Thursday, October 19, 2017

Jayson Lusk Receives Borlaug CAST Communication Award

This noted agricultural economist has optimistic insights about "the future of food" as depicted in this recent press release.

For the eighth year in a row, the winner of the Borlaug CAST Communication Award (BCCA) was honored at a World Food Prize side event, and this year's recipient--Jayson Lusk--gave an insightful keynote address about The Future of Food.

Distinguished Professor and head of the Department of Agricultural Economics at Purdue University, Dr. Lusk achieved a B.S. in food technology from Texas Tech. Before diving into academic work at Mississippi State, Oklahoma State, and now Purdue, he obtained his Ph.D in agricultural economics from Kansas State. In 2015, Lusk was named a fellow of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, and he has served on councils, chaired committees, written extensively, and become a valued voice in the realm of agricultural sciences.  

Recipients of CAST's annual award are science/ag experts who demonstrate an ability to communicate through written material, public presentations, and various forms of media. Lusk is a consummate communicator who promotes agricultural science and technology in the public arena using multiple forms of media to advocate for science. His blog explores how innovation and growth in agriculture are critical for food security and global progress. His most recent book, Unnaturally Delicious: How Science and Technology Are Serving Up Super Foods to Save the World, explains how science and innovation are linked with feeding the growing global population. As one nominator wrote, "Lusk is an excellent columnist and blogger. His perspective is often surprising, and he engages the reader."

After a breakfast sponsored by Syngenta, CAST Executive Vice President Kent Schescke and Syngenta's Dirk Drost spoke about Lusk's communication abilities and the many accomplishments that make him a perfect fit for this group of dynamic BCCA influencers. Then Julie Borlaug Larson (INARI Agriculture) spoke about her grandfather's legacy and his connections with CAST. She pointed out that Borlaug's words ring true today as much as ever. Larson praised Lusk for his communication abilities and encouraged all to "take it to the farmer, take it to the public."

Dr. Helen Jensen of Iowa State University formally introduced Jayson Lusk, and he began his presentation by pointing out that he wanted to prove "an ag economist can be an effective and stimulating communicator." He spoke of the need to consider an emerging food movement and how to engage consumers who mistrust tech and innovation. Lusk points out that productivity and sustainability have improved with tech advancements. Using facts and surveys, he showed that precision agriculture benefits us all. He then stressed the importance of considering consumers and their values when communicating with the public. In an era of misinformation and polarization, Lusk is optimistic about "the future of food."

The honor is presented annually by CAST, and this year the award was sponsored by Syngenta. Attendees included scientists, journalists, farmers from around the world, and dignitaries such as Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey (and nominee for a USDA leadership role), Ambassador Kenneth Quinn (head of the World Food Prize), and Channapatna Prakash (Tuskegee University Dean and 2015 BCCA winner). 

Following Lusk's speech, the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE) organized a presentation and panel discussion--Designing the Road out of Poverty: Ensuring Resource Access. Dr. Stephen Searcy (Texas A&M professor and ASABE president) introduced the session. 

Panelists included David Baltensperger (Texas A&M), Margaret Catley-Carsen (World Food Prize Committee), Geoff Graham (DuPont Pioneer), Timothy Williams (International Water Management Institute), and Jayson Lusk. The thought-provoking session was moderated by Indrajeet Chaubey (Purdue), and panelists focused on topics about food, energy, and water. The gathering ended with a Q & A session, providing each speaker with an opportunity to provide specifics about what works best for sustainable food production.

Visit the CAST website at for updated information about the award, including nomination forms for the 2018 Borlaug CAST Communication Award.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Agriculture, Finance, and Technology: Communicating with Youth

A guest op/ed from 2017 World Food Prize Laureate Dr. Akinwumi Adesina--President, African Development Bank Group and 2010 recipient of the Borlaug CAST Communication Award.

