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“I believe in the future of agriculture with a faith born not of words but of deeds.” The National FFA Organization Creed begins with these words and it inspires us FFA members to not just talk the talk, but walk the walk. This brings up the question: What is the future of agriculture. Long story short, it’s bright.
By 2050 the world’s population is estimated to grow to 9 billion. According to the United Nations, this means that farmers will have to produce 70 percent more food to feed the growing population. While this is a daunting task, it also provides a great opportunity for everyone involved in agriculture. Now, more than ever, the entire world will rely on agriculture to provide for their basic needs. The science involved with agriculture to make crops and livestock more efficient and better producing will improve and benefit the world. However, some may view this science as controversial and react negatively towards it. But, I believe that the next generation of agriculture has another tool in its tool box.
Today, it seems like everybody is on social media. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and blogs are popular sites to share your thoughts and ideas. Social media is also a great way for farmers to share their story, and the younger generation is more tech savvy. It’s a great match. When people like you listen to their side of the story, the truth is told and people are more informed.
What will my role be? As a senior in high school interested in agriculture, I realize that agriculture is diverse. There’s a lot you can do. I want to be an Ag teacher. I want to educate young people who are interested in agriculture, share my passion, and inspire them to be the best they can be.
The future of agriculture is indeed bright. The future of the world depends on agriculture, and I believe that agriculture can provide for the world despite having to produce 70 percent more food by 2050. The last paragraph in the National FFA Organization Creed sums up what I’m trying to say. “I believe that American agriculture can and will hold true to the best traditions of our national life and that I can exert an influence in my home and community which will stand solid for my part in that inspiring task.”
Webster’s dictionary describes apathy as “the feeling of not having much emotion or interest”. Given all the discussion that’s happening in the media about food and how it’s grown or raised, some days I just wish that people would show a little apathy, or maybe not care as much or take such an interest. This is especially true when their interest happen to be different that mine.
Okay, that’s not really true. I’m glad people care about what they eat and are interested in where they food comes from and the people that grow it. I just wish they’d try a little harder to actually connect with the people that are involved in food production and not any random “expert from the internet”. I know that’s easier said than done. How do you find a farmer? I actually checked out the yellow pages from the Mankato/New Ulm phone book and found a number of listings under “Farms”. This brings up two questions; 1) does anyone use the yellow pages anymore and 2) if you called one of those farms, would the farmers actually talk to you?
I have a suggestion. Check out the Pig3D website from the MN Pork Board and the MN Pork Producers Association. You’ll find it at http://www.pig3d.com. You’ll also find videos showing real pig farmers and great resource information. There’s even a spot to send a question to a real farmer so that you can get an honest answer. If Facebook or Twitter are your style, check out #RealPigFarming. Farmers are talking and showing pictures about what they do every day. The MN State Fair will be held the end of August and that’s another great spot to talk to farmers.
I am so lucky. As a pig farmer I wake up each day knowing where most of my food comes from. I understand some of you have questions on food safety and animal welfare practices. Please ask them. Just ask them from someone who knows what they are talking about and are living the experience every day.
Goals help us stay focused and provide motivation. Even a simple goal like cleaning off our desk can keep our mind on the project and create satisfaction when completed.
This summer I’ve been exercising aimlessly. After I ran the 5K in Duluth in June I wanted to do an event towards the end of summer that would give me something to shoot for and stretch my talents. For example, last year I did the Iron Girl Duathlon.
All summer I watched various races come and go but could never get excited about any of them or find one that didn’t conflict with my schedule. In the back of my mind I saw the 10K race in Mankato as a possibility. Sure, it would challenge me since I haven’t run a 10K for almost 30 years, but it was later in the season than I preferred since the race is Oct. 21.
So I would keep finding excuses not to sign up and as summer came to a close I realized I was on the path to letting my exercise routine fade away like the summer daylight hours. I became increasing frustrated with myself knowing that if I let an opportunity like the Mankato 10K pass by I would be mad at myself for not trying. Then again, for whatever reasons the last few times I ran it was hard, and that was only 2 miles. How could I survive 6?
The answer was right next to me…Dale. He said he would run with me and knowing I had him at my side to help me through any rough spots gave me confidence that I could complete a 10K. So I signed us both up for the 10K and went out and ran 2 1/2 miles. It was the best run I had in a long time. Perhaps a sign that my decision was the right one.
Now I have a goal, a purpose for running and exercising even though the daylight hours are getting shorter and the days cooler. It feels good to have something to focus on. Funny thing is that my running is going better too. I suppose those 90° summer days did drag me down, but mentally I have more confidence in myself. I’ve been running 4 miles consistently and am looking to do 5. Once I do that I know I can do 6, especially with Dale running along with me.
