scary sight driving down the highways and backroads of the Midwest. While the entire nation is suffering from this seemingly endless drought- Missouri and Illinois, two of the largest cattle and corn producing states in the country, are enduring the worst. And no matter if you make your living driving a tractor, feeding cows, or operating the cash register at the local convenience store, the drought of 2012 affects us all.

Many pastures are nearly bare from the lack of rain
As I said before, last year the nation's beef herd had reached the lowest number of animals since 1953. While many factors were involved, the drought experienced last year was a major player. The top two cow/calf producing states, Texas and Oklahoma, were hit with brute force and over 600,000 head of cattle were shipped north across the Texas border to states such as Minnesota, Montana, and Nebraska, with the majority going directly to the slaughter house. This combined with higher input costs and the strongest cattle prices ever seen caused many producers to find NOT selling cattle extremely difficult, if not impossible to avoid.

This year is a whole different ballgame. Those already impacted from last year's drought didn't stand a chance of holding on once June and July arrived with no rain and scorching temperatures. They were forced to liquidate herds and in some cases, entire ranches. Those intent of keeping ownership of their herd were then faced with purchasing hay, if they could find it, or forking over hundreds of dollars for feed.

Ears of corn like this are very hard to find in fields this year.
Courtesy of www.ingredientnews.com
Which leads us to the second part of the dilemma. Last year's drought left farmers being lucky to harvest 50 bushels of corn per acre (56 lbs=1 bushel). Normally, the AVERAGE would be well over 100 bushels per acre. The shortage of last year's crop put a slight rise in prices this year from the beginning. Speculation ensued at the end of June when yields began to be questioned. As soon as it was apparent the corn crop was being affected, the price per bushel quickly began escalating, as economists stated the nation would use 95% of the previous year's crop this year alone. Farmers began praying the insurance to help carry them to next year and cattle producers found themselves between a rock and a hard spot, forced to either buy feed or sell cattle. But by this time cattle prices had already fallen nearly .50/lb below what had been the best market price EVER!!!

So this is where the consumer fits in. At this time, the nation's cow herd is down over 7 million head of where it should be. As I'm sure many consumers have noticed, beef is not getting cheaper in the grocery store. At the same time, the export market is not slowing up either. It's the simple economics of supply and demand, and the demand is driving the dollar. Likewise the corn crop, expected to make another measly 30-50 bushels/acre yield, will put very tight restraints on domestic and foreign supply.

But don't plan on solving the issue by switching meats. Poultry and pork are being seriously affected too, as the main diets for these animals consist of corn and soybeans. In essence, experts say consumers should expect to see a 10% increase in all proteins this year, and possibly more next year.

The drought of 2012 is taking its toll on everyone. And although consumers are being forced to spend more money on proteins and quality food, its the farmers and ranchers that will be hurt the most. In many cases their livelihood depends on making top corn yields or shipping a load of heavy weaned or yearling calves to the feedlot or slaughter house. This year, those yields will only be a dream and the shipments of cattle, well there likely won't be much profit coming off the truck.

Consumers should expect to pay a premium for beef for a while
Courtesy of www.bigpartiessmallplaces.files.wordpress.com
While I hope that Brad Paisley song doesn't play true, unless rain comes soon and stays for a while, it's likely things may get interesting for the ag world and the supermarket meat cooler.

Until next time, you can find me off the beaten path and ridin' for the brand!!!