On Halloween, Thank a Farmer

October 31 is not only Halloween, but it’s also the date that the United Nations (UN) has attributed as the day that 7 billion people will inhabit the planet.

For perspective, on average, four births and two deaths occur every second. By 2050, we’ll require 70 percent more food availability.

The UN population fund executive director said the phenomenon is “both a challenge and an opportunity.”

Perhaps no one is as affected by this event as much as the our food producers — the farmers and ranchers responsible for ensuring safe, affordable, plentiful fruits, vegetables, grains, meat and dairy products to feed the world. Producers are also responsible for other human essentials such as fiber and biofuels.

Because of technology, seed advancements and conservation tactics, our producers are doing more using less land and resources. Agricultural methods that maximize yields while mitigating agricultural impacts include reduced-till or no-till, manure management, nitrogen and fertilizer efficiency technologies. For example:
  • Farmers use less fertilizer because advanced equipment provides pinpoint application and seed technologies are constantly improving efficiency
  • Reduced tillage and other farm-management practices have reduced soil erosion 43 percent in 20 years
  • Improvements in crop-protection products in the past 20 years have made them less toxic and more degradable
  • Biotechnology allows farmers to use less synthetic pesticides
In 2008, the UN established the High-Level Task Force (HLTF) for the Global Food Security Crisis, comprising the leaders of its specialized agencies, funds and programs, as well as relevant parts of the UN Secretariat, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the World Trade Organization. Its primary aim is to promote a comprehensive and unified response to the challenge of achieving global food security.

According to its website, HLTF “outlines activities related to meeting the immediate [food] needs, like investing in food assistance and social safety nets, as well as activities related to the longer-term structural needs, like scaling up investment in agriculture within developing countries, increasing opportunities for producers, pastoralists and fisher folk to access land, water, inputs and post-harvest technologies, focusing on the needs of smallholders, and enabling them to realize their right to food, sustain an increase in income and ensure adequate nutrition.”

The population announcement comes on the heels of significant ag policy changes to the pending 2012 Farm Bill. Several modifications to the existing crop insurance and direct payment structure are being considered that affect the strength of producers’ operations.

“But farmers in the U.S. might have been surprised that the very policy that is in place to help ensure that America’s food production system is efficient and effective – crop insurance – is again under the microscope and was recently targeted by the White House for an additional $8 billion in cuts in the next decade,” stated a recent CropLife story.

Given the milestone, it will be even more interesting to witness the outcome of America’s next Farm Bill. Whatever the result, I’m confident that our farmers and ranchers will continue to be dependable, eco-conscious food providers for years to come.

Photo obtained from: emergencyfoodsecurity.myefoods.com

Fall’s Favorite Fruit

As we prepare for the upcoming holidays, I thought it would be appropriate to pay tribute to the one fruit that receives much attention this time of year – the great pumpkin.

While the U.S. pumpkin market is regarded as limited and seasonal, it is by no means unprofitable. In 2011, pumpkins harvested from 48,500 acres nationwide were valued at $116.5 million.

In 2010, Illinois produced an estimated 427 million pounds of pumpkin. Other top pumpkin-production states include California, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan. According to Census.gov, some of these states each had an estimate of producing more than 100 million pounds of pumpkin.

The Agriculture Marketing Resource Center states that 90 percent of the pumpkins grown in the United States are raised within a 90-mile radius of Peoria, Illinois. The town of Morton, near Peoria, is the self-proclaimed “Pumpkin Capital of the World” and is the location of Libby’s® pumpkin processing plant owned by NestlĂ© Food Company, which cans more than 85 percent of the world’s pumpkin each year.

Ohio also has its claim to pumpkin fame with the annual Circleville Pumpkin Show that originated in October 1903. This event, which is held to celebrate local agriculture, is considered to be the biggest festival dedicated to pumpkins in the United States. Incidentally, it is taking place now through October 22.

Pumpkin Facts (University of Illinois Extension)
  • Pumpkins originated in Central America
  • Pumpkins are used for feed for animals
  • Most pumpkins are processed into canned pumpkin and canned pie mix
  • The largest pumpkin ever grown weighed 1,140 pounds
  • Pumpkins are 90 percent water and are considered a fruit
  • 80 percent of the pumpkin supply in the United States is available in October
  • The largest pumpkin pie ever made was more than 5 feet in diameter and weighed more than 350 pounds. It consisted of 80 pounds of cooked pumpkin, 36 pounds of sugar, 12 dozen eggs and took six hours to bake.
  • Colonists used to slice off pumpkin tops, remove the seeds and fill the insides with milk, spices and honey and bake in hot ashes. This is the origin of pumpkin pie.
  • Pumpkins were once recommended for removing freckles and curing snakebites
Pumpkins can range in size from less than one pound to more than 1,000 pounds and depending on their size can be used for a variety of things.
  • Miniature-sized pumpkins: Weigh less than 1 pound and are typically used for decorative purposes
  • Pie pumpkins: Range in size, but most varieties are in the 5- to 10-pound category
  • Carving pumpkins: Range between 10- to 25-pounds and are used primarily for jack-o-lanterns, but can also be used for processing
  • Giant pumpkins: Typically range between 25- to 75-pounds in size
Pumpkins are grown primarily for processing with a small percentage grown for ornamental sales at you-pick farms, farmers’ markets and retail stores. For a list of “you-pick” pumpkin farm locations throughout Ohio, visit www.pickyourown.org.

