Three Things President Trump Can Do for Agriculture

By Melissa Beck, Editor

Trump can help agriculture & rural America

U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Dennis Cantrell

With a new leader preparing to take the reins of our government, what can President-elect Trump do to help the people who got him elected? Let’s face it rural America stepped up and made their voices heard in this election. The country is divided, and there are people who voted for Mr. Trump that have serious reservations. Let’s hope he surrounds himself with wise counsel as he proceeds.

Here are the top three issues I think Mr. Trump needs to address:

Regulation

It is abundantly clear the EPA is in need of new leadership and a clarification of their mission and goals. Not only does the agency appear to have a severe case of mission creep, they appear to be actively campaigning to harm agriculture, even misallocating their funds to advertise against our industry. They’re making unfounded and biased claims without the rule of science. Perhaps most disturbing is their collusion with anti-ag groups and the release of the personal information of over 100,000 producers  to these radical lobbyists. Finally, and Trump seems to agree with me on this, WOTUS needs to go away. Seems like a good place to start to me.

Immigration

Half of all dairy employees are immigrants, and this report says that dairy prices would double without immigrant workers, going on to say it would eliminate one-in-six U.S. dairy farms and “cut U.S. economic output by $32.1 billion, resulting in 208,000 fewer jobs nationwide. Some 77,000 of the lost jobs would be on dairy farms.”  Farm Bureau reports that American farms need 1.2 million farm workers and many farms cannot find the labor they need. Others argue that loose immigration laws take jobs away from Americans. Regardless, there is a need for immigration reform, but we need to make informed decisions about how to proceed.

Trade

We need smart trade deals and opportunities to export our agriculture products. Farm Bureau supports TPP and projects an increase of $4.4 billion in farm income from the proposed trade. However, many in the dairy industry are against this trade agreement and  I’m leery of any trade deal that had secret negotiations. Let’s bring these trade negotiations into the light of day and see how they actually stand up to scrutiny. This should be the end of closed-door deals and pass it before you read it legislation. The Economic Policy Institute says the biggest concern with TPP is there is no mechanism to prevent currency manipulation and  “U.S. trade deficit with the TPP countries cost 2 million jobs in 2015, with job losses in every state”. Let’s hope Trump will try making deals that put American’s and our economic interests first and build our economy.

 

A Day on the Family Farm With Dad

Day on the Farm with Dad

Dad and the good old 4010 feeding calves.

by Melissa Beck

Dad and I spent a day this week on his farm, doing light chores and visiting.

Things have changed since I was a kid. My dad is much more laid back, he even let me stop and take pictures (a lot of pictures) along the way, the urgency and rush that I remember from my childhood is gone, or he just switched it off during my visit.

The two inches of rain he got a couple days before the visit probably helped. His crops are in and I don’t think he’ll get another cutting of hay this year.

When politics came up it became clear that Dad and I are on the same page, we’re both afraid we’re going to end up voting against someone in November rather than voting for someone, and I’m not even sure if it will be the same someone in the end.

We did the rural roll-call, you know where you say “What ever happened to such and so?” and get the latest news about the families in the communities. I’m sad to report that many times when we go through this dad shakes his head sadly and informs me of another acquaintance that has a family member on drugs.

A highlight of my visit was getting to eat lunch at the Albany Senior Citizens’ Center. A delicious home-cooked meal for two bucks. TWO BUCKS PEOPLE!

It was nice to see the stalwarts of the small rural community I grew up in. One gentleman at my table, who is 95 years old, said “I remember when you grew all those cantaloupes and bought your first truck.” I said, “Oh, did I almost run you off the road or something?” Seriously concerned it had to be something like that for him to remember. He was a good sport and assured me that it wasn’t that. I must confess, back in those days I was a white hot blur speeding the 35 miles to “town”.

I helped Dad feed the cattle before coming home, by ‘helped’ I mean I rode along and took pictures.

Dad still feeds the calves using the old John Deere 4010 that I learned to drive when I was nine years old. I’ll always remember Dad put it in first gear, in the middle of a wheat field that hadn’t been planted yet, and told me “don’t turn too sharp you’ll rut up my field, and don’t run into anything, clutch first then brake, CLUTCH FIRST THEN BRAKE.” then he hopped off and went to fix a little stretch of fence.

