Archive for September, 2010
Source: Food for Thought
Citizens of the United States have the opportunity to enjoy the safest food supply in the world.
- When in doubt, throw it out!
- CSCC – Clean, Separate, Cook, Chill
- 165 Degrees – basic safe temperature for meat, eggs, leftovers, casseroles
- Food – FDA
- Meat, poultry and eggs – USDA
- Pet Food – FDA
- Outbreaks and illnesses – CDC
From Agriculture Proud:
It really should not surprise me or disappoint me by now when I hear someone criticizing food production. After all of the blows and punches consumer groups have taken at crop and livestock producers over the past couple of years, one would think we would have the thick skin to tolerate it. But still I read and hear comments pointed at producers and it just confuses me.
One way I use social networks is to what others are saying about food production. On Twitter I often look up the feed for “feedlot” and see statements like this one posted:
If you think dog pounds are cruel check out a feedlot, chicken “farm”, meat processing plant. Then see if you can stomach another hamburger. –Posted on Twitter from Southern California
On Facebook I can do the same just by searching for the term “feedlot” and posts like this appear:
Cant drive thru kansas without thinking a lot about food..beef and corn..miles of corn, much of it browned out..cattle everywhere.some in the fields.thousands in feedlots that look like parking lots.cattle that dont move just eat and wait to eat more..mix some corn and chemicals and poof you have a bigger cow..strange country we are strange food industry..o look there`s `feedlot creek` – no swimming.
That statement was quickly followed by this:
Real road sign: Caution,correctional institute.Do not pick up hitchhikers….Imagined road sign: Caution,feedlot-do not pick up hitchhiking cattle with that “i`m hamburger tomorrow if you dont give me a ride” look.
Statements like these just really puzzle me. What is going on inside of people’s minds that they picture cattle production as this big machine? Then I remember the images I see on television and film of cattle handlers portrayed as rough stock handlers laughing at the animal’s misfortune, or news desk anchors scaring their audience into thinking we pump antibiotics and chemicals into animals by the gallons. Or snapshot images pieced together into a film with a voice over that tells viewers about harsh conditions animals endure in short, non-natural lives. And then I realize that all I know about Hollywood is what I have seen on television or read on the grocery store news stands. Why wouldn’t someone believe what they see in media to be the truth, especially if they have never witnessed the subject themselves?
We all know that consumers are disconnected from food production. When youngsters respond to a question asking about the origin of there meat or dairy products by saying it comes from the grocery shelf, or when consumers on the interstate drive by a feedyard and picture the knee-deep mud and crowded pens from television, it is time for our story to be told.
What is stopping us from having our true story on the Evening News? Why can we not produce a documentary about livestock production that will capture audiences? Some give the excuse that emotions sell and we cannot appeal to the emotions like the terrorizing images some are already showing. Who gives a crap? What is stopping us from telling our stories from the front lines, showing our daily hard work that puts food on tables around the world? It all starts with YOU. Each and every one of us has to do our part to make a difference. Put your story on paper, on film, or on the web. Tell your neighbors of your adventures. Share the good times and the bad. Do not be afraid to tell about that calf you lost due to sickness. You put a lot of hard work into trying to save it. What about all the others that you did save?
One by one, we can make a difference, but it takes that first step. We can be on the headlines of the Evening News or the daily columns with our true story of food production. It has already begun, but that does not mean we can stop. Get out there and do your part. The more consumers learn about those who produce their food, the more they become aware of how much it affects their daily lives. You never know when you might reach that one person that can make a difference.
Here are a few recent posts that are working to share the good story of production agriculture.
- Working Ranch Magazine works to tell the daily life and work that takes place in cattle feedyards.
- JP shares her thoughts on a comparison between the current Farmville craze and real agriculture.
- This On The Farm post shares a little inlet to the knowledge and decision-making skills it take to be a professional farmer.
- Let’s not forget the grassroots efforts of the AgChat Foundation to enable producers to utilize social media to share their stories.
- I find the efforts of this Illinois Farm girl, turned New York Lawyer very interesting. Cari Rickner is not afraid to bring Agriculture front and center to the minds of those in an urban setting.
I really could go all day showing you links to those who are doing great things to agvocate, share the story of agriculture, but that’s not my point. Please take a leap out of your comfort zone, grab a camera, a laptop, a notepad, or take advantage of a planned trip to town and start sharing your story today.
The opinions expressed in the above post represent the thoughts and feelings of the blogger, and not necessarily NYFEA as a whole.
