FROM THE PASTURE TO THE PLATE: IF YOU DON’T TELL YOUR STORY, WHO WILL? PART 2

Editor’s Note: This is the second of two posts from guest blogger Trista Milliman. Trista is a native Illinoisan who now lives in Oklahoma where her and her husband run a cow-calf operation. For the first part, click here.

I addressed my friend’s accusations calmly and factually. Hard to do when you’re angry. First, I explained the “steroid” myth. I don’t know who labeled them that, maybe the media or PETA, but we DON’T give our animals steroids. What they get is a growth hormone implant in their right ear. Now, anyone who has taken an Anatomy and Physiology class, what are the two growth hormones that NATURALLY OCCUR in the body, human or animal? Estrogen and testosterone. The hormone we implant is estrogen. (Every woman knows what role estrogen plays in unwanted weight gain.) The estrogen improves our calves feed to gain ratio, which cuts down on the amount of money we have to spend on feed and the amount of time they have to be on pasture. Translation: you get better beef at an affordable price with a smaller amount of time between our pasture and your plate. No steroids here. Oh, and if you’re that concerned about the amount of hormones in your food, consider this: there are 500 times more estrogen in ONE leaf of organically grown spinach than in a three ounce piece of estrogen implanted beef. My town friend was listening.

I moved on to the antibiotics. My town friend loves her two dogs. So, I asked her what she does when her dogs get sick. Of course, she takes them to the vet and if it’s an infection, the vet prescribes an antibiotic. It’s the same with our cows. If we spot a sick one, we take her up to the alley and give her an antibiotic. We treat her as long as she needs it. Simple. If she’s not sick, what’s the point in wasting the money on giving her (and the rest of our herd for that matter) an antibiotic? Not very cost effective if you’re trying to run a business. If the animal is sick we treat her, if she’s not, we don’t. I can’t come up with a better description of animal welfare than that. Point made.

Then, we moved on to my favorite topic, feed. My specialization in my major was livestock nutrition. My husband and I both figure our rations as do many beef producers. And if they don’t do it themselves, they hire a nutritionist. Now, how many PETA or HSUS supporters use a nutritionist when feeding their own families? My town friend just couldn’t get over the idea that we were feeding our cattle genetically modified grain that had been sprayed with pesticides. She was just so sure our cattle were ingesting all types of toxins that would end up in the meat. I explained that one of the reasons we “genetically modify” grain is to make it insect and disease resistant so that we don’t have to spray chemicals on it. I also gave her a short economics lesson while I was at it. In laymen’s terms, a GMO produces more with less input, therefore making the product cost less. Keeping costs down on our end is what keeps costs down on the consumer’s end. People forget about that part. Point taken.

My town friend was so taken with the notions that are portrayed in “Food, Inc.” and Omnivore’s Dilemma. She thinks everyone should have chickens and “organic” vegetable gardens in their back yards. That’s great, if that’s what you like to do for fun. That’s awesome if you feed your family and have a little extra to give to all your neighbors and your friends. But is that really relevant to everyone’s living situation? No, it’s not. Let’s just be honest. Is that going to feed the world? No, it’s not.

The reason we try to feed out our calves to market weight within 18 months is because we’re doing just that, we’re feeding the world. We wouldn’t be getting anywhere if we waited on them to reach market weight on just grass. We’d be at least 2 if not 3 years out before we could feed anyone. If you want to go back to agriculture the way it was in the 1940s, be my guest, but if you think the world is starving now, consider what it would be like if we took a step backwards? And, not to mention the amount of money we would have to spend on importing food from other countries because we couldn’t meet our own demands. Don’t even think for a minute that food production around the world is regulated better than it is here. I’d much rather have pork raised on concrete from the U.S. than I would if it was raised on the dirt in some third world country living off of the trash and waste in the sewer ditches. Our food is as healthy and safe as it’s ever been. The whole idea of research and technology is progress. Who in the world thinks it’s a good idea to regress to old medical procedures, or maybe go back to using type- writers instead of computers?

