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Archive for March, 2011

Anna Kaverman

Mercer Landmark

When I come home from work the last thing I want to do is talk on the phone or even use the computer. Especially because I work in a profession in which most of my day is predominately spent watching the markets on my laptop or talking to customers on the phone. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job, but I like to try to distance myself from work as much as possible and enjoy family time. However, as a substitute until the weather gets nice enough to be outside doing yard work or other outside chores I spend a lot of my down time reading. More times than not I will pick up the latest issue of “Successful Farming”, “Farm Journal” or even “Top Producer”. Now you are probably wondering why if I just said I like to distance myself from work, why I would read farm magazines? The truth is being a farm wife and daughter that is easier said than done especially because my husband loves to ask questions about the markets and we have an abundance of farm magazines. I really need to break down and buy something feminine.

Where am I going with this? The other day as I was reading articles online and I stumbled across an article that I felt elaborated on a point that I made in my blog post back on March 7th, 2011 about Cargill, Oprah and transparency in agriculture. The post was titled “Transparency’s a Felony.”  Now this struck me as being odd because I always view transparency in agriculture as a good thing and now it is a felony? Below is the actual article that was posted on March 21st, 2011 by Anna-Lisa Giannini. I know after I read it I was absolutely shocked. I didn’t even know that this was an issue but am glad that I now do. I truly believe that like it or not we now live in the Information Age. We have always been one to complain that people don’t know where their food comes from and they take it for granted. If people are going to expect information, then transparency in agriculture needs to embraced not made a felony.

 

Transparency’s a Felony

Mar 21, 2011

As the agriculture industry, we constantly call for transparency. We want consumers to know what happens on our farms, we want people to understand how their food is produced and bottom line; we want production agriculture to be visible to the public. That being the case, farmers and ranchers should be completely, 100%, against the proposal that was presented to Florida legislature last month right?

The proposed legislation in Florida, SB 1246, states that photographing a farm without permission will be committing a felony.

 ”A person who photographs, video records, or otherwise produces images or pictorial records, digital or otherwise, at or of a farm or other property where legitimate agriculture operations are being conducted without the written consent of the owner, or an authorized representative of the owner, commits a felony of the first degree,”

I realize that this proposal likely came about because of recent videos taken undercover and used by the Humane Society of the United States to exploit agriculture. However, I argue that if we act like there is something to hide than the perception of our industry will be that there is something to hide. As in any other area of life, rumors are far more extreme, big and ugly than truths. Might I also add that any photo or video taken with or without permission of the farmer can be framed or edited to paint any picture that an activist wishes. Chickens are in cages with or without photo permission.

We want to set myths straight right? Should we consider what consumers think the proposal of this says about our industry?

Tom Laskawy of Grist Magazine wrote this about the proposed legislation;

“… It’s inevitable that in the epistemically closed system of Big Ag, a rancher, and a state senator would agree that a bill like this makes perfect sense… What we need to learn from this sorry episode is that Big Ag’s answer to reform is denial, obfuscation, and ignorance.”

Laskawy is clearly not a consumer in favor of conventional agriculture, “Big Ag” as he refers to it. But he might be on to something. Are we acting irrational? Even more important, how many more consumers like him exist? How many of them think instituting this law is just another way to hide?

As producers we reserve the right to maintain private property. Our farms are our property and for some farms (hog & poultry especially) there is an issue of biosecurity to be considered. However, a blanket statement saying that any person on any farm in Florida that takes a photograph without permission is a felon seems a bit extreme to me. I too am a private land owner and there is nothing that bothers me more than people parading around our ranch without permission, but I think that we need to carefully analyze how reasonable we are being. Private property laws don’t allow people to just appear on private land. Would we be better off standing on private property laws than assuming a perceived position of having something to hide?

We are proud of our farms and the hard work it takes to safely produce wholesome and quality food and fiber.  What are we hiding from? We have NOTHING to hide. We treat our animals humanely and we work hard to feed the world. However, the legislation proposed in Florida and the similar bill in Iowa make the agriculture industry seem pretty opaque.

What do you think?

