Wednesday, December 11, 2013

For Consumers, It's about Values

Through social media and blogs today, we have the opportunity to do more than ever before in the way of educating the public.  The trick is that it is not all about simply telling them what we do.  That doesn't do much.  In my animal science course this semester, my professor discussed some of what we termed the "grand challenges" of animal agriculture.  One of these is animal wellbeing.  I producing food, we must focus on producing a safe, healthy, and wholesome food supply.  In defining "wholesome," there is another aspect that is being considered today that was less-considered in ages past.  People want  a food that they feel good eating.  This does not just mean something that's tasty, but something that people do not feel bad about eating.  We are touching a values issue now.  For ages people just ate meat, and now they are taking an approach looking at the animal and questioning how they felt about that animal.

How do we address value issues?  The answer is very delicately.  When I talk to folks about swine production, since it is one thing I'm better versed in, they often hold certain convictions about how their Christmas ham has been raised.  We as an industry often will tell consumers some of the same things.  We talk about the fact that in the United States, we have the world's largest and most affordable food supply in the entire world.  We talk about how we produce more today than ever before thanks to technology and evolving genetics.  Consumers are growing increasingly bored with this, and this is in part due to the fact that we live in a world that has grocery stores and supermarkets on every corner.  The shelves are always stocked, and there is more there than you could ever imagine!  This is also in part due to the large number of organizations in the nation alone that are spending billions of dollars to try and make agriculture look bad.  So, what do we as an industry have to do to help consumers feel confident in our products?  We must show and tell the real truth behind production in the United States.

There are farms across the United States that are now designed for the special purpose of educating the public.  Here in Indiana, we have Fair Oaks Farms in Fair Oaks Indiana.  What they have done is built a dairy and now a swine farm that do tours and educational experiences to show the public the truth of production.  I have not visited either of these farms yet myself, but hope to do so soon.  This is one way to show consumers how things happen on farms.  Check out Fair Oaks Farms here.  Rumor has it that there are plans for building a poultry facility soon.  It does need to be noted that all farms are not show-farms, and for animal health reasons, cannot welcome the public in to see their animals without taking proper bio-security precautions before.

What is truly important to the consumer?  This is hard to tell as every consumer is different.  I would appreciate if I could get some feedback (email, Facebook inbox, and Tweets are great methods for doing this) so that we can address some of these issues.   Many consumers I have spoken with previously want to talk about housing.  What kind of housing is used?  Do the animals have adequate space?  Do they get to go outside?  They want to talk about feed.  What do the animals eat?  Is it healthy?  Do we still slop hogs (no we do not - per federal law)?  They want to talk about slaughter.  Is it humane?  Does the animal suffer?  Are these awful videos of processing plants reality, or is it staged?  People want to talk about animal treatment.  Do we keep a close eye on the animals?  Do we know if an animal has gotten sick?  What do we do when animals get hurt?  Do we hurt the animals?  Are we nice to them?  This is just some of what I have spoken about before.  I will later go into further details about some of these animal agriculture issues and the answers behind them.  Again, please submit your questions to my email at sebenkam@purdue.edu, my Facebook inbox, or Tweet me (@ebenkamp2013).

To follow with some of the animal treatment questions, I want to share a blog post and video from Carrie Mess.  Her post is titled, Sometimes I am 'mean' to my cattle.  Check it out here.

I appreciate all of you who read my blog, and hope that you can learn something.  Maybe you'll teach me something!  If you have topics you would like addressed, let me know, and I will gladly address them for you, or call in for more expert help!

Have a great rest of the week!

"30 Days" May Be Over, but I Just Got Started!

Hi everyone!  I know it has been a long time since I wrote last, but when I went home for Thanksgiving break, things got crazy, and I never quite finished my "30 Days" series.  I am here to say that my time with this blog has just begun.  It will hopefully be at least a bi-monthly posting, continuing on my topic of "The Life of a Future Farmer."

I have been asked, "Sam, why in the world do you write this thing?  You're a student with a full course load, multiple organizations you're involved with, exams, and friends.  Where do you find the time?"  To reply honestly?  I feel that there are some very important things in life.  One of them is working to better the industry in which I work.  Recently I was selected to represent Purdue's Collegiate Farm Bureau at the National Young Farmer's Conference in Virginia Beach in February.  Do I own or run a farm right now?  No sir/ma'am I don't.  Then why in the world am I such an adamant supporter of farmers, agriculture, and the like?  Why do I want to go to the National Young Farmer's Conference?  I feel that the key to succeeding tomorrow is to get off on the right foot today.  Many of the things I am involving myself with now are merely baby steps in my personal life, on the path to future success for the industry as a whole. 

In a recent interview for a position with an on-campus agriculture organization, I was asked how I feel we as students and as an industry as a whole can help to better relate to consumers and other non-agriculture people.  My response was, by way of technology.  Through social media and blogs today, we have the opportunity to do more than ever before in the way of educating the public.  This being said, I plan to continue to use this blog as well as my Facebook and Twitter (@ebenkamp2013) as ways to spread the good news of agriculture, and try to relate to consumers and friends in general.  If you ever want to ask questions about ag, feel free!  Message me, email me at sebenkam@purdue.edu, or Tweet me.  I'll be glad to speak with you, and if I cannot help you, I know people who can!

Stay in touch!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Day 25: Harvest is Over - What do Farmers do all Winter?

Well, the first response to this question is, what kind of farmer are we talking about?  They all do different things!  Just like no two snowflakes are the same, neither are two farmers and their farms. 

With the crops in (or finishing coming in), many farmers have finished planting cover crop and winter wheat for this year.  Many are in the process of cleaning up and repairing harvest equipment, preparing it for storage through the winter (and the summer for many farmers).  With the wrapping up of harvest, there is grain to be hauled, bins to be built, land to be auctioned and sold or rented, equipment to trade, and tax paperwork to start.  The winter is not the total shutdown many people envision.  This is especially true for livestock farmers!  Just because there aren't crops in the field, doesn't phase those pigs/turkeys/chickens/cattle/sheep/goats/etc.  These animals still need someone to sit on a feed grinder in the snow to make sure they have a healthy food supply every day.  They need someone to fix those water lines that freeze and break on Christmas morning.  They need someone to make sure that they get their vaccinations to prevent sickness, to pull calves, to milk cows, to collect eggs, and to care for those piglets.  This is a never ending cycle, and these people knew it from day one. 

At work, I know that the last couple acres of corn were shelled and put in the bin this evening, and now it's time to clean the combine up, run it through the shop, and then get manure hauled.  Oh and don't forget that it's time to sell pigs again.  Farmers probably do this more today than ever, but they've been watching markets.  Corn just seems to keep falling, soybeans are down, and farmers have crops in their bins that need to be sold.  Truth be told, you will generally market a good percent of your crops out on the futures market before harvest to try and get the often-better, pre-harvest market prices.  They're hedging, handling puts and options, and things that my ag economics classes have not yet discussed enough for me to explain, but let me tell you, these folks have to really know what they're doing.  It's also about time to start pre-ordering seed for next year (if you haven't already), as well as locking in prices for fertilizer.  As my semester here at school is coming to a close (and with a couple classes, the end couldn't come quick enough), things are winding down.  This is definitely not the case for the folks in the fields and on the farms across the country. 

Here's my Monday salute to all of the hardworking people out there in America (not just in agriculture).  You're part of something greater than you realize, and your labor helps make this country the great place it is!

Have a great Monday night!

Linking up with Holly and the other "30 Days" bloggers here.

Day 24: Get Involved Young - Don't Wait!

Those of you who know me well, know that since a young age, I was always part of something, whether it was the Cub Scouts, then 4-H, Junior Optimist, Key Club, S.A.D.D., FFA, Junior Achievement, Church, Band, and now Purdue Collegiate FFA, Farm Bureau, Agriculture Future of America, U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, and hopefully Ag Council if things go well in the next few weeks (fingers crossed).  This involvement taught me from a very young age the importance of learning not just who you are, but what you wish to become. 

I vividly remember my Cub Scout days... wayyyyy back when...  I remember selling popcorn door-to-door, and making friends with people who later became faithful customers and friends ever since.  What I learned was that by getting involved, I was putting myself "out there."  This phrase is used often and too few people really understand what this means.  I had to take myself out of my typical comfort zone and do something new.  This fall at the Agriculture Future of America conference, our first session was done by the well-known Mr. Tim Clue.  Everything Mr. Clue did was with one goal: Get out of your comfort zone.  If you are comfortable where you are, you probably aren't doing anything new.  This was something I found to be a very good lesson for life in general.  I look at when I moved to Purdue.  There were a handful of other students from my high school here, but only one in agriculture, and none of them were people I am just incredibly close to.  I told myself when I decided Purdue was where I wanted to go to school that if I didn't get out of my comfort zone and try new things, I would never make it to graduation.  My first few weeks here, what did I do?  Well I realized painfully fast that all of my best friends from high school were hours away, so I better figure something out, and fast.

