We’re turning 5! My 5 favorite blogs about farming and the environment

April 15, 2014

Kids and blogs – they grow up so fast!

Our Farm Fresh blog just turned five years old (which isn’t that old when you consider Iowa Farm Bureau turns 96 this year). Thank you to everyone who has read, shared and commented on our posts over the years. Stay tuned. We’ve only begun introducing you to the faces behind your food and answering questions you have about how it is grown and raised.

To commemorate our five years (and Earth Month), here are my five favorite Farm Fresh posts about farming and the environment.

don't farm naked plant cover crops1. Covering up for conservation: cover crops take off in Iowa

Who doesn’t love a blog about “farming naked”? Plus, this piece really captures the amazing groundswell of Iowa farmers planting cover crops in their fields to reduce erosion and improve soil health.

2. Look a little deeper to see environmental progress

Ten out of ten Iowa fish recommend this blog post to a friend, which is all you really need to know. See how private landowners and farmers are working to keep them happy.

3. The environmental choice might not always be what it seems

This blog post reminds us to ask “why?” or “how?” before accepting conventional wisdom. As in “why do some livestock farmers choose to raise their animals in large modern barns, and how does that choice affect their ability to care for the environment?” Or “how do you support the conclusion that local food systems are better for the environment?”

When we ask those questions (start by asking a farmer!), we may find that there’s more than one good way to grow food and care for the land.

4. Standing up for sense on GMOs

Mark Lynas used to destroy fields of GMO crops. Now the former anti-GMO activist supports GMOs. What changed his mind?

5. Baseball and farming require precision

There are lots of good analogies that explain how precision farm equipment helps protect the environment. I like this one. (Then again, I wrote it).

If you enjoyed those blogs, here are a few others you’ll want to check out!

High-tech farming protecting the environment
Getting schooled by students at the Iowa Envirothon
Farmers are stepping up for conservation
The ‘Giants’ of I-80
Producing more food & cleaner water
‘Green’ businesses adopting long-time farm philosophy
Greener than your beer
Iowa farmers talk GMO
Taking positive steps for the environment
Conservation is gaining in Iowa fields, on and below the surface
Where Earth Day is everyday

By Zach Bader. Zach is the Online Community Manager for Iowa Farm Bureau.


Remembering Dr. Scott Hurd

April 2, 2014
Dr. Scott Hurd

Dr. Scott Hurd

His intellect and quiet intensity positively jumped out of the camera lens the first time I interviewed Dr. Scott Hurd.  But, I think it was his enthusiasm that threaded its way through every sound-byte, every sentence, every column or social media posting he wrote, which set him apart from the rest.

When Dr. Hurd passed recently, he left a void in a number of areas; the noted veterinarian, epidemiologist, teacher and speaker did hundreds of interviews on national and international media outlets to “set the record straight” and bring common sense and calm to an anxious, out-of-touch and often fearful public.

His specialty was talking about antibiotic use in livestock and antibiotic resistance, and he was never afraid of the pointed questions, tough interviews or critics.  His patient nature and science knowledge not only silenced the critics, it won him praise and coverage on such high-profile outlets as the Dr. Oz Show, Huffington Post, National Public Radio (NPR), Wall Street Journal, Des Moines Register and countless other newspaper, television and radio shows.  His brilliance centered on his ability to boil complicated subject matter and pages of research into easily-understandable 20-second sound bites.  He could explain things so well, it made critics or fear-mongers look uninformed, hysterical, or just plain stupid.

Dr. Hurd did it because he had passion.  He had a passion to share agriculture’s side of the story.   That’s why he took on the tough interviews, kept his cool, did his homework, kept his answers short and to the point and willingly put himself out there.

But, perhaps Dr. Hurd’s true brilliance was his laser-focus on the most important recipient of the message.  You see, it was never about sitting across from Dr. Oz, Arriana Huffington or Dan Charles from NPR that was the “big deal”; it was their audiences who mattered most.  He wanted the audience to understand about livestock care and food safety.  Audiences are consumers; consumers who haven’t been on a farm, haven’t met a farmer, but want reassurance that the food they’re eating is safe.  Period.  It doesn’t take fancy sound-bytes to build trust between today’s farmers and today’s consumers.  It takes transparency and a willingness to answer questions in a straight-forward, no-nonsense, passionate and interesting fashion.

Dr. Hurd did that.  We can all learn from his example. You can tell your story of agriculture in any number of ways, but share it you must.  Dr. Hurd would be proud to have another voice of reason like yours setting the record straight.  I’d like to think that somehow, somewhere, he’s listening, with a smile.   So, speak up!

By Laurie Johns. Laurie is Iowa Farm Bureau’s Public Relations Manager.


Baseball and Farming Require Precision

March 31, 2014

baseballPardon my nostalgia.

