Thursday, December 27, 2018

The Good, Bad, and Ugly of Agricultural Terms

A few years back on the Tonight Show, Jimmy Fallon used newsworthy terms to demonstrate that a good name for one thing might make a bad name for something else. We've twisted that idea by using agricultural terms.

Herbicide: good name for a pesticide that kills weeds, bad name for a new drink at the Sunset Lounge, terrible name for the theme of your uncle Herb's birthday party

Honey Wagon: good name if you’re fertilizing your field, bad name if you’re following a leaky one on the road, dubious name for a new pancake syrup

Bacon Festival: good name for a pork lovers' gathering, bad name for a vegetarian fundraiser, terrible name for the three little pigs' vacation destination

Cover Crop: good name for green growth in fields, bad name for the crabgrass in your yard, terrible name for a hair transplant product

Supersize: good name for a fast food option, bad name for a diet plan, great name for a winning lottery ticket

Pigweed: good name for a toxic plant, bad name for a farmer’s bean field, great name for something your pet pig can smoke for medicinal purposes

CRISPR: good name for a gene editing technique, bad name for a tanning salon, great name for a curly fry

Salmonella: good name to avoid in your food, bad name to have in your food, terrible name for Sal, the youngest of the Monella brothers

Drip Irrigation: good name for a water system for crops, bad name for a plumbing company, terrible name for a condition you ask your doctor about 

Butterfinger: good name for a candy bar, bad name for a football receiver, great name for a digital butter churner

Drone: good name for an unmanned aerial vehicle, bad name for a college lecturer, trite name for a new TV reality show called Game of Drones

by dan gogerty (pic from

Thursday, December 20, 2018

The Week Before Christmas and Ag News Is Stirring

When it comes to agriculture, the week before Christmas has not been a "silent night," and "creatures have been stirring all through the house." Here are some of the key headlines:

** The 2018 Farm Bill has garnered varied opinions, but overall responses seem to be positive. This summary from the House Agriculture Committee lists key points. In this report, the Farm Bureau looks at the support the new bill gathered, and this article from a Midwest publication lists some of the "pros and cons" of the bill.

**  A new FDA report shows a 33% decline from 2016 to 2017 in the domestic sales and distribution of all medically important antibiotics used in food animal production.

** Gene-edited farm animals are coming. This article includes insights from animal science experts, and it looks at the advances, along with questions of safety and public acceptance.

** The U.S. meat industry is gigantic, but it faces emerging competition on two fronts: plant-based meat substitutes and actual meat grown in labs. However, many experts agree that livestock production is still essential for global food security.

Christmas on the Farm--Red Barn, Mismatched Livestock, and Memories Stuck to Our Boots 

Youngsters on the farm and off have plenty of choices--high tech and low--to select from when it comes to the latest holiday presents. Although Fortnite is the rave this year, agriculture has its apps, video games, and digital attractions too. But some kids still enjoy the tangible nature of toys.

As this blog says, some stores still stock the "Old McDonald's Farm" sets, and even the classic red barn still shows up occasionally on living room floors. Look back on a time when toys consisted of mismatched plastic animals, small tractors with worn rubber tires, and anything in the house that could add to the farm operation--from thread spools to Lincoln logs to erector set pieces. It can still be fun to "farm the carpet."

by dan gogerty (top graphic from and bottom pic from

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Solving Scientific Puzzles

This blog wraps up a series that highlights the five outstanding grad students who received a CAST Science Communication Scholarship to attend the 2018 CAST Annual Meeting in Sacramento, California, during the last full week of October. This pilot program required applicants to submit a 30-second video explaining why science communication plays such a critical role in sharing their research findings. Wright explained why she wanted to be a scientist and how she can help bridge the gap between research that occurs in the laboratory and the knowledge that reaches the average consumer. Her video can be found on CAST's YouTube channel and other CAST social media.

Growing up on a farm engrossed in an agricultural community in western Kentucky generated Wright's natural connection between genomics and agriculture. "I always gravitated toward science classes in middle school, but my interest was clarified a bit more during my sophomore year of high school." Wright's tenth-grade biology teacher assigned a DNA-themed puzzle activity that taught her how base pairs of DNA are bound together like a puzzle. "I remember really resonating with that activity and wanting to learn more about genetics since I loved the idea of working on a large 'puzzle-like' project." She wanted to put the science she had grown to love to good use--answering questions related to agricultural concepts she grew up with.

At the age of 16, Wright was accepted into the Carol Martin Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science in western Kentucky. Impressively, she completed her last two years of high school at the academy, with college-level course work, while living on the university's campus. After graduating from the Gatton Academy, Wright attended the University of Kentucky (UK), where she received her bachelor of science degree in agricultural and medical biotechnology with minors in psychology, microbiology, and biological sciences. During her undergraduate studies, she won the global level of the Alltech Young Scientist competition and was awarded a fellowship for her graduate studies. After completing her degree at UK, Wright and her husband moved to California so she could pursue her Ph.D. at the University of California-Davis in microbiology. "My research has varied throughout the years, but my love for microbiology and agriculture is what drew me to study at Davis."