During my first few weeks in class I did what every other first time student has to do, and stepped out of my comfort zone, tried to make friends, and I signed up for different organizations, and bought sports tickets to give myself something to do a couple evenings a week and on some weekends.  I knew that if I didn't do these types of things my first year, I would be missing opportunities to make friends and give myself reason to stay in school.  Too many students struggle in college because in the beginning they get scared, realizing they know no one, and keep to themselves.  This is the worst thing to do and can sometimes lead to your leaving school without a diploma because you never found a place.  Part of the problem is, feeling like a part of something requires you to try and make yourself a part of the entity. 

From my early days, I wanted to help others, and make a difference in the world.  I got involved.  First it was Cub Scouts.  Then in third grade, I left the scouts and joined 4-H, and loved what I was doing and who I got to work with.  I was a club president in 8th grade, and vice president the year before.  This summer I was recognized as being a graduating senior and 10-year 4-H member.  During middle school, I got involved in our R.O.O.S. organization, which is a Junior S.A.D.D. chapter, educating students on the dangers of drugs and alcohol, as well as promoting respect and fair treatment of all students.  I was also quite active within our Junior Optimist club.  In high school, I got involved in Key Club International, just as my sister had done, and all in the footsteps of my grandfather, who has been a member of Kiwanis Internaional, the parent organization, since the mid 1960s.  Within Key Club, the world's largest student-led service organization, I held many offices, including class representative, club president, and Indiana Lincoln Division Lieutenant Governor.  The experiences I gained through my work with Key Club alone have proven extremely valuable in life.  I was also a student council member for two years, heading the community service committee my senior year, as well as serving as sergeant at arms, keeping tabs on attendance, and membership status.  During those four years, I was a four year member of S.A.D.D. (Students Against Destructive Decisions), a two year member of the Junior Achievement Company Program, a one year member of the F.I.R.S.T. Robotics team, handling bookkeeping and finance management, I was one of the heads behind our senior project, and was a two year member of German Club (Ich spreche kein deutsch.). 

What I learned from all of this overwhelming involvement (and yes, it was very overwhelming at times), was a lot about myself, who I was, and who I planned to be.  You also learn a lot about others.  Working with people from a young age teaches you skills that cannot be taught in a classroom.  We can learn a lot in school, but what you have to go a little further to learn is how to work with people from different walks of life, how to handle high stress, but delicate environments with grace, and how to become a better person.  By working with others for all of these years, I got to do a lot of personal development, and I have all of those with whom I have spent time to thank for their part in shaping the man I am today.  I look back and cannot imagine where I could have been today if it had not been for all of the good influences I had, as well as the outpouring of positive encouragement that is always behind me.  No time is too late to involve yourself in a cause or organization which you deem important.  Time will only tell what good will come from it.  Surprise yourself, and never get too comfortable.  Learn to live putting yourself "out there," out of your comfort zone, and the experiences you may have are endless.

Linking up with Holly and the other "30 Days" bloggers here.

Day 23: Big or Small Farms, What's Better?

Lately, throughout the agriculture sector, and the consumer world, there is much debate about who is better, the big or small farms.  The same goes for big seed and chemical companies or small ones.  This can be looked at a few different ways, and it is largely opinion based.

When someone wants to buy seed, (supposing they never have before and that they have no company bias - as if this ever happens) they will often begin by driving and looking at other producers' fields themselves to get a feel of what different brands seem to be doing better in their geographical area, as opposed to others.  Truth be told, all of the brands that are around today and continue to stay around are yielding close to the same.  If this were not true, the companies would not be in business.  Often it is the larger companies that stay in the market, or merge with others to grow.  You must consider why this "phenomena" occurs.  Charles Darwin proposed the idea of natural selection - survival of the fittest.  This is not just a human/animal thing.  Survival of the fittest works in all walks of life and business.  Those who perform well consistently, have good management practices, and in this case, have the best genetics, will outlive those who cannot perform at this high rate. 

If one looks at a farm in itself, you have many variables.  These include geography, topography, and soil quality.  Other variables include management practices and the hands doing this work.  What kind of farm is better, big or small?  There is no straight answer.  I go back to my reference from a post or two ago.  It takes all kinds of kinds in this industry and what is important is that we work together to provide a healthy, safe food supply for the world to eat.  In all reality, a small farm may be better in the sense that an operator can focus more attention on smaller areas of crops, and or livestock.  On the downside, they may be operating with less resources, lower quality seed, feed, or breeding stock.  It is all dependent upon the individual operation.  Some large operations are more efficient than smaller operations in that they often have more capital for more efficient equipment, labor, and inputs.  On the downside, there is the possibility of having less skilled labor performing tasks on the farm, and less skilled attention paid to certain aspects such as runoff, and the like.  This again is not always the case.  When someone asks me if a big farm is bad, I say no.  I do this with honesty.  A farm is a farm.  The management practices of the entity in itself will define "good or bad."  There are good farmers and bad farmers big and small, just like there are good and bad bankers, accountants, teachers, and other workers.  One must not be condemned for the acts of a few.  The majority of farmers are still doing what they do because they are successful, reasonably efficient, and dedicated.  As in all industries, the bad ones will weed themselves out. 

In the words of Dr. Tempel Grandin, "We need to quit arguing between big and little ag and realize that we're one industry and that the success of the industry as a whole depends on cooperation and success of both sides.  Nobody is better than anyone else.  We're all Ag."

Linking up with Holly and the other 30 Days bloggers here.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Day 21: What is Sustainability?

I have returned from my four day hiatus.  Sorry to leave you hanging...

What is sustainability?  This is what dictionary.reference.com has to say.

sus·tain·a·bil·i·ty
[suh-stey-nuh-bil-i-tee] Show IPA
noun
1.
the ability to be sustained, supported, upheld, or confirmed.
2.
Environmental Science. the quality of not being harmful to the environment or depleting natural resources, and thereby supporting long-term ecological balance: The committee is developing sustainability standards for products that use energy.
 
What do we mean by sustainability in agriculture and food?  It means we are trying to ensure you can all be fed for years to come!  Well doesn't that just sound dandy?  "How sweet and cliché," I'm sure is the thought on some of your minds. 
 
No-Till - a method of planting and raising crops without the traditional step of tilling the soil.  Why do we do this?  There is a whole blog post coming about no-till, so prepare yourself.  In short, no-till is a way of cutting down on the amount of soil and nutrient runoff, and also keeping more organic matter on the soil surface year after year.  This practice, over time, should lead to increased yields, and better soil conditions.  This is not something that works in one year.  Note that fact. Too commonly producers expect to see major improvements after one year.  It does not work that way.  I know producers who personally have seen many benefits after nearly three decades of no-till farming combined with cover cropping every year.
 
Cover Cropping - planting certain types of crops after fall harvesting that will build a root system and keep your soil held in place throughout the winter in efforts to reduce runoff from bare fields.  Often farmers will choose cover crops to try to help replenish some of the nutrients lost in the previous year.  Annual Ryegrass for example, stores nitrogen.  If this is planted as a cover crop in the fall, and killed off in the spring, throughout the growing season, it will release nitrogen to assist in the growth of your current crop. 
 
Variable-Rate Planting and Spraying - With current GPS and computer technology that can be used in today's equipment, we can keep tabs on what rate crops were planted across a field, and at harvest use the same system to analyze what parts of the field did better or worse than others.  If we use this, we can better target where to apply nutrients, and target what portions of the field need to be planted at a higher seeding rate.  This is all in efforts to improve soil quality, crop condition, and avoid over/under applying of nutrients.
 
There is much more I could continue about, but this is a start.  Others include steps to protect rivers and streams from chemical contact, reducing the chemicals used in production, and breeding hybrid plants that will produce a healthier, more abundant crop to continue feeding the growing population. 
 
When I say farmers, ranchers, and others in the industry are working every day to ensure your health and hunger needs are met, I'm not kidding.  You're the consumer, and if the consumer is not happy, you won't be doing anyone any good.
 
Linking up with Holly here.

Day 22: No-Till

I always get the pleasure of ruffling the feathers of SOMEONE when I bring up no-till, and not coming from a farming background, I was non-partisan in this argument. 

