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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

GMO Wheat, Strawberries and Tomatoes

What do wheat, strawberries and tomatoes have in common?


Wheat field in Kansas in early spring.
Courtesy http://buzzardsbeat.blogspot.com
Not much except they AREN'T GMOs. Yep, that's right - contrary to many internet infographics and Facebook posts, there is no such thing as a GMO wheat plant, strawberry or tomato.

Simple as that.

There is however a fairly short list of GMO foods that are available in the U.S.:
  • corn
  • soybeans
  • cotton
  • alfalfa
  • sugar beets
  • papaya
  • squash

Two other GMO plants have been approved, the Arctic Apple and the Innate potato. However, the apples will not be available on the market until fall 2016, in limited quantities. Innate potatoes have been available in small quantities for the past few months.

There are a lot of reasons to develop new GMO varieties and one that I am very passionate about is food waste. For example, according to GMO Answers, the Innate potato bruises about 40% less than conventional potatoes and will not show black spots or browning when peeled and prepared. This can help reduce an estimated 400 million pounds of waste that go to landfills each year. Additionally, since we are less likely to eat a gross, black and bruised potato, we as consumers will throw away fewer potatoes at home. Fewer wasted potatoes means that farmers can market more of their crop and reduce pesticide, water and carbon dioxide from farm production. I know I am less likely to eat a potato if it has a big black spot and how much goes to waste by cutting out the black bits?

Obviously, nutrition is a big component of all food products and the Innate potato delivers. Innate potatoes have up to 70% less acrylamide than conventional potatoes when cooked at high temperatures. Acrylamide is a naturally occurring chemical compound found in most starchy foods but is a probable carcinogen in laboratory animals when consumed at high doses. Subsequent generations of Innate promise to lower acrylamide by 90% or more, providing a healthier option for consumers. Healthier for humans and the environment!

Similarly, Arctic Apples are a non-browning apple - who likes brown apples a mere five minutes after you bite into it or slice it up?! Not me. They also don't brown after they have been bruised which leads to fewer being thrown in the bin because of nasty bruise. Again, this all contributes to less food wasted and I think we can all agree that less food waste = a healthier planet.

I hope if you have questions about GMOs you will reach out to a reputable source, such as GMOAnswers.com, a FFT member, a state agriculture association or better yet, a farmer or rancher! Who better to talk to you about the food you eat than the farmers and ranchers who grow it?

So the next time you see a strawberry and a tomato melded together in a Facebook "infographic" be confident that it's not a genetic experiment gone wrong. It's merely food fear at work - don't play into the hands of those who wish to scare you. Food is meant to be enjoyed, not feared!

Questions about GMOs? Leave a comment!

Until next time,
~ Buzzard ~

All facts taken from GMOAnswers.com*

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

14 days without Ranch Dressing: My Trip to Brazil


Oi! ("Hi!" in Portuguese)

This past summer, I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to travel abroad on a faculty-led study tour. I went to Brazil for two weeks and could not have had a better experience to cap off my years as an undergrad and transition into my Master’s program. Because this class was for course credit, we were assigned with writing a blog and reflection piece. I never chose to publish mine, but thought Food for Thought might be a great means to share a little bit about my trip and my post-trip reflections.


Day 1: Travel

Day 2: Arrived in Cuiaba and enjoyed our first Brazilian barbeque. The first thing I tried was a chicken heart (not on purpose...), everything after that point was delicious!



Day 3: Toured the wetland region via horseback and boat called the Patanal. This area supports not only wildlife, but a herd of Nelore cattle and is a place where cattlemen worry about the threat of jaguars and large snakes to their animals. No extra charge for caiman crocodile.



Day 4: We visited Fazenda Kamayura, a Nelore-Angus ranch. Nelore cattle are a Bos Indicus breed that are ideal for the heat and humidity of Brazil. We also visited Anna Sophia Ranch, which raises cattle and teak wood.

Day 5: Visit to Fazenda San Helena, a 150 year old farm that raises purebred Nelore and Panteneiro show horses.

Day 6: Visited Fazenda Luciana, an integrated cattle and farming operation, and Fazenda Tetia, a large corn and soybean operation.




