FRIDAY FARM PHOTO

We’re finding all kinds of ways to share information about corn and the family farmers that grow it at The Corn Crib, professional baseball’s newest ballpark. The Corn Crib is home to the Normal CornBelters. If you visit you’ll see messages like this one, reminding non-farmers that their friends and neighbors are the family farmers producing Illinois’ highest valued crop. If you sit through a game, you’ll hear conversations about corn and farmers happening between people that otherwise never would have talked about corn. Spontaneous shouts of “Let’s Go Corn!” echo through the stands, and Corny, the CornBelters mascot, is high-fived wherever he goes. It’s opportunities like this that can make a huge difference as more and more challenges to agriculture are being promulgated by detractors.

HEALTHY AND ENVIRONMENTAL LIP SERVICE

About a month ago, I visited the corporate headquarters for McDonald’s USA with the Illinois Beef Association. It was a really interesting visit, where I learned things like ’27 million people eat at McDonald’s Global every single day’ and ‘Around 70% of McDonald’s business is drive thru purchases.’ These facts together really say something about our society.

But here’s something else I learned that really says something about us: in surveys and while testing new products, consumers indicated that if there were a healthy option for those Happy Meals you’re buying for your kid once a week, a large majority of parents would chose that option. In practice, only 10% of parents actually buy apple dippers for their kids instead of those extremely yummy fries.

To me, that says that while American’s do genuinely want to be healthier and live better, when push comes to shove, they are mostly only giving it lip service.

I thought of this recently gained knowledge while reading Pros of Modern Beef Production in the July 19 issue of Feedstuffs. There were some really great quotes in there that are completely Facebook worthy.

Things you might consider copying and pasting to your status like:

“Contrary to the negative image often associated with modern farming, fulfilling the U.S. population’s requirement for high-quality, nutrient-rich protein while improving environmental stewardship can only be achieved by using contemporary agricultural technologies and practices.” Dr. Jude Capper, Washington State University.

“We have the perception that feedlots are bad and that simply isn’t true.” Dr. Jude Capper, Washington State University.

“Compared to beef production in 1977, Capper found that each pound of beef produced in modern systems uses 10% less feed energy, 20% fewer feedstuffs, 30% less land, 14% less water, and 9 % less fossil fuel energy.”

Still, I’m left with one important quandary. Much like McDonald’s, we’re doing exactly what the consumer has asked for by producing more meat with fewer inputs and becoming more environmentally conscious and more sustainable while still delivering a quality, safe product. Why then, is the consumer not on board?

During my visit at McDonald’s Corporate, they indicated that while menu items must meet rigorous sales quotas or they are removed from the menu, apple dippers will always remain despite their less-than-stellar performance. McDonald’s has to maintain the option that the consumer wants even if the consumer doesn’t buy simply to sustain a positive image.

Can livestock farmers do this too without going out of business?

I realize that research is showing that consumers don’t want to have to make choices. They want everything that they want and they will not be forced to put a premium on any given option. This is understandable – businesses in our country have always subscribed to the “customer’s always right” mantra.

Still, we may have finally reached a plateau where livestock farmers simply can’t offer EVERYTHING that the customer wants. If they want grass-fed beef, livestock farmers will gladly deliver it, but it’s going to cost more, there will be less of it and it’s going to take a toll on the environment. If they want beef produced with a smaller hoof print on our planet, they may have to learn to tolerate feedlots.

To which option are they simply giving lip service?

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

WANT TO BE HEALTHY? EAT MORE FRUITS AND VEGGIES, NO MATTER HOW THEY ARE GROWN

As a mom of a one year old who’s recently started to eat table food (and she now eats everything in sight!) I paid attention when the Dirty Dozen* list hit the entire popular media list. I just as quickly dismissed it as propaganda as soon as I read through the list, but that’s because I grew up on a farm and I know what conventional agriculture is all about.

Not everyone is that lucky.

Naturally, I was excited when the Alliance for Food and Farming released their new report and website last week. As opposed to the “science” the Environmental Working Group (EWG) utilized when creating their Dirty Dozen list, this is real science conducted by real experts – nutritionists, toxicologists, and risk assessors – and they say that organic produce is no healthier or safer than conventionally grown produce.

At safefruitsandveggies.com, they offer the time tested truth that if you want to be healthier, the key is to eat more fruits and veggies. It doesn’t matter if they are organic or conventional because each offers the exact same nutritional content. In fact, the report criticizes the Dirty Dozen for making it harder for the American public to consume the proper amount of fruits and veggies each day because consumers are scared and confused about what is safe to purchase.

The report also says that my one-year-old would have to consume hundreds of servings of conventional fruits and veggies in a single day in order to have any measurable effect from pesticides. And that’s only if I don’t wash the produce because the FDA says that rinsing fruits and veggies under cold or warm water removes any traces of pesticides that might remain.

My thoughts? Let’s stick with common sense. If you want to be healthy, eat a balanced diet, including plenty of fruits and vegetables. Wash them before you eat them. Aren’t these the things that our mom’s and grandma’s taught us when we were growing up?

That’s certainly what I’m teaching my daughter.

*I did consider linking to the Dirty Dozen list so that you can see what it’s all about if you haven’t heard of it. Then, I read that the EWG says that buying organic as much as you can is not only better for you, but shows that you support decreased soil erosion, safer water supplies, and protecting wildlife. Since conventional farmers actually do some of these BETTER than organic and certainly are as conscious as organic farmers of all, I just couldn’t give them a link in my story. I hope you’ll understand.

Becky Finfrock
ICGA/ICMB Communications Assistant

FARMVILLE OFFERS ORGANIC BLUEBERRIES

I’ll admit it – I’m a Farmville fan.

