FROM THE PASTURE TO THE PLATE: IF YOU DON’T TELL YOUR STORY, WHO WILL? PART 2

Editor’s Note: This is the second of two posts from guest blogger Trista Milliman. Trista is a native Illinoisan who now lives in Oklahoma where her and her husband run a cow-calf operation. For the first part, click here.

I addressed my friend’s accusations calmly and factually. Hard to do when you’re angry. First, I explained the “steroid” myth. I don’t know who labeled them that, maybe the media or PETA, but we DON’T give our animals steroids. What they get is a growth hormone implant in their right ear. Now, anyone who has taken an Anatomy and Physiology class, what are the two growth hormones that NATURALLY OCCUR in the body, human or animal? Estrogen and testosterone. The hormone we implant is estrogen. (Every woman knows what role estrogen plays in unwanted weight gain.) The estrogen improves our calves feed to gain ratio, which cuts down on the amount of money we have to spend on feed and the amount of time they have to be on pasture. Translation: you get better beef at an affordable price with a smaller amount of time between our pasture and your plate. No steroids here. Oh, and if you’re that concerned about the amount of hormones in your food, consider this: there are 500 times more estrogen in ONE leaf of organically grown spinach than in a three ounce piece of estrogen implanted beef. My town friend was listening.

I moved on to the antibiotics. My town friend loves her two dogs. So, I asked her what she does when her dogs get sick. Of course, she takes them to the vet and if it’s an infection, the vet prescribes an antibiotic. It’s the same with our cows. If we spot a sick one, we take her up to the alley and give her an antibiotic. We treat her as long as she needs it. Simple. If she’s not sick, what’s the point in wasting the money on giving her (and the rest of our herd for that matter) an antibiotic? Not very cost effective if you’re trying to run a business. If the animal is sick we treat her, if she’s not, we don’t. I can’t come up with a better description of animal welfare than that. Point made.

Then, we moved on to my favorite topic, feed. My specialization in my major was livestock nutrition. My husband and I both figure our rations as do many beef producers. And if they don’t do it themselves, they hire a nutritionist. Now, how many PETA or HSUS supporters use a nutritionist when feeding their own families? My town friend just couldn’t get over the idea that we were feeding our cattle genetically modified grain that had been sprayed with pesticides. She was just so sure our cattle were ingesting all types of toxins that would end up in the meat. I explained that one of the reasons we “genetically modify” grain is to make it insect and disease resistant so that we don’t have to spray chemicals on it. I also gave her a short economics lesson while I was at it. In laymen’s terms, a GMO produces more with less input, therefore making the product cost less. Keeping costs down on our end is what keeps costs down on the consumer’s end. People forget about that part. Point taken.

My town friend was so taken with the notions that are portrayed in “Food, Inc.” and Omnivore’s Dilemma. She thinks everyone should have chickens and “organic” vegetable gardens in their back yards. That’s great, if that’s what you like to do for fun. That’s awesome if you feed your family and have a little extra to give to all your neighbors and your friends. But is that really relevant to everyone’s living situation? No, it’s not. Let’s just be honest. Is that going to feed the world? No, it’s not.

The reason we try to feed out our calves to market weight within 18 months is because we’re doing just that, we’re feeding the world. We wouldn’t be getting anywhere if we waited on them to reach market weight on just grass. We’d be at least 2 if not 3 years out before we could feed anyone. If you want to go back to agriculture the way it was in the 1940s, be my guest, but if you think the world is starving now, consider what it would be like if we took a step backwards? And, not to mention the amount of money we would have to spend on importing food from other countries because we couldn’t meet our own demands. Don’t even think for a minute that food production around the world is regulated better than it is here. I’d much rather have pork raised on concrete from the U.S. than I would if it was raised on the dirt in some third world country living off of the trash and waste in the sewer ditches. Our food is as healthy and safe as it’s ever been. The whole idea of research and technology is progress. Who in the world thinks it’s a good idea to regress to old medical procedures, or maybe go back to using type- writers instead of computers?

