Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Farmer Vacation--an Oxymoron?

June 2015:
This link accesses an article that ties in with an incident in the story below--in our case, it was a bear attack at Yellowstone. Officials nowadays are more concerned about buffaloes. Bison may look passive, but they can run up to 40 mph, and they have “locomotive” power. Yellowstone urges tourist common sense amid bison attacks.

UpdatesThe Peterson Brothers video, "Life of a Farmer," shows that the end of school doesn’t guarantee vacation time---it means hard work. But summertime also includes activities, fairs, and maybe even the classic family trip. The entry below takes a retro-look at how hard it is for some farmers to pull themselves away from the fields, feedlots, and their self-imposed obsession with all things agriculture.

Never Go on Vacation with a Farmer

You can take a farmer off the land, but you can’t take the land—or the farmer’s smartphone—off the farmer during vacation. As the travel season rolls in, I think of how vacations have changed since I was a kid on a Midwest farm.

Like most farmers, Dad would drive off with his eyes looking in the rearview mirror to see if the cattle had yet got out, if the hydrant at the hog water tank had been shut off, or if a sudden hailstorm was sweeping across the cornfield. He was already planning his first long-distance phone call from a motel in Ft. Collins to ask his brother about the weather in Iowa. Now farmers can check forecasts, markets, and maybe even the social life of their milk cows with the apps, bells, and whistles the digital world provides.

On the open road, farmers are a risky bunch. Dad gawked out the window—checking on crops, watching machinery in the fields, and seeing what the cattle looked like in Colorado. This was before mandatory seat belts, so we kids in the back were bouncing around like bacon bits thrown in a hot frying pan, while Mom kept her hands ready to grab the wheel if Dad saw an elaborate grain bin system on a farm we passed.

Today’s farmers are dangerous not because they look aside, but because they look down—they can bury their heads in their smartphones or iPads while checking on the commodity prices in Chicago, the best GPS route to Deadwood, or the hot items on ag Twitter accounts. 
As an ag writer, Dad turned most of our trips into tours of farms and food production companies. Even our 1964 odyssey to the mountains had visits to ranches and rodeos, but we included some of the classic tourist stops too. 

Dad bought a wooden camper-top, attached it to the bed of our pickup (hay and feed sacks removed), and with Mom and my baby sister in front, he left Iowa aiming west to Yellowstone with the three stooges in back. We boys were thirteen, eleven, and ten, perfect ages for highway games, amateur wrestling, and road warrior survival.  

When nature called, we tried sign language to communicate. The truck had no slide window between the cab and camper, and it’s a long haul from Omaha to Ogallala. Maybe the cab was soundproof, but Dad often seemed occupied with a fold-out travel map, and Mom was busy tending to sis. We learned how to expand our bladders and fight without leaving marks.

Along the way, we stopped to see which president on Mt. Rushmore had the biggest nostrils, what hill Custer used for his last muster, and who was the family camping expert. Mom was. She produced iron skillet meals on the fire while we scattered into the woods. I can’t remember the sleeping arrangements. Truck bed or lumpy air mattress in the tent, I’m sure we kids considered it an adventure, and the adults figured it was Dante’s level of hell that involves arthritis and sinus lobotomies.

At Yellowstone, Dad did an Old Faithful drive-by (look boys, thar she blows), and he stopped with other tourists for the bear and cub alongside the road. In the era before the animals were moved up mountain, the bears’ roadside pandering was only outdone by tourist stupidity. When my brother edged too close to the cub, the mother bear swiped her paw, miraculously leaving only claw rips in his blue jeans. Mom screamed; cameras clicked; Dad hustled us back into the truck. No humans were hurt in the filming of this scene, and the pants became a regular feature of our family storytelling. If only we could have made a YouTube viral video of it—we’d have had our 15 minutes of junior high fame.

We returned with a new appreciation of the Wild West, pickup truck suspensions, and mosquito repellant. Mom is the only one who abstains when we vote it as our favorite vacation. She hasn’t gone camping since. 

Even after I left the farm, the aura of agriculture still crept into my vacations. My wife and I were driving west one summer, and Dad asked us to stop at a successful Nebraska farm venture to ask a few questions for an article he was writing. So we spent an afternoon at an artificial insemination farm. Fascinating, in a weird way. And how many folks come back from vacation with a souvenir hat that says “Bull Semen Inc.”? 
by dan gogerty (poster pic from i.dailymail.co.uk; photo from oldcarsandtruckpictures.com)

Friday, May 10, 2013

2013 Borlaug CAST Communication Award

On Thursday, May 9, at the World Bank in Washington, D.C., CAST President Phillip Stahlman announced that Jeff Simmons is the 2013 Borlaug CAST Communication Award winner. Mark Cackler of the World Bank opened the event, and CAST EVP Linda M. Chimenti introduced the 2012 BCCA recipient Dr. Carl Winter. He spoke to the gathering about Food Safety Communications in the 21st Century. After the award announcement, DuPont Business Director John L. Chrosniak gave the closing remarks.
Jeff Simmons--Ag Executive, Leader, and Communicator
Press Release:  The Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST) announces that the prestigious 2013 Borlaug CAST Communication Award goes to Jeff Simmons, the President of Elanco. Nominees must demonstrate an ability to communicate by written material; public presentations; and/or the use of television, radio, or other social media. Simmons was nominated by colleagues from several corporations and nonprofit organizations. They recognize his significant contributions, including his passion about finding solutions for world hunger. Simmons is praised for his understanding of scientific data, his enthusiasm for agricultural innovations, and his support for the organizations and companies working on food security in a hungry world.
Knowledge and energy alone would not make Simmons a successful leader on the global stage. He is also able to communicate effectively with various audiences. As one colleague noted, "Simmons has that special ability to put the multiple complex issues involved in confronting hunger and the critical role of science in that process in terms that are not only understandable but inspiring."

