hog farmer blog

August 31, 2009

Somewhere in Iowa, a fifth-generation hog farmer is getting up just after dawn. He’s pulling on his jeans that are bare in the knees and short at the ankles and a weathered university sweatshirt that dates back to his days as an ag student in college. After a quick swig of coffee and an earful of the early weather reports, he steps into his boots and heads out to his hog barns. His wife will wake in an hour to start the morning ritual of getting their three kids up and ready for school. Then she’ll take off for her job at an office an hour away from the farm.

He spends the next several hours walking the pens of his farrow-to-finish operation, making sure the sows and piglets are comfortable, measuring feed rations, contacting the vet with a question about a pig’s health status.

He’s feeding the animals the corn that grows on the land of his family’s century farm, meaning it’s been in existence for more than 100 years.

The farmer uses the latest in technology to monitor his barns, to collect and analyze the manure produced by the livestock and then, in turn, to use that natural fertilizer on his no-till crops. His harvest is soon approaching and he needs to get a few parts for the tractor. He needs to scout his fields, contact the semi-trucks for grain hauling details, price his crop and hope that the markets won’t go any crazier than they already are.

He’s invested in local businesses like the vet clinic, the feed store, the co-op, the automotive dealer, the hardware store, the implement and more, to make his business move forward. It makes all of the businesses move forward.

Life is good. He’s continuing the family business, a career that he had chosen as a young boy; raising a family; and caring for his land and livestock. He’s contributing to agriculture’s effort to feed and fuel the world.

But not everything is rosy. Because the H1N1 virus was called swine flu and due to the global economic crisis, this farmer is facing falling profits and piling expenses. He worries about making the utility payment this month and how he’ll tell his daughter that he can no longer contribute to her college savings account. He worries, but it doesn’t stop him from working. He’ll do what he’s always done, but strive to do it better, more efficiently, more economically and even more environmentally friendly.

Somewhere in town, a magazine sits on a store shelf and its cover story vilifies every single thing that the local farmer does every day. It blindly points a ragged finger at him, blaming him for drugging his animals, causing American obesity, killing the environment and holding him responsible for every free choice Americans make regarding what they eat, how much (or little) they pay for food and how much they consume.

Somewhere, sometime in our time on earth, science and facts have been overrun by outlandish claims and fear tactics. Somehow in America, journalistic ethics and the pursuit to prepare a fair and balanced story has crumbled under the pressure to provide taunting headlines that sell by tapping into people’s emotions, feeding them fear and inaccurate information.

Even though U.S. agriculture has evolved, has improved its methods of raising crops and animals, has embraced technology to make things more efficient, and has done more with fewer resources and concentrated on preserving natural resources, it simply doesn’t seem to matter. An agenda has been set and a course of action is being followed.

What matters is the crisis of the day, the protest of the week, the next publicity campaign claiming to raise awareness, but mostly raising money. What matters is finding a scapegoat – and making that scapegoat pay.

So somewhere in Iowa, a hog farmer drops his head as he looks at the national magazine at the local store. The clerk purses her lips and shakes her head in sympathy. He sighs as he digs deep in his pockets to find the money to pay for the supplies he needs to fix his tractor. He hopes that, by working 15-hour days to help feed the world, he’ll make enough to feed his own family.

For the first time, the very first time, he allows himself to wonder if it’s all worth it.

Somewhere in the world, a terrible injustice has been allowed to occur. And sometime soon, we’ll all be paying the price for vilifying the American farmer.

Written by Heather Lilienthal
Heather is an Ag Commodities Writer for the Iowa Farm Bureau.

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“Wholesome Food” and “Wholesome Families” on display at the 2009 Iowa State Fair

August 21, 2009

Have you ever wondered how that steak got to your plate? Chances are, you’re not alone. With less than two percent of the U.S. population involved in farming, many consumers don’t understand exactly how their food is raised and grown.

With that in mind, Iowa Farm Bureau invited 20 farmers (and their families) to speak with consumers at the 2009 Iowa State Fair about the steps they take to assure food safety, animal care and environmental protection. Those who visited Farm Bureau Park during the fair got to visit with those farm families and ask questions about modern farming while playing a “Plinko” game and winning prizes. Jennifer Dammann was one of the farmers who volunteered her time to connect with consumers. Below, she shares her experience.