I crunched some numbers to illustrate my point. Back in 1940, the world population was around 2.3 billion people. There were around 6 million farmers and ranchers in the U.S. and each one could feed 19 people a year. Fast forward to 2010. The world population is roughly 6,825,100,000 and there are around 5.7 million U.S. farmers and ranchers (that’s about 2% of the U.S. population). Thanks to our research and technology, a U.S. farmer can feed 155 people a year. Not to be arrogant, but the U.S. farmers and ranchers feed the world. And there are less of us to do it. In fact, there are 300,000 less farmers in 2010 to feed over three times what the population was back in 1940. Every year we are expected to provide more food at less cost to the consumer, with less land to use, with less input, and less waste. We meet the demand. We give the consumers what they ask for. She heard me loud and clear.

Setting aside all the statistics, producers love their animals and the lifestyle they provide despite some hardships. How many times have we had to cancel dinner on friends while we tend to a sick calf? How many times have we had to miss church to find a lost calf or cow? How many hours have we spent feeding orphan calves? And what about all those hours spent on the floor board of the truck or the kitchen floor trying to warm up and dry off a newborn calf in the middle of a Northeast Oklahoma blizzard? How many times have our neighbors missed their own children’s ball games, dance recitals, or piano lessons because they had to stay with a bloated cow? I’ve even ruined a nice J.Crew sweater (gasp!) to pull a calf when one of our first-calf heifers was having trouble. All of this to put quality food on your table. Where are the animal rights activists then? How many of them make sacrifices like that?

I don’t know that I completely won my town friend over, but I know I proved that what we do is ethical, humane, and practical. And it’s not just to turn a profit, either. If that was the case, we would have found an easier way to do it by now. My point is that we, as producers, need to make sure that we are the ones providing the general public with the CORRECT information they need to know about the food we supply to them. The average consumer is so detached from the origin of his/her food that it makes it very easy for anti-agriculture organizations to come in and offer these people their version of what animal agriculture is. I encourage producers to get involved in putting your story out there via social media. Use Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and blogs to share the information you want your consumers to know about your operation. Something as simple as a video of harvest or chore time at your farm/ranch is a great way for consumers to see your passion for what you do and where it all starts from pasture to plate.

Trista Milliman
Cow/Calf Operator and Farrier

FROM THE PASTURE TO THE PLATE: IF YOU DON’T TELL YOUR STORY, WHO WILL? PART 1

Editor’s Note: Today’s blog is the first part in a two-part series from guest blogger Trista MillimanTrista is a native Illinoisan who now lives in Oklahoma where her and her husband run a cow-calf operation.

As a beef producer, (or any other type of producer for that matter), there are those whom you consider your “neighbors” or more precisely, the people that live within a 5-10 mile radius of your place and are fellow producers. Then, you have the people you consider your “town friends”, the friends who live in town (obviously) and really have no direct ties to agriculture, except for maybe, of course, their acquaintance with you. Well, that and the fact that they probably like to eat food and wear clothes, but that’s for another time.

Nonetheless, I am thankful for the roles my neighbors and my town friends play in my busy, overscheduled life. It’s always nice to take time out and enjoy their company whether we’re processing calves, helping each other move cows to another pasture, shopping at the mall, or going to a movie. All of our differences keep the conversation interesting. Recently, however, I had a visit with a town friend that really left me quite unsettled with the way the public perceives conventional animal agriculture. Though, I feel that I answered her questions and corrected her misconceptions accurately, it really made me realize how completely unattached and misinformed the general public is about the production of their food.

Let me bring you up to speed. My husband and I live in Northeast Oklahoma, or more affectionately termed by Okies as “Green Country”. Both of us have our B.S. in Animal Science Production and run our own cow-calf operation in the heart of ranching country. We are extremely proud of our commercial Charolais herd and the quality beef we can provide for people’s dinner tables. Not only is it an income, it’s a lifestyle. Our lives are scheduled around feeding time, breeding season, calving season, and weaning. Mix that in with our “town jobs”, (my husband is an OSU Extension Educator and I am a professional farrier), and our cattle (and horses) eat better and get more rest than we do. Let’s just say it’s not too strange in our small town to see us come in to do our banking covered in manure with our spurs still jingling. Everybody else around here does it, too.

Anyway, back to the conversation with my town friend. I’ve known her for years and consider her a very intelligent person. She’s been around the world and back, literally, and I love her taste in music and clothes. I respect her opinions, even if they don’t always match up with my own. She is very well read and up to date on current issues. So, it surprised me (and quite honestly, disappointed me) when she shared her views on what conventional animal agriculture is. I guess I take for granted that maybe even my closest friends don’t really know exactly how our operation runs or how well taken care of our animals are. And that’s my fault for not providing that information. Then, it got me thinking; if my close friends don’t understand it, then what kind of skewed information is the rest of the world getting and who are they getting it from? Scary.

