Monday, March 26, 2012

Why Not Let Paula Deen Do the Agricultural Education?

Recently, I had the pleasure of sitting in on a Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) certification program for my animal science class.  While listening to the speaker, I was shocked by two statistics which, unfortunately, reflect the United States general view of agriculture.

2008 Consumer Confidence Survey
by the Center for Food Integrity
1.  Only 54% of consumers trust the U.S. food supply.
2.    Only 33% strongly agree that the U.S. had the safest food supply in the world.

Now, I’ve always known that the average American was iffy when it came to their country’s food and fiber production.  With hormone injection questions and antibiotic resistant bacteria conspiracies flying around left and right and constant recalls of food products, who doesn’t question what they put in their body?  However, these doubts by the American public seem to overshadow the fact that, according to BQA and various other entities, the United States truly does have the world’s safest food source.

In a recent study done by the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, it was reported that 70% of the agriculturalists surveyed believe that the average consumer has “very little knowledge” about American agriculture.  Furthermore, 16% believe that consumers have “no knowledge at all” about food and fiber production.  With an 86% negatory response, it is clear that both producers and consumers feel that the United States is not doing a good job at educating its citizens on where their goods come from.

The question is “How can we bridge this gap between producer and consumer?”.  I believe that I stumbled upon an answer for this dilemma when I sat down with Dr. Tracy Rutherford, a professor of Agricultural Communications and Journalism at Texas A&M University.  According to Dr. Rutherford, only about 2% of agricultural goods per year receive airtime from U.S. media sources. 

This 2%, of course, seldom depicts the positive aspects of the American food and fiber system and usually focuses on product recalls, illnesses inflicted by agricultural products, and protests over modern crop-producing systems, leaving the 98% of farm and ranch products that benefits its consumers to go unnoticed by Americans.  Our country does, however, have a means of informing its people about this invisible majority of agricultural products, and it’s called Food Network.

Everyday Food Network, its magazine, and their counterparts give people a (literal) taste of the positive side of agricultural production, yet these people do not realize that they are being educated about agriculture.  Sadly, I am not so sure if Food Network even realizes that it is a form of agricultural education, but if we, as  agricultural advocates, were to help these entities realize their role in the Ag industry, the gap between producer and consumer could finally be bridged!

By prompting these food media sources to delve deeper into Ag production systems, producers would finally be able to show consumers that their product is actually quite safe.  Next time Guy Fieri visits one of America’s greatest Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, he could invite a local corn farmer to explain the life cycle of corn before it ends up in your chowder, and, instead of Paula Deen just providing her viewers with an infinite number of ways to cook with butter, she could tour a local dairy to show them how her favorite ingredient is produced.  The possibilities are endless, but this modern form of agricultural education can only come to fruition if you as a consumer take an active role.
I challenge each of you out there to contact whatever food media source you can think of, be it a company as large as Food Network or even just a local cooking show, and urge them to start providing more education about the origins of food.  Only by taking this active stance can we truly help the average American learn that agriculture is not a bad thing, so, before you pass the pot roast, please pass along a message saying that you’re tired of people not understanding agriculture!

Monday, March 19, 2012

China- More than just a Traditional cup of Tea

Agriculture outside of the United States

     Situated in eastern Asia on the western shore of the Pacific Ocean, China is home to a population of more than 1.3 billion, equivalent to about 20 percent of the world’s population. Leaving behind American agriculture to see China, a vibrant mix of historic landmarks, a growing population and a modern expanding sector of agriculture, expectations were high as we boarded the plane to be immersed into a culture far from our own. After a 10-day excursion to experience agriculture throughout the world’s most populous country, I along with 64 other members from across the United States returned home with a vast and diverse impression of the Chinese way of life by attending the International Leadership Seminar for State Officers (ILSSO).

     Once in China, we set out to visit various aspects of China with a strong emphasis on understanding the nation’s agriculture industry in an effort to better understand how agriculture operates globally. Stops on the tour included the largest wholesale market in Beijing (Xinfadi Agricultural Products Wholesale Market), a 280,000-head cattle and sheep farm, the National Agriculture High-Tech Industry Demonstration Zone, a cooperative dairy farm for beginning farmers and the Suzhou Xiangyun Tai Lake Goose Company – an operation that breeds over 5,000 geese near China’s third-largest freshwater lake. The current and former FFA state officers also visited the Bunge Chai Tai (Tianjin) Grains & Oils Co., plant in Tianjin. The operation develops, produces and distributes soybean oil and soybean meal that supplies fast-growing industries in the Beijing-Tianjin area. Bunge North America served as a main sponsor of the trip.