I crunched some numbers to illustrate my point. Back in 1940, the world population was around 2.3 billion people. There were around 6 million farmers and ranchers in the U.S. and each one could feed 19 people a year. Fast forward to 2010. The world population is roughly 6,825,100,000 and there are around 5.7 million U.S. farmers and ranchers (that’s about 2% of the U.S. population). Thanks to our research and technology, a U.S. farmer can feed 155 people a year. Not to be arrogant, but the U.S. farmers and ranchers feed the world. And there are less of us to do it. In fact, there are 300,000 less farmers in 2010 to feed over three times what the population was back in 1940. Every year we are expected to provide more food at less cost to the consumer, with less land to use, with less input, and less waste. We meet the demand. We give the consumers what they ask for. She heard me loud and clear.

Setting aside all the statistics, producers love their animals and the lifestyle they provide despite some hardships. How many times have we had to cancel dinner on friends while we tend to a sick calf? How many times have we had to miss church to find a lost calf or cow? How many hours have we spent feeding orphan calves? And what about all those hours spent on the floor board of the truck or the kitchen floor trying to warm up and dry off a newborn calf in the middle of a Northeast Oklahoma blizzard? How many times have our neighbors missed their own children’s ball games, dance recitals, or piano lessons because they had to stay with a bloated cow? I’ve even ruined a nice J.Crew sweater (gasp!) to pull a calf when one of our first-calf heifers was having trouble. All of this to put quality food on your table. Where are the animal rights activists then? How many of them make sacrifices like that?

I don’t know that I completely won my town friend over, but I know I proved that what we do is ethical, humane, and practical. And it’s not just to turn a profit, either. If that was the case, we would have found an easier way to do it by now. My point is that we, as producers, need to make sure that we are the ones providing the general public with the CORRECT information they need to know about the food we supply to them. The average consumer is so detached from the origin of his/her food that it makes it very easy for anti-agriculture organizations to come in and offer these people their version of what animal agriculture is. I encourage producers to get involved in putting your story out there via social media. Use Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and blogs to share the information you want your consumers to know about your operation. Something as simple as a video of harvest or chore time at your farm/ranch is a great way for consumers to see your passion for what you do and where it all starts from pasture to plate.

Trista Milliman
Cow/Calf Operator and Farrier

FROM THE PASTURE TO THE PLATE: IF YOU DON’T TELL YOUR STORY, WHO WILL? PART 1

Editor’s Note: Today’s blog is the first part in a two-part series from guest blogger Trista MillimanTrista is a native Illinoisan who now lives in Oklahoma where her and her husband run a cow-calf operation.

As a beef producer, (or any other type of producer for that matter), there are those whom you consider your “neighbors” or more precisely, the people that live within a 5-10 mile radius of your place and are fellow producers. Then, you have the people you consider your “town friends”, the friends who live in town (obviously) and really have no direct ties to agriculture, except for maybe, of course, their acquaintance with you. Well, that and the fact that they probably like to eat food and wear clothes, but that’s for another time.

Nonetheless, I am thankful for the roles my neighbors and my town friends play in my busy, overscheduled life. It’s always nice to take time out and enjoy their company whether we’re processing calves, helping each other move cows to another pasture, shopping at the mall, or going to a movie. All of our differences keep the conversation interesting. Recently, however, I had a visit with a town friend that really left me quite unsettled with the way the public perceives conventional animal agriculture. Though, I feel that I answered her questions and corrected her misconceptions accurately, it really made me realize how completely unattached and misinformed the general public is about the production of their food.

Let me bring you up to speed. My husband and I live in Northeast Oklahoma, or more affectionately termed by Okies as “Green Country”. Both of us have our B.S. in Animal Science Production and run our own cow-calf operation in the heart of ranching country. We are extremely proud of our commercial Charolais herd and the quality beef we can provide for people’s dinner tables. Not only is it an income, it’s a lifestyle. Our lives are scheduled around feeding time, breeding season, calving season, and weaning. Mix that in with our “town jobs”, (my husband is an OSU Extension Educator and I am a professional farrier), and our cattle (and horses) eat better and get more rest than we do. Let’s just say it’s not too strange in our small town to see us come in to do our banking covered in manure with our spurs still jingling. Everybody else around here does it, too.

