Friday, September 20, 2013

Getting the Facts Straight

"Oh those darn factory farms... where chickens and cows are pumped full of junk, the environment is full of pollution, and factory farmers are making the earth look baron." 

That is the image being portrayed by those who don't understand the agriculture industry, such as Chipotle. Most have already heard, if not seen, Chipotle's new "Scarecrow" ad about modern agriculture. Unfortunately, this isn't the first time that Chipotle has done something like this and they also aren't the only ones out their misrepresenting the ag industry. There are plenty of other groups and people who spread misleading theories and stories about how food is grown and raised in the U.S.

Over the last few years I have noticed two terms that are always used by these groups who misunderstand how food is grown. Those two terms are factory farms and unsustainableHowever, these terms are far from the truth and are opposite of what actually goes on in the agriculture industry, and it is time to get the facts straight!

So lets first talk about these "factory farms". I have yet to see a factory out in the country side where there is a huge building with smoke stacks sticking sky high. Yet, some claim that some farms are so big, they are similar to a factory! That is false as 98% of the farms in the U.S. are family owned and run. I will not disagree that there are some very large farms in the U.S., but that does NOT put them in the same category as a factory. Some farms have grown large due to it being in the family for many generations, which has allowed the farm to grow over time. Other large farms might be in an area where very few people return to farm the land. So then what about all those large buildings housing hogs and chickens, and those humongous feed yards for cattle, how are those not "factory farms"? Many of those are operated by families, or sometimes even a couple of families. Although those places can be quite large, the animals receive the same amount of attention as animals on smaller farms. They are in a temperature controlled environment, safe from predators, get fed a nutritious diet, and are monitored for sicknesses. So the "factory farm" term needs to be put to rest as it misrepresents the many hard working farm families across the U.S.!

The next term that is misleading is when groups pin the modern agriculture industry as "unsustainable". I have a hard time understanding how people can think of the modern agriculture industry being unsustainable, especially with all the technology advancements in recent years. Thanks to many new technologies, farmers are able to prevent the over use of fertilizers and chemicals. They are also able to prevent erosion by using different tillage practices as well as cover crops. New seed traits (GMO's) are reducing the use of pesticides and allow farmers to increase production with fewer resources (fertilizer, chemicals, land, etc). Equipment advancements have lead to farmers reducing their carbon foot print by using cleaner burning and fuel efficient tractors. Yet, this is just the beginning of some of the technology advances..... the future looks to help farmers be even more efficient!

While I know there will be some that disagree with what I said, in my view, these two terms are misleading and opposite of what really goes on in the agriculture industry. It's time to start getting the facts straight, and that begins with doing the research, not just watching videos that groups, like Chipotle, put out. It is also good to have dialogue about these topics, but NOT arguments. Sometimes, on both sides, people get so argumentative that points being made by both sides get completely missed, when in the end we could all be trying to make the same point. So I encourage anyone interested about where their food comes from to do the research and talk to a farmer. Together, we can all make sure that everyone gets the right facts!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

From a Kernel to a Chip: August Update

Nebraska State Fair, Husker Football, Husker Harvest Days.... that must mean fall is upon us! It is hard to believe how fast the summer went and how quick fall is approaching. Before we know it, we will be harvesting our fall crops, which includes popcorn, corn, soybeans, and last but not least WHITE corn! However, the crops must mature and dry down before harvest can take place, which looks to be awhile.

August was a different month for us as we saw cool and cloudy weather the first couple of weeks and then went straight to dry and hot weather to finish off the month. While the cooler temps were a nice break from some of the heat we dealt with in July, we could have used the sunshine. In order for plants to grow and produce, they need an adequate amount of sunlight as that is the energy source for the plant. When plants, corn in this case, don't receive that adequate amount of sunlight, it can cause the ears of corn to not fill out completely. I have heard many farmers say they have seen some "tip back" in their fields, which could be from the lack of sunlight, hybrid trait, or both. Tip back is when kernels don't fill out to the tip of the ear of corn. This can lead reduced yields if it is wide spread throughout the field. We have seen some tip back in our white corn fields and I am guessing it had to do with us having mostly cloudy weather the first part of August.

Other than seeing some tip back, the white corn crop looks to be good! I forgot to mention that even though we had cool and cloudy weather, we were very fortunate to catch a couple of rains the first part of August that allowed us to take a few days off from irrigating. Unfortunately though, with the rain came some wind, which leaned the white corn over. Now a few of the fields look mangled up and will be a little more challenging to harvest.

As we move into September, we will complete our irrigation's on the corn crops and run the pivots a time or two on the soybeans. By the middle of September, we should be all done irrigating for the season! This year's harvest looks to be a week or two behind compared to previous years. Most likely we wont see much harvesting taking place until the end of September unless things really start to mature and dry down quick. Only time will tell but until then, the next couple of weeks look to be busy getting projects wrapped up and harvest equipment ready before we get into the full swing of harvest 2013!

Below of pictures of the white corn during August:

With the corn being over 10ft tall, it looks like a jungle in the field!
A nice big ear of white corn!
When I broke the ear of corn in half, this is what person sees. The corn cob in the middle and then rows of kernels all around the cob.
If you look closely at a kernel, you can see the starch line that signifies that is is maturing. As the kernel continues to dry down, the line will move lower and everything above it will become hard.
An ear of white corn that I picked from one of our fields. Hope the rest will look like that one!
What the inside of a kernel looks like!

Be sure to check back on October 1st for the next "From a Kernel to a Chip" blog!

To see my previous "From a kernel to a Chip" updates, click here!