For those of you less familiar with the workings of production agriculture, there are three parties within the till/no-till argument and those of you very closely have heard me talk about this time and time again.  First you have the die-hard tillage or no-till folks.  Secondly you have the producers who choose to do one practice, but frankly could care less what others do, often stating that since it is not their land, it's not something they want to let bother them.  Thirdly, you have those that tinker with both tilling some land and no-tilling other parts of their land.

As you can probably tell, I'm quite a proponent of no-till.  What brought me to this conclusion?  It's quite simple.  I work on a farm that has successfully been no-tilling for roughly three decades.  Some at first, and after a while, it was all no-tilled.  I have watched subsequent success with this practice, and therefore plan to continue this trend myself. 

What good does it do?  With no-till, you skip the step(s) of tillage that precede spring planting.  This does a lot of difference with the land.  In one case, it may take a little longer for you to get into the field in the spring because you have not turned the soil inside out once, twice, three times, or as many as some do.  This can also save your butt in a year of drought.  One of the fields on the farm was planted to soybeans following the wet spring of 2012, and through the drought, still yielded 60+ bushels an acre.  Why is this?  There was much more water contained in the layers of soil due to the skipping of tillage.  Had we run a disk and cultivator over the ground and then planted the beans, it would have been just one more field in Indiana that looked sad thanks to the drought.  Instead, we had success.  Back to my original question of what does no-till do...  We could talk in terms of runoff.  In a four year study conducted in Oregon, beginning in 2000, there were thirteen occasions noted of runoff in the traditional tillage model that resulted in a loss of .20 inches of soil, and .19 tons/acre.  The no-till model only showed three occasions of runoff, resulting in a loss of .03 inches of soil, and 0.00 tons/acre.  The study can be found at this link.  This is especially important in sloped areas.  The greater your slope, the more soil loss will happen.  Many will claim that runoff will not be bad for flat ground.  I know of a man who had to re-dig a small pond on his flat farm due to the flowing of soil runoff from the his and the neighbor's conventionally tilled fields across the road.  There stands a mound of soil and dirt next to this farmer's pond that will attest to this fact.

What is the opportunity cost of no-till?  This opportunity would be a positive number by a large margin.  Consider the fact that as long as you have some sort of either pull-behind sprayer, or self-propelled sprayer (which the majority of farmers will have one or the other anyway), and a planter and/or drill that can plant into non-tilled ground, that is the extent of the equipment required for no-till (It is implied that you must have a tractor to pull these implements).  With tillage, you are looking at the need for tractors of far higher horsepower to pull your disk, cultivator, crumbler, and whatever other tools you choose to use in the tillage system.  This quickly equates to the up front savings of hundreds of thousands of dollars, or more if you are farming a very large operation with more equipment.  The opportunity cost that you face when viewing nutrient and topsoil loss over time is something I find hard to overlook.  I personally don't want to knowingly send my nutrients and topsoil down the river...  I'm not going to change your mind, or your practice most likely, but I feel this is all something worth carefully considering before you pull that disk out of the shed next spring.

Here is a link to a video discussing difference in tillage and no-tillage and the true impact on soil.  The speaker is a USDA-NRCS Ohio State Agronomist.
Here is another link on cover cropping and no-till from SARE.

Linking up with Holly here.

Day 20: To Label or Not to Label - That is the Question

Note: I started writing this Tuesday, and just got around to finishing it.  I'm trying to catch up on the last four days here in some down time.

It's Tuesday, which means it's time for another "#AgChat" night on Twitter, and another #FoodID night with US Farmers and Ranchers Alliance in cooperation with Iowa Corn.  These events are very unique in that there is a uniquely mixed panel discussing current issues in agriculture. 

It's 8:30 and the speakers are early on in their discussions, and decided my topic for the day.  Everyone wants to know what's in their food right?  What does labeling do to your opinion?  When we discuss labeling, I want to begin with meat labeling.  As you walk through the meat department, if you see "Hormone Free," are you more willing to buy that meat, over what is not labeled mentioning whether it contains hormones or not?  Do you want the truth?  The cold hard truth?  Animals have hormones naturally, and if you are, in fact, eating real meat, there are natural hormones in them.  This is comparable to my experience with eating "vegetarian chicken nuggets."  Let me tell you, it did not contain chicken.  Labels can be deceiving and used to scare you, or in another sense, convince you that something is better for you because it contains certain words that are trick words that appear "better."

I will tell you from the beginning that I am biased on the side of not labeling GMO crops.  I'm sure I just set someone's blood to boil, but we're all entitled to feel however we want.  Until there is defined proof that shows that Organic is the solution to feeding the world, we must realize that genetically modified crops are increasing yields consistently over those of organic crops.  I want to also mention that organic crops fall under much gray area in the regulatory sector.  We must really consider where the truth exists.  I am a firm believer that the sole goal of labeling is to insert fear into the consumers.  In order to continue feeding our world, what is most important is to prove to consumers that what they are eating is safe, affordable, and nutritious.  I heard an organic producer once say that, "Maybe we should focus less on the affordability, and let them have more organic and those types of food."  It is more important in my mind to continue improving conventional methods than to say, "Let's all pay a good bit more, and we can eat organic."  The unfortunate truth is that most people cannot afford to eat organic food.  In America, we pay one of the lowest amounts per capita on food, but we are all sunk in debt and/or have built enough other expenses to consume the rest of our budgets.  I also don't feel that organic can provide enough food to feed the world on its own, even if we tried. 

In the words of Miranda Lambert, I believe, "It takes all kinds of kinds."  As we forge the way into the future, it will take a continued variety of foods to feed this growing world.  It will not all be organic or conventional, or however else you try to raise crops, but it will be a variety, and we must accept this.  We have a variety in order to satisfy the needs and wants of an ever changing population.

Linking up with Holly here.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Day 19: Who Grows Your Food, and What are They Doing for You?

I have now discussed GMOs, CAFOs, and the challenges that farmers are facing today.  What I want to do today is take a look at the people on the front lines, living every day with these challenges and knowing that they have to make a crop, raise a family, and make sure you have something on your plate three times every day.  

We can sit and bicker all day if we want to about who's right about GMO labeling, CAFOs, or other similar issues.  I listened to an hour and a half of Food Dialogues Iowa tonight and already got to watch other people argue about this.  I'm not in the mood to continue this argument myself.  Tonight.

Let's look at where your food comes from.  Go for a drive down the highway, and you'll see the soybeans, wheat, rye, corn, cattle, poultry barns, and hog buildings on the side of the road.  Where does your food come from?  Those fields.  Who cares for them?  Your food is cared for by people who care a lot about you.  If farmers and ranchers did not care about you, like some of the fear tactic supporters would love you to believe, You wouldn't be here still.  The truth is that the people who raise your food are on your school board, in the classroom, volunteering in your town, coaching your kids ball teams, working with your band, and singing next to you at church.  These people are passionate about what they do, but they also care about their community.  Want the cold hard truth about these people?  They're just like you and me.  

When I was young my dad was a dispatcher for our city police department, and just like farm kids, my dad had to work on holidays, his birthday, our birthdays, when the weather was treacherous, and through some family functions.  You know what?  I don't love him any less.  I love him even more.  I knew that he had a duty to others and he would be back as soon as he could be.  We can rip on farmers all we want, but you can bet anything that those pigs, turkeys, chickens, cattle, have to be fed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter.  Dairy cattle still have to be milked twice a day (or three times per day, which I've realized is becoming more common than I realized).  Where do you think those folks will be?  Not the first one to open presents on Christmas morning, or the first to sit down at Thanksgiving.  They will likely be the first awake in the morning to get their daily work done and get back to their family as soon as they can.  We often overlook some of these things.  

Everyone slams farmers for spreading manure and making the air stink, driving a big tractor down a road, slowing traffic, or for a handful of things that they consider annoying or inconvenient.  We do this for you all.  The world doesn't stop getting hungry, and food isn't falling out of the sky, so here's my salute to the farmer.  You're a special asset to society.  With Collegiate FFA, we have decided to do our part to give back to farmers in the area by hosting a "Thank A Farmer Breakfast."  This is our turn to feed those who feed us every day.  

Take a minute to thank a farmer.  They are on the front lines every day working to feed every single one of us, and continue to provide the world's most abundant, affordable, and accessible food supply in the world.

Linking up with Holly's challenge here.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Day 18: How is Life Like Crop Land?

Another strange title, I know!  Finally found my week-lost list of planned topics for this blog (now the last few make more sense, right?)! 

