Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Regulatory Barriers Issue Paper--Presentations and Q & A

During a two-day event in Washington, D.C., on March 22-23, the Council for Agriculture Science and Technology released a CAST Issue Paper titled Regulatory Barriers to the Development of Innovative Agricultural Biotechnology by Small Businesses and Universities. The celebration of National Ag Week (March 17-24) in D.C. complemented the release of the paper perfectly.

To roll out this important research paper, Dr. Alan McHughen, CE Biotechnology Specialist and Geneticist from the University of California-Riverside, presented highlights on March 22 at an event cohosted by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU). On Friday, March 23, the National Coalition for Food and Agricultural Research (NC-FAR) hosted a morning Senate presentation and House of Representatives lunch seminar.

The original issue paper press release can be found here.

The full issue paper is available here--including a link to Dr. Alan McHughen's presentation.

The Ag quickCAST one-page version is available here.

This link provides access to Dr. Alan McHugen's presentation on CAST's YouTube channel.

Thursday's program at APLU was well attended and promoted insightful questions and discussion following the presentation. Dr. Alan McHughen concluded by stating, "Until the regulations change, not only scientists, but farmers, consumers, and the environment will continue to be denied potential benefits."

Another statement included:

"It is important to remember that these innovations are tools. Genetic engineering is a tool. Instead of worrying about the tool, let's worry about what we can do with that tool to reach the final product we are envisioning. Let's regulate the product, not the process. Then we can evaluate the benefits and hazards."

Conversations on the internet and various social media platforms regarding the release of this paper have been active. The Hawaii Crop Improvement Association shared their excitement for the release of the issue paper on Facebook stating, "U.S. laws and regulations surrounding agricultural biotechnology are extensive, unreasonably expensive, and in need of an update. Many of them were written in the 1980s before the techniques were completely understood. As a result, crop improvement innovations that could help both farmers and consumers have stayed stuck on shelves."

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Cultivating Critical Thinking in Science

Through our network of experts, CAST prides itself in assembling, interpreting, and communicating credible, balanced, science-based information. Additionally, we understand the importance of knowing how to effectively analyze and evaluate information from other sources. Doing your own research on the "research" you are receiving from the internet is extremely important.

A recent blog by Jason Riis, a cognitive psychologist, spells out the framework for critical thinking that can be used to assess and develop these articles in the classroom, in media, or in any forum for public disclosure. The framework he provides draws on key principles from society's thinking institutions (such as the scientific method) and builds on insights from behavioral science that have shown extensive deficiencies in human critical thinking tendencies.

Riis suggests that effective critical thinking involve these three types of activities:

1. Diligent Clarification 

2. Slow Thinking 

3. Humble Self-reflection 

Citing the documentary film What the Health, the blog uses these three approaches to analyze the use of emotion, imagery, and a very selective presentation of facts to try and garner support for the film's thesis--that the widespread adoption of a vegan diet will all but eliminate chronic disease. 

Riis expresses why this matters to science: "We live in an era where this is staggering public skepticism about science. I believe that the standards of critical thinking about science in the media should be higher than they are. That means we need to talk about what critical thinking is, and call out venues or authors who hurt rather than help that mission. I am suggesting that all forms of media need to engage in careful critical thinking."

Making the effort to decipher with a critical eye articles that should be honest and an educational read is extremely important. Riis admits that story-telling and humor have their place in public discourse, but we must call out media limitation--especially when they oversimplify casual explanations that have a huge impact on people's lives. As Wanda Patsche said in a previous guest blog highlighting How to Use Critical Thinking Skills without a Science Background, "Sharpen your critical thinking skills by practicing them often. Understand and challenge your biases and assumptions--it's healthy."

Click on this link to read Riis's full blog, When Critical Thinking is Undermined. 

By: Kylie Peterson

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Spring Planting Time--Computers, Horses, and Optimism

A rogue beaver is building a dam on the tile-fed creek that dissects my folks' farm, so that means winter's ice is gone and springtime work is imminent. For our extended family, planting season starts with a strategy session around the kitchen table. My brother talks about prepping his aging 16-row planter and complains about the price of seed corn. "Maybe I could buy one of those new machines with auto-steer guidance and monitoring components to measure seed drop. Before long, farmers will be controlling it all with smartphone apps while they sip coffee in the kitchen."