That’s the same tractor that, when I was sent to fuel up at the diesel tank, I couldn’t figure out how to put it in reverse. I pulled the row-marker off the attached four-row planter on a tree limb because I only knew how to go forward, oh and CLUTCH FIRST THEN BRAKE. My Uncle Ralph made it better by telling me my own dad drove a tractor into a pond when he was about my age.

It was good to spend some time with Dad on the farm. He taught me to love agriculture, to work hard and how to put a 4010 in reverse. Thanks Dad for not giving up on me even though I know you could have done it faster, and cheaper yourself, you knew it was important to let a kid learn, no matter how much stuff they tear up.

Right Now, I’m Failing to Plan: Estate Planning Tips

Startup Stock Photos

Startup Stock Photos

“Failing to plan is planning to fail.” -Alan Lakein

By Melissa Beck

We are thinking about estate and farm estate planning, and by “thinking” I mean we thought about it, and quickly tried to put it out of our minds, but it’s there, niggling, and sooner or later we are going to have to stop thinking about it and start DOING something about it.

Why is it so difficult to start moving forward on an estate plan? I can’t put my finger on it, but it seems to me like all of the dread I feel at tax time without the hard deadline. So, you see it’s easy to ignore, well, until it isn’t. Eventually, in all farm operations there comes a time when we have to do something, whether by choice or necessity.

Ideally we get to decide how our estate will be managed, and if we don’t have our own plan, the state will oblige with a plan of their own. So here’s the deal, who do you want executing a plan regarding your life’s work? Because the thing is, without an estate plan farmers and ranchers have little say so about what becomes of their farms once they can no longer manage them or pass away.

Here are some tips to help light a fire under us and get us to stop thinking about it and start doing something:

1. Do it: This seems like a no-brainer, but eventually we have to move from thinking and dreading to actually taking steps toward an estate plan.

2. Communicate: This is difficult for many of us. It is important to know the goals of everyone involved. Some heirs may not even want to be part of a farm. It’s best to be clear on what everyone expects.

3. Inventory: Take stock of all assets, including equipment, land, mineral rights, and finances.

4. Get organized: Know where records and documents are and share this information with the executor or trustee.

5. Get professional help: Your estate plan is important, and as the saying goes “a person who defends himself in court has a fool for a client” you should enlist the expertise of professionals.

6. Monitor and adjust: Life events can cause changes to be made to estate plans over time. Aside from major life changes, it is still a good idea to revisit the trust and ensure it still meets the needs of the estate.

Where are you in this process?

Know your customer: Ethical Consumerism & the Livestock Industry

View More: http://brightimagesphotography.pass.us/melissa-1

By Melissa Beck, Editor

Can we shop our way to a better world? This seems to be the underlying ethos of the ethical consumerism movement. Have you never heard this term? Well, you not alone, I missed it somehow too. Ethical consumerism is voting for social causes, or in some cases voting against social norms with your consumer dollar.

The “ethical consumer” is looking for information to support their purchasing decisions. They want to spend money on goods and services they deem ‘socially responsible’ or ‘ethical’. They base their purchases on perceived values such as food safety and quality, the environment, animal care and welfare (which ranks fairly high on their list), price, taste etc. In short, they make purchases that make them feel good about themselves. They are a growing segment of our consumer base.

Information Gap

Where are they getting their information as to what is ethical in animal agriculture? In a study from Purdue University, (McKendree, et.al) 56 percent of consumers reported that they do not have a source for animal welfare information. Close to 20 percent are getting their information about animal welfare from animal activist groups (namely HSUS and PETA). Only 20 percent are getting information from reputable sources like Universities, State or Federal agencies, or agriculture industry groups. Clearly there is work to be done for those of us involved animal agriculture in terms of telling our story and educating the ethical consumer. We have an opportunity in 56 percent of the market share to tell the truth about our animal well-being practices.

Ethical Consumers

Who is the ethical consumer? Based on the above mentioned Purdue study, only 4 percent considered themselves to be vegetarian and 2 percent vegan. So right away we see and area of opportunity for the livestock industry, because the majority of ethical consumers eat meat, eggs, and dairy.