Opening day of the 2014 Major League Baseball (MLB) season is upon us, and I’m still reflecting on what could have been on October 9, 2009 – the day the fifth worst umpiring call in history robbed my Minnesota Twins of a possible playoff series-tying win over the New York Yankees. Here’s a look.

This year MLB is expanding its use of instant replay to ensure more close calls are resolved correctly, adding a bit of salty salve to my nearly five-year-old wound.

Don’t get me wrong. Anyone who has umpired (even a little league game) will tell you it’s not an easy job. I love the inexact, human element of the game I grew up watching and playing. And I don’t blame baseball purists who would rather emphasize continued training for umpires and allow the game to be called as it’s been called for more than a century.

But I have a different philosophy – if technology helps you make the right call, use it.

It’s an approach many of today’s farmers have used to improve their efficiency and protect the environment.

Using Fertilizer Precisely
When you green up your home baseball field this spring, will you first sample every part of your yard for soil fertility, map out your findings, and use an applicator that varies its application rate according to the amount of fertilizer needed for each patch?

Probably not.

But that’s exactly what many farmers do in their fields today.

tractor cab

Monitors and other equipment in today’s tractors allow farmers to see and respond to different field conditions quickly.

They use GPS technology to separate their fields into zones and then test each of those zones for soil fertility. That data is fed into a digital map that tells a farmer’s equipment to automatically apply more or less fertilizer as he or she drives through the field – which allows the farmer to only apply the amount of fertilizer that will be used by crops.

Farmers also use precision technology to conserve fuel and reduce erosion.

That’s the equivalent of looking at every angle of a bang-bang play on the base paths in super slow motion.

Umpires Still Matter
Of course we still need umpires (and farmers for that matter). Ultimately, it’s best for living, breathing beings to weigh the evidence on the baseball field or farm and make a decision.

But that’s no reason to ignore tools that allow us to pay closer attention to detail.

Technology or no, progress is a must.

It’s the difference between making a call and making the right one.

By Zach Bader. Zach is the Online Community Manager for Iowa Farm Bureau.


Will Run for Bacon!

March 27, 2014
Laurie Johns Dam to Dam

Laurie with her Dam to Dam medal

Add this to the list of constantly-evolving, contradictory and confusing studies on what we should and shouldn’t eat. A recent study by USC Davis claims high protein diets, particularly protein diets rich with meats and cheeses, aren’t good for us middle-aged folks. Yet kids and those over the age of 65 need to ramp up their protein intake from meats and cheeses. As if getting my brand-new AARP card in the mail this year isn’t difficult enough to wrap my head around…

This new study, done by folks who study gerontology and longevity at the USC Davis, flies in the face of decades of other studies and recommendations by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the Institute of Health’s Dietary Reference Intake guides, the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) and a host of consumer-focused medical websites, including this one.

Of course, the goal of the study is to get us all to live to be 100, but I say if I have to eat bark from here on out to do it, who would want to? Or, as my husband, a doctor, likes to say, “Sure, you can read these studies, make drastic changes, like run six miles a day, eliminate meat, dairy, caffeine, alcohol and everything else from you diet, but you know what the leading cause of death is for those people? A bus!”

Clearly, we all need to eat a varied diet and eat less of everything, while moving more. Fortunately, we are lucky to live right here in Iowa, where our farmers provide a grocery-store-full of options – lean meats, dairy, fresh cheese, organic, conventional, you name it. In fact, Iowa does farming better than any other state in the nation; so options, we’ve got. And, so long as they’re reasonably priced, research from the Iowa Farm Bureau Food and Farm Index shows Iowans will go for it. It’s not just what we put in our mouths that matters, it’s our overall lifestyle; maybe I could do something drastic to drop a quick 10 pounds, but can I sustain that for the rest of my life? Better yet, would I want to?

Armed with all that info, clearly the easiest thing I can do is run. It doesn’t require any fancy equipment, beyond a good pair of running shoes, and an iPod with a killer playlist. I’ve entered the 2014 Dam to Dam half-marathon. More than 7,100 runners will be there, so I’ll have plenty of company. Why run? I’ve found that by moving more, I have less stress, more energy, and I eat better. Dam to Dam registration just opened this week. Here’s a link, if you’d like to join me. And guess what? There’s a great party at the finish with plenty of food and beverage choices, like barbeque sandwiches, chocolate milk, you name it. And, after 13.1 miles, you’ve definitely burned off enough calories to eat whatever you want, plus you’ve got a cool 2014 Dam to Dam finisher medal to bring into the office to motivate your colleagues. Sound good? Now all we need is a “Will Run for Bacon” t-shirt, and we’re on the path to wellness!

By Laurie Johns. Laurie is Iowa Farm Bureau’s Public Relations Manager.


Celebrating a true Iowa hero

March 25, 2014

Norman Borlaug wheatMarch 25 is Agriculture Day across America, but in Washington D.C. it feels more like Iowa and Norman Borlaug day as Iowans and national leaders gathered today to unveil a new statue of Borlaug in the U.S. Capitol. The image of the Iowa farm boy who led the development of improved crops that are credited with saving the lives of a billion people, will live for the ages.