Day 7: Toured Agropecuraria Fazenda Brasil, a large cattle production company, they cover all aspects of production with cow-calf, backgrounding, stocking, and finishing phases. Hint: cowboys on mules are not only awesome but can pull off one heck of a photobomb……

Day 8: This day involved a 40 km ride on Brazilian back roads in our large tour bus only to arrive at the farm and see oil dripping from our bus. Despite being miles away from help, this farm was a little oasis in the middle of nowhere. Thankful to the hospitality of the owner of Cava do Cardeira and its beautiful location, we enjoyed the day AND learned about their sheep and water buffalo production.

Day 9: Toured a JBS packing plant, great experience to see this side of their cattle industry! We also visited a sugar cane farm. Brazil produces ethanol primarily from sugar cane.



Day 10:  Visited a coffee farm from the 1800s and a bovine in-vitro fertilization company. I bottle-fed a cloned dairy calf!

Day 11: Travel day to Foz do Iguaçu

Day 12: Perhaps my most anticipated tourist activity on our trip, the Iguaçu Falls, one of the world's largest waterfalls. First, we toured a bird park. To tour the falls, we loaded into a boat with ponchos and life preservers and were driven up the rapids underneath a "smaller" waterfall. Sounded like a good idea to us!

Day 13: Toured the Itaipu dam between Paraguay and Brazil and began our long journey home. I missed my family and friends, I missed sleeping in the same bed for more than 2 nights, and as the stereotypical Midwesterner, I missed ranch dressing... Brazilian food is very flavorful and condiments are difficult to come by. The day we found ketchup at a restaurant was a very exciting day on the trip.


I could go on about the impressive details of each production system, the warmth and hospitality of the Brazilian people, and the many mishaps and resulting laughs that is a study abroad trip. But, I chose to reflect on the biggest difference and similarity that I noticed between Brazilian and American agriculture.

The major difference was that the majority of cattle producers do not castrate their male animals, but rather feed them out as bulls. This was surprising to everyone, as we correlate castration with better-tasting beef due to the steer’s ability to deposit more intramuscular fat than a bull because of reduced testosterone. When we asked the various producers who did not practice castration what their motivation was, they explained it had to do with the packing companies. In Brazil, there is no financial incentive at the slaughterhouse to castrate because the meat is graded strictly on yield, or quantity. There is no premium for better quality meat, or meat with better marbling. Additionally, as one of the world’s most important beef exporters, the European Union (EU) is an important market to Brazil. This means that they must stay within the regulations laid out by EU political bodies, which eliminates several technologies that often accompany castration, such as implants. It took a while to get used to seeing pens of bulls in a feedlot, but this is a component of the system that makes Brazil such a large exporter, so that was really interesting to learn about.

One similarity to the United States that I noticed, although very broad, is something that I feel can be applied to Brazilian agriculture and all people involved. That is, those that produce livestock seek to do the very best for their animals and their operation. More specifically, they seek to incorporate technology, make decisions based on minimizing input costs, and have great respect to the environment and increasing its sustainability. This seems like it might be a “no-brainer”, but I feel that it is a common theme that those in agriculture seek to share with consumers. Agriculturists all over the world operate with regard to animal welfare and sustainability, both financially and environmentally. Successful operations keep these both in mind. Yes, Americans and Brazilians are raising very different types of cattle in completely different environments, and have different limitations on the types of technology each may implement. However, when it comes down to the bottom line, both they have common goals of contributing to global food production while doing the best they can for their animals. For example, AFB is utilizing data technology to grow and market their cattle and maximize profit, but we noticed in their working facility a sign describing the five animal freedoms and how to work animals with respect to their flight zone. The rancher from Fazenda Kamayura admitted that increasing the amount of Angus genetics in his herd would certainly bring more profit at the packing plant. However, more Angus would create animals that would not tolerate the heat as well and are also too costly to feed, as they require more nutrients than Nelore.

In conclusion, although I have been fortunate to travel to several countries prior to this trip, I feel that I have gained a great deal more from this experience because of the opportunity to study global agriculture. I believe that travel is a very important tool for self-development. I find that when I travel, I return home with greater appreciation and awareness for the blessings in my life, as well as a sort of confidence that comes with seeking to gain world perspective. Additionally, I have always found that no matter how far away I go, humans, and ultimately, agriculture, are more similar than they are different. When trying to articulate my reaction to international travel, I found a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us, or we find it not.” I will certainly carry the excellent impression I have formed of Brazilian agriculture and beef production with me as I continue to pursue my career in animal nutrition.

Tchau!