Do you own or have you ever visited a pumpkin farm? Do you have a favorite farm that you and/or your family visits each year?

Photo obtained from: greensandgills.wordpress.com

Know the Drill Before Signing an Oil and Gas Exploration Lease

The great Ohio land grab has begun! As oil and gas companies flood into the eastern half of Ohio seeking prime real estate over the Utica shale formation — a dense layer of oil-and gas-rich rock thousands of feet below the topsoil — more and more landowners, especially farmers, are being approached by oil and gas company representatives, known as landmen, about leasing their land for exploration.

What should landowners do when the landman comes knocking? Before signing on the dotted line, they should do their homework and educate themselves about the leasing process.

“Knowledge is power and the more you know, the better you can negotiate and the better benefits you can achieve,” said Dale Arnold, director of Energy Policy for the Ohio Farm Bureau in a recent Buckeye Farm News article.

Landowners can find general information about oil and gas leases at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ website, which includes a glossary of common lease terminology, FAQs, and issues and questions landowners should discuss with the company before signing a lease, such as “free-gas” provisions and what type of drilling will take place.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine also issued a list of tips for landowners contemplating lease agreements at his blog earlier this year. His recommendations included:
  • Get to know the company — Ask for credentials, references and contact information from the representative of the company who contacts you and make sure that you know which company will do the actual oil and gas exploration.
  • Check with your neighbors — Find out if your neighbors have been contacted and presented with similar proposals.
  • Understand what your leasing — Make sure that you’re clear about what rights the company wishes to lease — oil rights, gas rights, coal rights or something else? Landowners do not have to lease all of their mineral rights.
  • Get everything in writing and review everything before signing — Read the proposed lease and think about it before signing.
  • Consult with an attorney knowledgeable about oil and gas law — Contact the local bar association for attorneys in your area and consider pooling resources with your neighbors to reduce legal fees.

Dale Arnold seconds the attorney general’s advice about seeking professional guidance before signing an oil and gas lease.

“The key is to take your time and get a local attorney who is working on your behalf,” said Arnold. “Many of these companies have a profit motive to get a specific number of people signed in a certain amount of time. They’re on a time commitment, but you as a landowner are not.”

Have you or someone you know been offered or signed an oil and gas lease? Do you have any tips or advice to share?

Photo obtained from: oilandgascommunity.com

Perspective: A Declaration of Interdependence

This week, I’m featuring a guest author, John Phipps, a farmer from Chrisman, Ill., TV host of "U.S. Farm Report" and Farm Journal columnist.

*Originally published July 27, 2011 in Top Producer

With our economy struggling to provide employment for all who want to work, references to "jobs" carry powerful overtones. Defenders of agriculture recognize this. They have manufactured a statistic that begs for verification: the number of jobs that "depend on" agriculture. This is usually asserted to be in the vicinity of 20 million.

Nailing down this factoid is tricky. While the Bureau of Labor Statistics is often cited as a source, it does not count "dependent jobs." According to econometricians at the Bureau of Economic Analysis who actually tabulate such numbers, employment in agriculture is about 740,000. So where do the rest come from?

Answer: Anywhere you want. Since farms link to food, for example, you can add any occupation that links to food in any way. It’s the ag equivalent of the "Six Degrees of Separation" game.
But what exactly does "depend on" mean? Apparently, you can count occupations on both sides of the value chain.

Do you sell to farmers? You’re dependent. Do you buy from farmers? Ditto. I wonder why they stopped at 20 million.

Conveniently left unexplored is any comparison with other industries. Using the same methodology, how many jobs depend on the petroleum industry? On mining? Until both the definition and context of this number are made plain, it can fairly be seen as arbitrary.

But, setting aside the quality of this claim, there is, I believe, a larger and more hazardous aspect to flogging dependence on agriculture: It is exactly the wrong way to garner support.

Farmers have never been adept at empathizing with other ways of life. The many unique aspects of our work tend to make us think others don’t think and feel the way we do. But our feeling of dependence is a universal human sentiment.

Take our relationship to landowners. Most farmers share my unease with our dependence on the goodwill of someone else just to be able to farm land. Farmer "jobs" clearly depend on landowners. It is one reason we consistently pay "too much" for land—we are buying a chance to escape from that feeling of dependence.

So why do we imagine the rest of America enjoys being reminded that they are dependent on us? Gen. George Marshall said it best: "If you want a man to be for you, never let him feel he is dependent on you. Make him feel you are in some way dependent on him."

Wrong Approach. If I can spot this communication blunder, I am sure the media experts who include it in every "agvocacy" message are aware of it as well. This raises my suspicion that it is not meant as a message to others; it is meant to persuade farmers themselves.

We love to be the ones others are dependent on, and we love even more to hear it. So my rule of thumb is to assume the agvocates are looking to get into my mind/heart/pocket.

Like the misguided self-esteem-parenting scheme of a few years ago, this "bragvocacy" nugget is unhelpful to both our industry and those we serve. It hinders collaborative progress and better understanding of customer needs.

Economic transactions are basically exchanges of dependency. It is why they occur in the first place. My customers depend on me for corn; I depend on them for money. In a willing transaction, those accounts cancel each other out, not accrue in one direction.

Acknowledging our dependence on others does not diminish us. Those who refuse to recognize their reliance cannot prepare themselves for link failures and risk a rude economic shock.

Egocentric "job dependence" sloganeering taints our industry’s business connections with an insinuation of subservience. I prefer to see the interdependence of my farm within the global economy as a network of hard-won, high-value trust.