What I enjoyed about the Iron Girl Duathlon last year was the challenge of doing something I’d never done before. It meant setting a goal and then working hard to achieve that goal. I’ve decided I can’t let the fear of failure overcome the opportunity to succeed.
Harvest has begun early this year. Perhaps that’s not such a surprise considering what type of year 2012 has been. From the unseasonably warm winter to the unfortunately dry summer, this has certainly been a year most people won’t forget.
Here in southern MN, most farmers have started harvesting corn and while it’s early on the calendar, the corn is mature. Moisture levels started high, in the mid to high 20’s, but a few good drying days and strong winds have brought those levels down. Early results say the yields are better than expected, but remember it’s still early. Perhaps the dry summer made us lower our expectations too.
I know that others around the country have not done as well. I work for an animal nutrition company and through my contacts across the U.S. I hear reports of very poor yields or rather almost nonexistent yields. In addition to the reduced quantity of corn, some areas need to be concerned about the quality of corn. Aflatoxin, which can be detrimental to animal performance, is often produced by molds that grow in drought stricken corn. This creates a challenge for farmers because now they may not only be short of corn, but the corn they do have contains mycotoxins that can be harmful to their animals.
September is my favorite month of the year. The combination of warm days and cools nights create a wonderful atmosphere. The excitement of harvest and seeing the results of the growing season fills the air. Kids are back in school with a fresh new year ahead of them. It’s a great time to live on the farm.
I’ll admit this writer of the Pork Power blog has gone through a bit of writers block recently. It seems I would begin to start a subject, only to get part way through and decide it wasn’t really what I wanted to say.
Over the last few months I’ve had the opportunity to be involved in number of events that involve promoting pork to people who don’t typically interact with pig farmers. From the Boston Marathon in April, to Grandma’s Marathon in June, to the Oink Outing in Edina a few weeks ago, I’ve had a chance to give them a healthy, tasty sample of pork and more importantly talk to them about raising pigs.
The marathon events were just plain fun. While I enjoyed interacting with people at the Farmers Market Oink Outing in Edina, I had a number of conversations that made me realize how much people just don’t trust pig farmers anymore… and that makes me sad.
It seems there was a time when farming was a noble profession. Farmers didn’t make much money, but they were growing food for people, which was good. It also meant those people were free to get other jobs and not have to be farmers. Somewhere along the way, a few bad apples have ruined it for the rest of us and now the common thing to do is call all farmers “corporate farmers” who practice “factory farming.” Ouch, that hurts.
I had people in Edina tell me they won’t eat meat because of the way animals were housed. When I told them about our farm and how we take care of pigs, you could see them make the mental transition to “Okay, now I trust you, but I don’t trust the other people.” So how do I explain to them that the vast majority of pig farmers in MN and the U.S. can be trusted, even if you don’t have the chance to meet with them. I want them to know that with the guidance of our veterinarians and consultants, we can make the right decisions on the welfare of our animals and we don’t need someone else making that choice for us.
I’ve never taken the trust of someone else for granted. I’ve tried to teach my kids that trust is an important part of someone’s character; it’s a measure of someone’s worth. So how do I explain to my kids that a whole new segment of society thinks we’re “worthless” and can’t be trusted to take care of the very animals that provide our livelihood.
Just as important, how do I get people to trust pig farmers again?
Most pigs are green. I know what you’re thinking. You’ve seen white, black, red and even blue-butt pigs, but green pigs?? No such thing. Okay, so when I say green I’m not referring to the color, but the sustainability of pork production and how well it fits with the crops we grow.
Right now we’re busy planting corn and beans. Much of the reason we’ll have a good yield is because of the fertility of the soil. The hog manure we apply to the soil has a major impact on fertility. We test the manure for nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus. We also test our soil for those same nutrients. Where the soil is low in nutrients, we apply more manure to increase the fertility and the yield. This allows us to get the right balance of nutrients. In the past without testing there was a greater chance of over applying or under applying the manure, which is wasteful.
A popular subject is carbon footprint. Whether you are a consumer, producer or manufacturer, reducing your carbon footprint is important. Through the Pork Checkoff producers funded research efforts that measured and identified the overall carbon footprint involved with pork production. I’m happy to say the production system we use, with deep pits has the lowest GHG emissions. Why is that? Our facilities help our pigs grow more efficiently, which means they use less feed. The deep pits and manure application systems we have allow us to capture the most nutrients for the crops and reduce our need for commercial fertilizer. Today’s as farmers we produce 50% more pork with the same GHG emissions. That’s being responsible.
Most people I talk to don’t realize what a productive and efficient cycle pigs and crops create. While you may not actually see green pigs on our farm, you can feel good knowing every day we’re trying to do the best we can to be responsible to our neighbors and our environment.
