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Read online content from popular columnists, including Ryan Dennis, Baxter Black and Yevet Tenney, as well as comments from Progressive Dairy editors.

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A big debate rages about the five-year $286 billion Farm Bill being considered by Congress. Its supporters on congressional ag committees are mostly from farm states, which is to be expected.

At the same time:

• The percent of unionized laborers in the workforce continues its decade-long plunge.

• America continues to lose manufacturing industries: steel, automobile, shoes, oil, mining, lumber, tools, electronics and publishing.

• The economic well-being for workers stagnates despite increasing minimum wage and a booming Wall Street.

• Illegal Mexican immigrants contribute mightily to the U.S. economy, yet they still have enough to send money home to their family in Mexico.

• China, India, Philippines and east Asian and South American manufacturing and natural resource economies prosper.

All of these tectonic forces are related.

The Farm Bill is all about subsidizing farmers to ensure an abundant, cheap food supply for consumers. Over the years, we producers in agriculture have considered banding together, negotiating with a common voice. Dairymen and grain growers, among others, have made visible protests, all to naught.

What if 50 years ago farmers had been able to organize and barter for higher prices for their lamb, corn, beef, soybeans, wheat, poultry, avocados, oranges, pork and milk? It would have been the equivalent of “unionizing” farmers. The resulting higher food prices would have required more protectionist legislation for Australian lamb, Canadian wheat, Dominican Republican sugar, Chinese cotton, Argentinean beef, Mexican vegetables and dairy products and Brazilian soybeans.

But, in response to consumer demand for cheaper food, I think politicians would have been forced to remove restrictions on imports, just as they have done for industries like energy, steel, clothing, timber, fishing, mining and automobiles. This would have resulted in an increasing dependence on politically shaky Third World countries for our daily bread. Today we would be at their mercy. To put it in perspective, consider our present perilous dependence on the Middle East for oil.

According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 25,000 people die each day from hunger.

So, to those senators and representatives from urban districts who think subsidized farming is extravagant, I say, “It is. . . think of it as famine insurance.” PD

Well, it’s official; I’m an adult. I know this, not because I’m married and have two kids or because my hair is thinning.

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As we pulled off of California Highway 101 into Gilroy, I was assailed by the pungent odor of garlic. When I rolled down the window my eyes began to water and my nose tingled. A blind man driving down the road wouldn’t need a sign to tell him he had arrived at the Annual Garlic Festival!

If there were any secular or religious worshipers of garlic, Gilroy would serve as their Mecca. Yet it is not alone in its oleic appeal.

I flew into Wenatchee, Washington, one summer. As we deboarded the airplane, the pleasant aroma of the apple orchards filled the air. I began to salivate.

Another time I saw a bumper sticker on a fertilizer salesman’s truck in the agriculturally rich San Joaquin Valley near Bakersfield, California. It read, “I © Ammonia.” To each his own.

Certain smells can bring back vivid memories. I spent a lot of my working life in the feedlots. When I drive through towns like Hereford, Texas, or Dodge City, Kansas, my mind fills my nostrils with scents of front-end loaders cleaning pens, moldy hay, fermenting grain, Terramycin on my fingers, rumen contents and feedyard dust. It’s an olfactory bouquet that still gives me a warm feeling. On the other hand, when I smell freshly mown hay or a farmer out cutting his 5-acre lawn, I roll up the window and grab my allergy pills!

We spent a day at the garlic festival and ate or tasted a panoply of garlic concoctions: sausage, chicken, bread, pork, prawns, artichokes, rattlesnake, ice cream, squid, potatoes, corn on the cob, candy, oysters, honey, caulking, house paint, deodorant, fly spray, time-release suppositories and mouthwash.

It has qualities that are touted, particularly as being “good for the heart.” Although that is disputed, it is certainly a good excuse should the ‘patient’ be shunned by friends and family for having halitosis strong enough to drive a hyena off a bucket of baboon livers.

“Whoops, sorry darlin’. I chew this clove of garlic to prevent artistic fibrillation. I think your bangs will grow back!”

Next morning as we were leaving Gilroy we remarked that we could no longer smell that deep, penetrating garlic odor. Then an oncoming vehicle swerved wildly, and I saw the driver grabbing at his nose.

Maybe, we observed, we had become used to it.

Moral: One man’s hog farm is another man’s garlic shampoo. PD

Summer is fading. The daylight hours are fewer. The mornings are cooler. The autumn of our year approaches. Even some leaves are slowly making different pigments behind the slowly fading green that they now reflect.

Our growing season in the Upper Midwest has been one of two extremes. We entered the growing season with water having filled nearly all the void space at the rooting depth. But then little rain fell from that time forward. There are, however, a few exceptions. Often a thundershower provides an intense amount of rainfall in a short period of time. Yet rain can fall at uneven amounts from two points in the same crop field.

The corn yields here will be less than average over the entire rain-fed system, but where thundershowers delivered rain they may be above normal. The variable rainfall at some volume depths are the largest driver for crop yields. We have no control over when and where and how much rain falls.