My nephew injects a few statistics to temper his pipe dream. "Yeah, if you have $250,000 lying around, you can upgrade to 24 rows with 4 monitors, including an iPad to adjust seed placement. Farmers who keep running to the last light can plant 500 acres a day by themselves." I start envisioning luxury tractor cabs with home entertainment systems and planters that look like battle machines out of a Star Wars movie.

Dad brings us down to earth with a dose of back-in-the-day information. He has lived on the same slice of Iowa land for 90 planting seasons, so he has a deeper wikihistory page to pull from. "One man in bib overalls with a good team of horses could plant 20 acres of corn a day back in the 1920s. Of course nobody would have mentioned high tech or comfort. My dad ran a team of horses led by an old mare that liked to lie down for a nap in the heat of the afternoon."

According to him, high tech was a bit more low to the ground in those days. "You mention seed drop. A farmer from Burg told me they used to check how the alfalfa spreader was doing by counting the number of seeds in a horse's footprint. And the original 40-inch rows for cornfields were set that way to accommodate the width of a horse's ass." I assume Dad meant the animal, not the farmer.

Apparently, it could be risky as well as strenuous in those days. "Farmers used to stretch planter wire the length of the field, follow it along, and button in a seed every forty inches. At the end, they’d move the wires and start again. A lightning strike on the wire could kill a horse, mule, or man."

Horses or high tech, I've been off the farm since college days--and even when I was a teenager, Dad kept me away from the planter. "You showed more interest in that old '56 Chevy than you did in farm machinery, and we didn't need a cornfield planted like a tourist maze." He's a wise man. But I am still part of the spring planting campaign, thanks to the garden my other brother and I maintain on the home place. We're both "city boys" since we live in nearby small towns, and aside from a few basic farm tasks, we get our hands dirty in a patch of ground near the old barn.

With a much smaller budget in mind, we do our own seed and equipment "strategizing." We note that last year's spinach has popped up as a stunted volunteer crop--more as a tease for spring than a salad ingredient, but it gets us discussing our selection for this year. The usual suspects--lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, peppers, and more. My brother suggests we try some new ones—bak choy, cauliflower, and maybe brussels sprouts. I force kale into the conversation, even though he refuses to acknowledge its existence. 

Other family members tolerate our chatter but soon come to a consensus: “Plant whatever veggies you want, but see if you can get them to emerge from the ground with slices of bacon wrapped around them.” I don’t think they take us seriously.

Whether a thousand acres of corn and soybeans or a backyard plot of lettuce and tomatoes, it’s the optimism of spring planting time that counts. As Robert Louis Stevenson said, “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds you plant.”

Note: Two recent CAST publications contain science-based information about crop production, and they can be accessed free of charge: (1) Crop Protection Contributions toward Agricultural Productivity, and (2) Plant Breeding and Genetics

by dan gogerty (top two pics from and bottom pic from libraryofcongress)

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Celebrating Food and the Future of Agriculture

"To be interested in food but not food production is clearly absurd."
- Wendell Berry

Whether it means a day off work or just an excuse to celebrate, Americans love their holidays. While everyone is familiar with Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving--to name a few--there are numerous less than famous holidays celebrated every single day. Three celebrations during the month of March that the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST) finds important are National Nutrition Month, National Ag Week, and National Ag Day. This blog highlights the importance of these celebrations, along with ways that you can join in on the fun.

National Nutrition Month 

This nutrition education and information campaign was created in 1973 as a weeklong event, but it became a monthlong observance in 1980 in response to the growing public interest in nutrition. Created by the Academy for Nutrition and Dietetics, this campaign focuses on making informed food choices and aims at developing sound eating and physical activity habits. This month's theme, Go Further with Food, includes a focus on starting your day with a hearty breakfast, fueling before athletic events, preparing foods to go further at home, and reducing food waste.

National Ag Week

Centered around the celebration of National Ag Day on March 20, this weeklong event recognizes and celebrates production agriculture and all that it provides. The Agriculture Council of America hosts the campaign on a national level, but the contributions of agriculture are shared throughout communities and organizations on a much broader scale. Agriculture provides almost everything that we eat, use, and wear on a daily basis. The goal for this year's event, Agriculture: Food for Life, is aimed at telling the story of American agriculture and bringing awareness to its presence in our daily lives. 

This year, CAST will be doing our part in honoring the event with the rollout of our latest issue paper--Regulatory Barriers to the Development of Innovative Agricultural Biotechnology by Small Businesses and Universities--in Washington, D.C., on March 22-23. This event is free and open to the public. Click here for more information. We would love to see you in attendance.