She gave me her overall impression of production agriculture with one word: “poisoned”. It knocked the wind out of me. I asked her to explain what she meant by it and she said, “You pump them full of steroids, you are constantly treating them with antibiotics, and you feed them genetically modified grain. What makes you think anyone wants to put that into their bodies?” And then, she disclosed where she got her information from. She watched Robert Kenner’s documentary, “Food, Inc.” and read Michael Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. I should have seen that one coming.

Both are filled to the brim with misinformation and propaganda that would easily suck the average, uneducated consumer in. And both were supplied information by PETA and HSUS, organizations that want to do away with animal agriculture altogether. I mean, who doesn’t want to eat healthier, save the environment, and stop animal cruelty? I know I do. And so does every other livestock or grain producer that feeds the rest of the world and wants to make a living doing it. The information in the movie and the book is maddening, sickening, inaccurate and outright wrong.

They use terms like “factory farm” and “sustainability”. Last time I checked, agriculture has always been sustainable. That’s why it’s called “agriculture”. And livestock production practices have become so efficient that we’ve actually eliminated some diseases, which in turn has eliminated the need for certain vaccines and opened the doors to medical research in saving human lives. Good stuff, considering that it makes the quality of life for these animals outstanding. I could go on, but maybe later.
Trista Milliman
Cow/Calf Operator and Farrier

CAUTION: MEN AT WORK

The Illinois Corn home office is under construction this week. We’re trying to prepare for our June board meetings by repairing some massive pot holes in our parking lot and driveway. What that means for those of us in the office is parking a little further away and doing a bit of a hopscotch move to get into the front door of the building without stepping in drying cement.


Inside the office, we’re under construction too. In fact, there’s a host of issues and events that we’re working on! Some have short deadlines, some have been in progress for decades, but much like the men outside pouring cement, we’re dedicated and can’t wait to see these projects to completion.

It’s just that we’re going to do so with our shirts ON.

Locks and Dams

If you take a look at our website and visit the locks and dams section, we boast that this just might be the year that Illinois corn farmers finally see funding for lock and dam upgrades. What led us to that conclusion is partly that industry and the Army Corps of Engineers have come to an agreement on how to fund the upgrades AND complete them efficiency. We’ve been taking this message to Congress and have found that they are particularly receptive to groups that have their own funding streams to partner with federal dollars! But we also know that if we don’t get lock and dam funding this year, we might have to wait a few more before we push it again. So … 2010 is the year in our minds because the timing just won’t be right next year. Call your Congressman and ask that they fund lock and dam upgrades!

CornBelters

Opening day is June 1! That means that the rest of the week and Tuesday, we’ll be hard at work preparing messaging, coordinating media, assigning tickets, outfitting our suite, and doing all the other miscellaneous work that accompanies our CornBelters partnership. Please join us for opening day when our ICMB Chairman, Jim Rapp, will throw the first pitch! If this is something that interests you, you might check out our recent podcast.

Ethanol

Now that we finally have the first blender pump operating in Sullivan, IL, we can return to other ethanol issues that are close at hand. The EPA indicates that they will issue a decision on higher ethanol blends this summer and we continue to press our Illinois Delegation to co-sponsor HR 4940, the Renewable Fuels Reinvestment Act. This act would extend the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit among other things and will help ethanol remain a valuable partner in developing rural communities, lessoning our environmental impact, and accomplishing energy security. Kuddos to the Illinois Congressman that have already co-sponsored this important bill – if your Congressman doesn’t appear here, give him or her a call today!

Social Media

We have hired several interns for the summer that will start next week working on social media projects and helping us continue to gear up our social media presence. As you’ve obviously noticed, our blog posts and content are improving daily, but we can’t wait for them to arrive, helping us populate our youtube channel with valuable information and maybe even getting more facts and data our on facebook and twitter. If you aren’t already following us on all of these important outlets, I’d encourage you to check into them!