Annie

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Wasted


Imagine a family dinner of three with a menu that could be anything from grilled chicken to pasta salad. But, imagine if one of those family members didn’t eat their meal, and it had gone to waste. Sadly, those circumstances parallel American society. For decades, wasted food was been problem hiding in plain sight. Thankfully the issue of food waste has gradually become one the food industry, press and now politicians–are noticing.
 
 
Just this month, the separation of church and state was set aside when combating food waste. The Environmental Protection Agency on January 18th, 2016 launched the Food Steward's Pledge, an initiative to engage religious groups of all faiths to help redirect the food that ends up in landfills to hungry mouths. The EPA also partnered with the USDA back in September of 2015 at a joint event where USDA Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and EPA deputy administrator Stan Meiburg announced a plan with a multifaceted way of getting there: reduce the country’s food waste by 50 percent by 2030.

According to US Government Figures, more than 1,200 calories per American per day are wasted. These losses occur on the farm, at the retail level and in homes. We consumers often toss out foods because they've passed their sell-by date — but are still just fine to eat — or because we buy more than we can eat before it goes bad. In addition, Food waste is the single biggest material in U.S. landfills, according to the U.S. Agricultural Department. As this waste decomposes, it releases methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.
 
For many Americans, there are multiple reasons that they throw away food, including food that goes past its use by date, Food that has visibly gone bad, making too much food, and many more. According to Government Agencies like the EPA and the USDA, the key to reduce food waste at the consumer level is by changing behavior.  The EPA is engaging with faith-based groups to help make that change behavior in a variety of ways. For instance, when these organizations hold potlucks, the leftovers can go to the local food bank.

Given that food affects every single US Citizen in some shape of form, it’s easy for consumers to take action against food waste.  Government Agencies, Researchers, and other parties have found that there are simple ways to decrease food waste and save money, such as:

1. Grocery Shopping Realistically:

When going shopping, make sure you don't buy too much food. This may mean going to the grocery store more often, and buying less food each time. A good way of solidifying this is by planning out meals in advance, and making a detailed shopping list with the ingredients you'll need.

2. Saving and Eating Leftovers

Saving uneaten food when you either cook too much or you get too much food at a restaurant can help reduce food waste. Labeling leftovers can help keep track of how long they've been in your fridge or freezer. 

3. Don’t Over-Serve

The idea of massive portions is a problem in American Culture, and it’s consumers at home as well trickle into our homes. Refrain from over-serving friends and family when you're cooking meals. Using small plates can help with that.

4. Treat expiration and sell-by dates as guidelines


When it comes to expiration and sell-by dates, this is a tricky subject. Most Expiration dates identify with food quality, not food safety. The "sell by" label tells the store how long to display the product for sale. This is basically a guide for the retailer, so the store knows when to pull the item. This is not mandatory, so reach in back and get the freshest. The issue is quality of the item (freshness, taste, and consistency) rather than whether it is on the verge of spoiling.

5. Donate to food banks and farms.

Before you throw away excess food, look into food banks and charities where you can bring items you know you're not going to consume before they go bad, and give them to people in need. You can find local food banks through Feeding America and WhyHunger.

The good news about Food Waste, is that we as individuals can implement small changes that make a big difference in the amount of food we throw away each year.

Good Luck!

Conrad

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

A Quiet Christmas

Pasture with goats

I awoke to the soft sound of a gentle rain falling against the windowsill.  It was my first day back home on our family farm after another semester at Kansas State University.  I eventually looked over at the clock, and after blinking twice noticed it was already 8:30 in the morning.  I nearly leapt out of bed to get dressed to help feed the animals before church.  But before I did, I noticed something. Other than the soft rain, the farm was quiet. 

As my brain resumed functioning, I remembered the decision our family had made to sell our livestock before winter hit.  Outside, only a single barn cat roamed the corrals once home to 80 meat goats and about a dozen cattle. 

This decision didn’t just come about overnight, but had been considered for a number of years.  The primary driver of selling our livestock was our small family farm did not produce enough to be profitable with the amount of labor it required.  As my older brother and I moved off to school, the brunt of the farm labor fell upon my mother, who put in hours a day taking care of the livestock.  During high demand times like kidding and calving seasons, the required work hours increased drastically.  In comparison with the earnings my mother could make working an hourly, entry-level position, running the family farm became unprofitable. 
 