From Kelly Rivard at Midwestern Gold:
This is a tough world! The Internet is a big, scary place. It takes some real guts to do what ag bloggers do. It takes class and savvy! So, what does an ag blogger need to equip themselves for the mission of agovcating? Well, let’s take a lesson from my very own Twitter account.
Agricultural bloggers need to be organized.
When blogging about agriculture, you need to have some idea of what you’re talking about. You need to understand the operations you discuss.
You need to be practical. You need to know what is both possible and beneficial for your blog, for agriculture, for the people you represent. You need to be able to have realistic ideas. You should also be sure that you always have the right tools…being well-equipped is always practical.
You need to be willing to do what it takes to spread the message you want to spread. At any time. Ever.
You need to be sharp. If you don’t know it, find it out. If you can’t find it out, do the best you can to get by. Don’t be afraid to admit what you don’t know, but have confidence in what you do know. Always portray yourself as an intelligent and capable person!
You need to be both peaceful and composed. You can’t be partaking in shenanigans all the time, that’s just not classy. You need to portray the utmost professionalism on your blog.
That goes hand-in-hand with the fact that there should always be a level of seriousness…even in light-hearted posts. Blogging is serious business.
Maturity. Maturity is a huge factor. Agriculture needs mature, capable agvocates!
You need to be able to be your own problem-solver. The ability to figure things out on your own is valuable, both in the blogging world and in “real life.” Problem-solving skills can go a long way in farming and ranching. They can be a huge asset in blogging.
You need to be cultured. Audiences like sophisticated people. Understand pop culture, and it doesn’t hurt to have a feel for high society.
If you learn anything from this post, it’s this: have a sense of humor. Be yourself. Be willing to make fun of yourself. Blogging should not be high-stress; if it is, you’re doing it wrong. There may be a high-stress post here and there, but blogging, as whole, is a hobby for 90% of the population. It’s a way to get your voice out there on behalf of your cause. In my case, I’m blogging to show that agriculture is an industry full of unique, amazing, and wonderful people. I’m blogging to share my agriculture story, as only a dorky 20-something college kid can.
Do it your way. And don’t be afraid to laugh.
I do want to end on a slightly more serious note, though.
A blogger should always, always be appreciative. To their readers, to their supporters, to the friends and family and significant others who may or may not get it. Always show appreciation to the people in your life. Things have been very stressful for me lately, between person life issues and the transition of coming back to college. I can’t tell the people who support me, how much I appreciate them. I can try to, though. In fact, I’ve done it a few times via tweet.
So, with those takeaways for the post, I leave you with these:
Thanks guys. Keep it funny. Keep it real. Keep it you. And keep it appreciative. Good luck as everyone continues harvest!
Wary of fluctuations on Wall Street, more wealthy Americans, private funds and foreigners are putting money into parcels of cornfields, fruit orchards and other U.S. agricultural products.
Reporting from Kern County, Calif.
As investors tire of Wall Street’s roller coaster, more of them are plowing their money into land — farmland.
Few people understand this shift better than farm manager Carl Evers.
On a recent morning, Evers steered his pickup truck through a Central California almond grove, his drawling sales pitch at the ready. Evers is co-founder of Farmland Management Services, which runs about 30,000 acres of nut groves, fruit orchards and wine grape vines for a Boston investment firm. Sunburned and stocky, tugging down his wide-brimmed hat, he talked about how farmland — and the food it produces — is the safer bet these troubled days.
“You want to throw your money into something you can’t touch?” said Evers, 50. “Or do you want to put your money here, into soil and sun, into food that feeds people around the world?”
It’s the fourth time this year Evers has wandered through these trees and given his spiel to pension fund managers, hedge-fund operators and hungry investors on behalf of Hancock Agricultural Investment Group. He’s reeled it off many more times over the phone.
Farmland has become hot. Average U.S. farm real estate prices — including the value of land and buildings — have nearly doubled in the last decade to $2,140 an acre, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. Wells Fargo, the nation’s top agricultural business lender in total dollar volume, said demand prompted it to increase farm lending 12% from 2008 to 2009. Since the recession began in December 2007, financial analysts say, agricultural investments have easily outperformed the Standard & Poor’s 500 index.
Wealthy Americans and private funds alike are gobbling up Washington apple orchards, Illinois cornfields and Louisiana sugar plantations. So are foreigners. In California, investors from countries including Spain, Switzerland, China, Egypt and Iran collectively boosted their holdings 2.5% from February 2007 to February 2009 to 1.08 million acres — about 5% of the state’s total farmland. Overseas, U.S. and other investors are snapping up tens of millions of hectares of farmland in Africa, Central America and Eastern Europe.
