The business of raising turkeys

As we prepare for our Thanksgiving Day feasts, a roasted turkey is most likely somewhere in the picture. Whether it’s your job to prepare it, carve it or simply enjoy it, the turkey usually takes center stage at holiday gatherings.

In fact, the National Turkey Federation estimates that approximately 45 million turkeys are eaten at Thanksgiving and 22 million at Christmas.

While most of us only appreciate this bird during the holiday season, for some farmers, turkeys are a year-round business. In 2009, more than 247 million turkeys were raised in the United States; 5.2 million were raised in Ohio.

Dan Eifert, owner of 4EEE Turkey Farm near Celina, OH has been raising turkeys for 40 years and knows what it takes to keep the birds healthy for the 20-plus weeks it takes to get them to market size.

“We hand-feed them for the first week, but turkeys are pretty smart. By the first day, they can find their own feed and their own water,” Eifert said. “The biggest challenge is to get them off to a good start. From day one, the temperature has to be just right, and you have to make sure the airflow is good. They need good air and controlled temperature.”

While turkey farmers like Eifert work hard to raise healthy, nutritious birds for consumers, there are some misconceptions about how the meat is produced in the United States.

The Minnesota Turkey Growers Association debunks some of those misconceptions:
  • The majority of turkeys in the U.S. are raised in barns that are environmentally controlled and scientifically designed to keep the birds comfortable and to protect them from predators, disease and inclement weather.
  • Turkeys are fed a balanced diet of corn, soybeans and essential vitamins and minerals at every stage of their life. Fresh water and feed are available at all times.
  • Turkey farmers do not feed their turkeys hormones or steroids. In fact, all poultry in the U.S. is raised with no added hormones or steroids.
  • Most turkeys are treated with antibiotics, as needed, when they aren’t feeling well (Turkeys labeled “antibiotic-free” at the supermarket are not treated with antibiotics).
Turkey farmers, like the majority of farmers, are good stewards of the land. According to the National Turkey Federation, the protection and proper use of natural resources is an important objective for the turkey industry.

Turkey Production and Land Use (National Turkey Federation):
  • Because of the intensive nature of modern turkey husbandry, very little land is actually devoted to production. The biggest potential impact is from the use of the bedding material used in turkey production houses, known as litter.
  • Litter is rich in nutrients, such as nitrogen, and is recycled as an organic fertilizer on farm fields.
  • Careful management ensures that litter is used in accordance with the nutritional needs of crops so that nutrient enrichment of groundwater and surface water is eliminated or minimized.
The turkey industry has grown during the past two decades from a single-product, holiday- oriented business into a fully integrated industry with a robust product line that competes with other protein products on a year-round basis.

So, when you sit down at your table this year and pile your plate high with all of those Thanksgiving Day favorites, like that carved turkey, take a moment and give thanks to the farmer who raised it.

I wish you and your families a Happy Thanksgiving!

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Farm industry feeds communities

With Thanksgiving a mere week away, most of us are anxiously waiting for a day of feasting, though many Americans aren’t fortunate enough to look forward to such food gluttony.

According to the USDA, more than 49 million Americans, one in six people, are food insecure. To help support our country’s food needs, Halex GT, a corn herbicide from agribusiness company Syngenta, partnered with Feeding America, the leading domestic hunger-relief charity, earlier this year.

“Syngenta is helping to weed out hunger one row at a time,” states the company, with the clever campaign tagline of, “Good for communities, good for corn.”
A portion of each sale of Halex GT benefited some of the organization’s 200 food banks dispersed throughout each of the fifty states.

For being a significantly developed country, our country’s hunger prevalence is alarming.

American Hunger Facts (
• More than 2 million rural households are food insecure
• One in eight Americans doesn’t have access to enough food
• There are 16.7 million children who live in food insecure households
• In 2009, 46 percent more people visited a hunger-relief charity than in 2005

Hunger facts are even more distressing when they hit close to home.

The Columbus Dispatch reported recently that Ohio has broken into the top 10 states for hunger, as about one in every seven households struggled or did not have enough money to buy food in 2009. Nearly 680,000 Ohio families – 14.8 percent – were found to be "food insecure" at some point in 2009. More than 1.9 million Ohioans visited a food pantry during the last quarter. Since 2007, demand at Buckeye State pantries has increased by nearly 69 percent.