“Every year I am excited for the Iowa State Fair. The food, animals, shows, and, of course, people watching make it a fun experience. So when I was asked to volunteer at the Farm Bureau tent this year, it was easy to answer, ‘yes.’ 

At the Farm Bureau tent we were playing Plinko, but before fairgoers could get chance to play they had to answer questions related to farming. The most famous remark I received was, “I know nothing about farming. I can’t play.” Then I convinced that individual that I would give an easy question to get them interested. 

It seemed that people knew more about farming than what they realized and were surprised that we had nutrition questions. Many didn’t realize that all milk naturally contains small amounts of protein or that Iowa leads the nation in acres devoted to buffer strips, which help improve water quality. I had to explain what buffer strips were and watched as people smiled and said they “didn’t realize” we (as farmers) cared so much for the environment. I thought it was a great fact to pass along because it really shows our urban neighbors that we love the environment too!”

Written by Jennifer Dammann
Jennifer lives on a farm in southwest Iowa with her husband and young daughter. The Dammann family raises white and yellow corn, soybeans, alfalfa, rye, and runs a cow/calf operation. 

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Organic Or Conventional? Choice Is Yours

August 6, 2009

It was a slender, frosted, bejeweled wonder of a bottle — promising refreshment, class and sophistication in a single sip. Maybe it was the name, “Bling,” spelled out in Swarovski crystals which lured me in, but it was water. A quick check at the price tag on the bottom and I can tell you–this practical Iowa farm girl won’t spend $25 for a bottle of water!

“Bling” and many other designer waters drip volumes about the kind of person who buys it. It says, “I’m sooo much better than tap water,” “I’m special,” “I’m health-conscious.” Sure, the good ole’ tap water is still available, but the waiter will sniff and offer that choice to you as a last resort when you’re ordering in a four-star restaurant. To me, designer water has a place, a market and a purpose, much the same as organic food. But the motivation for those who seek it is much the same: perception. They’ve obviously bought the marketer’s “pitch”: hook, line and “Bling-(er).”

Maybe it’s a sign of the economic times or a growing trend of thriftiness, but it seems the once impenetrable “bling” of the organic movement suddenly has some detractors. The Food Standards Agency in Britain published a report (http://tinyurl.com/l52fjf) that compiled 50 years’ worth of food studies on the health benefits of eating organic food. They concluded: “There’s no good evidence that consumption of organic food is beneficial to health, based on the nutrient content,” said Dr. Alan Dangour, who led the review. The study went on to claim that although organic crops have less pesticide residue than conventionally-grown crops, that residue had no impact on health. Furthermore, they say organic has “high levels of natural fungal toxins.” So, as my Grandma would say, it’s a case of a “half dozen of one, six of another.”

Clearly, as long as consumers want a choice, farmers will provide it. According to the 2007 Ag Census, out of the nearly 93,000 farms in Iowa, 522 of them are “organic.” To be able to put the USDA “organic” seal on food, 95 percent of the ingredients in the food can’t be raised or grown using common commercial fertilizers (but manure is okay); certified organic farms also can’t use pesticides or seeds that contain genetic engineering (even if they make the plant more pest or drought resistant) and can’t be irradiated to remove bacteria; and organically-raised animals can’t be given growth hormones or antibiotics. If animals become sick, they’re treated, but no longer qualified “organic.” Random farm inspections by a USDA-certified inspector are also part of earning the USDA “organic” seal.

Greg Rinehart, a practical, God-fearing, hard-working family farmer from Boone, Iowa has been growing food for nearly 30 years. Although about 30 percent of his crops are organic, Rinehart probably won’t ever go 100 percent organic because “it’s just too much work and my customers won’t want to pay the extra that it would take to weed, clean and harvest it all by hand.” Father of 10 children, Rinehart has a keen sense of the value of farm labor! He says after nearly 30 years, he can’t taste the difference between organic crops and conventionally-grown crops.

The truth is: it comes down to choice — yours. Consumers should feel good that there are farmers out there like Rinehart and others who grow organic or conventionally-grown food — both of which are clearly healthy and nutritious. Isn’t that what living in the good ole’ USA is all about — freedom to choose how you want to live? Freedom to put the kind of food you want on the table instead of condoning one as “good” or “bad”? I guess the good news is Iowa farmers are listening and growing what you want. The rest is up to you and your pocketbook.

Laurie Johns is Public Relations Manager for the Iowa Farm Bureau

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