We’re coming up on the Fourth of July (ack! It’s next week!) and my thoughts have turned to all things patriotic. My American flag is hanging on the front door, my stars are decorating the mantle, and I dug out those red, white and blue plates we bought last year to help us celebrate the season.
Between Memorial Day and the Fourth of July, I find myself talking more about what it means to love your country. I take the time to explain to my kids what all those flags in the cemetery mean. I help them understand the enormity of the sacrifice those men in uniform are making for them … for me.
And then, especially when my thoughts turn to the men in uniform and all they are doing for us, I think about fuel. The wars we’re fighting over fuel. The lives we’ve lost over fuel. The selfishness of Americans over … fuel?
It’s silly really. We can produce fuel here. So someone remind me … why are we fighting wars and losing lives over fuel again?
Somewhere along the line, corn got a bad name. Corn became another four-letter word to be feared. And corn-based ethanol went down the tube right along with it. Whether it’s the farmer’s fault for not talking about what they do on the farm, or the fault of the marketing department for Big Oil, or my neighbor’s fault down the street, it happened. And we forgot all the really great stuff about corn-based ethanol.
Number one, we don’t have to fight wars and lose lives to get it. In fact, we make it right here and instead of harming the families of our friends and neighbors, it helps them. Ethanol plants are jobs and money and economic drivers in towns that haven’t seen economic drivers in a long time. Ethanol has been a saving grace for rural America in a time of massive economic downturn for the rest of the country.
Number two, ethanol is better for the environment. Modern biobased ethanol can produce up to 53 percent less greenhouse gas emissions than regular gasoline. The Renewable Fuels Association says that using a little more ethanol in our gasoline, switching from a 10 percent blend to a 15 percent blend, would be the equivalent of removing 6.3 million vehicles from American roadways. Seems like that would be good for America, but what do I know?
Number three, it’s here. America is really good at growing corn and we will always be good at growing corn. We have corn to burn and we will continue to have corn to burn. Why would we not utilize one of our best and biggest resources?
Americans have always been ingenuitive. We’ve always thought about our competitive advantages and used them to better our nation. What I’m confused about is why we’ve let fear and marketing and … selfishness … determine a very big course for our nation.
We have corn. We are really good a growing corn. We can make fuel out of corn and eliminate wars, pollution, and poverty in rural America. What’s the problem?
If you are reading this blog, you already know about and are participating in social media. Chances are you are also aware of how popular social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and blogging (to name a few) have all become. But what can we do, as representatives of the agriculture industry, to make our use of social media more effective in reaching more diverse demographics and creating a positive image of the industry that we are all so passionate about?
Today, I watched a Ustream video on U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance’s website Food Dialogues. The live video stream today was called “Hollywood and “Vine”: The Intersection of Pop Culture and Food Production” and included representatives from both the agriculture and media industries. The discussion was largely based on how agriculture and the media need to work together to bring real facts and honest stories to the consumer. It was mentioned that the next generation of kids will be able to operate an iPad or laptop without any problem, but they won’t have a clue about where their food comes from. Examples from current “educational” cartoons were depictions of bulls with udders and an understanding that “if it has horns, it must be a bull.”
Most of you reading this (I hope) understand that those things are not true, but how are we ensuring that our kids know and understand these concepts? Another suggestion in the Food Dialogue was that agriculture needs to be a source for these materials. If we are making the cartoons and other informational outlets, we have control over the messages and information being presented to kids in our schools.
There is one thing in particular that stands out to me from the video stream: Social media is NOT a “magic cure-all” for agriculture’s challenges today. It is a tool, and if used correctly, it can make a big impact. When it comes to reaching a large and diverse audience and getting them to listen to your message, there is a right and a wrong way to use social media. Jeff Fowle, one of the panelists today, is a farmer/rancher who knows how to use social media effectively. He is one of the founders of the Ag Chat Foundation, which has this mission: “to empower farmers, ranchers and foresters to share their stories effectively through social media platforms.”
Check out some of these organizations and ideas to learn more about how you can make better use of your social media skills to start more discussions about food production! My generation has already accepted and flocked to social media, now all you have to do is find a way to keep their attention and tell them your side of the story!