For any of you that think I’m talking about some small town in IL, let me clue you in.  Farmville is a game that people play on Facebook – over 80 million people in fact – and for the vast majority, it’s likely the only experience they get with farms, farming, or agriculture.

In the game, you are gifted with a small plot of land and a bit of money and with both, you grow, fertilize, and harvest crops as well as buy and receive animals and buildings to create on your virtual farm the little piece of paradise you always wished you had.

Well, this week, it appears that Farmville has released a new crop, Cascadian Farm® Organic Blueberries.

So before I open up this can of worms, I want to start the discussion by saying that I support the organic farming industry because I believe that more choices are never a bad thing.  The problem for me comes when people are disillusioned about their choices, when they don’t understand that those organic foods offer the same health benefits at a significantly higher price.

And when consumers don’t even understand what organic produce is in the first place.

Yes, I said it and I’ll say it again.  Consumers that swear by organic foods have no idea what organic foods really are.  I learned this when a colleague told the story of gardening with a friend who purposefully purchased organic plants for her garden and then doused them in MiracleGro and it was reinforced again today.  Because I’d be willing to bet money that the folks playing Farmville and planting these sweet little organic blueberries are going to fertilize them to get more “money” from the crop without ever realizing that fertilized crops are not organic.

The complete lack of information and the fact that consumers base their buying decisions on marketing hype really anger me.  And while I do understand that purchasing decisions based on marketing is the way of our world, a movement to pure organic is going to have much more drastic consequences than buying more Pepsi than Coke would have.

So Farmvillians, enjoy your farms and plant organic blueberries until your heart’s content.  In the meantime, I challenge Farmville to ensure that no fertilizers are used on the organic blueberries and that the yields on organic blueberries are much less than the conventional blueberries.  If this is the only connection back to the farm we’re going to get, we need to milk it for all its worth.

Lindsay Mitchell

ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

ETHANOL EFFICIENCIES FUEL A GREEN REVOLUTION

During a recent tour of Illinois River Energy in Rochelle, IL, the Illinois Corn Marketing Board and staff learned about new and innovative techniques to produce ethanol that lesson the energy requirement and create more valuable co-products.  Corn-based ethanol gets more and more efficient every day!
Did you see in this recent study by Stanford University, the researchers determined that high yield agriculture prevented the equivalent of 590 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere?  According to the researchers, their results, “Dispel the notion that modern intensive agriculture is inherently worse for the environment than a more ‘old-fashioned’ way of doing things.”
High yield agriculture is good for the environment.  And these higher yields are what is producing enough corn to fuel our countries green-energy revolution. 

LIVESTOCK FARMS NOT WHAT YOU THINK

It’s interesting to me the opinions that non-farm consumers have of farmers. We can see by looking at blog comments, news editorials, and the sheer number of supporters of organizations like the Humane Society of the US, that many people believe livestock farmers to be corporate employees that are unconcerned with the health and comfort of the animals in their care.

I visited two beef farms last week. This perception couldn’t be more incorrect.

At Larson Farms in Maple Park, IL, I listened as Mike Martz introduced his “staff” who consisted of his wife, his children, his brothers and sisters and their spouses and children, his in-laws, and four full time employees. Guess what? Even the four employees had long histories with the farm and their fathers and grandfathers had worked for Larson Farms for years, nearly passing down their “employment” and family connection with the farm.

This is anything but corporate.

Likewise, on Jamie Willrett’s Farm in Malta, IL, I pulled up and was greeted by Jamie’s son, Sawyer and followed his other two children and wife along on the tour of the farm. The entire family lives on the premise … and they operate a fairly substantial feedlot.
These two farms are both exactly what non-farm audiences fear and exactly what they love. They are large operations that produce beef economically and yet they are also family operations that care about their livestock.

I learned at the Willrett farm that Jamie is concerned about dwindling cow/calf numbers. The beef industry is actually divided into three segments, those that have cows and birth calves (cow/calf), those that take those calves and feed them to around 800 pounds (backgrounders), and those that take the 800 pound animals and feed them to 1350 pounds and then harvest them (finishers). The market hasn’t been great for cattle producers in recent years and the cow/calf guys have slowly decreased their numbers until in 2010, we’re at an all time low. Without calves, finishers like Jamie Willrett won’t have animals to purchase and finish. This is a problem the beef industry has to work out.

At Larson Farms, I witnessed animals being ultrasound tested, adding efficiency to the operation. With an ultrasound wand (yes, exactly like the ones used on pregnant women), a technician ultrasounds the animal between the 12th and 13th rib to determine thickness of back fat and marbling. The weight of the animal combined with the back fat and marbling prompts a computer program to tell the Larson’s exactly how much longer to feed the animal to achieve the highest grade (and thus, the highest premium) possible. Talk about efficiency.

I already knew that every single animal on both these farms has multiple vet visits, preventative health care, nutritionists determining their diet, and safety from weather events and predators, but those aspects of the farming operation need to be pointed out as well.
The take home message from my visits was that beef operations in 2010 are efficient and well run or else they are out of business. Comfortable cows are eating, growing, and making the farmer money. Healthy cows are eating, growing, and making the farmer money. Happy cows are eating, growing, and making the farmer money. And efficiencies like breaking the industry into segments or using new technologies to create meat products that the consumer wants are tools that help the farmers make money.

At the end of the day, farming is about making money. Farmers don’t exist in a vacuum; they have to feed their families and send their kids to college too.

But farming is also about ethics. Farmers treat their animals with respect and care because it helps their bottom line, but also because it’s the right thing to do.

Lindsay Mitchell
ICMB/ICGA Marketing Director