“I survived the 2012 Boston Marathon”. That’s the shirt that Dale wants someone to create so that he can buy it. 87° temperatures and running a marathon are two things that do not go well together. Yet Dale was able to stay upright, when unfortunately many didn’t, and run a very respectable 3:45 marathon.
Our weekend in Boston was memorable; not only for the heat but for the great opportunity we had to promote pork during the Health Expo. As I walked into the Event Center, I could smell the inviting scent of grilled pork. Even though the place was packed and I couldn’t find our booth, I knew the Pork Power team was there. We had lots of people ask why pork was at the Health Expo. When we tell them how well a lean protein like pork fits into an athlete’s diet, you could see their head nod in agreement.
Over and over we instructed people on the proper way to cook pork and how that really does make a difference in juiciness and taste. In the end, our goal was to create a positive impression, to provide a little education and to encourage people to continue to buy pork.
Having goals and committing to the hard work and discipline to achieve those goals applies to most everything we do in life, from promoting pork to running marathons. Sometimes things happen beyond our control but that doesn’t make the preparation or the effort needed to accomplish the task any less significant.
Simply having the courage to take on a daunting task reflects the true character of a person.
Last Friday my daughter Beth and I visited the Worthington Middle School and shared our experiences as pig farmers with the 5th graders. The opportunity was made possible by the MN Pork Board through their sponsorship with Provider Pals.
Very few of the culturally diverse kids were familiar with pigs and the basic facts of how much they weigh when they are born (3.3 lbs), how big they are at market (280 lbs) and how many pigs a sow can have in a year (30). By the way, that last fact drew a big “wow” from the kids. They asked lots of questions and had a great time trying on the Tyvek coveralls and plastic boots.
They took turns coming to the smart board and circling on a picture of a pig where their favorite cuts of pork came from. You could see them start to make the connection – bacon, everyone’s favorite, comes from pigs and these people raise those pigs. They wanted to know how much pigs ate and how did we decide how much to feed the sows and oh by the way, why do you call them sows? Yes, we even go the delicate question of how can you eat the pigs you raise. As I explain to them how lucky I am because I have the opportunity to grow my own food, I also wanted them to understand that I know I raise pork for people like them and I want them to have safe and healthy pork too.
During one of our breaks a little boy who hasn’t been in the U.S. very long, politely came up and asked Beth if she wanted to play checkers. What a fitting summary to our day. We may live in different areas and look and speak differently, but in the end, we all have something in common.
Our goal was to leave a little nugget of information for those kids so that the next time someone talks about pigs and farming they remember what we said and make a positive connection. Yes, pig farmers are real people. They have kids and those kids like to play checkers, just like you.
Okay, so I may be a little older than what most people think of for adoption but in this case the adoption means I’ve been chosen by the Worthington Middle School students through Provider Pals. This program is a cultural exchange between those in agriculture and inner-city students.
Provider Pals was started by Bruce Vincent, a logger from Montana as a way for urban and rural students to exchange information and gain a better understanding of their common ground and their differences. For more information on Provider Pals you can visit their website at http://www.providerpals.com
The MN Pork Board has sponsored 4 pork producers to be part of this program, of which I and my daughter Beth are fortunate enough to be able to participate. Over the next few months we’ll be exchanging information on ourselves and the activities that happen on our farm with these students. I am looking forward to the students’ questions and helping them learn more about life on a hog and grain farm. It will be important not just to show them what’s different, but what we have in co
As farmer’s many of our daily tasks require hard work and some ingenuity to get the job done. In many cases we “make do” with what we have. But when it comes to educating our kids, we shouldn’t have to settle. After all, we’re preparing the next generation of leaders.
Hat’s off to Monsanto for recognizing the financial need that many rural schools have, especially when it comes to math and science programs. Our school district, USC in Wells MN was fortunate enough to secure a $25,000 grant from Monsanto as part of their America’s Farmers Grow Rural Education program. This money was used to buy microscopes and other supplies that are important to our children’s education.
Monsanto’s business is built on farmers and they recognized the need to contribute back to those customers, especially when it comes to educating youth. I’d like to thank Monsanto for their generosity and for recognizing the needs we have in rural America. It’s easy to get caught up in all that’s wrong with today’s youth. It’s even more important to recognize what’s right with today’s youth and provide the resources they need to become future leaders.
For more specific information on Monsanto’s program visit their website at www.americasfarmers.com/growruraleducation/winners/stories.aspx. The second video highlights the USC school district.
As farmers we know that growth of plants, animal or kids doesn’t just happen. It requires work, cultivation and nourishment. Fortunately there are others who recognize the value of what we do and are willing to help.