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The USDA and Meatless Monday

Yesterday, while the Verizon towers were down in Siskiyou County, a newsletter from within the USDA, Greening Headquarters Update, was released and had a suggestion to implement the Meatless Monday Initiative within the agency. There was a quick uprising among many in the agricultural community, within the social media world. By 1:07 in the afternoon, the USDA retracted the statement in the newsletter as released in The New York Times. Now, most folks would think “Excellent, we accomplished our objective,” and move on. However, this is not the case with some, as I continue to see several rant on and now I understand several industry organizations are considering a ‘unified response’ to the matter…yes…after it has been retracted and the USDA’s position clarified.

To those who are still ‘worked up’ over this, I respectfully ask you to stop for a minute and take a deep breath. Allow the emotions to settle down and let’s take an objective look at what further actions, if any should be taken.

First, I am a beef producer and admittedly was not a big fan of the Meatless Monday Initiative. However, after taking some time to look at things objectively, I completely support the idea of encouraging folks to eat more fruits and vegetables, most do not eat enough. We should all be supportive of people eating better balanced meals that include all the food groups.

Second, let’s take a look in the mirror. What does it look like to our customers when agriculture is constantly ‘on the fight,’ ‘whining,’ and complaining on a daily basis? Folks, certainly we face challenges, but think about all we have to be thankful for. We should spend some more time showing gratitude for positives.

Third, I agree with a dear and respected friend who said, “I just don’t think people in Ag stop to think for a minute how bad they look every time I see the hunk of meat Monday’s, etc. it’s just as adversarial to me as the anti-meat campaigns.” We should be celebrating that people are now posting and sharing recipes of all kinds through a plethora of blogs and social media platforms. What could be better than more people taking the time to return to the kitchen and actual start cooking again? Think about it. If they start cooking vegetable dishes, they will most certainly expand to include meat. This is a positive, not a negative, in my humble opinion.

Fourth, to those considering continuing to beat the proverbial ‘dead horse,’ I offer the following suggestion. Be gracious to the USDA for retracting the statement and clarify their position. Recognize that the USDA does not just represent the 2% of the country that produces food, but also 100% of the customers. Politely share the current information that refutes the UN study and close with a smile and a thank you.

In my humble opinion, this continued negativity, does not promote healthy relationships with customers and will only serve to hinder the efforts of the USFRA and other organizations that are working so diligently and sincerely to encourage dialogue. Celebrate. Be thankful. Be Happy. Stay positive.

** After receiving a number of messages from those in the ‘Hunk of Meat Monday’ crowd, I want to be clear about a couple of things. First, I support your endeavor and believe it has been very successful and informative. Second, hindsight is always 20/20, consider this….what if  ‘Hunk of Meat Monday’ had been ‘Satisfying Steak Saturday,’ or ‘Fabulous Meat Friday.’ Rather than coming across to some as being ‘combative’ or ‘un-supportive’ of the idea of eating more fruits and vegetables, it may have been even more successful, promoting higher quality protein later in the week. What if ‘Hunk of Meat’ Monday had been first and ‘Meatless Monday’ had been launched after? Would we have considered that to be combative? Finally, while the premise behind ‘Meatless Monday’ in regards to health and the environment is ‘off base,’ in my humble opinion, the objective of getting people to eat more fruits and vegetables and think balance in diets is one that I do support. Please, realize that I am not trying to promote any single way of doing things…merely offering suggestions to think about and perhaps help shape a more positive effort on another issue in the future. Keep up the great work!

Last Child On The Farm (Guest Post)

Whenever I pass a freshly plowed field it gives me the same thrill as an unopened book–full of potential, surprise, and pleasure. And just like that book beckons me to peek beneath its cover, the sight of that rich, dark earth ready for planting beckons me to curl my feet into the freshly tilled layers and feel its coolness between my toes.

My connection to farming is a gift I cherish from my childhood spent on a dairy surrounded by Holstein dairy cows, an assortment of dogs, cats, hamsters and the occasional jack-rabbit my father found orphaned while cutting alfalfa. For me, there was no more peaceful place on the planet than lying on a bale of freshly bound hay, inhaling the heady aroma of alfalfa, while staring up at a sky so blue it made my eyes squint.