Digital technology has been accelerating and improving communications in Africa for over 20 years. In that time Africans have been able to leapfrog the costly landline phase, resulting in 500 million Africans currently having access to mobile phones. Mobile technologies generated 6.7% of Africa’s GDP and 3.8 million jobs in 2015. There will be 750 million African users in 2025, and falling device prices will mean that at least 350 million of these will be smart phone users.

Africa’s “iGDP” (which measures the internet’s contribution to overall GDP) is low, at 1.1%, around half the levels in other emerging economies. But this should rise to at least 5% by 2025, matching that of leading economies such as Sweden and the United Kingdom. However, if the internet achieves the same kind of scale and impact as the spread of mobile phones, iGDP in Africa could account for as much as $300 billion of total GDP, with internet access leaping to 600 million by 2025.

This is impressive growth, but the impact of digital technology on agriculture has been spectacular, and the mobile phone has also become a highly versatile agricultural implement with a large number of uses: in weather prediction and insurance systems, agricultural extension services, and providing access to information about optimal and timely applications of crop protection or fertilizer. It has also been welcomed and valued by farmers as enhancing better and quicker access to crop and commodity prices, new products, services, and market conditions.

More generally, digital technology, with its gender neutral applications, has significant professional benefits for the entire production value chain—by improving accountability and transparency, and for empowering women and young people for whom barriers to adoption have in the past often impeded their potential and contribution.

I took advantage of the benefits of well-applied digital technology during my experience as Agriculture Minister in Nigeria when we developed and used electronic wallet systems to deliver farm input support to farmers through electronic vouchers on mobile phones. Nigeria became the first country globally to do so.

The impact was massive. Over four years, about 15 million farmers were reached. Food production expanded by more than 21 million tonnes over the period. I was particularly pleased that 2.5 million women farmers benefitted. This all occurred by putting a digital technology--enhancing simple but vital communications--at the service of the requirement to reduce the risk of making loans to farmers.

And agriculture as a business is poised to become a much more attractive proposition for young people and entrepreneurs, thanks to the communications revolution that digital technology has produced. The African Development Bank is ready with a slew of programmes and projects to assist them.

In particular, the African Development Bank and the World Bank plan to invest $700 million through the programme “Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation,” part of the Feed Africa strategy for the scaling up of agricultural technologies to reach millions of farmers in Africa in the next ten years.

Communications are critical features in the way some of the bank’s key programmes will operate, including the Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa that will seek out women’s enterprises in order to address the financing gap and access challenges faced by women operating in agricultural value chains in Africa.

Jobs for Youth in Africa 2016–2025 aims to harness Africa’s demographic dividend to drive robust and inclusive economic growth and will help generate some 25 million jobs and positively affect 50 million young people over the next decade. It will do this by creating better-tailored opportunities for self-employment and entrepreneurship, strengthening human capital, and creating durable labour market linkages.

The ENABLE Youth programme will provide access to capital and capacity to young “Agripreneurs” to create 300,000 agribusinesses and 1.5 million jobs in 30 countries across Africa, with an estimated investment of $15 billion over the next five years.

The Bank’s Boost Africa initiative, supported by the European Investment Bank and the European Commission, will support business incubation facilities and create a new class of young business leaders who will become job creators and not job seekers. It will support 3,000 new SMEs; create 25,000 direct jobs and 100,000 indirect jobs; and improve environmental, social, and governance practices in African SMEs. 

"Agriculture is becoming very cool."

Digital communications will be vital for the success of these four key policies, but the image of agriculture itself needs wholesale revision. Agriculture is seen as old and traditional, as a hard and difficult labour that leads nowhere but subsistence.

But the potential of agriculture for economic revival and job creation is largely untapped. With population growth and rapid urbanization, the food and agribusiness industry in Africa is projected to grow to a demand of $1 trillion by 2030 from $330 billion. By 2050, Africa will have the combined population of China and India today. Consumer spending is projected to double to $1.4 trillion by 2020 and triple to $2.1 trillion by 2025, with business-to-business spending to rise to $3.5 trillion by 2025.