Established in 1986 by CAST, the annual award goes to a specialist who communicates the importance of food and agricultural science to the public, policymakers, and the news media. Simmons' noted ability to communicate credible scientific information has made him a respected expert in his field and a popular speaker at agriculture and science events.

Simmons began developing his passion for food security as an ag student and FFA member in New York, where he gathered experience and awards at an early age. After studying marketing and agricultural economics at Cornell, he joined Elanco, and his abilities led to leadership roles for the company in Brazil and Europe.  During the ensuing years, he has built a reputation for his writing, speaking, and organizing expertise. His international experience gave him broad perspectives on food and agriculture, and he has published two white papers on the problems of global hunger. Simmons supports many groups ranging from Gleaners Food Bank to Heifer International, and he has traveled worldwide in an effort to make food security a reality for all.

One nominator sums up Simmons' impact this way: "Jeff's affable personality and warmth balance his dynamic energy, intellectualism, and excitement when talking about our food future, so the message is readily received. Jeff can distill data and present it so that it is easily understandable, garnering confidence and trust in the premise conveyed."

Diverse audiences benefit from Simmons' insights because he has a clear message and an ability to bring statistics and research into focus. He addresses groups that include senior business executives, government officials, research scientists, and 4-H or FFA members. Simmons gets his point across whether he is working face to face, on YouTube, or through Twitter (@JeffSimmons2050). In the modern world of agriculture, he is an inspiring communicator and a worthy recipient of the 2013 Borlaug CAST Communication Award.

An award presentation will occur at a breakfast co hosted by DuPont and CAST as a side event at the World Food Prize Symposium on October 16, 2013, in Des Moines, Iowa. The Borlaug CAST Communication Award honors the legacies of Nobel Prize winner Dr. Norman Borlaug and Dr. Charles A. Black, the first president of CAST.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Lawn Mowing Zen, Ray Bradbury, and Pink Grass

Update--August 31, 2015: Brown Is the New Green?

The hashtag #droughtshaming exists mainly to publicly decry people who have failed to do their part to conserve water during California’s latest drought. But the American image has long maintained that a “shiny, happy lawn” is one of the keys to happiness. Could artificial turf, native landscaping, or other methods replace the cherished lawn?

Update--August, 2015: This article says the number one crop in the USA is grass--history, oddity, and commentary.

New robotic lawn mowing technology aims to deliver freshly cut yards with little set-up.

Man Figures Out How to Make His Lawn Mow Itself--
Is it the smell of fresh-cut ingenuity or a case of some dude going in circles?  

** As with other recent reports, this study indicates that being a couch potato is pretty much a death sentence, and it also makes it sound as if mowing the lawn is less like a chore and more a gift of life. Hmmm... on a hot day when I'm using an old mower, I wonder if it's better to give than to receive.

The Grass is Always Pinker 
on the Other Side of the Fence 

In Ray Bradbury’s classic novel, Dandelion Wine, Grandfather learns that a boarder in his house plans to install a new type of grass that does not need cutting.  This gets his dentures grinding for several reasons: he believes grass cutting is a zen-like activity that allows one to think; he believes we should not be obsessed about the newest time-saving methods; he believes we should hold on to some of the simple tasks of life, especially if they are connected to nature.
Of course, some might point out that Grandfather was no longer the one who actually had to mow the lawn--he simply sat back, listened to the drone of the engine, and smelled the aroma of the fresh-cut grass.  Nevertheless, many would understand his lawnmower rite-of-spring: sharpen blades, change oil, tune engine. If the mower is old or reluctant, the ritual then goes on to include: adjust choke, pull chord repeatedly, utter occasional swear words. The first sound of the mower proclaims that winter has faded.  However, if certain trends prevail, we could one day be in for a "silent spring."

Already we have electric mowers that muffle the sound, and rumors indicate we will soon have genetically altered grass that is either “slow grow” or “no grow.” Scientists are creating lawns that will be weed resistant, drought resistant, and possibly even lawnmower resistant. Some say we might have luminescent grass that glows at night or lawns that contain blades of varied colors. Maybe our grandkids will be saying, “The grass is always pinker on the other side of the fence.”

Proponents of this lawn-care evolution declare that the environment will benefit if sputtering gas mowers aren’t emitting carbons and noise pollution. They might suggest that properly engineered grass means fewer chemicals and no sprinkler systems during dry summers. Those bothered by the proliferation of biotech plants might disagree.  GMO corn, soybeans, and other crops already spark plenty of heated debates.

The simple act of clipping grass could also have economic impacts. Many of us earned a few dollars mowing neighbors’ lawns in the past, and nowadays, large companies compete for the privilege of sweeping in with the latest machines to make the yards look pristine. Yard-care services and lawnmower manufacturers could go broke. 

For several years, I lived in Tokyo, a concrete and steel city where few of the inhabitants had enough room for a bit of shrubbery let alone a well-kept lawn. Whenever I returned to the Midwest, I looked forward to the aroma of cut grass and the feel of a green carpet underfoot. Now that I am again residing in Iowa, I still anticipate the first signs of spring and the lawn ritual that goes with it, but I admit the thrill wears off a bit after repeated use. Maybe I could join “Grandfather” in rejoicing during that first cut of the spring, and then buy a few goats to take care of the grass for the rest of the summer. 
by dan gogerty (pic of rabbit from pinterest.com; pic of sign from etsy.com; pic of sheep from funny-pictures.feedio.net)