One of my favorite places in the dead of summer was the peach orchard. I remember that first peach of the season. How my fingers sunk into the soft flesh when I plucked it from the branch. With the first bite, peach juice made race tracks down my arm. Nothing ever tasted as good. Like a piece of heaven to my taste buds.

We didn’t have much, but neither did anyone else we knew. I wore hand-me-downs. We canned most of our fruits and vegetables. Fresh, clean air and the farm provided a plentiful playground. I scampered through fields and hay barns. I cuddled newborn kittens with their eyes sealed shut. I roamed sweltering orchards while my mother picked peaches.

At our house, milk didn’t just materialize from the store. It came from the milk tank after the cows were herded to the milking parlor, washed, milked and turned back to the pasture. Milk came from an abundance of hard work before it arrived at our table.

Perhaps I view my childhood through rose-colored glasses. And certainly kids raised in urban areas had experiences I didn’t, but the difference is, back then the majority of kids who didn’t live on farms had family or friends who did, and they had the opportunity to visit them. Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, makes this same comment in his book. He said that baby boomers may be the last generation of Americans to share an intimate and familial attachment to the land and water.

My parents sold the dairy when I was ten, but farming stayed with me. My husband and I bought land, planted an orchard from the ground up and currently grow table olives. We raised our children on a farm, and I’ve worked as a freelance photojournalist specializing in agriculture for the past 15 years.

Every day I become more aware of the limited exposure children have to farming. Statistics show the U.S. farm population is dwindling, and 40 percent of the farmers in this country are 55 or older. I see this every day when I’m interviewing farmers, and I wonder who will raise our food when they’re gone? What happens if today’s youth is not inspired to farm?

Ultimately, the answer begins and ends with parents. Our children need to be inspired to farm. They need hands-on time with agriculture. They need to see, touch, taste, smell and hear farming in all its noisy, dirty, sweaty, smelly glory. Along with the hundreds of thousands of college graduates going into medicine, law and business, we need equal numbers of agriculture graduates ready, willing and eager to farm.

I believe the best way to achieve this is by providing children, at a young age, with frequent exposure to farming. Children need to know how food is produced, and they need to read books with agriculture themes. Last Child in the Woods lists 100 actions parents can take to get children into nature. One of his suggestions is to take them to U-Pick farms or join a local co-op where the kids are involved from planting to harvesting. Every child should know the joy of whiling away a warm summer afternoon in a barn, an owl snoozing in the rafters and a litter of newborn kittens sandwiched between bales of hay.

Kathy Coatney has worked as a freelance photojournalist for 15 years, starting in parenting magazines, then fly fishing and finally specializing in agriculture. Her latest project is the Farmer Guy/Gal series of children’s picture books with an agriculture theme.

View her photos at: www.agstockusa.com.

Like her at: www.facebook.com/kathycoatney

Follow her on twitter @KathyCoatney.com

Visit her website at: www.kathycoatney.com

Siskiyou County Farm Bureau vs California Department of Fish and Game (Update)

From Left to Right: Jim Wilson (President SOSS), Clifford Munson (President SCCA), Mark Baird (Vice Chair POW), Gail Jenner (President SCCW), Rex Houghton (President SCFB), Mario Burch (2nd VP SCFB)

TRIAL IN SISKIYOU COUNTY FARM BUREAU WATER RIGHTS SUIT RESUMES MAY 29

 

Trial is scheduled to resume May 29 in a lawsuit filed by Siskiyou County Farm Bureau to challenge the California Department of Fish and Game’s new interpretation of a 51-year-old law. The first week of trial included testimony from farmers and ranchers who said DFG actions threaten farmers’ ability to provide water to their crops.

The case centers on a new DFG interpretation of Section 1602 of the California Fish and Game Code.  This section requires individuals to notify and potentially obtain a Lake and Streambed Alteration Agreement from DFG before conducting certain activities that alter a streambed. Since Section 1602 became law in 1961, DFG has required such permits for activities including gravel mining, the annual construction of push-up dams, installation of new headgates and other construction projects that physically alter streambeds.