According to Candace Croney, Purdue University, the ethical consumers who identifies with a high level of concern over animal welfare are mostly women, and younger, ranging in age from 25-44, as well as low-income (household incomes of 20,000-59,000).

Another interesting development is that concern about animal welfare is gaining in priority over concern about price. This is the first time this trend has been identified.

What can we do?

Who’s going to fill that gap in reliable information about animal well-being in animal agriculture? It should be us. The boots-on-the-ground producers in animal agriculture. The Purdue study noted that 75 percent of participants hadn’t visited a farm with animals in the past five years. If their only image of what goes on in a livestock operation come from hit-jobs set up by HSUS or PETA, it’s no wonder they are concerned. One place to start is our online presence. We should make our websites more user friendly, present our information in a way our consumers can understand and relate to, and frame our stories in terms of our commitment to social responsibility.

Some of my friends in the industry are doing their part. You may have heard of Dairy Carrie, who farms as Carrie Mess in Wisconsin. I have another friend, Susan Anglin of the Spotted Cow Review, a dairy farmer from Arkansas who allows people to come to her dairy farm to see how they take care of their animals. Another good example is my friend Dr. Janeal Yancey, University of Arkansas, who has the Mom at the Meat Counter blog and conducts ‘Moms on the Farm’ tours annually.

Dairy Carrie once asked a group of Ag Women “Who’s going to tell your story?” I say it should be us. Here is an opportunity, what are we going to do about it?

There Can’t Be Foodies in a Food Shortage: An Open Letter to Jennifer Garner

Editorial by Hope Hancock, http://www.hhancock.com/

Hope Hancock

Editorial by Hope Hancock, read more at her website here.

“I’m fed up with being kept in the dark about GMO and non-GMO labeling,” Jennifer Garner, the Miracles from Heaven star, speaks candidly to a reporter at an event for “Just Label It”, an organization known for fighting food companies to label GMO products.

Jennifer Garner speaks out on GMO labeling at the Just Label It Event in April 2015. Image courtesy of: http://www.eonline.com/news/648534/jennifer-garner-grows-her-own-good-i-m-a-geek

Jennifer Garner speaks out on GMO labeling at the Just Label It Event in April 2015. Image courtesy of: http://www.eonline.com/news/648534/jennifer-garner-grows-her-own-good-i-m-a-geek

“Food sustains our bodies, minds and souls,” Garner continued flashing her perfect Hollywood smile, “as a mother, I feel it is my responsibility to know what I am feeding my family. We need transparency in our food industry.”

For many people, including Hollywood stars Gisele Büdchen and Kourtney Kardashian, the major apprehension is GMO crops are engineered to be herbicide resistant. Therefore, weeds become resistant or more toxic requiring more herbicides to be applied.

I hate to say this to Jennifer and the rest of Hollywood, but that kind of thinking is flawed. It is only leading the way for marketers to promote their products as non-GMO even if there are no GMO ingredients included. Likewise, labeling foods originated from GMO suggest there is a difference where none exists—issues even regulators have recognized. Since the word “genetically modified organism” was introduced, there has been a putrid stigma surrounding the issue. They are neither less safe nor less “natural” than other common foods. GMO derived crops reduce soil damage, carbon emissions, and insecticide use—goals reflective of organic agriculture. There is a letter with more than 100 Nobel laureates’ signatures backing that up.

Regarding this food fight, I have to ask Jennifer if she has considered a world without GMO. Could she imagine a world without oranges on her table? Or Chicken? Or Seafood? Due to certain epidemics like the citrus-greening virus, the avian flu or the simple fact that agriculturalists will have to double food production on less acres to feed a growing world population of 9 billion in 2050, that could be a very probable outcome. As of now, we are so lucky that farmers have the option to grow non-GMO crops, but where would you be, Jennifer, if that were not a viable solution?  As my mother used to say, “there are no atheists in foxholes.” There cannot be foodies in a food shortage.

We Have a Problem

Depression and other forms of mental illness can make sufferers feel trapped and hopeless.

Depression and other forms of mental illness can make sufferers feel trapped and hopeless. Photo by Melissa Beck, copyright 2016.