What can you do to help advocate for agriculture throughout the week? Put simply, get involved! Your participation is critical in helping spread a positive message about agriculture. Visit this website for Ag Day tools and resources. 

By: Kylie Peterson

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

3 Steps to Improve Your Science Communication

A few weeks ago, Successful Farming featured a blog highlighting 3 Steps to More Effective Conversations with Consumers. Look East's vice president, Roxi Beck, touched on three specific behaviors that she believes are undermining trust and why agriculturalists should stop doing them. Throughout my read, I continued to find connections with the communication of scientific information to nonscientists. Scientists have been missing the mark, but like Beck states, that can be changed.

"All too often, when someone makes a false statement, we immediately engage, correct the misinformation and call it a win. Then one day, we realize the person no longer speaks to us. Inundating consumers with an information dump won't change their minds. Facts used to drive everything. They're still important, but if the goal is to build trust in food and agriculture, they're not the most valuable element." 

When googled, a scientist is described as a person who is an expert in science. They often find comfort in data, numbers, statistics, and experimentation. Communicating their findings to a group of people who lack knowledge on the subject is where scientists struggle. Beck states, "Science addresses whether we can do something, but consumers aren't asking if we can, they are asking if we should. That's an ethical question." 

Factual information must come from someone who's worthy of trust. Beck says these three steps might be undermining trust and should be stopped immediately:

1. Stop persuading.

2. Stop correcting. 

3. Stop educating.

Instead, try a different approach with these three steps for a more effective conversation:

1. Start listening without judgement.

2. Start acknowledging their concerns and asking questions.

3. Start sharing who you are when you talk about what you know.

It's time to embrace the skepticism surrounding science. "The person on the other end of the conversation wants to be heard and acknowledged, and wants to obtain credible information from a trusted source with shared values," Beck says. As a scientist, you need to be ready to join the conversation. 

Read the original Successful Farming article for more information found here: 3 Steps to More Effective Conversations with Consumers

By: Kylie Peterson

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Foundation for Young Farmers

Building Future Farmers

There is a long list of people, experiences, and organizations that I hold responsible for instilling in me a passion for production agriculture. To put it mildly, Future Farmers of America (FFA) is at the top of that list. Last week (February 17-24) was the celebration of National FFA Week. This is a time to remember the past, celebrate accomplishments, and create the future through community involvement and service projects. Students all over the United States commemorated the week with dress-up days, kiss-a-critter contests, faculty breakfasts, and commuting to school in tractors. Though I have grown out of sporting bibs and a straw hat throughout the halls of my old high school during this weeklong event, one thing is for certain--the knowledge and life skills that I obtained through my involvement with this organization will stick with me forever.

Cattlemen at the Capital 

The Young Cattlemen's Leadership Program (YCLP) consists of a series of educational sessions designed to develop leadership qualities in young cattle farmers. The Iowa Cattlemen's Association (ICA) provides action-packed agendas for each session that touch on key topics involving the beef cattle industry. February's meeting kicked off at Chad Wilkerson's Farm, where we toured their facility discussing the advantages and disadvantages of calving under roof. Wednesday's agenda focused on legislation and public policy at Iowa's capital building. YCLP students were given the opportunity to meet with their legislators to lobby about topics concerning the beef industry; Iowa's Foreign Animal Disease Preparedness and Response plan, funding for the building and renovation of the Iowa State University Veterinary Diagnostic Lab, and opportunities to help young cattle producers. Meetings with Governor Kim ReynoldsLt. Governor Adam Gregg, USDA Under Secretary Bill Northey, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, and the Iowa Ag Development Authority rounded up a very successful and insightful day at the capital.

Acting on Opportunity

The importance of getting involved in organizations and connected with resources that help you grow personally and professionally is extremely valuable--especially at a young age.  One of the many resources CAST provides is a weekly digital newsletter, Friday Notes, which includes information about science-based agricultural information and career opportunities--as well as links to various types of online articles. An exciting aspect of this newsletter is that it is FREE to all currently enrolled full-time students. Check here to see how CAST's youngest member decided to take full advantage. Colleen Hamilton, CAST's Membership/Administrative Specialist, is passionate about promoting agricultural opportunities among youth: "We're pleased to see an increasing number of college students taking advantage of our free student membership--allowing them access to CAST ag resources for their class work and research projects. Of course, it is our hope that they'll continue to stay with us as a young professional when they start their careers."

Interested in taking advantage of our free student membership? Contact Colleen at the number provided below or scan the code for CAST's online membership application. 

By: Kylie Peterson