But in 2010, DFG began enforcing a fundamental change in how the statute was applied, when it informed farmers in the Scott and Shasta river watersheds that they would be required to obtain streambed alteration agreements simply to exercise their longstanding water rights by opening an existing headgate or activating an existing pump in order to irrigate their crops. Water rights are already managed by the courts and a separate state agency, the State Water Resources Control Board. This new interpretation would require water users to obtain a permit from DFG to exercise existing water rights.

Siskiyou County Farm Bureau members Jim Morris, Jeff Fowle and Joe Hurlimann testified during the first week of trial, describing the impacts the new layer of requirements would have on their ability to irrigate their crops.

“It was important for our farmers and ranchers to provide real-world examples of how the new interpretation is affecting them,” Siskiyou County Farm Bureau President Rex Houghton said. “The new requirements jeopardize both water rights and property rights for farmers and ranchers, creating a situation with a constant threat of enforcement action, additional burdensome fees and the time and expense of obtaining the annual permits.”

Houghton noted that farmers and ranchers along the two rivers have taken a number of voluntary actions to benefit salmon, and said DFG already has many other ways to assure protection of the fish.

The majority of the Siskiyou County Farm Bureau case was presented to the judge during the first week of trial. Siskiyou County Farm Bureau will finish its case and DFG will present its case following the current recess in the trial.

“The Siskiyou County Farm Bureau would like to thank the local farmers and ranchers, as well as county Farm Bureaus throughout the state for their support,” Houghton said. “

In support of the action taken by Siskiyou County Farm Bureau, a number of local organizations, in addition to individual ranchers and farmers, have come forward with donations.

Jim Wilson, a representative of Save Our Scott and Shasta (S0SS), sent $7000 and a statement to the Farm Bureau:  “Due to inactivity (by this organization) in the ongoing fight for water rights, we propose that SOSS cease its current operations and transfer the remaining funds in our treasury to the Siskiyou County Farm Bureau, to assist in the lawsuit challenging the California Fish and Game’s new interpretation of 1602 permits. We feel the lawsuit is consistent with SOSS’s original mission statement.”

Gail Jenner, President of Siskiyou County CattleWomen, presented Rex Houghton with a $5000 donation. “We are committed to assisting our local Farm Bureau in this fight, which is a fight to preserve our adjudicated water rights.  Though SCCW’s primary purpose is to provide scholarships and promote beef, without the right to use water as approved and provided for by the court, there is no agriculture.  Little do most consumers realize that the backbone of this country, which is agriculture, is cracking under the weight of over-reaching regulations, increased fees and delays, and intimidation by state and federal agencies, in addition to rising costs and expenses.”

Jenner added, “We hope anyone who cares about agriculture or protecting individual rights will step forward. Our government has already imposed regulations and permitting processes aplenty.”

According to Cliff Munson, Siskiyou County Cattlemen’s President, “Siskiyou County Cattlemen applaud the efforts put forth by the Farm Bureau and the other organizations in Siskiyou County that wholeheartedly support the Farm Bureau lawsuit. Our legislature passes bills, and three or four individuals create a set of regulations, and those regulations are then interpreted by whoever is in charge of our various state agencies. We have reached a point where regulation and interpretation is destroying our way of life.”  The cattlemen have also made a $5000 donation.

Munson continued, “We had a revolution in this country, which was settled in 1776, but when people start going hungry because of the lack of food, we will probably have another. It is great to see the Siskiyou County Farm Bureau, the Protect Our Water Organization, Save our Scott and Shasta, the Siskiyou County CattleWomen, and the Cattlemen all join together to help this cause. ”

Mark Baird, of Protect Our Water (POW), also joined in with a donation. “POW supports the Farm Bureau wholeheartedly. We will stand with you ‘til the bitter end. Water rights are integral to agriculture and many of these rights go back more than a hundred years. That the government can step in and impose its own authority when these rights have been adjudicated by the court, is outrageous. It’s time we take a real stand. Enough is enough.”

Mario Burch, 2nd Vice President for Siskiyou County Farm Bureau said. “This is a regulation we must defeat and a case we must win. It’s good to see the various groups unified in support of, and with us in our fight against misused government regulation.”