I know this story isn’t just specific to us, but has been shared by thousands of small family farmers throughout the US in the past century.  Ever since the industrialization era, men and women have left the farm to find jobs and different lives in our quickly expanding cities.  Just as it was in the early 1900s, farming and ranching both produce commodities subject to the large variations of market prices.  A bad year in the market with low prices can do great damage to an agricultural producer, and if they do not have enough resources to last through hard times, they may have to sell out or face defaulting on loans. 

Because of these factors, relying solely on a system of small family farms to provide our entire nation’s food supply is unrealistic.  I am a full supporter of family farms, as they have provided me with great experiences that I will never forget and hope to provide for my own children someday.  As well, it is hard to beat fresh sweet corn picked from our own garden or a local farmers market.  But the belief that our entire food supply can be produced entirely by small, local farmers is unrealistic economically, unless America is willing to pay substantially more for their food.  Because larger farming operations are also great stewards of the land, I am a full supporter of them.  Larger farms have the resources necessary to survive market fluctuations and produce safe, plentiful, and inexpensive products raised as efficiently as possible.  There is room for all types of agricultural production systems in America, but we need to get over some of the economic fantasies presented in the media.

This Christmas, I did not have to run outside after a big Christmas dinner to feed our livestock in the cold.  I was missing the animals a little bit, but know that there are others that made the sacrifices to provide all the fixings for our Holiday celebration. 

Cheers,
Kyle Apley

Thursday, December 17, 2015

A Bit More Than Just Planting Seeds


I will admit that prior to three weeks ago, I never had much experience with planting crops – I grew up on a cattle farm – and I still don’t a lot of experience with it now. But after submitting a project for my crop science class, I have a deeper respect for those that grow crops for a living. 
Let's see, the rows have 15 inches between them and three inches between each plant. Wait, why is there so much math in farming?
photo courtesy: SumaGroulX
For my project, a few of my classmates and I were assigned a field and were given a description of what the farmer has done in the past, as well as problems that he has run into recently. Our group had to take on the role of consultants to the farmer and provide educated suggestions for what he should do in the coming year. While none of us were experts on the subject, we ended up submitting a 12-page proposal, highlighting as much information as we could. 
Among the most important information, we had to detail:

  • Different types of soil in the field
  • Varieties of seeds for the crops that we were planting
  • How much fertilizer should be used to keep the plants growing and healthy
  • How we should plant the seeds in the ground, how far apart the rows of crops would be and how many seeds we planned to use
  • Estimated costs for everything that we would use
I don’t know about you, but what I knew about growing crops was just a fraction of what we covered in this assignment. I even called a family friend that sells different types of seed, asking for his advice and recommendations.

At times, I think it can be easy to assume that the typical procedure for growing crops is to stick the seed in the ground and pray for rain. That might be the most simplistic view of it, at least. When looking at every angle of it, however, it really looks like a science. Farmers have to know what they are doing to ensure that everything on the farm will work out day to day, month to month and year to year. They also have to be able to adapt, which I found out as I had to provide backup solutions to our group’s original suggestions just in case they would not work out.

Have you ever seen a planting season or harvest? Have you seen the farm equipment going down the road early in the morning? Just imagine how long farmers spend out in the field, and then think about how much time is spent out of the field, double and triple-checking everything to make sure that their plants and land not only survive, but thrive.

I may not find myself plowing up the ground or applying fertilizer any time soon, but when I see a farmer out in the field I will know that he has been up for longer than me, and will probably stay up longer than me, more than likely thinking of what more he could do than just putting seeds in the dirt and praying for rain.



Until next time,

Chance

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

There Are No Snow Days in Agriculture

Let me start by saying that I am no fan of cold weather.  Absolutely hate it.  As icy and cold as it’s been across our state lately, I’ve been thinking about how especially thankful I am for farmers and ranchers that brave the elements to take care of their animals and the land.

Growing up with a dad who managed a large cattle feedlot, I learned early on that a change in weather could flip our family’s life upside down.  The worst such occasion was a horrible ice storm that crippled southwest Kansas in late December 2006 and January 2007.  My family had just gotten to Texas to visit my grandparents after Christmas when Dad got a phone call that the weather was getting a little western.  So we turned around and sped the entire ten hours home, only pit stopping in Oklahoma City to buy a few electric generators.