This is another, "Where is he going with this??..."  piece.  I planned it that way!  Human life can be quite simply compare to a field if you really think about it.  It is even more so when you're younger and going to school.  

Think about life and its cyclic patterns.  They're similar, but different.  Start with springtime, which is comparable to fall in the human's life.  In the spring, you burn down (or till if you're into that) the current weeds that grew in your "off season" (a.k.a. summer for students).  Then you plant a crop, whatever it may be for the year.  For a student, this is the start of new courses, grades, and information that they begin "growing" in their brain.  Often with the planting of this crop, or soon before, you will spread some sort of fertilizer, which in some cases would be manure.  As a student, the manure is my realization of, "Oh shoot, we're going back to school."  It also works as a kick start into the new year, waking you up to the sad realization of, "Okay, it's time to learn in a classroom again..."  Throughout the growing season (school year), we come across obstacles like weed pressure, insect infestations, and either drought or too much water.  These are easily comparable to the student as those natural roadblocks they face every day.  My introductory calculus course is giving me a run for my money, and thanks to it, I'm not bankrupt, but I'm in the lower middle class at best (if you're picking up what I'm putting down).  I'm working hard.  In a field we look for a tool or a chemical, or a solution to work around these obstacles (minus drought or too much water).  This includes tutoring, supplemental instruction, office hours, and all the other fun tools schools offer now.  In the case of the drought or drowning out of a crop, there is usually some degree of crop insurance to help cover us, just like how in college I have the opportunity to take a class again if I need to.  You only get three tries!  Three bad years in a row and maybe you should plant something else, or consider a different class. 

Harvest time comes around finally!  (This is more relative to having two immediate back-to-back growing seasons, then winter, but keep following my long, drawn out analogy.)  Harvest takes a lot of equipment preparation, long hours, lots of fuel, and a ton of storage.  What is this to a college student?  Sounds like finals to me!  We have to prepare our equipment, the brain, put in many weeks of studying, late nights, early mornings, and lots of coffee.  Harvest time on the farm means you have to store the crop somewhere, so you better hope your brain's hard drive is ready for everything.  If you've been doing it all right, it should be prepared for this, and be seeing this information again, just as a corn bin sees corn year after year.  After harvest time, we shut the equipment down, clean everything up, and have to plant our cover crop, haul manure again, and spread lime.  This is like the end of finals week when you're worn out and want to quit but you know that success depends on riding out the full wake of the season.  Once everything has been spread, drilled, and your computer, coffee maker, and brain have a few minutes to relax, we prepare for winter, (figuratively representing the student's summer).  This is the perfect time to update equipment, make repairs, order next year's seed and fertilizer, and haul grain.  Again, a perfect time to compare summer purchasing of new books, maybe a new computer, getting some sleep, and hauling grain refers to using what you worked for (getting a job that allows you to use what you've been learning). 

In a few months, we start all over.  I'll bet none of you ever thought of such an intricate, odd analogy.  I spent some time working on a term paper yesterday, looking at corn prices over and over and over, and I started thinking about our cycles, and that helped develop this.  Thanks Dr. G.  I hope you have enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing this. 

Have a great day!!

Linking up with Holly's Challenge here.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Day 17: The Important People in Your Life

This post goes out to my best friend, and girlfriend of 4 years (one month from today).

Every day is an adventure to say the least, and we all know that some adventures are more enjoyable than others.  What makes a day great isn't the day itself, but rather the people you get to spend it with.  Surround yourself with good people and every single day is more enjoyable.

Whether they're family members or just non-relative friends, we all have those people in our lives that are just very important for various reasons.  In my life I have many of these people, and they helped me to become the person I am today.  I do not want to imagine where I could be without all of the positive influences that impact me daily.  Just the same as you make a difference in the life of someone else, every day, someone is impacting you.  Keep the people that change you for the good, as well as those who augment your better qualities. 

For me personally, if it were not for my best friend, I would have never had a large number of the opportunities I have gotten to enjoy.  When I am at an opportunity fair with Purdue or AFA, or when I am having a discussion with others where they ask about real-world experience, I can answer those questions with honesty about actual real-world experience. My start in the agriculture world began with my best friend introducing me to my boss (who just happens to be her dad, but still).  I mentioned in an earlier post about the importance of the people you are connected to and how both of your networks combined can be life changing.  I have learned how truthful this is at school.  I made friends in the Animal Science department who, after discussing dairy cattle and pigs for a half hour, talked me into looking at Agriculture Future of America leadership conference.  This conference was one of the best opportunities I have had.  If I had never made this connection, the opportunity would have never existed.  People are important!

Never take those close to you for granted.  Always let them know you're glad they are around.  Yes, even your mother needs to know you're glad she's always there for you!  As a person that has a lot to be thankful for in his life, I speak from firsthand experience.  Here's to my friends, family, mentors, teachers, and anyone I missed!  I'm so thankful for how you all have impacted my life and hope that someday I can do as much for you as you did for me. 

And here's to my best friend, and a lifetime of memories yet to come!

Happy (late) Sunday!  I'll be back to agriculture topics Monday!

Linking up with Holly's 30 Day challenge here.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Day 16: The Romantic vs. Reality

This blog post was inspired by Dan Seals and Marie Osmond's "Meet Me In Montana."

Many people outside if the Ag industry look at what we all do differently than we do. (Go figure).  They see beautiful sunrises, sunsets, watching crops grow, and cute baby pigs.  It's a little more in depth than that.  The movies "Son-In-Law," "Charlotte's Web," and "Babe," aren't exactly perfect examples of farm living (or working for some of us).  

Last night I watched the movie, "Bitter Harvest," (1981).  It gave a different view of things.  Rather than the normal frolicking animals, and happiness, it peers into the reality of what producers go through every day.  What do I mean (for those who have seen it and are thinking, what do you do every day)?  This shows more reality behind what can happen.  This movie portrays a young farmer who returned after his father's passing, to the family dairy farm with a wife and young baby.  Things have been going well for the farmer (Ricky from "Happy Days" if I'm not mistaken).  His milk volume has been increasing steadily until suddenly, his cows start having calves that won't eat, and then milk volume decreases significantly.  This young man goes on a mission to figure out what happened.  I won't ruin the end, but it is a movie recount of a true Michigan dairy industry issue from I believe the 1970s.  

What people don't see in these movies is how hard producers have to work every day.  There is a movie coming out this spring called, I believe, "Farmland - The Movie," which ventures out to show those less aware of what they deal with, the truth.  Many fail to realize that when they can go to work, whether hourly or salary, their pay is relatively fixed and dependable.  Farmers and producers live every day with the risk of losing it all (or whatever isn't paid off).  Consider hog producers the last few years, considering that costs were above expenses what seems like more times than not.  If things go wrong, or they cannot find the funds to continue feeding those animals, then they may lose the farm.  The 1980s is a perfect example of where there were many farmers forced out of the market.  This was a result of a bubble bursting on land prices as well as a drop in the value of commodities.  In the 1990's, when pork prices plummetted, this again was a time where producers were asking, "Can we weather this, or do we get out?"  This is a daily battle for farmers and ranchers.  Many of them have switched to smartphones with the rest of the world, but as the 'meme' I saw on facebook the other day said, "If the only apps you have on your smartphone are weather, commodities, and weed identifiers, you may be a farmer."  What does this do for them?  It's realtime data to help them telll what prices are doing, so they can keep a closer eye on whether it's time to sell a few thousand more bushels of beans or not.  You can't plan markets.  They will be what they will be.  You can speculate, but that's still counting your eggs before they hatch.  Farming's a tough battle every day.  In one day you could lose it all.  You just never know.  This is one of the underlying reasons I believe that most of the farmers I know are very religious people.  This just goes to show you that (without discussing manure, mud, rain, snow, or breakdowns) the realities in farming are slightly different from the romantic view of farming you often get in movies.  It's like the line about how working in the real world isn't like the TV show, Friends - people have to actually leave the coffee shop and go to work. 

I do have to say, there is nothing better than a sunrise or sunset over the farm, or the look of a field with a good stand that you planted, hearing that things you got the opportunity to impact, were successful.  These are all drivers behind why I love being home and visiting the farm.  There's always news - good, bad, or indifferent.  At some point in life, most people have that "Call to Jesus" moment, where they realize, "Hey, this is what I want to do the rest of my life."  Getting to watch life happen every day at the farm is what called me to want to make it a part of my future.  When you've been on your feet all day, soaked with sweat, and working your butt off, but leave with a smile on your face, anticipating when you get to come back tomorrow, you know that it means something special to you.




