Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Pocket Drones, a Trillion Data Points, and Spittin’ Tobacco

Weekend warriors are using drones to impress buddies at the lake, and eight-year-olds can maneuver a tiny craft around siblings sitting at a dinner table, so it’s no surprise that farmers are on the drone bandwagon. As this company says, the new “Pocket Drone Control” tool provides aerial insights to check on weather or pest damage in distant fields, and growers can also decide what fertilizer to apply. Apparently, farmers can make a few swipes on an iPhone or iPad (they just need to be careful they’re not on Tinder), and the pocket drone can cover an 80-acre field in less than 15 minutes.

Another cutting-edge company points out that the current revolution is being fueled not only by advancements in drone platforms, but by improved sensors as well. “Drones are everywhere in the agricultural landscape and are being used to determine plant health, inventory plants, collect farm asset information, assess crop damage, and even determine areas of low soil moisture.” I imagine the upgraded models can also zip off at noon and pick up sandwiches at the Country Vittles store on Main Street. “What! I wanted my BLT on rye not pumpernickel.” Farmers will need to take their leather work gloves off when they use the touch pad to order.

This is certainly an upgrade from the old days. Dad’s crop reports would come from windshield surveys while he drove the country roads or from a friendly neighbor’s not-so-subtle observations. “That corn on your back forty looks burnt and stressed. You might want to give it some attention or you may as well turn those scrawny cattle of yours loose in it.” 

Livestock auctions were "massive databases" back then.
We kids might have some insights after walking soybean fields to pull weeds, but we were focused more on avoiding painful thistles and dirt clods thrown by a cousin eight rows over. Dad considered us unreliable sources: “I never sent you boys to check conditions in the cornfields ‘cause I didn’t know if you were smart enough to find your way out.”

Hundreds of articles and websites could inform us about new tech on the farm, but one more that grabbed my attention has an eerie eye-in-the-sky feel to it. Apparently, this device is designed so that agribusiness can know the details about growers and their cropland. “The GPS on mobile devices allows any user to quickly and easily learn about farm fields and farmers around their current location."  I'm not sure if it identifies the farmer's shoe size or favorite pizza yet, but that's no doubt coming. The company says it offers a “massive database of over 200 trillion data points.” And to think, the old days featured a database made up of the locals gathered at the feed store—usually five or six "drones" in overalls and old Clyde who never passed on anything from his data base without first spittin’ a chunk of Red Man tobacco. But overall, the information was solid, and these drones never needed their batteries recharged--unless you count the free coffee and donuts. 

NOTE:  Check this blog for more links about ag drones and a reflection about being a kid on the farm before drones.

NOTE: Click here for information about CAST's forthcoming series of issue papers: The Need for Agricultural Innovation to Sustainably Feed the World by 2050

This series looks at specific programs, policies, and techniques that will advance global food security. Topics will include issues in animal agriculture, food science, and crops and soils. Led by teams of experts, the Ag Innovation series focuses on smart science and intelligent innovation—the dramatic changes needed to accelerate productivity in crop and animal systems while reducing negative impacts on the environment. CAST will present the work to policymakers, corporate leaders, government officials, NGOs, students, stakeholder groups, and the general public.

by dan gogerty  (top pic from precisiondrone.jpg, bottom one from web.missouri.edu)

Thursday, February 23, 2017

National FFA--More Than a Blue Jacket

National FFA Week just occurred, but in many ways, every day is FFA day. The organization becomes an integral part of young people's lives, and it focuses on not only agriculture, but also science, business, and much more. Check here to catch up on a few of the many activities that FFA week featured.

** This site highlights a National FFA member’s essay—she says the organization is more than wearing a blue jacket—it becomes part of who you are. It represents what you stand for and where you going. “I give credit to FFA for making me a farmer and leader with spirit.”