To celebrate, I think every American ought to revisit the Flag Code. There are SO MANY PEOPLE who (I assume) unknowingly violate the code everyday and I think it would benefit all of us to re-read it every now and then.
As an example, did you know that the flag should never be worn as clothing, bedding, or drapery? I think this means that any realistic images of a flag on a shirt are technically against the flag code.
Also, when at a parade and the flag comes by, all non-military citizens should stand and place their hand over their heart as a salute. Men with hats on should remove their hats and hold the hat over their left shoulder with their hand over their heart. So many people don’t do this!
Review the Flag Code for yourself and make sure you are being as respectful to the flag as you should be as an American citizen!
Sarah Hubbart, the communications director for the Animal Agricultural Alliance shared a letter on Meatingplace.com (a membership is required to view the site, but it is free, it’s definitely a site worth checking out) about a recent Rachael Ray appearance on The View. During the segment, Rachael provided viewers with some misinformation about food safety. The following is the letter from Sarah’s addressing these misconceptions.
Dear Rachael Ray,
First off, let me just say that I am a big fan of yours from way back. I have to admit that I often find myself watching your 30 Minute Meals at the gym. (Maybe it’s just me, but the Food Network is my first choice while on the treadmill.)
So, I was understandably shocked by some of the food safety “tips” that you offered during the June 6 episode of The View. You were on the show promoting your new burger cookbook, but some of the food handling advice that you gave was more than a little troubling.
Whoopi Goldberg was just about to bite into one of your new Cuban Patty Melts (which look fabulous, by the way), when she asked if it is okay to eat burgers with a red center. The patty melt looked rather pink, and Whoopi was concerned if it could make her sick.
You answered that as long as the beef is “organic or grass fed”, then it is safe from E. coli. You said that the recent food recalls were due “mass-produced” meat. You also encouraged folks to grind their own hamburger because it is safer than buying hamburger from the store.
But, that’s just not true at all. All ground beef must be cooked to reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees in order to kill bacteria. (The color of the hamburger doesn’t really matter – use a thermometer!) That is because bacteria like E. coli are found naturally in the environment and the intestinal tracts of healthy cattle whether they live in a feedlot or on a pasture. Research hasn’t shown a significant difference in the likelihood of E. coli between the two.
I like how this beef producer put it: “Whether the beef is fed grass, hay, corn, soybean meal, or Krispy Kreme donuts also has nothing to do with the safety of the hamburger. Whether the beef is processed in a large facility, local butcher shop, or at home the same rules apply.”
There are quite a few myths out there about the differences between organic and conventional foods. Sometimes it can be hard to tell the fact from the fiction. But misinformation can be dangerous.
Food safety is everyone’s responsibility. The farmer, processor, and retailer need to provide healthy, safe products to the consumer. But the consumer (even if he or she is a celebrity chef!) needs to follow critical food safety practices, like hand washing, separating raw meat and poultry from ready-to-eat products, proper storage and refrigeration, and cooking meat to the required temperature.
I hope you keep these facts in mind during your next stop on the book tour. (And here is some more good information about modern beef production, in case you are interested!)
A Burger Fan
Many political pundits have assumed that President Barack Obama will be reelected and that Mitt Romney’s defeat is a foregone conclusion. History suggests that Obama is in a strong position given that 78 percent of incumbents have been reelected. In fact, the only presidents in recent memory who have lost had strong primary challenges: President Gerald Ford (R-MI) was challenged by California Governor Ronald Reagan in 1976, President Carter was challenged by Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) in 1980 and President George H.W. Bush was challenged by former Nixon Aide Pat Buchanan in 1992. All three incumbents lost their reelection bid in part because the primary challenge weakened them significantly.