The African Development Bank knows that there will be jobs galore in the African agricultural sector in coming years. Innovation and new investments will create a snowball effect as agriculture modernises and aligns with industrial infrastructure and processes to conserve added value and new jobs for the continent.

These are just some of the reasons why agriculture is starting to be seen as a business for innovation, new technology, and investment. Communications will play a significant role in all stages of this growth in potential and in the bank’s efforts to find and apply the funds that will realise Africa’s economic future. The sector is going to create the next wave of African business successes even as investments chase the profits that will be made by the early entrepreneurs and “agripreneurs.”

Let’s face it. With potential outcomes like that, agriculture is about to lose its dusty, dowdy image. Agriculture is becoming very cool.

top pic from; bottom design from

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Harvest Time's Annual Makeover

I drove back to the old home farm a couple of times during the past few weeks, and as the brown corn stalks disappeared and the combine dust settled, I watched a changing portrait of the traditional Midwest harvest unfold. It’s like modern photography. You click a quick pic of the grandkids and look down at your smartphone and wonder—when did this happen? Where did the film, viewfinder, and manual focus go? 

You drive the Midwest country roads at harvest time and think—where are the smoke billowing tractors, the teenagers hauling in grain wagons, the livestock in the fields?

This is not a lament, just an observation. Tech and economics have digitally enhanced the traditional Grant Wood farm scenes, and as Cronkite said, “That’s the way it is.”

As you cruise the gravel roads, the first thing you notice is the lack of farms. A country section that included three or four traditional farms—two-story house, barn, hog house, shed—now has one or two at most. Fewer farm kids wave as they carry feed buckets to the chicken coop; a family milk cow rarely stands near the barn chewing its cud; and those skinny dogs that used to shoot out of the lanes to chase your car as you drove by are now sitting passively in suburban yards contained by "invisible fences."
Fields have an altered tinge to them too. Combines look like Star Wars military equipment, and grain is augured into huge semi trailer trucks. You don’t see folks out in the elements so often. Not many farmers with padded coveralls and ear-flap hats sit on cabless tractors as they lean into a November wind and try to stay warm from the heat radiating out of the canvas heat-houser. With companies developing robotic machines, you might eventually need to go to a farmer’s computer control room in his office to see a human.

Animals also make fewer outdoor appearances. Some cattle still forage in the harvested fields for dropped ears of corn, but even in Iowa, the hog capital of the world, a resident can drive the roads for weeks without seeing a Wilbur, Babe, or Porky. Pigs used to root in the fields until the snows came, but most have moved into confinement motels—bit crowded, but the room service is attractive, and even hogs appreciate central heating. No comments from them about the indoor toilets.

It might even be tough to find a pitchfork on a Photoshopped farm. Watered-down manure gets hauled to those freshly harvested fields in gigantic honey wagons, and the “fecal gold” gets injected into the ground. I remember pulling conventional manure spreaders that flung the solids and early liquid tanks that sprayed the contents. With an ill-advised turn and a sudden wind gust, the tractor driver could be fertilized as well.
When the autumn sun sets over barren corn stubble and a harvest moon reflects light off metal grain bins, today's farmers take pride in completing a harvest on some of the most bountiful land in the world. The modern portrait of their labors includes hard work aided by technological advances and improved production techniques. But most don’t get the "pleasure" of walking cornfields to pick up the many ears of corn a rusty four-row picker left. Few get to haul bales of hay to cattle in the pasture or break the thin ice that coats their water tanks. And modern farmers miss out on the stimulation you get when you peel your frozen hands from the steering wheel of a John Deere 4020 after driving it from the field in below-freezing temperatures.
I get nostalgic for those harvest days, but I’m starting to think it would have been nice to digitally enhance some of those images way back then. Maybe if I could have airbrushed out my static-filled transistor radio and digitally added a heated cab and sound system to my tractor, I might have been more in tune as I hauled corn and hummed along with the Stones singing “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.” 
by dan gogerty (top pic from and bottom pic from

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Guest Blog: Humanize Yourself!