Melissa Beck, editor

We in agriculture have a problem and we need to address it. Farmers are killing themselves at almost double the rate of the general population and have surpassed the suicide rate of veterans. The latest Centers for Disease Control report, “Suicide Rates by Occupational Group” shows persons involved in the vocations of farming, forestry and fishing have the highest rates of suicide when compared to other occupations. The CDC also has reported that 17 percent of Americans experience some degree of depression annually.

I’ve already examined the reasons farming is a tough gig here.

Let’s explore other reasons farmers may be resorting to suicide. First, and this isn’t unique to farmers, there is still a stigma associated with mental illness which makes it hard to acknowledge and seek help. Unfortunately, we have a long way to go in terms of viewing mental illness as a disease instead of a personality flaw. In our society it is more acceptable to discuss erectile dysfunction than depression. Couple this with a reluctance to go to the doctor for any ailment, which is common among farmers, and it becomes clear why they may not be getting the help they need when faced with mental illness.

Many may not even realize what is going on, explaining it away as tiredness, or trying to “outrun” it. This is where family and friends’ support in addressing the problem becomes important. Changes in personality, such as irritability, mood swings, tiredness and talking about killing themselves are some of the warning signs. Here is a list of things to watch for.

What can you do for a loved one who is struggling with depression? First, educate yourself. Change your mindset about depression and other forms of mental illness. Having dealt with depression in my own family, it was much easier to face the problem when I had taken these steps. Next, get professional help for your loved one and yourself. Treat it like any other life-threatening disease, go to the professionals for help. You wouldn’t ignore a malignant tumor, or try to “outrun” diabetes, take depression and mental illness just as seriously as these diseases. Here is a resource to help you prepare a safety plan for you family dealing with a depressed or suicidal loved one.  If you need help, or need support getting help for someone else reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline here or call them at 1-800-237-8255 (talk).

Continue to show love and support for the person struggling with depression. If you can’t get the depressed or suicidal person to accept help, enlist the support of others, such as family, friends or clergy. A diagnosis of depression doesn’t have to be the end of your story. Depression is often successfully treated with medication and cognitive behavioral therapy. Remember, you’re not alone. Open up about your struggles and you’ll be surprised how many of us have been where you’re standing, either personally or in dealing with the depression of a loved one, and are willing to give you the support you need.

 

You Can’t Afford Not to Eat

In the back of this organic garden is a very natural, organic and toxic plant, the castor oil plant. Copyright, Melissa Beck 2016

In the back of this organic garden is a very natural, organic and toxic plant, the castor oil plant. Copyright, Melissa Beck 2016

Melissa Beck, editor

“You can’t afford not to eat organic.” I heard someone say this at a recent gathering of farmers, most of whom call themselves “organic” if not actually “certified organic” and it took me aback. Of course, since I was a guest at the event I just sat there with my blank-face, I call it my “chopping broccoli face” and wondered how on earth we got to this point where alternative producers are denigrating “commercial producers”. What are we doing tearing our industry apart from the inside, when there are plenty of people on the outside of food production willing to do it for us?

Given the opportunity I would like to rephrase her comment and point out, “We can’t afford not to eat” period. We are facing a serious world food crisis. By 2050 the world population will be over 9 billion people, and we will need 70 percent more food to feed them. Couple this with concerns that climate change could decrease production by 25 percent and the problem seems insurmountable.

Keeping that in mind, there’s a lot of confusion about what the word “organic” on a label means. Here’s the USDA definition:

“Organic is a labeling term that indicates that the food or other agricultural product has been produced through approved methods. These methods integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used.”

Here is a USDA fact sheet that sums it up nicely.

I want to make it clear, I’m a fan of consumer choice. I love that there are people willing to grow crops and produce livestock that qualify for the “organic” label for consumers willing to pay for it. In fact I defend your right to this market niche. What I’m not a fan of is the fact that there is misinformation, and often times open hostility towards what has been called “factory farming” or “conventional farming” etc. but I digress.

Many consumers are under the impression that the “organic” label means no pesticides are used in the production of “organic” food. That is actually incorrect. There are certain pesticides that have USDA approval for organic production. Here’s the list of synthetic substances allowed in organic production and here’s the big USDA document with all the allowed/prohibited substances listed.