 

All photos came from either a day at work on the farm, or a trip to check on how things were going after I had been away.  The bottom photo is of the double crop beans I planted last year (they yielded very well considering the drought - really proud of this picture, even though it just looks like a grain truck to you).

Thanks for reading!  

Linking up with Holly's 30 Day Challenenge here.  

Friday, November 15, 2013

Day 15: Pushing Forward

I feel like we all have goals (or should), and we have those people behind us that keep fueling our forward momentum.  Whether you're on the "Pursuit of 300" bushel per acre corn, you want to be a bigger farmer, an elected official, further your career, be more of a family man, or any of a slew of things, you're working toward a goal. 

This morning, I got a text message from a girl I went to high school with, telling me about the progress she is making in her current capacity as a state officer for one of the world's largest student-led service organizations.  She has called me one of her biggest influencers.  After convincing her to run for a state office within Key Club International, she has taken this goal she set, and set more.  She has made strides in getting our division more involved than ever, and has changed the entire dynamic of the division.  What's next for this young lady?  It's looking like a run for Governor of the state within the organization.  She inspires me every day. 

I feel that in order to achieve success, we must identify where we want to go.  I know what the path I'm taking should look like.  It's the energy and enthusiasm to stay on this path that is hard to keep up.  Those who succeed will often say, "I had people behind me that loved me and believed in me, so with that I knew I was capable of anything."  It's these people that are vital to success across the board, in everything, with everyone.  Be that person for others.  I'm not saying you need to go be a huge supporter of everyone in everything (that's mentally costly).  What I am saying is, remember those people that push and drive you toward success, note how they did it.  Try to be the person who makes others believe in themselves and to work hard toward what they see as success for them. 

I want to personally say thank you to my family, friends, mentors, educators, and my wonderful girlfriend for their constant support in my endeavors.  Me leaving a relatively normal life in a small town, with a desire to make a change in the world, and become a successful businessman, seems crazy.  What surprised me was the number of people that looked me in the eye and said, "You know what you want, and are more than willing to work your tail off to get it.  With that attitude, you'll go anywhere you want."  I just hope that someday I can be that encouraging voice behind someone else. 

As you can tell from the references in my previous posts, I'm a big dreamer, but I'm also a hard worker.  If someone is willing to work their fingers to the bone to get what they want, I believe that they will.  Never be afraid to start at the bottom.  Make the extra effort others don't want to make.  Ask for more responsibility.  Be the employee, friend, family member, person that you would want to have. 

I'm no inspirational speaker, and I don't try to be, but I feel that nothing is truly impossible.  We get what we feel we deserve.  Have high standards, and not just for others.  Hold yourself to high standards.  Most importantly, be yourself.  If you lie to yourself, how do you know who you really are?

Have a great Friday everyone!

Linking up with Holly's 30 Day Challenge here.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Day 14: Animal Welfare vs. Animal Rights

If you can't tell, I'm on a run, discussing livestock, issues, and care.  One very important thing that must be discussed in regards to animal production and handling is the very distinct difference between animal welfare and animal rights.  These are most definitely not the same thing. 

Animal welfare is the approach of caring for animals in a way that reduces their stress and discomfort.  With animal welfare, we strive to provide for the Five Freedoms laid out by Professor John Webster.
The Five Freedoms are:
  • Freedom from thirst and hunger – by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour
  • Freedom from discomfort – by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area
  • Freedom from pain, injury, and disease – by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment
  • Freedom to express most normal behavior – by providing sufficient space, proper facilities, and company of the animal's own kind
  • Freedom from fear and distress – by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering
Animal rights is a highly varying, very gray area.  Often, animal rights activists are those who view animal production in a whole as "wrong." 

Why do they feel this is wrong?  In many cases, this has to do with the humanization of animals in society.  Humanization?  Horses are a perfect example of issues with the humanization.  There was a day in the distant past, where horses were used for work on farms for example.  When the horse was too old to be an efficient worker, and was no longer able to be of use for anything else, it was taken to the glue factory.  What has happened with horses in the United States today?  Well, horses are pets now.  You wouldn't send your dog to the slaughterhouse, would you?  This is what led to the laws that prohibited the legal slaughter of horses in the United States.  Orion Samuelson, an agricultural news broadcaster for WGN and RFD-TV, spent a section in his memoir discussing the "Unwanted Horse Problem."  The United States is at a point where horse slaughter across the nation had been outlawed until very recently.  What happens to those old, or sick horses that nobody either wants, or can afford anymore?  They all too often get left somewhere to perish.  It has gotten so bad that many state parks that allow people to come in and ride trails on their horse, count how many horses you bring in and check to make sure you leave with the same number.  This is a sad situation.  With numerous states trying to rewrite laws to legalize horse slaughter, this is a hot topic, but it is an animal rights versus animal welfare issue.  Many animal rights activists say we should give the horse a life until the day of its natural death.  This becomes a painful situation for the horse as it spends the end of its days in a barn or pasture, unable to do much of anything, as well as the owner continuing to pour money into an animal that is doing absolutely nothing for them.  If a horse is taken to a USDA approved packing plant, the unwanted horse problem is bypassed, and the meat is exported to other countries, since horse meat is not something consumed in the United States, but it is highly consumed in many other countries. 

Animal Rights and Animal Welfare are touchy topics, but definitely ones that need to be discussed.  Much like other issues I have discussed, I bring them up because I find them important.  Like always, I encourage you to make sure you are well read and knowledgeable about topics you wish to speak about and debate with others.  The best way to make yourself look bad in an argument is to speak before you have any knowledge about a topic.  It is always a better idea to admit that you don't know much about a topic, rather than to speak ignorantly on a topic.  If I don't know, I'll tell you.  I forget who said this quote, but I really love it.  "It is better to be silent and look ignorant than to open your mouth and remove all doubt." 

Thank you all for continuing to read my blogs!

Linking up with Holly Spangler's 30 Days Challenge here.

Day 13: Intro to the Meat Industry and Issues Today

One of the many ways the world has changed since the early 1920s to today is how we as people view animals, food, and survival.  I am sometimes attacked as a supporter of animal production.  Why should they look at me strange?  They have spent their entire life eating meat and animal products.  It baffles me.  In the early 1900s, we were in a more agricultural nation.  Most people more than likely had a close relative that was a farmer, and they probably even bought meat or eggs from them.  What happened?  Technology advanced, cities boomed, and many Americans left the farm to go to the cities.

Here we sit in 2013, and what has happened?  We live in a world that is becoming nearly a battle of radicals, carried by much money and advertising, against the people producing, processing, and packaging the food that they all eat.  The average person in America is 5-6 generations removed from the farm.  I am seeing these issues more and more every day.  At one of the United States top agriculture colleges, (I believe we are #6 nationally, and 14 in the world) I have gotten to first hand have a couple conversations with radical groups that show up on campus.  The first account was the most interesting to me.  I wish I had kept his pamphlet.  "Sign our petition and end the violence!!" the man yelled.  He followed by shoving a pamphlet into my hand about whatever his anti-animal agriculture company was.  I opened the first page and all I saw was a collection of misleading, false facts, and pictures of animals in indoor housing.  I found his approaching me as unique, considering I was wearing a Case IH hat, and an FFA t-shirt.  Instead of attacking this man on his beliefs, I kindly handed him back the pamphlet, said, "I'm sorry you see it that way, but if you want to know about real animal production, give me a call."  I struggle with people that have no interest in learning the truth about production and processing.  With the world of "undercover video evidence" today, it is hard to know what is truth, and what is staged by someone paid by PETA, HSUS, or another organization that wishes to end animal agriculture. 

I am making it very clear that I am fully aware that all producers aren't perfect.  No animal is perfect.  But.  Just because you have a couple bad people, this does not mean that we are all bad people.  I read a dispute on Facebook the other day about animal production and what is/isn't right.  I liked one comment.  The lady said, "I realize that not all farmers are good, and I have seen this, but you can't group us all together like that and say we aren't compassionate, just like I can't say that all atheists are heartless people."  The atheism comment is just supposed to be an example of how sometimes people of certain convictions tend to be extreme, and thus it is assumed that others with one similar conviction must be the same.  This is false in many cases.  Many times in life we get into what is called "Slippery Slope Reasoning."  This is the idea that if one thing happens, there is an assumption of what happens next, and this continues with a set of assumptions where each is more false than the one before.  Using slippery slope reasoning is very dangerous, and thanks to many anti-animal agriculture groups and people in this nation, these are the theories that the public is getting to hear.  Make sure that before you assume something, you have a varied set of sources, and have even checked out a situation in real life before you draw a conclusion. 