The agriculture industry is vital to addressing food scarcity. U.S. farmers take on the huge responsibility of feeding not only the American population, but also contribute to feeding people on a global scale. The average American farmer feeds 144 people and uses one acre of land to support 11 people.

An example of the agriculture industry extending its humanitarian scope is the charitable work of The World Soy Foundation (WSF). WSF is a organization dedicated to helping relieve hunger and malnutrition in the world by funding, supporting and helping to coordinate programs that recognize the importance of the use of soybeans in developing sustainable food solutions.

The WSF was awarded funds from The Monsanto Fund, the philanthropic arm of the Monsanto Company – a U.S.-based multinational agricultural biotechnology corporation – to pilot the use of SoyCow Soybean Processing Technology to improve nutrition for a community in South Africa.

SoyCow makes soymilk and yogurt, as well as tofu, soya nuts and soya chips to create sustainable solutions for the protein needs of the people in this South African region.

The corporate giving initiatives of Syngenta and Monsanto are just two examples of the abundant contributions of our nation’s agricultural community to the food supply. Each year, our farmers continue to grow more food using fewer resources. Our farmer’s sustainability and philanthropy is a pillar of our agriculture industry that we all can be proud of.

As we near the holidays, we should each think about how we can mirror this example of giving.

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Biomass: Fueling Tomorrow

We all need it. Now, more than ever, we need more of it.

Fuel – It’s a double-edged sword. It operates society, yet its creation can be considered by some to be problematic to society.

To meet the demand for renewable fuels, a fuel source that is heralded for its eco-friendly bases and sustainability, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) new Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) subsidizes farmers who produce non-food crops that can be used to create fuel.

BCAP is designed to advocate for the establishment of a sufficiently large base of new, non-food, non-feed biomass crops in anticipation of future demand for renewable energy consumption.

“Domestic production of renewable energy, including biofuels, is a national imperative,” said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “That’s why USDA is working to assist in developing a biofuels industry in every corner of the nation.”

The Renewable Fuels Association states that the U.S. will use about 138 billion gallons of gasoline this year. The Renewable Fuels Standard mandates that the U.S. use 36 billion gallons of renewable fuel annually by 2022. To help achieve this standard, the use of biofuels, including corn-based ethanol and soybean-derived biodiesel, is imperative.

As part of the 2008 Farm Bill Program, BCAP has a two-pronged approach to support renewable fuel production that will reduce reliance on imported oil and boost rural economies:

1. Provides matching payments for the transportation of certain eligible materials that are sold to qualified biomass conversion facilities to assist both agricultural and forest landowners and operators

2. Provides assistance for the establishment and production of eligible renewable biomass crops within specified project areas

BCAP Quick Facts
  • Payments up to 75 percent of the cost of establishing eligible perennial crops
  • Payments up to 15 years for woody perennial crops
  • Annual payments up to five years for growing annual or perennial herbaceous or non-woody crops
  • Increased costs for refiners related to use of the new biomass crops will be paid up to $281.5 million that remains from the 2008 Farm Act
  • Biomass or biofuel production plants must be certified with the Farm Service Agency for the farmers to claim the payments
Increased use of ethanol and biodiesel in the fuel supply is a step toward the progressive use of renewable fuels.

Recently, The Environmental Protection Agency approved increasing concentrations of ethanol blended with gasoline for U.S. vehicles made in 2007 and later to 15 percent from 10 percent. A decision about whether to extend that ruling to cars built from 2001 to 2006 will come next month after more testing, reports a Bloomberg story.

Additionally, Vilsack noted that Congress should help build the biofuel industry by “reinstating the Biodiesel Production Tax Credit and providing a fiscally responsible short-term extension of the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit (VEETC),” as reported by the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS).

A federal tax credit that provided blenders of biodiesel $1 for every gallon produced is expired, while a federal tax credit that provided blenders of ethanol 45 cents for every gallon produced (VEETC) expires Dec. 31, 2010.

BCAP facilitates biofuel’s potential to help America assert its energy security. I hope it continues to foster more positive strides regarding renewable-fuel use.

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