Anyway, back to the conversation with my town friend. I’ve known her for years and consider her a very intelligent person. She’s been around the world and back, literally, and I love her taste in music and clothes. I respect her opinions, even if they don’t always match up with my own. She is very well read and up to date on current issues. So, it surprised me (and quite honestly, disappointed me) when she shared her views on what conventional animal agriculture is. I guess I take for granted that maybe even my closest friends don’t really know exactly how our operation runs or how well taken care of our animals are. And that’s my fault for not providing that information. Then, it got me thinking; if my close friends don’t understand it, then what kind of skewed information is the rest of the world getting and who are they getting it from? Scary.

She gave me her overall impression of production agriculture with one word: “poisoned”. It knocked the wind out of me. I asked her to explain what she meant by it and she said, “You pump them full of steroids, you are constantly treating them with antibiotics, and you feed them genetically modified grain. What makes you think anyone wants to put that into their bodies?” And then, she disclosed where she got her information from. She watched Robert Kenner’s documentary, “Food, Inc.” and read Michael Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. I should have seen that one coming.

Both are filled to the brim with misinformation and propaganda that would easily suck the average, uneducated consumer in. And both were supplied information by PETA and HSUS, organizations that want to do away with animal agriculture altogether. I mean, who doesn’t want to eat healthier, save the environment, and stop animal cruelty? I know I do. And so does every other livestock or grain producer that feeds the rest of the world and wants to make a living doing it. The information in the movie and the book is maddening, sickening, inaccurate and outright wrong.

They use terms like “factory farm” and “sustainability”. Last time I checked, agriculture has always been sustainable. That’s why it’s called “agriculture”. And livestock production practices have become so efficient that we’ve actually eliminated some diseases, which in turn has eliminated the need for certain vaccines and opened the doors to medical research in saving human lives. Good stuff, considering that it makes the quality of life for these animals outstanding. I could go on, but maybe later.
Trista Milliman
Cow/Calf Operator and Farrier

FOOD POLICY, NOT FOOD PRODUCTION, CAUSES WORLD HUNGER

Assuming most of you are corn farmers or have an interest in producing corn, it’s no secret that corn prices are significantly lower than the high we saw in 2008. In fact, right now, corn is barely $3 when 2008 prices were $7.

Other prices were high in 2008 – wheat was around $6.50 when it’s now $4.30. Freight was extremely high compared to what we see today.

Yet, according to this article, food costs are so extremely high that poorer countries have hungry citizens in droves.

“With food costing up to 70 percent of family income in the poorest countries, rising prices are squeezing household budgets and threatening to worsen malnutrition, while inflation stays moderate in the United States and Europe,” Joe McDonald, author, says.

We need to fix world trade. Market distortions obviously exist that prevent food from flowing into regions of the world when it makes economic sense. We have corn in the US. In fact, carryout of world grains are steadily increasing, so I see little reason for the bag of flour to cost three times what it did two years ago, as a Pakistani mother of five mentions in the article.

In addition, media and humanitarian efforts are consistently calling on corn farmers for increased productivity even as the elitists in the US pursue policies that will stagnate productivity or even cause it to decline. Obviously these people need food and a food policy that focuses around lower productivity doesn’t make sense.

The food is there and it’s less expensive than it has been in recent times, but due to artificial trade barriers, and to some extent the overall economy, the people who need the food can’t get the food.

Prices, policies, and productivity – they are things we seriously need to consider if we are to tackle the growing world hunger problem.
Rodney M. Weinzierl, Executive Director,
ICGA/ICMB

ORGANIC, FREE RANGE, LOCALLY GROWN AND OTHER HYPE

Although it comes as no surprise to anyone that knows me personally, I tend to be fairly opinionated.

I enjoy a good debate, especially when I’m armed with the knowledge that will enable me to win. I love the feeling of always having the retort that completely derails my competitor’s argument, of having the last word. And, of course, I feel so completely over-educated about the organic and locally grown movements, that I will argue which is better (organic vs. conventional) all day, every day and never tire.