Such investments generally involve a group of people who come together in a company or group of firms, pool their money and purchase parcels of land through a corporate structure. (Minimum investments can start around $25,000 and often require a commitment of at least six years.) After purchasing the land — whose value historically appreciates — it is usually then turned over to a farmer or a management firm, which handles day-to-day operations. If all goes well, investors can receive rent, proceeds from crop or livestock sales, or some combination of both.
For some, there is a sense of romanticism and relief at the idea of putting money into something as tangible as dirt.
“It’s something people understand,” said Jeff Conrad, president of Hancock Agricultural Investment Group. The enterprise manages about $1.3 billion of agricultural real estate for institutional investors, including public and corporate pension funds. “It’s something you can touch, feel, see, visit.”
Investors also understand that land is a finite commodity. The amount of arable land worldwide is dwindling, while the world’s population is forecast to jump to more than 9 billion by 2050 from 6.9 billion today. That has water-strapped countries eager to establish secure food supplies and bolster biofuel production. Fast-growing economies such as China are stepping up food imports to feed a burgeoning middle class.
As a result, U.S. exports of meat, grains, nuts and other farm products are surging. Overall, federal officials estimate that U.S. farmers will ship $107.5 billion in agricultural products overseas in fiscal 2010 — the second-highest amount ever, according to the USDA.
Frustration with the stock market persuaded Dr. Stephen Rivard to bet on farms. The physician who lives in the Chicago area invested heavily in stocks, only to cringe as the value of his portfolio shrank 42% over the last decade. When a friend launched Midwest Organic Farm Management and asked him to bet on a farm, Rivard reached for his wallet.
As the country’s economy suffered the worst decline since the Great Depression, he bought into more farms: So far, he’s put $300,000 into three Illinois organic operations, including one called Two Roads Farms.
“My only regret so far is that I didn’t invest more sooner,” said Rivard, 57.
The payoff has been mixed. Three years ago, commodity prices jumped and Rivard enjoyed a 15% return on an annualized basis. But last season’s harvest at Two Roads was a dud. Some of the fields were overgrazed by cattle. Heavy rains flooded the land. A lack of nitrogen in the soil made the corn stalks puny.
This year is more promising. D.D. Burlin, a Chicago-area stay-at-home mother, sank $25,000 from her savings into Two Roads for financial reasons and social concerns over how the food her family eats is produced. She recently toured her investment and wandered among the emerald-green fields of soybeans and oats.
“If people are willing to pay more for organic food, why can’t you make money by doing the right thing?” said Burlin, 42.
By its very nature, farming is risky. The investments aren’t liquid. Profits can fluctuate with weather, commodity prices and politics. Large parcels of good land can be hard to find. What is out there doesn’t come up for sale very often.
With U.S. opportunities limited, investors are looking overseas. The result has been a land rush, particularly in the wake of the food price crisis earlier this decade. The World Bank reported this month that the number of large-scale farmland deals in 2009 amounted to about 45 million hectares, compared with an average of less than 4 million hectares each year from 1998 through 2008.
The report found that about half the 406 land acquisitions in Ethiopia and the 405 deals in Mozambique from 2004 to 2009 came from foreign investors. Foreign investment in Sudanese agricultural land was expected to increase fivefold by 2014.
Banks, universities and investment firms are closing some of the biggest deals.
Optima Fund Management, a New York fund, plans to acquire about 10,000 acres of Arizona farmland and California vineyards by year’s end. Macquarie Agricultural Funds Management in Australia — which has invested in dairy, forestry and more than 7 million acres of land — is launching a second fund that may expand into Brazil. Pharos Financial Group, a firm backed by financier George Soros and based in Moscow, created an agriculture-focused private-equity fund in November and is scouting farms in Asia and Africa.
Such deals have sprouted a backlash and raised concerns of speculators becoming wealthy at the environmental and economic expense of local communities. John Peck, executive director of the anti-corporation advocacy group Family Farm Defenders, said institutional investors could distort global food production patterns by planting crops for profitability rather than nutrition.
Such critics also wonder whether investors have forgotten the cautionary tale of the 1980s U.S. farm crisis. A combination of low prices, high interest rates and plummeting land values devastated rural America. Thousands of family farms fell into foreclosure and scores of farm banks collapsed.
“Could we see the ’80s all over again? Absolutely,” said agricultural economist Michael Swanson, of Wells Fargo’s Agricultural Industries Group. “The combination of high crop prices and ultra-low interest rates has farmers bidding historically high prices. It will end very badly for some of them.”