We arrived back in Garden City to find the roads completely iced, powerlines and trees down, and snow and ice everywhere.  Before it was all said and done, we ended up with three inches of rain, topped with over four inches of ice and some snow on top of that.  To be frank, it was my dad’s (and every farmer or rancher’s) personal version of hell on earth. 
Over the course of the next few weeks, I rarely, if ever, saw my dad.  He and the feedlot crew were working around the clock, 24/7.  As you can see in these photos, machinery was constantly running to clear snow and slop out and dump sand in pens.  The cattle still had to be fed, so alleys, roads, and bunks (what cattle eat out of) had to be shoveled and cleared so feed trucks could get the feed where it needed to go.  On top of that, power was out so they ran the office and the mill off of generators for seven days.
Feedyard employees using equipment to clear mud out of a feedyard to keep cattle comfortable
The feedyard employees are using equipment to clear mud out
of the pens and haul in sand to keep the cattle comfortable.
At Garden City Feed Yard the goal always, and especially during those times, was to keep cattle comfortable and take the absolute best care of them as possible.  That’s exactly what they did.  Were they able to make the conditions ideal?  Absolutely not.  Were the cattle feeling like they were living in paradise?  They sure weren’t.  But how would the cattle have fared without their human caretakers?  If they could, I’m sure that the cattle would have said “thank you” to the guys for caring about their wellbeing. 
There are no “snow days” when you are caring for other living creatures—these guys sacrificed time with their families, warmth, and often sleeping in their own beds to do their part.  That’s just how it works in this industry.  Putting your animals ahead of almost everything is simply a way of life.  The next time I feel myself getting ready to complain about how much I despise how cold it is, I’m going to stop myself and remember how thankful I am that farmers and ranchers, like my dad, are toughing it out so that I can have something on my plate to eat.  I hope you will remember that too.

Thanks for reading,
Lindy

Monday, November 23, 2015

Turkey Day Talk

HAPPY THANKSGIVING WEEK!

You make your grocery list, count how many people are coming (multiple times), plan the seating arrangement so that crazy uncle Ted doesn't sit by grandma, and recruit all the members of the family to help clean the house all for the big day. Thanksgiving day is the perfect time for stuffing your face and spending time with the people you love. It is also the perfect time to refresh your knowledge of food safety!

 Food Safety is a bid deal. One in Six Americans will get food poisoning this year. foodsafety.gov is a great website for information on recalls and food safety steps and tips. Read more in the link below on how to safely cook your turkey this holiday season! Another resource available for food safety questions from the USDA is the USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline at 1-888-674-6854 or chat live with a food safety specialist at AskKaren.gov.
USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) or chat live with a food safety specialist at AskKaren.gov available from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday, in English or Spanish. - See more at: http://blogs.usda.gov/2015/11/18/countdown-to-thanksgiving/#sthash.I8LgZEdd.dpuf
USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) or chat live with a food safety specialist at AskKaren.gov available from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday, in English or Spanish. - See more at: http://blogs.usda.gov/2015/11/18/countdown-to-thanksgiving/#sthash.I8LgZEdd.dpuf
the USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) or chat live with a food safety specialist at AskKaren.gov available from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday, in English or Spanish.
If you need help on Thanksgiving Day, the USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline will be open from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Eastern Time.  You can also ask questions of “Karen,” FSIS’ virtual representative, 24/7 at AskKaren.gov.  Visit PregunteleaKaren.gov for questions in Spanish.
- See more at: http://blogs.usda.gov/2015/11/18/countdown-to-thanksgiving/#sthash.I8LgZEdd.dpuf
the USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) or chat live with a food safety specialist at AskKaren.gov available from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday, in English or Spanish.
If you need help on Thanksgiving Day, the USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline will be open from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Eastern Time.  You can also ask questions of “Karen,” FSIS’ virtual representative, 24/7 at AskKaren.gov.  Visit PregunteleaKaren.gov for questions in Spanish.
- See more at: http://blogs.usda.gov/2015/11/18/countdown-to-thanksgiving/#sthash.I8LgZEdd.dpuf
the USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) or chat live with a food safety specialist at AskKaren.gov available from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday, in English or Spanish.
If you need help on Thanksgiving Day, the USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline will be open from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Eastern Time.  You can also ask questions of “Karen,” FSIS’ virtual representative, 24/7 at AskKaren.gov.  Visit PregunteleaKaren.gov for questions in Spanish.
- See more at: http://blogs.usda.gov/2015/11/18/countdown-to-thanksgiving/#sthash.I8LgZEdd.dpuf

Keep you and your guests safe this Thanksgiving day and make sure to follow these guidelines as you prepare for your Thanksgiving meal! http://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/events/thanksgiving/

http://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/events/thanksgiving/

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