In this recent editorial by Forrest Laws, Delta Farm Press, Dr. Adrianne Massey, managing director, science and regulatory affairs, Biotechnology Industry Organization, says “In my experience, most people are shocked to discover organic growers do use pest control chemicals – just not chemicals that were developed by people and don’t occur in nature,” she wrote “Because they are allowed to use ‘natural’ substances, often the toxicity value of the “allowed substances” is significantly greater than synthetic pesticides.”

Let that sink in a minute, “…often the toxicity value of the “allowed substances is significantly greater than synthetic pesticides.” So is it true that you “Can’t afford not to eat organic”?

When discussing my frustrations over this debate with my husband, we played a little game I’ll call “it’s natural, but is it safe?” We started our game with naturally occurring toxins in plants, like nitrates and prussic acid, and then we got serious.

Here’s our list:

1. food borne pathogens: botulism, listeria, etc. here’s a list of the most deadly food pathogens.

2. mercury, lead, arsenic and other heavy metals.

3. asbestos

4. anthrax (here we lump together other virulant diseases that occur in nature)

5. castor oil plant, which contains ricin (and to be fair, tons of other plants)

6. apple seeds contain cyanide, potato skins contain solanine

7. snake venom, batrachotoxin in certain frogs,

8. mushrooms

9. tetrodotoxin (deadly poison found in marine life)

10. carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and other naturally occurring gasses

Conversely one could, if they cared to, play a game called “It’s synthetic, but is it safe?” Consumers deserve choices, but it is up to consumers to educate themselves so their choices are informed. It’s time we in agriculture take charge of the debate. It’s time that we work together to come up with solutions to the coming increase in world food demand, after all, “You can’t afford not to eat.”

Ten Reasons to Farm

corn-field-440338_12802-rn0OLt5v-650-432

Copyright, 2016, Melissa Beck, AgNewsFeed

Melissa Beck, Editor

 

Last time I wrote Ten Reasons Not To Farm, and my husband informed me that was “depressing”, so I decided to come back at this topic from a less depressing angle.  Here are Ten Reasons to Farm:

1. You’re a natural born risk taker, a gambler not afraid of uncertainty. If you look risk in the eye and scoff, farming is the job for you. IF, however, you get an upset stomach at the thought of losing an investment simply because the weather isn’t in your favor, or a fire breaks out, or speculators ruin the futures market, you might consider a different career path.

2. You like to change things up, you get bored with the predictable. Blowout on the way to the sale barn, meh, par for the course, heifer calving in the snow and needs assistance at 3:00 a.m., no big whoop, you like to keep things fresh. You’re a rare breed of human that can hold it together on 4 hours of sleep, you’ll still wave at every person you meet on the road, and say “yes sir” or “yes ma’am” even though you’re running on caffeine and chicken-fried steak.

3. You would go bonkers if you had to sit at a desk for more than 45 minutes at a stretch. Sure, you have to work inside on occasion, but the outdoors is where it’s at. You’re the best version of YOU when you’re working outside.

4. You’re a jack of all trades. You can MacGyver equipment together with duct tape, baling wire and ingenuity. You’re a born problem solver and can look at a piece of equipment at a consignment sale, and where others see rust and locked up bearings, you see potential and an opportunity.

5. You can multitask. You’re working complex mathematical equations in your head while driving a tractor. You do your best planning and thinking while operating equipment; this is where you have your epiphanies.

6. You’re always thinking 6-12 months ahead. You have goals, and ideas for improvements. You are always adapting and modifying to improve your efficiency. Whether you’re thinking of ways to reconfigure your cattle working facilities, or where to put fences, gates, drainage ditches, or what varieties to plant or weeds to spray you’re always thinking ahead.

7. You know how to prioritize. You understand that there are seasons and cycles in this life you’ve chosen. You know how to let certain things slide during your busy season and you know how to play catch up when things slow down. You make time for the most important things, like family, friends and your faith.