Conventional wisdom suggests that an incumbent who is not challenged will easily be reelected. In modern history, Presidents’ George W. Bush and Bill Clinton are good examples of this. But there is a contradicting fact that is troublesome for President Obama. No president in modern times has won reelection unless his approval rating was at least 50 percent at the beginning of his reelection year. President Obama’s has hovered in the 46-48 percentage range and he has not been able to move it to the 50 percent range. To put this in better perspective, Obama is in slightly better shape than President Carter but not quite as good as President George W. Bush at this point in the cycle. This factor alone means we will likely have a close presidential contest. If Mitt Romney picks a strong vice presidential candidate like Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), Governor Bobby Jindal (R-LA) or Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), he will produce a ticket that will be very competitive. There are other good choices but these three seem to be getting a great deal of attention.
Romney must prove he is not George Bush, that he does have a plan for economic growth, and that he is not simply a big business oriented blue-blooded American that is out of touch with working America. He also has to work harder on his likeability and accessibility. Oddly, President Obama is also seen as aloof and less accessible than his original candidacy would suggest. Neither one of these candidates have the Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan touch. They are both intellectuals who don’t enjoy small talk or endless campaigning. They both have strong families, a close tight knit group of loyal friends and strong wives that are liked better than they are. But they both lack that back slapping pal quality that produces a greater likeability with the average voter.
Obama clearly has some advantages since the public respects him, basically trusts him and thinks he is on the side of the average person. Obama polls well on foreign policy which helps him with independents and takes away a traditionally strong Republican issue. Obama also has a very powerful reelect organization that understands how to use social media, understands how to mobilize voters, is well-funded and very well-organized. The Obama team was vastly superior to the McCain team in 2008, when it came to money, organizational strength and the ability to get out the vote. Romney will be much better than McCain on this score, but his long primary fight and the many attacks waged by members of his own party have wounded him some and have him behind in the fundraising arena as well. Many think that the advent of Super PAC’s (individuals who can put an unlimited amount of money into political advertising) will help him even the score. Republican fundraisers will insure that Romney is not outspent. McCain was badly outspent by Obama in 2008.
A weak economy, the failure by unions and a well-organized Democratic effort to recall Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and tepid support after the mesmerizing “hope and change” campaign of 2008, will hurt Obama. Even his most ardent supporters think he over-promised on social issues and under-delivered on the economy. Obama’s best argument is that he wants to make sure the rich pay their fair share of taxes, that he is working for middle class growth and that George W. Bush left him with two wars and the worst economy since the height of the great depression. Obama needs to say that it will take at least four more years to get rid of these wars and get rid of the economic damage done by Bush and the Republicans. His push for the so-called Buffett rule on wealthy Americans shows he supports the “ninety nine percent versus the one percent.” He can also run against a Congress that has blocked him at every turn and been an active opponent in preventing his style of tax and fiscal reform.
There will be two Supreme Court decisions that may make a difference in this election. The Supreme Court could either strike down the entire health care law (not likely), uphold the entire health care law (not too likely) or leave the law intact while striking down the mandate based on the 10th Amendment to the constitution. The third option is most likely because it deals with mandating a mandatory product, then taxes people for its use, which many believe is far beyond the power of the federal government. Other experts believe the tax system, the requirement for participation in the Federal Insurance Contribution Act (FICA), (Social Security), Medicare and Medicaid are all examples of mandatory products that Americans must purchase. Also, the Supreme Court will decide the Arizona Immigration case, regarding whether states have the right to have police check the immigration status of the people they stop for other reasons. Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina, Utah and Arizona have laws that allow the police to make this check. The Obama Administration filed against these states and most experts think Arizona will win.
Various polls including Gallup, New York Times, Rasmussen and other reputable ones predict that this presidential race will be very close. Obama holds a small edge in each poll but all are within the “margin of error,” meaning the president’s lead is very small. With five months to go, many things can happen, but all indicators show seven swing states (perhaps Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin) will likely decide this race. Perhaps more importantly, about eight percent of the voters are truly undecided. This small, highly educated and influential group will almost certainly pick the next president. This race will be a lot more like the Bush-Gore race in 2000 than the Obama-McCain race of 2008.
The last, but not least, important part of this election involves Congress. In 2010, House Democrats lost 63 members (costing them the majority), the biggest loss since the Presidency of Franklin Roosevelt in 1938. Most pundits feel that Republicans will lose five to 10 seats but hold on to their majority. The Senate math favors the Republicans since twenty three of the thirty three seats up for reelection are held by Democrats. Today, Democrats have a 51 to 49 lead, a margin of only two seats. But so far it appears that Democrats are doing better than expected and may hold the Senate by a small margin, approximately the same as it is now.