Attached to this webpage are a few links.  This last weekend I got to sit a table away from, and listen to Dr. Temple Grandin, one of the nation's leading animal pathologists.  Dr. Grandin almost singlehandedly analyzed and revamped the entire animal packing and processing industry to where animals can go in with the least stress and fear possible, and not have to suffer.  She put together, in cooperation with a few other organizations, produced a series of videos about different animal processing plants and the industry in general.  Please take some time to watch the videos on these links.  NOTE:  If you have a weak stomach, watch with caution.

Link 1 is a Turkey Farm and Processing Plant Tour:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=852zxDEAR-Q

Link 2 is a video of a Pork Processing Plant Tour:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LsEbvwMipJI

Link 3 is a video of a Beef Cattle Processing Plant:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VMqYYXswono

No this isn't all pretty, but the reality is, especially if any of you have ever read, "The Jungle," we are now dealing with a food supply that is handled, raised, and processed in a far more humane sense, with more regard to not only our health, but the condition of the animal and its state of being through the whole process. 

Please take some time to watch these videos and enjoy a little bit of free education.  I'm really happy to see how many of you are still reading!  I hope you enjoy!

Linking up with Holly's 30 Day Challenge here.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Day 12: Marching to the Beat of a Different Drum

What gets you through a day?  Well, often it is the tiny waves coming through your radio, headphones, computer, or other devices.  I feel that music is one of the most important pieces of a full life.

Music means something different to every individual.  I have a very diversified collection of music on my iPhone personally, as well as my Pandora stations, and all define me, my mood, or my day in a different way.  To list a few artists/groups on my list include Buck Owens, Chris LeDoux, Conway Twitty, Don Williams, King George Straight, Jason Aldean, John Denver, Luke Bryan, the Statler Brothers, the Purdue University Glee Club, Sha Na Na, Shenandoah, Tom T. Hall, Tyler Farr, and Vince Gill.  Figure out that mix...  My Pandora also includes a lot of classic rock and roll.  What do I listen to?  It varies greatly by the weather, my stress level, and what's going on in my life.  Some mornings start with Dolly Parton's "9 to 5," some days are more of a Luke Bryan "Dirt Road Diary," and others are a Don Williams "Tulsa Time," style.  Doing calculus, the song "Makes You Wanna Drink," by Tyler Farr, usually gets me laughing.  It's hard to predict how a day will end, but if I start it with a positive tune, I can be on a positive foot before I leave the building. 

I told a friend recently that music is an important part of life.  Last spring in symphonic band, we played a song called "Monkey," which was written with intention of imitating monkeys in the wild.  This definitely was a piece that got me fired up for those pre-calculus classes immediately after!!  Whether you're jamming to "Footloose," cruising down the highway, or doing work in a field, listening to Luke Bryan's "Harvest Time," you can put life to the tune of something.  If you use a positive tune, you can almost guarantee a more positive experience in whatever it is you do.  And just because my mother always taught me well, I also am a believer that everyone needs a copy of Meatloaf's "Bat Outta Hell" CD in their car.  You never know when you may need it!

I thought this may be a nice non-ag post for those of you who are looking for a change.  I hope you're enjoying reading my blogs thus far!  I'm glad I'm finally ahead! (Until tomorrow).

Link up with other "30 Days" bloggers here.

Day 11: A Word of Thanks

To all those who are current, future, or past members of our armed forces, I want to extend my most sincere "thank you." 

As the grandson of a World War II Iwo Jima veteran, I have grown up knowing the true importance of those who have laid their lives on the line for me to have freedoms such as the chance to communicate openly with all of you online however I wish.  All day we have seen things across Facebook and Twitter, of people expressing their appreciation for our servicemen and women.  It takes days like this for many to realize how great they really have it.

In America today, we often seem to forget that we have one of the best qualities of life in the entire world.  This did not come without a cost.  They fought at Gettysburg, Bull Run, Montezuma, Normandy, Germany, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and many more.  Why do they fight?  Well, they fight not because they hate what's in front of them, but for the preservation of what they left behind.  Soldiers don't fight for a president, senators, of corporations.  Soldiers fight for every single one of us, and for the freedom with which we get the pleasure of living.  People in many other countries will never have the chance to experience this.  I hope everyone took a minute to say thank you to someone serving our nation at home or abroad, or to pat themselves on the back if they served or are serving themselves.  To quote the Facebook and Twitter-famous "Earl Dibbles Junior," "Heroes don't have their name on the back of a jersey.  They have their country's flag on the arm of their uniform."  I feel that this is a very truthful statement, and one we should remember.

Happy Veteran's Day to all!  Tonight with Purdue Collegiate FFA, we wrote over 60 thank you cards that we are taking to an ice cream social tomorrow at a veteran's home in Lafayette.  It is an honor to me to be able to do something like this for people that did so much to preserve our nation's beliefs, values, and freedoms. 

God Bless America, Our Veterans, And You.

Link up to other "30 Days" bloggers here.

Day 10: Self Renewal, Coming Home

I feel like most people will go through times in their lives where they feel they are in a rut, or can't get things to work.  Professionals in "calming down" will always say you need to find an outlet or an escape.  Well, what is a college student to do when they're struggling through the week?  I recommend seriously that you find something that makes you happy (but isn't going to get you arrested) and try to find some time to work this into your schedule. 

I have had weeks where I had to muddle through classes, tests, and the "struggle" of life away from family and my best friends that have been with me for the last decade and a half of my life.  This weekend in Kansas City was a chance for me to, "refresh, recharge, and restart."  What do I mean by this?  Well, being surrounded by people with similar passion to me, and in an environment where energy was higher than the national debt.  This type of situation works for some people. 

My solution for putting everything back in line often happens when I go home.  Something about Dubois County makes me a happy person in general!  I never realized as a child what my community meant to me until I left.  This is why I find it interesting that everyone grows up with the stigma of, "I'm leaving this Podunk town and never coming back!  Mark my words!"  But in reality, who comes back?  Many of them.  Why do we do this is a better question.  If you haven't noticed, I live life asking questions.  I feel it is important to question nearly everything.  Don't let questioning ruin life (it can happen to some), but use it as an educational tool. 

We return home for many reasons, I believe.  You may move to Nashville, New York, Indianapolis, Chicago, or somewhere else after college, and as a young person, sure it's nice.  It is the point when individuals look at settling down and raising a family that they truly look at what your parents offered you growing up.  I will personally say that small-town living made me who I am.  Here in Lafayette, I go to a restaurant, gas station, or store and most of the time do not know anyone.  At home, I stop nearly everywhere I go because I have run into someone I know.  On any given day it may be a teacher, family friend, the mayor, my priest, or any other variety of people.  In a smaller community there is a smaller network of people and therefore your network overlaps that of many others, making you closer to nearly everyone. 

I'll proudly say that I want to let my children grow up in a community that is close, just like I could.  When I walk into church, I know a large percentage of the people in the service.  I go to the grocery and know 3/4 of the people working.  My mayor and I are on a first name basis.  Things like this do not just "happen" in large cities.  I love the song, "Everybody Dies Famous in a Small Town."  I think it may be a Miranda Lambert song?  It describes life so well.  This is how I felt when I sat at ISSMA State Marching Band Finals in Lucas Oil Stadium two weeks ago.  DeKalb High School did a show called "We Are DeKalb."  The music and show was built around the idea that, small towns are a different world.  We can be close, connected, and united.  Unity is important, and I feel it is vital in maintaining a high level of morals and proper behavior in today's young people. 

If you're ever feeling down, take a trip back home.  This works wonders for me!  I wish I could attach a photo, but I have never stopped to take a one.  There is a sign on the north side of my hometown that says, "Welcome to Jasper, if you lived here, you'd be home now!"  Passing that sign and coming up on Home Depot and Applebee's is where I get that feeling deep down of, "I'm home.  It's alright." 

To sway any concerns, I'm doing fine, and I just wanted to do a short piece on self renewal and coming home.  It is something unique to every individual, but something shared all the same. 

Link up to other "30 Days" bloggers here.

Day 9: Agriculture Future of America Conference

This year I have gotten the privilege to be sponsored to attend what is called Agriculture Future of America Leadership Conference 2013.  I will honestly say that this has been one of the best experiences of my life.  I have never been engulfed in such an enthusiastic and driven environment of young people who want our industry to continue growing and thriving today and into the future. 

This organization, AFA, places students into one of four different tracks based on years in school.  Within the individual tracks, different speakers and panels are brought in so that, per track, students can be connected with resources and information related to them and their current state of growth.  Some of the sessions my group got to enjoy included one on time and life management, and a panel on internships, a panel on issues in agriculture and consumer education.  These were all quite beneficial to my life at this point, so I really appreciated it. 