In fact, I have. Maybe “argue” is too strong a word here, but the folks at my church probably steer a conversation away from these topics at all costs. My Facebook friends are likely sick to death of me providing links and other information about organic vs. conventional produce. Now, I must air my thoughts here.

While I always start a conversation with the fact that consumers have a choice and should be able to purchase whatever sort of food they want, I quickly turn it to the fact that I want them to really UNDERSTAND their choices. Because I believe they are being jaded by the media and popular journalists (ie, Michael Pollan) into an emotional response to their food choices instead of a scientific one.

This article by Tamar Haspel really drives the point home and I couldn’t have been happier to read it.

Haspel and her husband raise chickens and really wanted to believe that their fresh, locally grown, free range eggs taste better. They went the scientific route – engaged their friends to come over for a taste test – and came up with some interesting results. Read for yourself because I really don’t want to ruin her lovely experiment and wonderful writing by telling you what happens.

While this likely won’t change their purchasing decisions (Why would Haspel buy eggs when she has free eggs in her backyard!?) the information she’s discovered will likely put her decision in context. Does she eat home grown eggs? Yes. Does she think they are the ONLY eggs? Nope.

This is what I wish for the elite in America (the ones that can afford these high priced options) that believe organic and locally grown foods are the ONLY choices for better health and taste. Context to your choices is so important. Is a locally grown tomato from your neighbor’s garden better in your salad? Probably. Is it the ONLY choice? Nope.

Should it be the only choice? Not by a long shot.

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

FRONTIER LEAGUE BASEBALL HAPPY TO SEE CORN GROWER SUPPORT

The Commissioner of the Frontier League, Independent Professional Baseball, is Bill Lee. Here’s Bill making some opening remarks prior to the first home game of the Normal CornBelters in the Corn Crib. I spoke to him about this new franchise and what he thinks about the support of Illinois Corn Growers.

Bill says it’s a wonderful thing because it’s a “field of dreams.” He hopes the CornBelters are very successful. You can listen to my interview with Jim here (mp3).

I thought I’d also include a new video about the opening home game in the Corn Crib that was produced by the Illinois Corn Growers summer interns. I think they did a great job. How about you?

Normal CornBelters Corn Crib Opener Photo Album

Posted by Chuck Zimmerman
AgWired

KNEE HIGH BY THE 4TH OF…. JUNE?

We at Illinois Corn love the Midwestern Gold blog. We love it so much we feel like honoring them by ripping off their Friday Farm Photo idea! After all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right?

This photo comes from Shawneetown farmer Jeff Scates. He finished up replanting corn about a week ago, but this picture is from the first field that was planted back on April 2.
So much for the saying “knee high by the 4th of July!”

Becky Finfrock
ICGA/ICMB Communications Assistant

FACTS ARE STUBBORN THINGS

The Illinois Corn Marketing Board is part of the Corn Farmers Coalition along with several other state corn grower groups and the National Corn Growers Association. Earlier this week, they launched a new phase of their educational campaign that started last year, whose goal is to let policy makers – and those who influence them from think tanks to environmental groups in Washington, DC – know that corn farmers really are environmental stewards, conscious about food safety, and enjoying every minute of life on the farm with their family at their side.

We covered the launch on our website if you’d like to read more.

The thing is the Environmental Working Group is calling our campaign “Greenwashing,” meaning that we’re trying to paint our industry as an environmentally friendly industry even though it’s not. Well, call me old fashioned, but when someone I love is attacked, it ruffles my feathers a bit and this blatant disregard for facts about corn farmers just doesn’t sit well with me.

The FACT is farmers are green.

CFC ads report data like “Thanks to new, innovative fertilization methods, today’s American corn farmers are producing 70% more corn per pound of fertilizer.” That data comes straight from the USDA and that data reflects an industry that is conscious of what they are using and placing on the land in their care. Show me another industry that is so environmentally conscious or has such a great story to tell.

The FACT is farmers are operating family (not corporate) farms.