Burlin isn’t swayed.
“Right now,” she said, “this still feels safer.”
Thanks to Wes Underwood for today’s submissions!
Got farm photos that you’d like to share? Send them to email@example.com for our Farm Photo Fridays!
Montana grocery stores and supermarkets are amazing places.
The fresh produce, meat and dairy products on our shelves are astounding. The cereals and breads are so plentiful and various you wonder if anyone has ever taken the time to try them all. The soups, jams, and jellies stretch aisle after aisle.
Nowhere in the world is such a wide array of food available to everyday consumers like it is in America. It’s important to consider the farmers, ranchers and growers who work every day to produce this bounty of food, fiber and fuel we use every day.
Farmers and ranchers are skilled businesspeople who work sunrise to sunset most days of the year – week days, weekends, even holidays. They take care of the soil and the plants that spring from it; carefully tend to their livestock; operate tractors and combines worth hundreds of thousands of dollars; and still find time to manage their business spreadsheets with the patience of an accountant.
Like you, they earn an income so they can send their children to college, pay the mortgage and put a variety of food on their tables.
There are approximately 2.2 million productive farms in the United States; nearly 30,000 of them are in Montana. Most of them are family-run operations that produce less than $250,000 of annual revenue – and have expenses that can consume as much as 90 percent of that revenue. Many, if not most, farmers and ranchers work other jobs to supplement their incomes.
So what does this hard work of our farmers, ranchers and growers mean to you? In short, a lot.
It means that as an American consumer, you pay the smallest percent of your income for food than consumers in any other nation. It means that the quality of your food and your clothing will always be of the highest grade possible. And it means that in the future, the energy that powers our cars and towns can be rooted in our forests and fields, not in foreign oil fields.
So this week, as you visit the grocery store, a restaurant or farmer’s market, I am asking that you join my colleagues and me at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in thanking America’s farmers and ranchers. I’m certain they will be grateful to know that their fellow citizens appreciate their role in making America a truly great nation.
(Bruce Nelson, a fourth-generation Montanan and wheat farmer, was appointed by the Obama administration as state executive director of the Montana Farm Service Agency in July 2009 and previously served in this position from 1993-2000. He can be reached at 406.587.6872 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Source: Cattle Network
On Tuesday Twitter unveiled the New Twitter: an information network that allows us to share and discover the latest news and information about the things that matter most to us. That’s right- according to Kevin Thau, Twitter’s VP for business and corporate development, Twitter is NO Longer a SOCIAL NETWORK, as first reported by Read Write Web. This rebranding might very well mark a new era of increased awareness and engagement with information across diverse levels of society. This gives me hope. But why & about what?
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I believe that many of the issues in our food system, such as the egg recall, result from lack of coordination, communication, and information across the system. By encouraging us to “discover what’s new in your world,” Twitter is trying to reposition our understanding of the utility that can be gained through improved access, curation, and consumption of the information most relevant to ourselves. While this may simply be marketing, with 90 million tweets a day, I can’t help but feel excited about the possibility of what this kind of large-scale paradigm shift could mean if applied to the food system.
For me, the real power of Twitter is that it makes information dynamic. It goes beyond the mere consumption of news and content. It creates opportunities for interactivity, engagement, and participation through the sharing of information, all regardless of age, race, religion, and economic standing. Twitter is turning the traditional model of top-down information dissemination on its head.
My community is made up of farmers, politicians, information technologists, executives of large corporations, scientists, educators, journalists, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, and changemakers from all over the world. I do use twitter as a tool for keeping up to date with news, but even more so, I use it as a tool for connecting with people around common interests
Over the past 7 months, I have been exposed to an entirely new world of knowledge, information, collaborations, and real-life relationships. I have even become active civically, by tweeting with my representatives about issues that I feel passionate about.
So, what does this have to do with Food? A lot!
Twitter is already being leveraged by actors throughout the system in a variety of different ways. The simple platform provides major opportunities for increased accountability, transparency, coordination, and communication. Some of the major ingredients necessary for addressing our challenges.
Here are some examples of the ways in which twitter is being used:
- #Agchat: A weekly moderated conversation for farmers on Twitter. The goal is to create an ongoing, open dialogue among the various players interested in agriculture.
- Increasingly farmers are tweeting from their farm, including sharing photographs and videos.
- #FoodChat: A monthly moderated conversation on Twitter tailored for consumers, nutrition professionals, and foodies. The conversation provides a dialogue platform between consumers and farmers.
- Food trucks & mobile street vendors have begun tweeting their location and relaying information to customers.