There are a million other “projects under construction” in our office but this definitely gives you a flavor for what the Illinois Corn staff and boards are up to right now. Please notice that we can’t complete many of these projects without your help! Consider contacting your Congressman on the above issues to thank him and ask for his help on the things that matter to you. Consider partnering with us on the social media front by following us on twitter, Facebook, youtube, or the blog and forward our messaging to your friends and family.

As they say, it takes a village. And I could sure use your help as I traverse the construction area outside our door! That’s one construction project that can’t be done soon enough.

By: Lindsay Mitchell

ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

Confronting the Ag Tech Myth

The other day, I was being interviewed for a special feature on my school’s website. I go to a small fine arts school in the Chicago suburbs, which is situated in a fairly wealthy area. Here, agriculture doesn’t get thought about much. When I saw the initial story written, I was more than a little shocked by one sentence.

“Kelly Rivard, sophomore, is bringing new technology to an old-tech industry.”

What!? This story about my activity in social media and agriculture was written by an educated lady who was a wonderful writer. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, though. She was born and raised in the suburbs. It wasn’t an intentional attack against ag; it was a misinformed but well-meaning profile of me.

I knocked on her office door and she seemed happy to see me. She was willing to talk about the article, so we sat down and made some changes. First off, I didn’t want undue credit. Agriculturalists were using social media long before I was on the scene. Secondly, I strongly advocate urban and suburban education in terms of agriculture. The people who see this website should know that farmers are educating themselves in some pretty sophisticated technology!

While I can’t restate it word-for-word, the revision went something similar to this:

“Kelly Rivard, sophomore, has immersed herself in new technology to help promote a very old industry.”

After all, agriculture was the first industry. As the oldest type of trade, it has a long history of tradition. Part of that tradition is the on-going innovation that takes place every single day. Research is always going on, and it has to continue. With populations rising at alarming rates and farmland disappearing quickly, we need cutting-edge technology to make the best products in large quantities. Farmers are doing more with less these days.

Maybe I encounter this more because of my school. Maybe I’m just especially alert to the fact that suburban and urban folks make well-meaning mistakes and misconceptions in regards to farming. Either way, it’s important to teach those who don’t know. It is encounters like this that keep me reaching out. If the ag community doesn’t teach the public, who will?

BIO:
Kelly Rivard is a sophomore at North Central College, where she studies Interactive Media Studies and English. She plans to use her experience in Internet Communications to pursue a career in Agriculture Communications after college.

Promote Ag: Do It Your Way

I grew up on farm, rode in the combine, and showed livestock at the county fair. However, I had not participated in any agriculture classes until recently. If you asked me four years ago what I wanted to do after high school graduation my answer would be move to the city, and that is exactly what I did. However, after two years experience of the larger city and the lack of ‘farm kids’ surrounding me, I decided that was not for me and am now back to my roots of agriculture.

At the beginning of college, I enjoyed my area of study I chose but I wanted to be involved with agriculture, something I missed most when leaving for college. I did some research and I found the area of study perfect for what I have always wanted to do: Agricultural Communications. With this major I am able to communicate about agriculture through journalism and advertising.

Choosing Agriculture Communications opened many doors for choosing a career path. When thinking about agricultural careers, farming automatically comes to mind. Now this is the most logical answer for a career but we need to keep in mind how large the agriculture industry really is. Related to my experience, I found hundreds of career paths related to ag that one could take depending on the area of interest.

One particular path I am currently taking is within the communications field. This semester, I interned with the Illinois Corn Marketing Board and had the opportunity to host a panel of three speakers: Dr. Janeen Salak-Johnson, Chuck Spencer, and Leon Corzine. All three individuals deal with different aspects of agriculture. The three agriculture advocates spoke about how they promote agriculture among others and the importance that agriculture has made in their lives.

Dr. Janeen Salak-Johnson is an Associate Professor of Animals Sciences at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Dr. Johnson is an agriculture advocate dealing with animal rights. An interesting story Dr. Johnson told was about her daughter. Her daughter is younger and wants to become vegetarian because she saw the “cute pig” in Charlotte’s Web. Dr. Johnson informed her daughter of the ag industry and animal rights among livestock and has influenced her daughter to continue eating bacon. Dr. Johnson reiterated the importance of educating people about animal rights correlating with agricultural needs.