I’ll speak from experience here; I know a lot of farmers. Every single one of them is just a regular, down home guy – the sort that would wave at a stranger from the cab of their pick-up truck, the sort that would stop and help you if you had car trouble, the sort that jumps from the tractor to the shower and speeds into town to watch their son’s t-ball game or their daughter’s dance recital.

EWG says that “There are thousands of large, plantation-scale corn factories dotting the American landscape, family-owned or not. And family ownership does not necessarily equal small. Agricultural supply giant Cargill is family-owned. So are the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Minnesota Twins.”

To compare the family farm I grew up on to the Minnesota Twins is the most absurd thing I’ve ever heard. My dad farms a lot of acres – some his own, some his brother’s, and some his neighbor’s that retired from farming. To the local farmer’s market consumer, I know he looks like a plantation owner. But he’s the one driving the tractor. He’s the one stressing over marketing decisions. He’s the one dealing with environmental regulations that EPA bureaucrats decide are relevant. He’s the one trying to make his small business work with only the help of a wife at home to support him and his dad at the end of the row to bring him a drink. I doubt Cargill and the Minnesota Twins are operated in the same manner.

And he’s not unique.

The FACT is farmers are using less land, not more.

EWG says that “According to a National Wildlife Federation report this year, the corn ethanol gold rush has been responsible for plowing up thousands of acres of pristine wildlife habitat (and prime carbon sequestration vegetation) and converting it to corn production.”

Well, I suppose that depends on who you feel is the authority.

Our federal government (the USDA), who runs the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) indicated that from 1982 to 2007, cropland acreage declined from about 420 million acres to 357 million acres. CRP, or acres returned their natural state, reflects more than half of that diverted acreage.

There are multiple other facts that EWG has gotten wrong, but you can read those for yourself.

At the end of the day, I’d say the only “greenwashing” we’re trying to accomplish is to make every other industry in the country green with envy at the wholesome, slow-paced, family environment in which we get to work and the fabulous story we have to tell about corn farmers that are conscious stewards of the land.

Eat your heart out, EWG.

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Manager

IT’S THE ILLINOIS FIELD OF DREAMS

corn cribIt’s definitely a field of dreams, but instead of building a ball field in a corn field, Illinois corn farmers are growing corn in a ball field.

As part of the landscaping at the new home for the Normal CornBelters, the Corn Crib has small plots of corn planted under the scoreboard. “We wanted to show as much as we could actually what corn is,” said Illinois Corn Growers Field Services Director Jim Tarmann. “So, we’ve got six different mini-plots of field corn that are already coming up and we planted that ourselves.” Local FFA chapters are growing specialty corn, including popcorn and sweet corn, that will be worked into the as-yet-unfinished landscape in and around the ball park. Pioneer and Syngenta are also part of that project as co-sponsors of the new team and stadium.

corn cribJim says the Illinois beef and pork producers and Prairie Farms are sponsors as well. “We’re all very excited about this new venue to talk about modern production agriculture,” he said during an interview with Cindy Zimmerman, AgWired, in the Illinois Corn Growers office the morning following the game.

Nearly 6,000 fans attended the opening home game Tuesday night against the Windy City Thunderbolts, and even though the Cornbelters lost the game 3-2, it was an exciting game in the end and everyone had a great time. Listen to the interview with Jim here (mp3).
Take a look at our updated photos from game night: Normal CornBelters Corn Crib Opener Photo Album
Chuck Zimmerman

ICMB CHAIRMAN THROWS OPENING PITCH AT CORN CRIB

Interviewing Jim RappThrowing out one of the opening pitches for the Normal CornBelters baseball home game at the Corn Crib was Jim Rapp, Illinois Corn Marketing Board Chairman. He had a big wind up before throwing a pitch that was so fast it didn’t even register on the meter. Wait, we didn’t have a speed gun out there. Anyway he did a great job.

Chuck Zimmerman, AgWired, talked to Jim about the ICMB support for this stadium and team. Jim thinks it’s great and says he wishes he had a chance to do some practice pitches before getting on the mound in front of the crowd.

You can see a lot of photos from the opener in the AgWired photo album: Normal CornBelters Corn Crib Opener Photo Album

You can listen to Chuck’s interview with Jim here (mp3).