Sydney and Mikayla
** Iowa-raised Sydney Weis is pursuing an ag-based college education, but she knows that the National FFA Organization has inspired her whether on the farm, at school, or in her daily activities. The following list comes from her blog (click here for the original version with photos). Mikayla (with Sydney at right) is also taking college ag courses, and she is an admin. assistant intern at CAST.
1. FFA Taught You How to Keep Records
While not my favorite activity, keeping records on my Supervised Agriculture Experience (SAE) prepared me for success. You learn how to record assets, depreciation, and how to figure gains and losses. This comes in handy when you are out in the real world! Being required to keep records may have taught you how to use Excel which is extremely useful. Personally, this task helped develop organizational skills from tax season to coordinating notes from class. My life is pretty orderly thanks to my old FFA record books.

2. FFA Taught You How to Tie a Tie
A skill that is taken for granted quite often is the skill of tying a tie. While most young ladies get away with the scarf that clips in the back, it was important to know how to tie a tie when a certain male member of your parliamentary procedure team forgot. This skill comes in handy now and again whether tying your own tie before a big interview or just helping a buddy out!

3. FFA Taught You How to Speak
From the very beginning of freshman year, you learned the FFA Creed. You learned how to articulate certain words and add emphasis where needed. Fast forward to the Public Speaking Career Development Event and you learn how to write and present a speech. Perhaps you spent a day at the Legislative Symposium and had the opportunity to speak with your state’s leaders. The level of professionalism used and speaking skills developed through opportunities in the FFA probably helped you through a college speech class--and now help you excel at work, meetings, and in casual conversation.

4. FFA Taught You How to Lead
Running your first meeting as chapter president or leading a committee at state convention can get pretty nerve racking, but after all that preparation you probably nailed it. The hours you spent understanding effective leadership styles and communication through events like Chapter Officer Leadership Training or at the State Leadership Conference for District Officers really pays off after high school. You are probably directing a collegiate organization like Block and Bridle or heading regional committees, running board meetings, and even local or state governments with the leadership skills you gained through FFA.

5. FFA Helped You Decide on a Career Path
If you were anything like me, deciding your college major, let alone your career, was no easy task. Through FFA you got the chance to experience many different types of careers inside and outside of agriculture. Through SAE’s, trips, contests, and more you were probably exposed to your current career through FFA. Who knew you might like floriculture and floral design? Maybe you found your passion for agribusiness through the agriculture sales CDE. FFA is known for preparing students for agriculture related jobs like business, marketing, science, communications, education, horticulture, production, natural resources, forestry, and more!

6. FFA Gave You Lifelong Friendships
Of the 649,355 student members involved in FFA you were bound to make a few lifelong friendships. Whether you met them at Greenhand Fire-Up, State Nominating Committee, District Officer Gatherings, or even the National Convention you made some darn good friends who share the same values as you. Great people come out of the FFA--and not to exclude our advisors. They still serve an important role after your days in the national blue and corn gold. Some of them even become lifelong friends, too! Everywhere I go I run into someone who was an FFA member themselves. These connections have turned into a great networking community and have helped me obtain quite a few job opportunities.

7. FFA Paid for Your College Tuition
No college debt? That is probably because the National FFA Organization awards around $2.2 million dollars in scholarships each year for its members. If you didn’t receive a scholarship from the National FFA specifically, you were probably awarded a scholarship for listing your involvement in the organization on your application somewhere. The National FFA has a pretty good reputation and most scholarship committees commend students for that.

8. FFA Let You See the World
The FFA took me to places I had never dreamed of traveling to before. I could probably drive to Indianapolis blindfolded and backwards also. I had the opportunity to travel to Haiti with the FFA through a program called, “FFA to Haiti.” It was the experience of a lifetime and I gained tons global perspective. Students all over the country participate in activities like the Washington Leadership Conference which takes them to Washington, D.C., to learn and explore at our nation’s capital while defining leadership skills. Maybe you even traveled outside of the United States with the FFA through ILSSO, National Office, or the Stars and Proficiency Travel Experience.

9. FFA Taught You How to Interview
Through preparation for chapter contests and more, the FFA definitely prepared me for difficult interview questions. My advisor used to bring in people from the community that may or may not have experience with the FFA and had them interview me. It was TOUGH, but it prepared me better than anything for scholarship and job interviews. While not only developing certain interview tactics I also gained confidence. My confidence radiates when I am sitting in front of an interview committee and I guarantee it would not be there without the help of the FFA.  I dare you to compare the interview of a former FFA member to someone who wasn’t involved in the organization. I imagine you would be impressed! Those skills stem from many hours spent in and out of the agriculture classroom preparing for a successful career.