By: Carl K Winter, Ph.D.

Vice Chair and Extension Food Toxicologist, Department of Food Science and Technology, University of California, Davis

2012 Borlaug CAST Communications Award Winner 

Successful public communication of complicated and contentious scientific issues such as GMOs or pesticide residues in food requires a lot of hard work. While the science of risk communication continues to evolve and best risk communication practices have been identified, development of effective science-based messages pitched at the appropriate level for public consumption is still a daunting task for most scientists.

Scientists may be further frustrated when their carefully constructed public messages fall on deaf ears. In many cases, the intended audience may simply not be receptive to the messenger, regardless of the message, due to preconceived biases relating to the affiliation and/or point of view of the messenger. Academic scientists, for example, may be perceived to suffer from the “ivory tower” syndrome and may be considered overly biased based upon their sources of research funding. Industry scientists may be perceived as being primarily profit motivated and less interested in contributing to the public good. Government scientists are often characterized as bureaucrats more interested in process than public input. How can scientists overcome such biases to contribute their points of view in a public discussion?

Let’s consider an analogy from the field of chemistry. If a chemist wishes to conduct a specific chemical reaction, he/she needs to assemble all of the appropriate reagents, solvents, substrates, etc., in the proper vessel under the appropriate conditions (i.e., pH, temperature, pressure). Simply getting everything together in the proper place may not be sufficient to cause the reaction to begin, however. One must provide a nudge, in the form of applying additional energy, before the reaction can proceed.  In chemistry, this is called the “energy of activation.”

(photo from:
For the scientist communicating to the public about a contentious topic, the development of carefully crafted scientific messages is analogous to the effort made by the chemist to assemble all of the components needed for a chemical reaction. Unless, however, the scientist overcomes the “energy of activation” barrier, the audience may remain skeptical and may not be receptive to the message.

If you are a scientist wishing to overcome this activation energy barrier, a great way to do this is to humanize yourself. Scientists are often trained to “let the science do the talking” (translated: “it’s OK to be boring”), so anything you can do to break down this stereotype might increase your audience’s receptivity to your message. Personalize your experiences and tell stories about yourself. Demonstrate your passion for your chosen profession and explain your motivations for doing what you are doing. Illustrate to the audience that you, too, are a member of the community and may have common experiences with many in the audience such as raising a family, belonging to community organizations, or having specific hobbies.

With respect to the topic being discussed, be comfortable sharing your own attitudes and personal behaviors (i.e., Do you seek out organic foods? Are you worried about eating GMOs? Do you feed conventional produce to your family members?). Making such efforts to humanize yourself may not change how the audience ultimately responds to your messages, but it may increase the likelihood that the audience will hear you out or wish to engage with you further down the road.

Good luck!

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Speaking Up for Farmers and Scientists

Gabe Middleton Poised for Leadership Role at CAST

Gabe Middleton believes that communicating accurate information about agriculture is one of the biggest challenges farmers face. As he points out, misinformation can do a lot of damage in a hurry, and farmers don't always have the time nor the resources to speak to the masses.

Middleton, a veterinarian with the Orrville Veterinary Clinic in Ohio, will become president-elect of CAST in October, and he will continue to be an enthusiastic promoter of agriculture, as he speaks up for farmers and scientists.  
As a small-town boy, Middleton started working on a dairy farm at the age of 12—and he developed an interest in veterinary medicine and agriculture. He graduated from the College of Wooster and then Ohio State University's College of Veterinary Medicine in 2005. At the Orrville Clinic, he focuses on large animal medicine, specifically dairy cattle.

Middleton has been an active member of CAST—representing scientific societies, joining in as a member of the animal work group, and serving as a liaison for a publication task force. 

He says he has been inspired by Dr. Norman Borlaug’s vision, and he is committed to CAST’s mission. “I plan to continue that enthusiasm through maintaining and utilizing the work done by the Strategic Planning Committees.” 

As one colleague said, “We are so fortunate to have talented people with passion for agriculture who make it their mission to lead.”

