Thursday, March 15, 2018

Spring Planting Time--Computers, Horses, and Optimism

A rogue beaver is building a dam on the tile-fed creek that dissects my folks' farm, so that means winter's ice is gone and springtime work is imminent. For our extended family, planting season starts with a strategy session around the kitchen table. My brother talks about prepping his aging 16-row planter and complains about the price of seed corn. "Maybe I could buy one of those new machines with auto-steer guidance and monitoring components to measure seed drop. Before long, farmers will be controlling it all with smartphone apps while they sip coffee in the kitchen."

My nephew injects a few statistics to temper his pipe dream. "Yeah, if you have $250,000 lying around, you can upgrade to 24 rows with 4 monitors, including an iPad to adjust seed placement. Farmers who keep running to the last light can plant 500 acres a day by themselves." I start envisioning luxury tractor cabs with home entertainment systems and planters that look like battle machines out of a Star Wars movie.

Dad brings us down to earth with a dose of back-in-the-day information. He has lived on the same slice of Iowa land for 90 planting seasons, so he has a deeper wikihistory page to pull from. "One man in bib overalls with a good team of horses could plant 20 acres of corn a day back in the 1920s. Of course nobody would have mentioned high tech or comfort. My dad ran a team of horses led by an old mare that liked to lie down for a nap at the end of each row."

Apparently, it could be risky as well as strenuous in those days. "Farmers used to stretch planter wire the length of the field, follow it along, and button in a seed every forty inches. At the end, they’d move the wires and start again. A lightning strike on the wire could kill a horse, mule, or man."

Horses or high tech, I've been off the farm since college days--and even when I was a teenager, Dad kept me away from the planter. "You showed more interest in that old '56 Chevy than you did in farm machinery, and we didn't need a cornfield planted like a tourist maze." He's a wise man. But I am still part of the spring planting campaign, thanks to the garden my other brother and I maintain on the home place. We're both "city boys" since we live in nearby small towns, and aside from a few basic farm tasks, we get our hands dirty in a patch of ground near the old barn.

With a much smaller budget in mind, we do our own seed and equipment "strategizing." We note that last year's spinach has popped up as a stunted volunteer crop--more as a tease for spring than a salad ingredient, but it gets us discussing our selection for this year. The usual suspects--lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, peppers, and more. My brother suggests we try some new ones—bak choy, cauliflower, and maybe brussels sprouts. I force kale into the conversation, even though he refuses to acknowledge its existence. 

Other family members tolerate our chatter but soon come to a consensus: “Plant whatever veggies you want, but see if you can get them to emerge from the ground with slices of bacon wrapped around them.” I don’t think they take us seriously.

Whether a thousand acres of corn and soybeans or a backyard plot of lettuce and tomatoes, it’s the optimism of spring planting time that counts. As Robert Louis Stevenson said, “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds you plant.”

Note: Two recent CAST publications contain science-based information about crop production, and they can be accessed free of charge: (1) Crop Protection Contributions toward Agricultural Productivity, and (2) Plant Breeding and Genetics

by dan gogerty (top two pics from and bottom pic from libraryofcongress)

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Celebrating Food and the Future of Agriculture

"To be interested in food but not food production is clearly absurd."
- Wendell Berry

Whether it means a day off work or just an excuse to celebrate, Americans love their holidays. While everyone is familiar with Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving--to name a few--there are numerous less than famous holidays celebrated every single day. Three celebrations during the month of March that the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST) finds important are National Nutrition Month, National Ag Week, and National Ag Day. This blog highlights the importance of these celebrations, along with ways that you can join in on the fun.

National Nutrition Month 

This nutrition education and information campaign was created in 1973 as a weeklong event, but it became a monthlong observance in 1980 in response to the growing public interest in nutrition. Created by the Academy for Nutrition and Dietetics, this campaign focuses on making informed food choices and aims at developing sound eating and physical activity habits. This month's theme, Go Further with Food, includes a focus on starting your day with a hearty breakfast, fueling before athletic events, preparing foods to go further at home, and reducing food waste.

National Ag Week

Centered around the celebration of National Ag Day on March 20, this weeklong event recognizes and celebrates production agriculture and all that it provides. The Agriculture Council of America hosts the campaign on a national level, but the contributions of agriculture are shared throughout communities and organizations on a much broader scale. Agriculture provides almost everything that we eat, use, and wear on a daily basis. The goal for this year's event, Agriculture: Food for Life, is aimed at telling the story of American agriculture and bringing awareness to its presence in our daily lives. 

This year, CAST will be doing our part in honoring the event with the rollout of our latest issue paper--Regulatory Barriers to the Development of Innovative Agricultural Biotechnology by Small Businesses and Universities--in Washington, D.C., on March 22-23. This event is free and open to the public. Click here for more information. We would love to see you in attendance.

What can you do to help advocate for agriculture throughout the week? Put simply, get involved! Your participation is critical in helping spread a positive message about agriculture. Visit this website for Ag Day tools and resources. 

By: Kylie Peterson

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

3 Steps to Improve Your Science Communication

A few weeks ago, Successful Farming featured a blog highlighting 3 Steps to More Effective Conversations with Consumers. Look East's vice president, Roxi Beck, touched on three specific behaviors that she believes are undermining trust and why agriculturalists should stop doing them. Throughout my read, I continued to find connections with the communication of scientific information to nonscientists. Scientists have been missing the mark, but like Beck states, that can be changed.

"All too often, when someone makes a false statement, we immediately engage, correct the misinformation and call it a win. Then one day, we realize the person no longer speaks to us. Inundating consumers with an information dump won't change their minds. Facts used to drive everything. They're still important, but if the goal is to build trust in food and agriculture, they're not the most valuable element." 

When googled, a scientist is described as a person who is an expert in science. They often find comfort in data, numbers, statistics, and experimentation. Communicating their findings to a group of people who lack knowledge on the subject is where scientists struggle. Beck states, "Science addresses whether we can do something, but consumers aren't asking if we can, they are asking if we should. That's an ethical question." 

Factual information must come from someone who's worthy of trust. Beck says these three steps might be undermining trust and should be stopped immediately:

1. Stop persuading.

2. Stop correcting. 

3. Stop educating.

Instead, try a different approach with these three steps for a more effective conversation:

1. Start listening without judgement.

2. Start acknowledging their concerns and asking questions.

3. Start sharing who you are when you talk about what you know.

It's time to embrace the skepticism surrounding science. "The person on the other end of the conversation wants to be heard and acknowledged, and wants to obtain credible information from a trusted source with shared values," Beck says. As a scientist, you need to be ready to join the conversation. 

Read the original Successful Farming article for more information found here: 3 Steps to More Effective Conversations with Consumers

By: Kylie Peterson