8. You understand and value community. You’ll put off your own harvest to make sure your injured neighbor’s crop get harvested. You drive up and catch the high bid on the auction at an FFA fundraiser. You hire young people, even though you know you’ll have to do extra explaining, repairing and supervising; but you also know they need to learn how to work. You give because you appreciate what you have and care about those who have less. You’re a giver, a producer, a doer and encourager.

9. You value a job well done. You get satisfaction out of hay in the barn, grain in the bins, cattle gaining on pasture. You like a sense of accomplishment you get after a hard day’s work. You actually enjoy the kind of tired where you fall asleep before your head hits the pillow.

10. You work hard and hardly ever think of how important this work is that you do. You don’t think of yourself as someone who is “feeding the world”. You aren’t looking for accolades. You’re just doing this job you have felt called to do. You wouldn’t mind making a living in the process, but you keep doing it even in the lean years when you barely make ends meet. You’re a farmer, it’s what you do.

Ten Reasons NOT to Farm

Soybeans in Louisiana Copyright, 2016, Melissa Beck

Photo: Cotton in Louisiana Copyright, 2016, Melissa Beck

By Melissa Beck, Editor

The stereotypical image of the old farmer is actually closer to fact than fiction. The average age of the American farmer, according to the 2012 Census of Agriculture, is 58.3 years. Farmers I’ve spoken to aren’t encouraging their children to stay on the farm. “No, in fact I’ve strongly encouraged them to find jobs away from the farm.” says an Arkansas farmer I visited with at a recent event. The reasons this generation of farmers are discouraging the next are varied and personal, but lets use what we know to surmise what may be driving this trend. Here are ten reasons NOT to farm:

1. Land prices and availability: Although there is large variation by state, according to the latest USDA Land Values Summary farm real estate averages close to $3,000 per acre and cropland is around $4,000 per acre and pasture land averages $1,300 per acre. According to the American Farmland Trust we lose nearly 40 acres of farmland every hour. That is a significant loss of our fertile farmland.

2. Government regulation: A great example, even though the Supreme Court came down on the side of landowners in their May 31 ruling restricting the ability of the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to use the Clean Water Act to designate waters on private land as “Waters of the United States” it essentially allows landowners to challenge these two government agencies in court. According to Legal News Line the EPA sent the following statement: “EPA is reviewing the decision with the Department of Justice and the Army Corps of Engineers, this decision does not affect the Clean Water Rule of scope of the Clean Water Act Jurisdiction. It would be wise to pay attention to this regulation as it evolves.

3. Market volatility: Just look at the cattle market in October of 2015, or the price of corn.

4. Weather: Along with the markets, weather is one of those threats that farmers have to plan for with risk protection. Even with a safety net it is disheartening to lose a crop to mother nature.

5. Long hours: The average hours reported for farm labor is 50 hours per week. It’s worth noting the hours will be shorter in the slow season and longer during harvest, or other peek seasons. (according to a 2011 Iowa State University publication “Wages and Benefits for Farm Employees”)

6. Debt: According to Creighton University’s Rural Mainstreet Economic Outlook report, 73.5% of bankers increased collateral requirements, 50% increased interest rates and 35.3% rejected a higher number of farm loans because of the weakened agriculture economy. According to Ag Economists.com quoting the USDA Economic Research Service farm debt is at an all time high of $327 billion. For giggles, go window shopping for farm equipment, or go online and look at the prices of farms for sale.

7. Lack of respect from consumer/customer: While our American farmers were busy trying to make a living a disturbing trend emerged, and now some are playing catch-up trying to tell the story of Agriculture, some are ignoring the problem and hoping it goes away.

8. Dirty and dangerous: Farming and ranching came in sixth on Time Magazine’s list of most dangerous jobs. As for dirty, I think this needs no explanation.

9. High risk: see all the above.

10. The decline of rural communities: A personal example as a cautionary tale, we live in a rural community that lost its school to consolidation. Not long after that the little store that we would buy fuel, lunch or groceries in a pinch went out of business. The school building sits with broken windows and the store is empty. Additionally the population is declining so is our tax base causing our local County Extension office to cut staff and programs. Here’s a great summary of what’s happening.

In conclusion, times are tough for those of us who choose vocations in agriculture, but we are tough too. Next time I’ll look at ten reasons why someone should want to be involved in agriculture.

 

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