A Farm and Dairy journalist recently sat down with Middleton to learn about his leadership role and how it might benefit farmers. Click here for the full article

by dan gogerty (photo from

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Do You Know Where Your Child's School Supplies Come From?

The Nonfood Uses of Plants and Animals 

The fact that animals play such a vital role in our everyday lives may not come as a surprise to many. Not only are they raised as a source of food--they also help aid those who are suffering from physical and emotional disabilities, work alongside our armed forces, act as a form of transportation, pollinate and fertilize plants, as well as provide companionship. More often than not, we assume the contents of most products we use on a daily basis to be man made. In reality, most products contain one or more animal body part as an ingredient. Companies continue to discover innovative ways to make sure no part of the animal is wasted. With school in full force, this is the perfect time to take a quick peek at the by-products a typical elementary student might encounter throughout the school day.

While en route to start their day at school, most students either walk, ride their bike, or are dropped off in a car or school bus. Chances they will come in contact with an asphalt-paved road during their commute are rather high. Asphalt contains a binding agent from beef fat found in cow hide. If students do happen to be dropped off from a car or bus, they are probably unaware that the leather seats they are sitting on were made from a cow's hide too.

Three additional beef by-products can also be found as students make their way to school. Hydraulic break fluid is made from animal fat, the body of the vehicle is held together with the help of beef protein, and the vehicle tires contain stearic acid (found in cattle), which makes rubber hold its shape under continuous surface friction. All before eight in the morning, these young students will already have been exposed to the agricultural industry at least five times.

As students absorb today's lessons, they may be asked to use a crayon. This box full of countless colors is actually a product of soybeans. Soy ingredients are helping manufacturers reduce their dependency on petrochemicals as soy is nontoxic and much safer for children. Most crayons are made from paraffin wax that comes from the soybean plant. It grows naturally on the leaves and stems of the plant and is left behind when death and decomposing occur. Statistics show that one acre of soybeans can make a total of 82,368 crayons.

This next school supply is essential for almost every project or craft. Glue, a product created with the help of a protein called collagen (found in cows and pigs) is an item easily found in every student's desk. It is estimated that about 40 pounds of glue are used each year for every person in America. The animal remains that are used as raw material for glue may include ears, tails, bones, tendons, and scraps of hide.

As the clock slowly ticks toward the end of the day, students are often given a few minutes to run around the playground and enjoy some fresh air. A little friendly competition might take over among students during a quick game of football. In the early stages of the game, a pig's bladder was inflated and used as the ball. In comparison, today's football is made out of an inflated rubber bladder and enclosed in a leather cowhide.

When the last bell of the day chimes and students begin their voyage back home, we take a moment to reflect on all the nonfood uses of plants and animals these elementary students came in contact with. The number of goods we use on a daily basis that contain a plant or animal ingredient is astronomical. In any case, these are just a few of the examples of the many ways we have learned to make the most of the natural properties found in the plants and animals we eat--products that might otherwise go to waste. The agricultural industry serves essential human needs every day, playing a vital but sometimes less visible role in maintaining and improving the quality of human life.

By: Kylie Peterson

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Gotta Know Where Your Wagon Is--The Art of Handpicking Corn

In a small Illinois town, a group gathers every fall to pay tribute to the past by turning the old style of harvesting into a contest. These old-timers know what they're doing--as they say, "Never look at your wagon. Always know where the wagon is."

As this video shows, dozens of competitors put their hands to work recently at the Iowa State Cornhusking Event.

The National Cornhusking Association hosts a major contest in Missouri on October 21 to determine who is best at the "art of the harvest." This site provides information about this year's event and contests of the past. 

That's the One We've Been Lookin' For, Boys 
Dad recently turned 90, but he still wants to drive tractors and helps with the harvest. Although he respects the old days of farming, he’s a proponent of modern tech. “Can you imagine what it would be like to hand harvest the projected 14 billion bushels of U.S. corn this year?” he asks. “Even when the yields were much smaller, farmers usually figured on spending from early October to perhaps early December pulling ‘em in one ear at a time.”