- Consumers comment on their restaurant experiences, which creates transparency and accountability.
- Food Safety updates are being disseminated through 15 different USDA accounts, the CDC, the FDA, and a variety of additional organizations.
- While not twitter, Indian farmers are utilizing basic mobile technology to access information on seeds, fertilizers, market prices, and weather.
How do you use twitter?
Factory Farm. Big Ag. Corporate Agriculture. CAFO. These are just a few of the terms used by those who oppose large business agriculture in today’s food production. Let’s face it, agriculture is made of many different farms, ranches, and operations, none of which are exactly the same. Some may be owned by families, others by a business entity. Some of these operations produce small quantities of food, while others consist of multiple locations with large outputs. But there is a common goal among them all, to produce food to feed the world.
Small Family Farms and ranches make up the backbone of American Agriculture. These producers may sell products at local farmer’s markets or to local vendors. These operations have less inputs and lower production, and are often a secondary source of income. Labor for the small family farm can be made entirely of immediate family members or may include a few hired hands from the surrounding communities. These producers have found their niche in the local markets and take pride in their operation.
Larger farms and ranches are made of many employees, require more inputs, and have a larger production scale. These operations may be family owned and operated, a cooperative effort between farmers or ranchers, or may be owned by a multitude of people. The operation may consist of many locations, each specializing in a specific product. These operations produce on a larger scale, have found their niche in local, regional, national, and possibly international markets, and take great pride in contributing to the community and take great pride in their efforts.
Both types of operations have something even stronger in common. There is a face behind the food produced. Take myself for example. I work in a large cattle feedyard operation with a one-time capacity of 67,000 head. Some call a feedyard a “factory farm”, a CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation), or a multitude of other terms showing dislike for the method of operation. We have much larger inputs than a small cattle operation, but have much larger outputs on a very efficient scale. My feedyard has many employees and numerous sister-yards within the same company spread throughout several states. Our company is owned by one family, in effect, it is a family operation. (And yes I can already hear many people scoffing at that statement in disagreement.)
I was raised on a family cattle ranch, had an hour and a half bus ride to school, raised 4-H project chickens, and showed steers from our pasture at the county fairs. My father runs our own auction barn, attends the local cattleman’s meetings, and sips coffee with the locals at the cafe. My brother judged livestock in FFA and my sisters are members of the high school marching band. My step-mother works at the hometown bank, and we are all members of the local church.
I work in a cattle feedyard and care for thousands of cattle on a daily basis. The feed mill batches 2 Million pounds of feed daily, and there are days where I receive 23 loads of new feeder cattle. I spend my days processing new arrivals and putting together pens of more than 200 cattle. We get up early in the morning and ship fat cattle to the beef plant that is 20 miles down the road. I work day in and out and get a pay check every two weeks.
Do you have a problem believing that these two stories can be from one and the same person? You see, there is a face behind the food on the grocery store shelf. A farmer or a rancher worked hard to produce that food. It does not matter if the name on the package is from a large or small operation, there are individuals who worked hard to produce that food. We each have a story, and we each take the responsibility of feeding the world seriously. Just because I work for a large cattle feedyard, does not mean I left my morals, goals, ethics, integrity, or passion for raising cattle at my family’s ranch. I am one and the same whether at the feedyard in Texas or the ranch in Arkansas.
Next time you label a food producer as “Factory Farming” or “Big Ag”, remember there is a face and a story behind the packaging. I am a REAL cattleman. I produce REAL food. And I really do care about the cattle I raise, whether it be on the ranch or in the feedyard, because I help to provide the beef on plates around the world.
The opinions expressed in the above post represent the thoughts and feelings of the blogger, and not necessarily NYFEA as a whole.
Via AgChat Foundation:
Byron Gordon, SEO-PR, interviews Jeff Fowle, Owner-Operator/President of KK Bar Ranch and the AGChat Foundation and Ray Prock, Jr. of Ray-Lin Dairy at the #140 Character conference at Connected Marketing Week 2010 in San Francisco. Jeff says as a rancher he’s using social media tools Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to reconnect with consumers and share news and information about farming and ranching. Through the AGChat Foundation, ranchers and farmers are able to share their stories about how food gets to the table using social media applications. Ray then discusses how he uses social media tools and applications such as blogs, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube on behalf of his dairy farm to tell the story to his consumers how the milk ends up in the dairy products they enjoy.
Thank you Pat Roets for today’s Farm Photo Friday submission!
Update: Thanks to Wes Underwood for his submissions!
Got farm photos that you’d like to share? Send them to email@example.com for our Farm Photo Fridays!