This election will decide many issues, as they all do. But the over $3 trillion a year Bush tax cuts expire on the last day of this year, and it is unclear if they will be partly or wholly extended, or simply allowed to expire. If they expire, this would be a tremendous shock to our economy. Today, the US government is borrowing forty two cents on every dollar that it spends. If interest rates go up at all, and if the rate of spending increases based on current law, the U.S. government will spend almost $1 dollar in interest for every dollar that is borrowed. This is a rate of spending that could cripple our economy beyond repair. Both political parties are in fervent disagreement on the tax versus spend issues and today there is virtually no common ground. This impasse cannot continue without dire consequences.
Today, the election is almost a toss-up, but the stakes have not been this large since the great depression. If our government does not respond to this “fiscal cliff,” now, it may be too late by the time of the 2016 election.
DC Legislative and Regulatory Services
DC Legislative and Regulatory Services
DAIRY grows Healthy Communities in Illinois
The dairy industry is a vital part of our nation’s food system. Dairy is essential to the health of communities across the country because it contributes jobs, income and economic vitality.
- Dairy farms support rural communities in all 50 states.
- There are 51,481 dairy farms in the United States.
- An economic analysis of the direct and indirect economic impact (also known as the multiplier effect) of U.S. dairy (farming through processing) was estimated to be $140 billion in economic output and $29 billion in household earnings.
- Dairies support the economic well-being of rural America; every dollar spent locally by a dairy farmer creates a multiplier effect of more than two and a half times the original dollar spent.
- Dairy farms sustain rural America. Even under the nation’s current economic challenges, dairy farmers and companies are a lifeline to 900,000 jobs in the United States.
- Dairy processing alone provides over 130,000 jobs in the U.S.
- Around 178,000 retail outlets in the U.S. sell dairy foods.
Dairy is local. Dairy farm families are small business owners. Every glass of milk and each dairy product produced by these family businesses bring vitality to local economies and to the state.
- In the state of Illinois, there are 810 licensed dairy herds.
- Illinois dairy farms produce 223 million gallons of milk.
- Illinois farms generate $394 million in milk sales annually.
- Illinois is the 20th largest milk-producing state in the U.S.
- In Illinois, the average dairy cow produces 6 gallons of milk per day. That’s more than 2,277 gallons of milk over the course of a typical year.
- Illinois has 36 plants that process one or more dairy products.
- It takes just 48 hours for milk to travel from the farm to a retail outlet.
R. Cryan, “The Economic Impact of the Dairy Industry,” U.S. Dairy Markets and Outlook 10, No. 1 (May 2004). Multipliers show how much output, household earnings and employment are increased by an additional dollar of sales from the industry.
Pennsylvania Dairy Task Force Economic Development Committee, “Dairy in Pennsylvania: A Vital Element for Economic Development,” Center for Dairy Excellence.
United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics; http://www.bls.gov/cew/,accessed Nov. 30, 2011.
U.S. Dairy Sustainability Commitment Dairy Stability Report 2011, http://www.usdairy.com
Progressive Dairyman, 2012 U.S. dairy statistics
National Agricultural Statistic Service USDA; www.quickstats.nass.usda.gov (only fluid milk and not other dairy products)
USDA Economic Research Service; www.ers.usda.gov
Hoard’s Dairyman, February 27, 2012
Today is the final day of a joint meeting of the Illinois Corn Growers Association and the Illinois Corn Marketing Board. Together, these two groups of Illinois farmers invest in forward thinking solutions that will help family farmers in Illinois continue to farm for generations.
Each group meets six times per year for formal meetings and many other times each year for learning opportunities, lobbying and promoting Illinois corn, relationship building opportunities within the industry, and a host of other activities.
This video comes courtesy of McHenry County Farm Bureau Ag in the Classroom. We know that ethanol burns cleaner, but you can watch this and see for yourself!