I spend a lot of time helping others understand the components of conservation planning with particular attention upon farms with livestock. These farms have crop fields, too, so we are always working with a holistic approach. That is, the integration of all the systems, including rainfall, which work together. These are dynamic. And in a year like this one, the impact of the weather, especially the distribution of rainfall throughout the growing season, is an extraordinarily important part of the farm system.

Yet, while we may develop a comprehensive conservation plan, the components, such as rainfall, can change the plan significantly.

I often tell people that I work in a small cubicle without a window in an office building. Yes, I do get out in the field often, but to a large extent, I find myself removed from the actual components on a farm. In Flint, Michigan, I recently told a group of our conservation planners that sometimes we do forget that we work in a technical field but live in a dynamic world.

What do I mean by this statement?

I often make the claim that we place a lot of emphasis on creating a conservation plan that must meet the quality criteria for the holistic suite of resources, such as soil and water. I often follow that statement with an acknowledgement that it is merely a model. That is, it’s a prediction for how we think these systems work. Yet at the time the plan or the model is developed, the components are already dated, and changed, and in some cases significantly.

In our farming systems, the dynamics of change occur within seconds or decades depending upon the component. We know that the soluble concentration of phosphorus (P) in soils change many times a day. The forms of P that shift to and from labile to in-solution are constantly shifting. Thus, soil fertility is different today from tomorrow or yesterday, although the degree of difference may be nominal.

An example of a decade-long change might be the progression of new buildings on a livestock farm. During a recent farm visit in Missaukee County, Michigan, the dairy farm had four distinct sets of barns, each built by one of the generations of the owning family. The newest barns are currently under construction.

I am often frustrated in my work as a conservationist. The heart of my frustration is centered on the degree of effort we place in planning without adequately taking into account the parts or components of the farm system that are dynamic. I strongly believe we owe landowners the type of plan with emphasis on empirical knowledge (real-world and not cubicle-based).

I began this article with comments about rainfall distribution over the growing season. I claimed that we develop plans based upon models of average or typical values. And for this year, these plans are wrong, but they can be and should be updated.

The importance of developing conservation plans is obvious but so is developing the kind of plan that requires some flexibility. We should shift some of our effort towards developing a strategy for how the plan will be implemented. I do not believe we have yet committed that kind of effort.

For you, the livestock grower across the country, with swine, dairy, beef, poultry and other livestock, we owe the kind of plan that will be, at the time of implementation, accounting for the variables of a dynamic system, including lower crop yields because of too little rain so that adjustments can be made.

When I talk about conservation planning, I often talk about one of the best planning tools we have in the dairy industry – that of DHIA records. Readers of this article do not need to have this tool explained. I pose it to my supervisors and all of our conservation partners, including the landowners that are part of the Farm Bill program, such as EQIP. We need a DHIA-like farm records system for our livestock growers. Such a model would be based on a robust record-keeping system. The records, as a farm investment, help a farmer manage the components on the farm. The effect is a change in management, so that the farm improves efficiency and its economics (profit or return on investment) while, as a conservation consequence, the environment progresses.

These three big “E’s” (efficiency, economics and environment) will define the comprehensiveness of the farm system. Our plans should be written to help you have the kinds of records and attributable data so these E’s can be evaluated.

A change in management is wise if the evaluation of an existing condition discovers the trend is moving in the wrong direction. This step only happens with records comparing the change in the system over a period of time.

Farmers cannot make rain fall. But farmers can make certain adjustments because of a dry year. In fact, they do nearly every day. So it seems to me, that as a conservation planner, I ought to develop the kinds of plans that are less rigid and more empirically based. Or, in other words, plans that emphasize a comprehensive record-keeping system as a set of tools so that the big E’s can be evaluated.

On our livestock farms, we need conservation plans (CNMPs or NMPs) that will help you evaluate the performance (trends) of all components on the farm. I do not think we have this model yet, hence my frustration. I suggest that we can build this type of conservation plan.

At this point in my career, this task is at the top of my list. PD

One can’t help but feel swells of alma mater pride looking at this issue. No matter your loyalties – whether they lie in Madison, Wisconsin, or State College, Pennsylvania, or elsewhere – this issue will recall college days gone by. It has for me.

There have even been a few late nights involved in the production of this issue. That wasn’t unlike my college days, yet I readily admit that I was a nerd and spent those late-night hours writing a term paper or finishing a last-minute project. If some of my old college friends knew how excited I was about a magazine issue that reviewed dairy and animal agriculture programs from around the U.S., they would still say I’m just as nerdy. But I don’t care. In 10 more years, they’ll be nearly bald and old, too.

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Ponce De Leon was an explorer from the 1500s who discovered Florida. Florida must have been beautiful because the word Florida in Spanish means flowery, but Ponce De Leon was not interested in flowers. He was interested in a legend that told of a fountain of water that flowed freely, giving all who drank of it perpetual youth. Of course tragically, he never found the fountain.

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