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

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Biking Pumps Life into Rural Heartland

The High Trestle Bridge near Madrid, Iowa.
As Labor Day signaled a symbolic change of seasons, a bike ride through small towns and Midwest farmland can put things in perspective. The High Trestle Trail in central Iowa provides an unfolding mural of rural landscape that demonstrates some of the shifts occurring in the Heartland.

A recent series in the Des Moines Register explained why many small towns are struggling. As farm size grows and high-tech methods become popular, farm population shrinks and communities suffer. Ironically, a low-tech throwback--the bicycle--has opened a
The bridge at night.
promising avenue for some towns. The High Trestle Trail is one of many bike paths in the state, but it also features a stunning work of art--a 13-story high railroad structure spanning the Des Moines River.

The lowland area south of the trail once harbored coal mines, and now the bridge is lined with steel frames that mimic the old tunnel supports. The path over the river gives the rider a flavor of the claustrophobic mine shafts, but it also highlights the beautiful, expansive view of the countryside.

Coal mining has become just an entry in the local history books--now the bike trail pulls in cyclists from near and far. Families with babies in tow and bike clubs with weird names file along the 25-mile trail. Bars, smoothie stands, and nearby Main Street shops benefit from the traffic. During summer, bands play or special events are arranged, and since the bridge is lit up until midnight, many come by bike or foot to enjoy the psychedelic ambience.
The Flat Tire is one of many businesses benefiting.

Bikers are a hungry, thirsty lot, so the pubs have prospered the most. The Whistling Donkey and the Firetrucker are at either end, with the Nite Hawk and the Flat Tire somewhere along the way. 

Bike trails throughout the country have added a small but pulsating artery to small-town economies--and nothing demonstrates that more than Ragbrai, the annual week-long ride across the state. Started in 1973, the migration now has an official 10,000 riders, but on most days, that number swells by many thousands more. For further information about this ride, check The Des Moines Register's official Ragbrai site, or click onto this blog to learn about the people and rural ambience that make the ride special. 

by dan gogerty (top two pics from and third pic from