Thursday, October 26, 2017

Tragedy and Healing in the 2017 Harvest

In the grain belt, autumn brings frost-tinged mornings, color-coated leaves, and the frenzy of the harvest. It can also bring farm communities together in times of sorrow. The first two links describe the spirit of helping out when friends are in need. 

The blog below is from several years ago--about a tragedy, a community effort, and a move toward healing.

** Neighbors pulled together to harvest a farmer's last crop after he died suddenly from a heart attack.

** Volunteers harvested this farmer’s soybean crop after his tragic death in a motorcycle crash.

It's What Farmers Do

Statistics place agriculture near the top when it comes to fatalities on the job. Regulations and technological advances have helped, but tragedy can strike even when a farmer is simply trying to finish the harvest. Mark Brown of Anita, Iowa, worked his final harvest on an October day several years ago.

Rescuers found him dead under his burning combine. He apparently was trying to unhitch part of the equipment to save some of the machinery from the fire. Brown had sailed around the world in U.S. navy submarines, but he settled on the land and became passionate about his family, his faith, and his farm. He also became a statistic in the ledgers of farm dangers.

Mark Brown’s untimely death points out more about agriculture than safety awareness.  As a Des Moines Register article put it, “One of rural Iowa’s greatest traditions was renewed.” Neighbors arrived with combines, friends prepared food, and at one time, a line of 39 semitrailer trucks stood by to haul grain. The Brown family had 1,400 acres of corn still in the field, and neighbors made sure the harvest carried on.

I left the Midwest and its rural communities for 25 years, but Dad sent letters with hometown news, and I was relieved to note that even as the farming landscape changed, some of the spirit remained. In the 90s, he wrote, “A few good old boys helped Albert and his two sons combine the rest of his corn while he slows down a bit for some chemo treatments.” In another letter, he pointed out that “Arden spent much of the week in Des Moines where they’re treating his son for leukemia, so Scott and another neighbor did his chores.”
Good neighbors bake pies for funerals, deliver sweet corn in the summer, and help roundup cattle that have gone walkabout. The community barn-raising days are mostly gone, but Dad’s letters contained anecdotes about the sharing that occurs in agricultural circles. “Larry and his family lost their house and belongings in a fire, but some neighbors let them use the house and all its furnishings while they’re away in Arizona.” Dad pointed out that the ones giving usually got greater rewards from doing the deeds than the recipients did.

Being neighborly is not peculiar to Iowa. No doubt, rural folks around the world have ways of bonding together and helping each other out. Agriculture is a dangerous profession, but for many, it is more of a “family” than a profession.  A few days after her husband’s death, Nancy Brown looked out her kitchen window at four combines harvesting corn and said, “It’s what farmers always do.”  

by dan gogerty (top pic from and bottom from kearneyhub.jpg)

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 pointed 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-Carlson (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