AFA is an organization closely tied with industry partners.  Why?  The earlier students begin interacting and networking with industry professionals, the more experience they will gain with this type of interaction, and the better equipped they will be to later succeed as interns and/or employees.  I will say that personally, these sorts of interactions have me on a first name basis with one of Monsanto's head recruiters, to name one example.  I'm a freshman, mind you.  This man has given me the opportunity to make connections with successful local people that he feels may be able to assist with my later success in life.  Purdue and AFA are just two organizations which have taught me the true value of building a solid network of people from all areas of the world early on.  You never know who in your network may have a connection in their own network that could forever change your life. 

Much of what I have written about today has been very serious, but I must say that I have had an absolute BLAST!  Those of you that follow me on Twitter ( @ebenkamp2013 ) have noticed that I learned a lot.  This gave me a chance to make friends from across the country!  Missouri, Arizona, New Mexico, Montana, Michigan, and Nebraska, name just a few places these great people call home.  I don't know how yet, but at some point, these people may be fellow employees, clients, or a plethora of other types of connections for life. 

Saturday was a busy day which we followed with a trip to the College Basketball Experience, where we had burgers, then packed 32,400 meals to be sent overseas through a company called Numana, and then we danced.  I learned how to both swing and line dance.  (Yes, I'm from a rural area of southern Indiana and didn't know how to swing or line dance).  The power of working with a group and bonding is amazing! 

Here's my "Hat's Off!" to AFA!  Please check out Agriculture Future of America's webpage, Facebook, or Twitter.  If it were not for them, I would never have met countless amazing people, companies, and learned skills like resume improvement and swing dancing.  I hope to return next year and continue working with such phenomenal people.  We can change the world.  Together.

Thanks for continuing to read.  Again, I know I'm pretty behind, but with homework and this conference, I know you understand. 

Oh, and I never mentioned that I got to meet someone I watch to every week on TV, and whose memoir I own, Orion Samuelson.  I can honestly say this, and the speech given by Dr. Temple Grandin of Colorado State University were two other high points of the weekend I seem to have missed!





 
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Day 8: Education Today - Turning from S.T.E.M. to S.T.E.A.M.

I know I am writing consistently a day behind (I wrote this and Day 9 out on paper this weekend). 

Education in the 21st century is more complicated than U.S. tax code.  We are also surrounded in an environment where nationally, education budgets are being slashed left and right.  Every area has a different, yet similar set of issues, but I want to talk about agriculture education specifically.  In this writing, I need to begin by saying I mean absolutely no disrespect to any teachers, administrators, or local legislators.  I hold them all in a very high regard.

My home high school may be on the path to losing our agriculture education program.  Unfortunately this has been a long time coming.  Since 2009, Jasper has not had a full agriculture curriculum.  When the corporation could not find a replacement teacher, we were lucky enough to at least have our previous teacher offer to teach two classes per day.  This led to the further decline to a point where most of our student body is nearly unaware of the fact that we offer agriculture.

Where do we go from here?  The four steps of creativity would be my place to start.  Step one is looking for something new, and to begin brainstorming ways to revitalize and grow an old, dated program.  Step two is incubation.  In this stage, we must brew over these ideas and let them sink in.  Step 3 is Illumination.  This is where we have our "light bulb" moment.  This often takes time and occurs in less-than-opportune times, like in the car, lying awake at night, or in the shower.  Step four is the hardest; implementation.  Many people will give up in step four.  Never give up!! You fought to get this far!

As I continue to try working with my school's administration in order to hopefully rescue and revive this, it is my responsibility to utilize these steps to help the corporation succeed with this venture.

Back to my original point, education in America is a fragile system that politicians continue to strip.  What we need is a revitalization of the education system.  In Indiana specifically, we push students very hard toward S.T.E.M. careers (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math).  My school specifically is a large supporter of our engineering and health science pathways, as well as our vocational technical programs in welding, auto mechanics, and the like.  What is missing here?  Well (again, do not get me wrong, or be offended), it's great to have a population trained in healthcare, tech, engineering, and math, but we lose some steam in logic.  Who is going to feed these people??  I want to advocate for a S.T.E.A.M. program (Science, Technology, Engineering, Agriculture, and Math).  You may think, "Well, doesn't agriculture fall under EVERY SINGLE ONE of these categories?!"  Yes sir/ma'am it does.  Well then, why should this be changed?  Everyone FORGETS about this!  A few students in my home high school were asked last year and laughed when asked if they considered a future in agriculture.  "I don't know anything about farming or animals!" is the common response.  Well, good!  You fit in with a large percentage of those now working in the agriculture world.  In 2012, only 1.5-2% of people in America were actually involved in farming.  The opportunities are endless. 

Education and advocacy are starting points.  A move from schools preaching S.T.E.M. to teaching S.T.E.A.M. would give millions more students the opportunity to succeed in a place that they never previously would have known existed.  They  can use any talent they have, whether it be technical, creative, or quantitative, however they wish.  This is real life.  This is today, and food, fiber, and fuel is the future of the world.  It's up to us to keep moving forward.  Where will you go??

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Saturday, November 9, 2013

Day 7: Who Will Lead Agriculture into the Future?

As I write this, I am in the Sheraton Hotel and Convention Center in Kansas City, MO with Agriculture Future of America Leadership Conference.  For those of you on Facebook and Twitter, look them up under Agriculture Future of America, or under the Twitter "hashtag," #AFALC13.  

This conference is quickly changing my life.  It is not that I am going to be living my life any differently after this conference necessarily, but there are many things to be said about this absolutely phenomenal conference and the people here.  I will highlight some of the high points for me personally, and since the conference continues through Sunday, I will speak about it at least once again. 

This conference works in "tracks."  Freshmen participate in track 1, sophomores, track 2, juniors and some seniors, 3, and a select group of highly qualified seniors get to participate in track 4.  Each track involves different types of activities.  For example, today Track One got to have a morning session on building and improving our resumes, and working on the famous "elevator speech" that you give in interviews.  For some of us who have not been at a job/internship opportunity fair for a while, this is a good thing to practice.  Until I got to college and began meeting new people nearly every day, I never realized how important it was to be able to describe yourself in two minutes or less.  Later this afternoon, all four tracks got to visit the "opportunity fair."  Opportunity fairs are comparable to what you may call a job fair... except mostly for internships or entry level jobs.  The agriculture community comes from far and wide, looking for the very best of the best students.  Just like all of us, they want to continue moving this industry forward rapidly so that we can continue to feed this rapidly growing population.  The afternoon consisted of of an etiquette luncheon to teach all of us freshmen the art of eating in a very formal setting.  After this was a panel discussion with representatives from all different facets of agriculture, and the topic was consumer information.  In today's day and age, more consumers are questioning the safety and story behind their food.  The problem is that there is more misinformation available at their disposal, than truth. 

I suggest you all check out the website, www.fooddialogues.com.  Here, every week there is an online public discussion on issues that bother consumers and are on the minds of the general public.  This is brought to you by the U.S. Farmer's and Rancher's Alliance.  

The world is changing and so is the face of agriculture.  In these fast-changing times, we must all remember.  The future of American Agriculture is in our hands.  That means, the future of this entire world is in our hands.  Now, what are we going to do with it?

Thanks for continuing to read my blog!  

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Day 6: "I'm Trying to Eat Healthy. I Should Avoid GMOs Right?"

Happy Thursday!

Yesterday I was approached by a friend at school who is trying to live healthier.  We discussed the types of things he was doing, including watching his diet very closely. He them asked "so you work for a farmer, what do you know about GMOs?  Like do you research them?"  Actually, we raise them.  This came appropriately on an Election Day where GMO labeling was on the ballot in at least one state, Washington. As consumers what do you need to know? What are you eating? What did these people do to your food?

This conversation is being had in places throughout the world every day. So what's the deal?  Well to start, GMO means Genetically Modified Organism. "Good, now what?"  GMOs actually began with the patent by Exxon Oil Company for their oil eating bacteria in 1980. This was followed in 1982 by Genetech's Humulin, which is a form of human insulin produced by bacteria. The first field tests for genetically modified crops (tobacco and tomatoes) in the United States took place in 1987 and in 1992 Calgene's Favr Savr tomato was approved for commercial sale in the United States. This was soon followed by hybrid versions of common row crops like soybeans and corn that were resistant to the popular Glyphosate product, RoundUp. This opened many new doors in the science and food tech world. 