The new statue in the U.S. Capitol is a fitting tribute to Borlaug, who was born on a humble farm 100 years ago outside of Cresco in northern Iowa. He went on to be one of only three people to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, the Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. As Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad noted prior to the unveiling, Borlaug represents the Iowa values of hard work, persistence and a strong belief that science and agricultural technology and strong values can make the world a better and more secure place. “Now the people that come to the nation’s capitol will be able to learn more about Norman Borlaug and the difference that he made in the world,” Branstad said.

It was a real difference. In 1960, before Borlaug’s techniques were widely adopted, the world’s farmers produced approximately 692 million tons of grain to feed 2.2 billion people. By 1992, largely because of Borlaug’s advances in high-yielding wheat, farmers produced 1.9 billion tons of grain for 5.6 billion people, using only 1 percent more land.

It goes way beyond simply growing more grain. Borlaug also knew that a hungry world could not be a peaceful or stable one. Along with being a pioneering plant scientist, Borlaug was a true humanitarian who made a difference in his world.

The unveiling of the Borlaug statue in the U.S. Capitol was a fitting look back at a great man’s life. But it also was also about the importance of looking forward, as Borlaug always did. Farmers in Iowa and around the world aren’t sitting still or resting on their accomplishments. They continue to work to produce improved crops and livestock that are needed to feed a growing world population. They are adopting new technologies, such as biotechnology and GPS, which are helping them increase yields while protecting soil, water and all of the environment. And they are combining all of that with hard work and persistence, values that comes from working on the land and living closely with nature.

And as Norman Borlaug so vividly showed, the combination of science, compassion and hard work truly can make the world a better place.

By Dirck Steimel. Dirck is News Services manager for the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.


Iowa’s future is our focus

March 19, 2014

State Basketball-blog 2014

The Iowa Farm Bureau has always believed in the importance of Iowa’s young people. They are the life blood of our communities and a promise for our future. For years, we’ve supported student achievement in academics, the arts and athletics while encouraging the leaders of tomorrow through our sponsorship of the Iowa High School Athletic Association, the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union and the Iowa Hall of Pride.

One of the best places to see the leaders of tomorrow is at the state’s high school basketball tournaments, held each March in Des Moines. Check out these shots from the 2014 state tournaments from Iowa Farm Bureau’s award-winning photographer, Gary Fandel.

For more information on how the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation supports our state’s youth, click here.


Confession: I was fooled by a food label

March 3, 2014

deli meatIt isn’t easy to admit this, but I recently bought a food because of its packaging. Or more specifically, I fell for the label on the box.

I was shopping for deli meat, and I was overwhelmed by all the different choices. So I decided to buy the package labeled “natural,” even though it cost a dollar more than what I usually buy.

Like a lot of Iowans this time of year, I’m on a health-food kick as I attempt to fight winter weight gain, and the “natural” label seemed like the healthier choice.

Now I consider myself a well-informed food shopper. I know that the “natural” label isn’t specifically defined by federal regulations. After a quick Google search, I found that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) allows the “natural” label on meats and poultry if the product doesn’t contain artificial ingredients or colors.

When I returned home and looked a little closer at the packaging, I read that one of the ingredients listed was “natural flavorings.” So “flavorings” were added, they just weren’t artificial, or man-made.

However, if I had taken the time to look at the nutrition facts on the box, I would have realized that the two products were almost identical nutritionally. Wasn’t my original goal to eat healthier? I should have looked for a low-sodium choice, not a “natural” label.

It turns out, I’m not the only label reader out there. According to the latest Iowa Farm Bureau Food & Farm Index ™, about two-thirds of Iowa grocery shoppers (68 percent) say they pay attention to labels on their food. Among those who do, the highest percentages say labels indicating that the food was raised in the U.S. (50 percent) give them the information they are seeking, followed by raised locally (43 percent), hormone free (36 percent) or antibiotic free (32 percent).

Unfortunately, these labels can be misleading. For example, no artificial or added hormones are used in U.S. poultry production, so any brand of chicken can be labeled “raised without hormones.”

In addition, all meat and poultry products are antibiotic free. In fact, it is illegal for animals with antibiotic residues to enter the food system. When antibiotics are used in livestock and poultry production, strict withdrawal periods must be followed before the animals are permitted into the food chain. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) monitors meat and poultry to ensure strict compliance.

Sometimes, you can’t help but rely on labels when you are faced with so many choices at the grocery store. But if you’re a label reader like me, don’t overlook the nutrition facts on the package to help make a healthier choice.

For more information about food label definitions, visit the Best Food Facts website. The USDA also explains the difference between “organic” and “natural” labels.

By Teresa Bjork. Teresa is the Senior Features Writer for Iowa Farm Bureau.


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