Chuck Spencer is the Director of Government Affairs at GROWMARK. Spencer took the business path of agriculture. He manages state and federal legislative issues with GROWMARK. Previously in his agriculture history, he was the Director of National Affairs and Policy Development for the Farm Bureau. Lobbying at the capital is not always done by people who understand agriculture, and that is what Chuck reiterated several times. Voicing your opinion is a way to help the industry, and anyone can become involved. Any age group can lobby or speak about the ways of agriculture and each and every individual will help the government to understand the focus of ag.

Leon Corzine is a 5th generation farmer from Assumption, IL and also currently serving on the Illinois Corn Marketing Board. He recently served as President of the National Corn Growers Association, representing corn growers in America. Leon mentioned how social media is becoming an important tool to communicated and create awareness for agriculture. If you log in to your Facebook account, agriculture fan pages and groups are created almost daily. This is a small but effective way to promote and educate individuals about the necessity of agriculture. Within Leon’s previous job, he was able to represent agriculture to the nation. Leon is an agriculture advocate and a role model to many individuals who deal with agriculture, especially corn.

These three spoke on their focus of the agriculture industry. I learned so much about the different paths they took while realizing the importance of agriculture. It is interesting to hear the ways these individuals promote agriculture and how one could easily become involved.

After listening to the speakers and being motivated to promote ag, I encourage each of you to also get involved with agriculture. This could be joining an agriculture group or attending a panel of speakers. Whatever you do, remember the multiple opportunities and rewards that agriculture has to offer!

By: Abi Coers
ICGA/ICMB Intern

Hardworking & Hot!

Farmers are hardworking, farmers are dedicated, farmers are feeding the world, but farmers are also hot! This was the general theme for the Agriculture Awareness Day that I organized on the University of Illinois campus. As a social media intern for the Illinois Corn Growers Association it was my pleasure to host this event in order to raise awareness for farmers and agriculture, especially to those outside of the agriculture world.

I took a fun and light-hearted approach to this event, naming it Farmers Are Hot Day. My goal was to get college students to stop by and play a few games of Cornhole (also known as bags) and talk to me, a farm kid, about agriculture. Participants also had the chance to pose for a picture to be entered in a “Hottest Farmer” contest. It was interesting to hear what everyone’s thoughts were on hot agriculture topics, especially ethanol, and be able to give my perspective.
In today’s ever changing world it is important that farmers maintain their wholesome image, and that the family farm stay strong. This can only be done by farm kids such as myself; we need to spread the word and change the opinions of those with negative perceptions of agriculture and farmers! Through this event and my Facebook page I am trying to reach college students and put a fun, positive spin on agriculture, and hopefully everyone will see just how “HOT” farmers really are!
By: Alyssa Eade
Become a fan of Farmers Are Hot! on Facebook at:

The Few, The Passionate, The Farmer

People always ask me why I got involved in agriculture. I never really know how to answer. I don’t think that any number of words could accurately communicate my answer to this question.

I did not grow up on a farm, or even in a small town. I did not take agriculture classes in high school. All in all, I had an extremely limited agricultural background before I came to college.

But as soon as I became a part of the Department of Agriculture at Illinois State University, my mind was opened to an absolutely incredible industry. Transforming from a typical consumer to a part of this industry has been awe-inspiring. At times, it has also been extremely overwhelming. Agricultural workers have an unbelievable knowledge of the science and technology they use to feed us. Their countless hours of work are a testament to their dedication. Consumers truly do not realize the rich values and knowledge that are present in the agricultural community. In all honesty, I never really knew until I experienced it for myself.

This spring, I had the opportunity to participate in a really important internship. As a part of my internship, I was given the opportunity to organize an Agriculture Awareness Day. I had an amazing time organizing this event and participating in it. More importantly, it made me realize how much agriculture means to me.

Agriculture has helped shaped me into who I am today. It has turned me into a compassionate, hard-working, confident individual. I know that this would not have happened without the people I have encountered in college. Through agriculture, I have met businessmen, dedicated professors, scientists and communicators, among other things.

In an industry with so many unique individuals, it is hard to imagine that we have one thing in common- our passion. I am confident that I could switch my major an infinite number of times and never be a part of an industry as passionate as this one.

So why am I involved in agriculture? In short, it is because of the people. I am proud to be a part of the agricultural community, but above all, I admire the people who stand next to me. It is what keeps me going!

By: Kristin Apple
ICGA/ICMB Intern