 

 

Effect of Japanese Earthquake on U.S. Ag Imports Mixed Six days after the twin disasters of earthquake and tsunami struck Japan, the damage is still being assessed. My heart goes out to all the victims as I am sure most of yours do as well. Thus far a majority of the focus in Japan has been on search and rescue operations, getting food and water and medical treatment to people. However, yesterday all focus shifted to the possibility of a nuclear meltdown, which at any rate would be catastrophic. However, not only do the Japanese now have radiation to contend with, but Japan’s suppliers also are struggling to assess how food shipments will be affected. More than almost any other country in the world, Japan relies on food imports to keep its grocery store shelves stocked and domestic livestock fed.

The city of Sendai, among the hardest hit by the March 11 tsunami, was the region’s agricultural capital. Besides rice, local farmers also specialized in dairy and Wagyu beef production. More than 700 representatives of U.S. country elevators and grain companies gathered this week in San Diego for the National Grain and Feed Association’s annual meeting, but few could speak confidently about how much trade will be disrupted by the catastrophe or exactly what repercussions could result. Greg Page, president and CEO of Cargill made a profound statement to NGFA attendees about his thoughts on the current situation. He said, “I don’t believe U.S. exports will be affected unless economic malaise spreads from Japan to other countries”. “If the world repudiates nuclear power, millions of tons of coal will compete for trains and ships,” and, ultimately, transport and the cost of carbon credits in Europe will rise exponentially.” But when it comes to immediate trade disruptions I am sure everyone can agree that we just don’t know.

To put things into perspective a little more here are a few facts about Japan’s consumption. Japan has a huge appetite for grains, soybeans, and meats, relying on imports for about 60% of its food. Japan is the leading destination for U.S. corn exports, is second to Egypt as a U.S. wheat buyer, and ranks fourth in purchases of U.S. soybeans. According to USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service, the United States supplies one-third of Japan’s agricultural imports, shipping $2.929 billion of coarse grains, $1.981 billion of meat and meat products, $1.096 billion of soybeans and $795 million of wheat in the most recent marketing year. Rarely do we think of Japan as a major consumer of U.S. grain and meat. Trade normally centers on what China is importing and exporting.

About 17% of Japan’s feed milling industry is in areas affected by the quake and tsunami. Many of Japan’s mills are literally connected to the grain bins at the ports, where they receive ingredients to make feed for shipment to animal producers. Grain buyers in Japan have asked suppliers to channel shipments to ports or feed mills that were not damaged by the quake or tsunami, and mills are coordinating to serve the market. The island of Hokkaido is where the most livestock concentration is, but livestock also is relatively concentrated between Tokyo and Sendai.

 

Intermediate to long-term impacts of the Japanese earthquake likely will result in more U.S. exports to Japan as the country rebuilds critical infrastructure and resumes food production, according to a Texas AgriLife Extension Service economist.

Rick Dusek, director of grain merchandising for CHS in Inver Grove Heights, Minn., confirmed that the cooperative has ships headed for Japan but said that it is too early to expect damage reports on the country’s transport system. The ports and terminals south of Tokyo are in good shape and are resuming discharging grain. North of Tokyo, which is a less-populated area, they are still assessing damage. Dusek said “Without question, though, there will be some pipeline disruptions. They may have to push back a few vessels or maybe unload at a different port. Short-term it will disrupt the supply chain, but we don’t expect any major disruption that would affect supply-and-demand tables long-term.” Shipments of grain from the Unites States have not been slowed in the wake of the disaster. If anything, the concern is more how quickly they can get there. Typically, shipments from the Gulf take a month to traverse the Panama Canal and arrive in Japan. Ultimately, most analysts don’t think there will be a huge impact on Japanese demand for U.S. agricultural products, but we will know a good deal more in a week or 10 days.

Anna Kaverman

Mercer Landmark

This past Saturday night my husband and I were invited over to our good friend’s house for supper.  Like normal, we were supposed to eat at a certain time, but one of the hosts was not finished doing chores yet. All you farmers can sympathize and will agree that feeding 100 bucket calves is a lot of work. In the meantime us women were chatting it up in the kitchen and finishing supper, and there sat my husband flipping through farm magazines trying to drown us out.  Normally I would not have cared until he picked up the latest issue of Buckeye Farm News, which is the paper published by the Ohio Farm Bureau. I happened to glance over and see that he was reading an article titled “Transparency pays off for Cargill on Oprah.”  Now this caught my interest because if any of you read my blog post from back in February about Oprah’s one week vegan challenge you will understand why.