     For many of us on the trip, it was interesting to see how similar the production operations in China were compared to here in the United States. There were still withdrawal periods between application of medication and slaughter time periods of the beef cattle along with growth additives in feeds. The biggest difference we discovered was how much more manpower was utilized. While the same operations could have been done a lot more efficiently here in America, on the flip side you would have been cutting out many people’s jobs in China.

     When asked why this trip and learning about international agriculture in general is important I respond with this- in order to protect our Nation’s food supply and agricultural infrastructure, we must understand every side of the agriculture industry. Whether that is investing in technological advancements in crop and animal production, tackling what consumers are really looking for or building strong relationships oversees to support our markets. While it’s important to emphasize the things we do on the farm, it’s just as important to emphasize the things we do off the farm i.e. with our international partners. While in China, we also had the opportunity to visit the United States Embassy and talk one on one with a USDA Agricultural Attaché about the markets between the United States and China. The biggest lesson we walked away with was his words saying “ It is imperative that we continue to build strong alliances with the Chinese and other countries. We (the U.S. and China) have the resources to continue to stimulate our own economies while providing for the rest of the world. That being said, it shouldn’t be a competition between the Chinese and the United States. We need to be able to depend on one another.”

     We definitely cannot hide the fact that the Chinese and others around the world are players in the international market. By attending this seminar, I feel we took many necessary steps to continue to be the advocates that are needed to represent our generation and the agriculture industry to come. By having the opportunity to visit these farms and agribusinesses and a culture unlike our own, we were provided a global perspective and left feeling empowered with a new knowledge and the ability to share this culture. We have developed ourselves as culturally aware students and taken interest in influencing our future careers.

Blog Writer: Katie Heinrich

Monday, March 5, 2012

Roots in Agriculutre

               “I now declare this Convention adjourned,” and that was it. That started what has been a whirlwind of a year as a state officer of the Texas FFA Association. I’ve met people all across Texas and the nation, had the privilege to wear the blue and gold jacket one more time, but what has been even more exciting is that I have had the chance to promote an industry and way of life that has been near and dear to my heart for my entire life, agriculture.

                When my family and I lived in Ericksdahl, Texas, (a small Swedish community in West Texas) my dad was a farmer. He grew cotton, wheat and raised cattle on land that was owned by himself and his mother and father. He worked the long days that start before sunrise and end well after sunset, but no matter what we always had a roof over our heads and food on the table. No, it was not a glamorous lifestyle, we did not have a fancy house, truck or television, but we were happy with what we had. Then in 1997 we all had endured one of the, “discomforts of agricultural life.” There was a drought that ran from about 1995-1997, my grandfather passed away a few years before that and a lower than normal cotton and wheat crop made my father rethink his career. That year he started to work as a crop insurance adjuster, traveling all over the Great Plains adjusting wheat crops for Arm Tech, AgNet and USDA. Then after seeing a glimpse of the insurance side of farming he decided to try his hand at that, so he and two other individuals started a crop insurance company called AgCrop located in Stamford, Texas, at an old grain elevator and storage facility. They grew their business so that it now reaches from Brownsville, Texas, to Erick, Oklahoma, and El Paso to Texarkana. He’s been an insurance agent for 14 years now and has shown me what it truly means to work and live by agriculture even though it can be extremely unpredictable.

                Living through not only the joys, but the discomforts of agriculture is why I believe I have made it nearly full circle in coming to Texas A&M to study Agricultural Systems Management and even become a Texas FFA State Officer. I have figured out through these hardships, that I have the upmost respect and passion for agriculture. Most people go after things that bring fame, that are glamorous or have an enticing appeal about them, but I love agriculture because it was not meant for the faint-hearted. Only from the things you cannot control will you receive the greatest reward. 

               After watching my dad be at the mercy of the weather and cultivate his livelihood with his own hands, did I then realize how awesome this profession was. Nothing in this world is as pure as growing a crop that will not only benefit you, but serve those around you as well. In Hebrews 13:16 we are told that we should, “...not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” What better way is there to serve your neighbor and give to a worthy cause than to feed and clothe them? That is truly why I wanted to be an FFA State Officer and be active in agriculture. I want to continue a culture that shows the true values of this country and the way we were supposed to live.