Handpicking corn was an art and a hazard. Apparently the virtuosos would constantly have one ear of corn in hand and another one flying off to the wagon. Most pickers used a metal hook or peg attached to their hand to rip the shuck. “Ears were expected to be clean as a ribbon,” says Dad. “And successful pickers had talented teammates—in the form of smart horses. They’d respond to the picker’s commands, and some horses instinctively knew when to move ahead by listening to the corn hit the bang board.”

Corn didn’t always hit the wagon board after it left the picker’s hand. “It was common enough to get hit in the head with an ear thrown from someone picking in an outside row,” said Dad. “My friend Don was from a family of 12, so they had plenty of targets in the field. They made Don's left-handed brother pick with a separate wagon because he was tossing from the other side, and his throws could be lethal.”

Handpicking could get competitive back then. Dad spoke with a 94-year-old from Hubbard who took on a challenge and claims to have harvested 200 bushels in one day. “He only got four cents a bushel,” said Dad, “and he even spent time unloading the wagons. But he was justly proud of his work.”

Competitions still occur to this day--see the videos at the top of this page. A recent contest in Illinois had a simple goal: handpick as much corn as you can in 20 minutes. The winner was philosophical about it all. “It’s a connection to the past and a way to remember my dad.”

Old timers faced blizzards, “downed” cornstalks, stubborn mules, and endless patches of cockleburs, but they took pride in pulling in the crop before winter. The crews included hired hands, teenagers (some schools took a two-week harvest vacation), and day workers (aka the good old boys hanging out in front of Henry’s Tavern). 

Dad spoke with one old farmer who put it in perspective. “We’ve hauled nearly as much corn in the past few days as my Uncle Fred harvested during the entire fall of 1939. He hired out to pick corn by hand for a neighbor. By Thanksgiving, he’d picked 4,400 bushels, and by my reckoning, that’s 260,000 ears, and he did it one ear at a time. He got paid $175, enough to pay off his car loan.”

According to Dad, no one picked on Sunday back then. “Even the horses knew it was a day off.” But the crop came in, and sometime in late November or early December, the ritual ended. “And sure enough,” says Dad, “when that final ear of corn hit the bang board, some joker would call out, ‘That’s the one we’ve been looking for boys.’”

by dan gogerty (John Bloom painting from

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Storm Damage Updates--Florida and Agriculture

UPDATE, Sept. 14: Statewide, the total agricultural cost of the storm will be in the billions, according to the Florida Farm Bureau Federation. Irma’s winds and rains caused widespread destruction of crops, buildings, fencing, and other property. The most severe damage was in Southwest Florida.

Some islands in the Caribbean have been devastated.
Life-affecting storms have hit the southern United States, islands in the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, and countries in Africa. The Internet is filled with coverage about the damage—and the efforts many are making to help themselves and others as they recover. 

In this blog, we will focus on Hurricane Irma, and specifically on the effects it has had on Florida’s agriculture.

Fruit, Veggies, and More

This CBS news video shows that Florida fruit growers and farmers have just begun to assess the damage Hurricane Irma wrought on the state's citrus, sugar cane, and vegetable crops. 

In this NPR report, farmers explain why the storm's damage is probably the worst they have ever seen

Humans have helped various animals survive the storm.
These photos from a public relations specialist at the University of Florida show local damage to agriculture in the state.  

In this video segment, a reporter from Bloomberg Markets interviews an expert about Hurricane Irma’s financial impact on agriculture.

Helping a Florida Menagerie

The National Wildlife Federation says that some animals know how to take advantage of a hurricane’s aftermath: raccoons scavenge for food, and some bears use fallen trees for shelter. But for most, the risks are severe. Fish can be electrocuted by fallen power lines. Migratory birds can be thrown off course. And animals that live in zoos, shelters, and wildlife refuges are dependent on people for help

(top pic from and bottom from