Just in case you don’t know back on February 1st, and episode aired on the afternoon talk show, which reaches million of viewers, documented Oprah Winfrey’s challenge to her staff and viewers to adopt a vegan diet (no animal products) for a week. I have mentioned it once before and will say it again, animal agriculture in near and dear to my heart and always will be especially because my husband is a livestock farmer.  I am sure the same can be said for many of you as well. Also on that same show was Michael Pollan, who is regarded as one of the most influential critics of what he describes as “industrial meat production.”

According to the article when one of the nation’s largest meatpackers opened its beef slaughter plant to a camera crew from the Oprah Winfrey Show, very few were predicting the company would earn a pat on the back from a leading food system critic and let alone positive words from Winfrey herself. Cargill Meat Solutions allowed investigative reporter Lisa Ling and a camera crew to tour a plant that processes a whopping 4,500 cattle a day! Every stage of the process was allowed to be filmed, except for the actual stunning. However, Ling witnessed it and described it to viewers. Cargill was considered very brave and a pioneer for taking this risk, especially since 20 other facilities denied the show’s request to film the slaughter process. In reality, it was mentioned that Cargill may have taken a lesson from the recent documentary Food, Inc., which warned “the (food) industry doesn’t want you to know how your food is produced, because if you knew you might not want to eat it.” Many food businesses declined requests for interviews, apparently concerned they would be treated unfairly. This documentary went on to receive numerous awards and reinforced beliefs that the food industry was hiding a dark side.

In my opinion, Cargill deserves a round of applause for participating because they helped to dispel some of those accusations.  Not surprisingly the show’s reporter appeared squeamish through much of the tour but yet at times was fascinated as well.  I for one probably would have tossed my cookies if I were in her position but the story needed to be told.  At one point she even told her cameraman “you have got to get this” as they passed a worker operating the large saw used to split the beef carcasses. Like clockwork she also questioned the plant manager about claims made by animal rights activists that the slaughter process is inhumane. The manager’s response was direct and to the point. She said “I would not ridicule people who believe that you shouldn’t eat animals, but I would say that we are committed to doing it right. And I believe that when animals are handled with dignity and harvested carefully, that’s the natural order of things.” 

The sequence of events that happened after the tour probably shocked me the most.  Winfrey noted that her reporter had not given up meat, but had a new appreciation of where it came from. Even Michael Pollan who didn’t warm up to conventional beef production applauded Cargill for opening its doors to viewers and said “there’s nothing evil about meat.” Another more outspoken guest promoted veganism as a way to prevent animal suffering. Amazingly enough, Winfrey immediately chimed in saying “but they don’t make them suffer,” making reference to the slaughter process the audience had just witnessed.

Now I haven’t been able to view this episode of the Oprah Show, but I fully intend too. But after reading this article, I am now left wondering why don’t more American food processors open their doors like Cargill did? Yes, I understand the potential liability issues, but why is transparency such a bad thing, especially in the agricultural industry?  A couple months prior to the Oprah show, Cargill had opened another slaughter facility to dietician and Food Network personality Ellie Krieger. After her visit she made a profound statement. She said “I guess the truest way to explain how I feel about the way beef is produced after all I saw that busy day is to tell you that for dinner that night I thoroughly enjoyed a nice piece of beef tenderloin.” Ohio Farm Bureau senior director of issues put it best when he said “Cargill deserves credit for its willingness to be transparent.” “You look at the potential risk that Cargill had on its hands, but I think Cargill got a win for Cargill. And Cargill got a win for American farmer, particularly those involved in livestock production.”  Maybe if transparency in agriculture was not seen as being so taboo the belief that the myth food industry was hiding a dark side could be dispelled permanently shining a brighter light on how beneficial and wonderful the industry agriculture really is.

Anna Kaverman

Mercer Landmark