Contrary to popular belief, today's Genetically Modified  have allowed farmers to use fewer chemicals and to use practices like no-till farming. That is, no disc, plow, cultivator, or other piece of tillage equipment ever touches the ground. This allows for a building of the organic matter on the ground that over time will increase productivity. It also significantly decreases the amount of topsoil lost each year. The more valuable topsoil that is lost, the less productive land is, and this is only compounded over time. Contrary to popular belief, these issues still exist with flat land.  

Too many times, people like Dr. Oz and other well known people and organizations will naturally push their personal agendas for what they believe, as we all do naturally. Too many times their "facts" are based in what they "think" or "feel."  In the time we have been using biotech crops, there has yet to be a single case where someone has suffered illness or death due to the crops or food. So to answer my friend's question, no cutting GMO foods out of his diet will not make him healthier and or happier.  It will simply lead him to spending a fortune on "organic, non-GMO" foods. I'll discuss organic and all of the the debates and transparency issues with that another day. The proof is in the putting. Humans believe what they want to believe. If you want proof, sit down and talk to both a creationist and an evolutionist and see how they differ. We see what we want to see. Don't be swayed by their scare tactics. Again I go back to, if it was dangerous to our health, would we willingly raise crops to eat or feed to animals that we will later eat, and suffer ourselves?  I think not. 

Here is the link to the Dr. Oz episode I mentioned earlier. Explicitly false. Notice that nobody from the agriculture industry was asked to be present to speak for the other side?  Scare tactics are just that. Don't be fooled. 
http://www.doctoroz.com/episode/what-food-industry-doesnt-want-you-know

Thanks for continuing to read my blog!  

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Day 5: CAFOs, PETA, HSUS, and Today's Livestock Producers

Hello Readers!

Today's topic is a unique one that I came up with after a heated few days of animal science class debates.  I will open by saying that today's farmers are like those of the past, doing what they can to make sure we have a good, quality food supply that is safe and healthy.  As time moves forward we have been able to improve genetics and meat quality, as well as using better feed to make the animal not only more efficient producers of meat, eggs, and milk, but also healthier animals. 

Lately I have shared a few articles on Facebook and Twitter regarding the undercover videotaping of animals in primarily swine production facilities alleging abuse.  If you cannot tell, I am one that stands with the farmer.  This past spring, I wrote my legislators in Indiana about proposed legislation requiring that all of this "undercover footage" be regulated.  I feel that if someone is being recorded, they should be aware of it.  Also, there should be time constraints stating that these "videos" must be submitted to authorities within a certain time period following the alleged abuse.  I know full well that not every single farmer is the perfect person, but neither are you and I.  These people have dedicated their lives to animals and an industry whose main focus is the consumer and end product.  This goes back to elementary economics.  If I mistreat or malnourish my animals, who does that help?  Nobody.  It will take me longer to grow the animals, and the end product will be worth next to nothing.  Keep this in mind. 

There are a lot of Americans who stand quite firmly against, and will easily get very bent out of shape over what we now call CAFOs, or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.  "A CFO is defined in Indiana as any animal feeding operation engaged in the confined feeding of at least 300 cattle, or 600 swine or sheep, or 30,000 fowl (chickens, turkeys, or other poultry). These numbers represent all animals that are old enough to be weaned from their mothers or birds of any size and are based on the maximum numbers at any one time on the farm during the year." (Purdue University Extension Service, http://www.extension.purdue.edu/extmedia/ID/cafo/ID-350%20HTML/ID-350.html).

Many people (often not from rural areas, or related to agriculture) will argue that these animals need to be free to roam and romp in the outdoors, and that housing animals prevents them from being happy.  The truth behind this is that producers are doing what is best for their animals.  Without going through every single industry to explain this point to those who do not raise livestock, I will explain further.  There was a day when turkeys and chickens were raised on the range in a field, and pigs were raised on pasture of a sort.  For the most part, producers have stopped this practice for many logical reasons.  Without intentionally sounding offensive to the turkey, they are not smart animals, and they are also not well suited to protect themselves from predators.  One good rain and half the turkeys will drown themselves by staring at the sky with their mouth open (slight exaggeration, but not by far), or a good lightning and thunder storm and you have a field of smothered, terrified turkeys that are not doing anybody any good.  Continuing with turkeys, consider winter when (at least here) it gets pretty cold outside.  The rate of growth will slow due to the inclimate weather being hard for the birds, and the opportunity for danger and loss just increases.  Swine are another animal which many get upset about having confined.  We do what we do for the safety and wellbeing of the animal.  In most places and situations, pigs are raised in large buildings with differing numbers of pens that are designed for certain numbers of pigs.  Within each pen is a self-feeder where the animals are free to indulge themselves as they feel fit, and water receptacles (that vary by building type and style) that afford the pigs a continuous clean source of water.  Buildings are vented, climate controlled, and have manure storage capabilities that allow the animal to breathe clean, fresh air, and not have to be surrounded by their own mess.  This lowers the health risk, and increases sanitation. 

The Humane Society of the United States (commonly referred to as HSUS), and PETA (no, not People for the Eating of Tasty Animals), are big supporters of my prior statement that animals should be free to be outside and to romp and roam.  This is what we call Animal Rights, versus Animal Welfare.  These are two drastically different things.  Animal Rights activists are people who view animals as equals to humans, believing that they should basically have all the freedoms we have.  Animal Welfare Activists are those people who believe animals have certain rights such as the right to a clean and safe food and water supply, enough space to at least stand up, lay down, and turn around, and have a clean, safe environment.  What I personally find humorous about some of the animal rights/welfare debates is HSUS.  Your local animal shelter has so many cute puppies and kittens, I'm sure, and they are always raising money so that they can try to feed these animals, but after a certain period of time, many end up being euthanized.  I urge you to look at some of the following links to catch up on the things you don't realize your tax dollars help fund.  The first link shows the percent of HSUS's budget which is actually spent on the animal shelters.  Mind you that this is not a per-shelter percent, but rather a per-state entire sum of shelter funding as a percent of HSUS's entire budget.  Link two is a list of things many people do not know about the Humane Society, their actions, their spending, and their dealings.  Link three is some information further on their inner workings and dealings which are kept under wraps.  Link four is from Henderson State University.  It is a PDF file that details tax-related information for the HSUS.  You may find this to be more than you were prepared for, but I'm putting it out there.  For an organization that loves animals, their march to end animal agriculture is sure a hard fought battle. 

http://search.yahoo.com/r/_ylt=A0oG7lRTyXlSjCEABp5XNyoA;_ylu=X3oDMTEzdDlqaWlxBHNlYwNzcgRwb3MDMgRjb2xvA2FjMgR2dGlkA1NNRTM0NV8x/SIG=1396en36q/EXP=1383741907/**http%3a//www.humanewatch.org/images/uploads/VisualHSUS_AnimalShelterPercentages2010.pdf

http://www.consumerfreedom.com/2012/01/9-things-you-didnt-know-about-hsus/

http://www.humanewatch.org/unpacking_the_hsus_gravy_train_2012_edition/

http://search.yahoo.com/r/_ylt=A0oG7jvqyXlSzC0AZn9XNyoA;_ylu=X3oDMTEzb21pZG8zBHNlYwNzcgRwb3MDNgRjb2xvA2FjMgR2dGlkA1NNRTM0NV8x/SIG=12dl2opui/EXP=1383742058/**http%3a//www.hsu.edu/WorkArea/DownloadAsset.aspx%3fid=18044

America's farmers and ranchers are people like you and me, only a little different.  They have dedicated their life's work to plants growing in a field, or livestock living in a field or a building.  They care far more than you realize about what is going on inside those animals, as well as what will become of those animals.  These people don't put everything they own on the line so they can mistreat animals and expect to get a paycheck.  If you mistreat animals, you DO NOT MAKE MONEY.  It's pretty black and white.  These animals are obviously of some significance to the farmer/rancher, and therefore will be well taken care of. 

Here is some food for thought.  If you adopt a puppy from your local humane society, they will come and take it away if they find out that it is living outside.  However, this is coming from the same organization that states that cattle, pigs, sheep, goats, and poultry (and any others I skipped), should be free to live outside in the wild, to roam free and to be happy.  If you ask me, and if you ever look at one, an animal raised inside looks pretty happy.  They are in a climate controlled environment, safe from weather extremes, have a constant buffet, as much clean water as they want, and are kept healthy.  Food for thought.

I hope you enjoyed this post.  I'm expecting some upset people due to my stance on animal rights activists, but I knew to expect that as I wrote. 

Enjoy your day, and please continue to read on!