10. FFA Helped You Learn How to Volunteer
Last and not least, the FFA taught us the importance of volunteer work. From small fundraisers to National Days of Service the giving spirit of FFA members shines through. I would say many of my volunteer opportunities and even ideas came from my FFA chapter. FFA members are some of the hardest working individuals and would give you the shirt off their backs if you let them. This translates into a strong work ethic in the workplace and dedicated community members. The FFA motto even states the dedication members have for service.

“Learning to Do, Doing to Learn, Earning to Live, Living to Serve”

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Food Labels--Confusion, Waste, and Clarification

Sell By, Use By, Bye Bye?

Note: update video from NBC about the labeling issue, click here.

In an effort to simplify food purchases and reduce food waste, grocery manufacturers and retailers launched an industry-wide effort to adopt standard wording on packaging about the quality and safety of products. As reported by Sara Wyant in AgriPulse, the new system proposes just two standard phrases--rather than the ten different date labels now on packages. As Emily Broad Leib--director of Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic--says, “We waste about 40% of the food we produce. The single most cost-effective solution is standardizing and clarifying date labels.”

CAST has published several papers about food labels including Process Labeling of Food: Consumer Behavior, the Agricultural Sector, and Policy Recommendations. 

Years ago we didn't have as many label choices or food "statistics" to worry about, and some look smugly back to maintain that food waste was not such a problem. The following segment from an earlier CAST blog considers the food waste situation in days gone by.    

Why We Wasted Less in the "Good Old Days" or Did We?

So what was different about those days before McFastFood, processed gourmet items, and mega supermarkets? Maybe it’s because when we sat at the family table we had slow food, farm produce, and whatever the little grocery store in town had on special. Maybe we just didn’t have the opportunities to waste as much. A few points to consider:

Gee Wally--I never waste any food.
#1  We usually had similar items at each meal—meat, potatoes, bread, and a vegetable. When referring to his assembly line cars, Henry Ford supposedly said that customers could have any color they wanted as long as it was black. After Dad had one of our steers in the feedlot butchered, we could have any meat type we wanted as long as it had once “mooed.”

#2  The small-town grocers also had limited choices back then. The cereal aisle was not a kaleidoscope of colors and cartoon characters. “Do you want Cheerios or Wheaties?” Trix, Coco Puffs, and Count Chocula had yet to invade our rural landscapes.

#3  Fruits and veggies were seasonal. I didn’t know what a papaya was until my wife and I went to California on our honeymoon. When our strawberry patch was ready, we had red-stained fingers for a month, and if you went to the work of digging carrots in the garden, you ate even the “ugly” ones. When we sat down in late summer, we could have any vegetable we wanted as long as it was sweet corn on the cob.

#4  There were no “sell by” or “use by” dates on items. Mom kept our fridge free of those fuzzy, green things that sometimes lurk in the back, and most folks just used the sniff test and a bit of common sense. At school, you could tell the milk was off if it came chunky style in the carton. Some of the kids figured the food was “World War II surplus,” but we were too busy yelling and acting like the Three Stooges to worry about food freshness.

#5  Most families had a “clean your plate” policy. Some had the strict “If you don’t eat your meat, you can’t have any pudding” edict, while others used pathos with the line about starving kids in the world. One old farmer we heard of used to lick his plate clean, turn it over, and say that it was fine to leave there until the next meal.

#6  “Whole food” meant that most items were fully used. For example, the hog butchers claimed that “the only part of the pig not processed was the squeal.” If there were leftovers, we saved them to eat later (garden beans went noodle-like by the second day), or we had built-in disposal systems—hogs, dogs, and cats. As Dad says, “Our chickens would eat anything from orange peels to sawdust.”

I’m not convinced we were that much better at food use when I was a grade school kid in the late 50s. But things were certainly easier then. We didn’t have so many choices; we knew where our food came from and what it was; and we had less waste at the end of each meal. Even those peas my brothers and I flicked at each other when the folks weren’t looking served their purpose.

by dan gogerty  (Beaver Cleaver pic from lessonbucket.jpg)