“Siskiyou County Farm Bureau thanks each of the donors for their contributions,” Houghton said . “We look forward to getting back into the courtroom for the conclusion of the trial and the judge’s ruling on the new interpretation of Section 1602.”

The Siskiyou County Farm Bureau is a voluntary membership organization that works to protect and promote agricultural interests through Siskiyou County and to protect and improve the availability of food and fiber through responsible stewardship of resources.

Courtesy Jodi Burch, Executive Director, Siskiyou County Farm Bureau

Fresh Food, Urban Centers and Fuel

Last week, Derek Singleton, an associate through social media, sent me a link to an article he wrote and asked if I would post a response to it.  It was a crazy week, but I finally had a chance to give it some attention. Thank you for the opportunity Derek.

The Future of U.S. Food Distribution was a look at some trends related to demand by consumers for “fresh” food, food hubs in urban centers and the potential effect of higher fuel prices on distribution.  Derek believes that the current trends in United States could cause a significant disruption in current food distribution practices and potentially lead to a system as is in place in Europe.

Demand For Fresher Foods

While I concur that demand for fresh food has and is growing, as is the demand for organic food, I feel it is important to distinguish between these two segments. It is important to mention that simply because food is organic, does not necessarily mean that it is “fresh.” I should note that when I think of “fresh,” I am applying the definition of having been just picked or harvested. Derek presents clear evidence of the growth in the US organic market: Read more…

“Test-Tube Hamburger”

A friend of mine on Twitter sent me a link to an article titled “First ‘test-tube’ hamburger to be produced this year” and wanted to know my thoughts, so…

The idea of being able to take bovine stem cells, growing muscle tissue in a lab and then taking that tissue and turning it into “hamburger” is an intriguing idea. It makes me think of a science fiction movie or even Star Trek.

Those who know me and have followed my blog also know that I am a supporter of utilizing technology to improve the ability of agriculture to provide safe and wholesome food in the most efficient manner possible while also being environmentally friendly. This endeavor could potentially provide an option for people to choose, when it comes to choices of “meat.”

After being intrigued by the initial presentation of the idea, I then reached the point in the article where the author begins describing the “benefits” of having being able to create “hamburger” in a test-tube. Yes, I am putting the word hamburger in quotations…I just have a tough time calling something hamburger that comes from lab.

Some of the benefits listed included:

“Conventional meat and dairy production requires more land, water, plants and disposal of waste products than almost all other human foods.”

It is important to realize that most of the land utilized to raise cattle is of very poor quality and not land that is favorable for growing “human foods.” Particularly in the west, cattle run on mountain and dessert range, where elevation and length of growing season limits production to grasses. Additionally, where cattle have been managed properly, beneficial grasses actually increase, for both the cattle and wildlife, fuel loads are reduced and organic material in the soil is increased. Read more…

Food, Farmers, Demons and Monsanto

Demonizing companies and individuals through the use of misleading and false information is never productive. More times than not, fissures are created, within families, communities, states, the country and even the world. It is very acceptable to question actions and results, but let us remember to remain objective in our assessment, research the origins of the information and pass on only that which is true. Passing this type of information along, without doing research on it, is just as irresponsible as passing along an email that says the world will end if you don’t forward to your whole address book.

I have seen a number of people posting on Facebook and Twitter lately, that they have signed one of a couple of petitions currently circulating with a host of claims against Monsanto. Many of these people I consider to be friends and respect. I felt inclined to write this post to provide some additional information in order to clarify several of the accusations that are being claimed. I, for one, as a small farmer and rancher, am very grateful for the work that work that Monsanto and others are doing to help farmers be more efficient and holistic in their management opportunities.

Read more…

2012 Farm Bill: Is It Finally Time?

I have written in other posts on my thoughts regarding the Farm Bill. Once again, we have the opportunity to make changes that could turn a program into a true safety net…meaning it would send producers back up, after falling, not catch them and not let go, or worse yet, promote a state of long-term dependence.

Being from California, I suspect I have a slightly different perspective on the issue of crop insurance. However, I also believe that there are others, particularly in Florida and Michigan, to name a few, who have some similar thoughts. I mention this because of our tremendous diversity in crops grown, many of which do not even qualify for support from the current or past Farm Bills. Read more…

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