Wright shared that a big part of her academic journey has been learning to stay true to herself and making choices that might have been difficult at first, but ultimately led her to her career. "Choosing to attend college, pursue a Ph.D., and move across the country were all choices that weren't always comfortable or well accepted by some. What helped me to be sure about those decisions was being my own advocate and imagining the advice I would give to a peer in my situation. In the end, these have all been positive life-changing experiences and I'm glad I followed my gut." If she could go back and do it all over again, she would tell her younger self to pursue science fearlessly and unapologetically. "I think I struggled with the intimidation of wanting to pursue a career that required so many years of higher education, but I wish I would have realized earlier how great the time spent would be because I would be doing what I truly loved."

Currently working in Dr. Jorge Rodriguez's lab studying microbial communities within crop soils, Wright is pursuing a designated emphasis in biotechnology. "I think microbiomes will become an immensely helpful tool in the future for agriculture, food safety, and human health. I believe these predictive tools will be able to aid in preventing diseases, increasing crop yields, and bettering animal health."

Transitioning from her Kentucky childhood into college and now graduate school has been an eye-opening experience for Wright. The intersection of her life experiences in agriculture and science have made her intentional about pursuing scientific communication opportunities as she strives to bridge the gap between research and public knowledge. Being a part of a collaborative, interdisciplinary, applied research project reinforces her motivation to be involved in scientific communication so that results like hers can be understood and implemented in an impactful fashion. "I believe where the interdisciplinary research intersects with policy, media, and real-world applications is truly where science moves the world forward. I am passionate not only about being a well-trained scientist, but also being able to communicate my research and scientific literature to those who may benefit from it the most."

When Alonna is not conquering the science communications community with her insight and skills, she can be found reading a good book, watching Netflix, and baking. This young lady knows how to work diligently when it's time to pursue her dreams and goals, but she also stays grounded with some well-deserved relaxation time. It has been a true pleasure getting to know Mrs. Wright, and we look forward to working with her in the future.

Click here to view Alonna Wright's video or follow her on Twitter at @lonna_wright.

By: Kylie Peterson

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Destined to Be a Scientist

Sarah Klopatek, a research assistant at the University of California-Davis, was one of the five students to receive a scholarship to attend the 2018 CAST Annual Meeting in Sacramento, California, during the last full week of October. The pilot CAST Science Communication Scholarship Program required applicants to submit a 30-second video explaining why science communication plays such a critical role in sharing their research findings. Klopatek explains how her research helps bridge the gap between cattle ranchers in California with consumers all over the world and how science communication is key in successfully accomplishing this feat. Her video can be found on CAST's YouTube channel and other CAST social media.

Klopatek has a very unique background--she was raised by a microbiologist biochemist and a global systems ecologist. Spending most of her childhood surrounded by scientists and field research, it is no surprise that she chose to pursue a career as a scientist. "I fell in love with science because it's all I've ever known." With soil sample bags in hand, twelve-year-old Klopatek would keep herself entertained as her parents took to their research. Growing up, you could often find her riding horses, playing lacrosse, or swinging a punch or two at boxing practice. "I think being an athlete really prepared me to become a scientist. You must endure a lot in both professions. Being an athlete you have to push your body, where scientists have to push their minds."

Following high school, Klopatek chose to obtain her undergrad degree in animal science at the University of Arizona. "My parents were professors at Arizona State University, so of course I went to U of A." Four years flew by and she found herself being accepted into the school of veterinary medicine. Realizing that beef cattle and sustainability was her true calling, Klopatek chose to continue her education at Texas A&M University. She credits Texas A&M for being the "best decision" she has ever made. It helped her establish a beef background from pasture to plate and opened her eyes to the beef system as a whole.

Klopatek chose to relocate to California for her Ph.D. work because UC-Davis was housing a wide variety of systems work at the time. Jim Oltjen at UC-Davis was a great mentor who helped take Klopatek's research to the next level and allowed her to do research that answers system questions. "I learned that in order to measure sustainability of beef myopically, we must evaluate its relationship with policy, consumers, environmental health, human health, and worker health." She finds California to be filled with ranchers who face unique opportunities and challenges every day--providing her with a great place to study and grow.

When reminiscing on her journey of becoming a beef sustainability scientist, Klopatek reflected on many life lessons she learned along the way. "When I was younger, I was horrible with change. I have been very fortunate to have great mentors throughout my educational career, and Dr. Todd Calloway was one of those people. He taught me how to roll with the punches and not be my own worst enemy. You can plan for everything to go right in your experiment or project, but things will still go wrong. There will be speed bumps and that's okay. Learn to adapt." Calloway once told her, "You are literally getting time in your life where you get paid to learn and discover. You are a monk of science. That is a gift." If Klopatek could give advice to other young scientists, she would encourage them to enjoy the journey and to compartmentalize. "Sometimes your original plans don't pan out. Instead of making a plan for your life, make an outline and realize that it isn't the blueprint of your life. It is an outline to keep you moving closer toward your goals."

As Klopatek looks to the future, her intention as a cattle sustainability scientist is to influence legislation and policy that would appropriately reinforce environmental and animal welfare that is economically adventitious to both producers and consumers. "I have been able to work on research that I love and believe in. There is so much good science out there, and it needs to be shared with the people in a way that they can understand and resonate with it." Klopatek tells her students, "Your master's gets you the toolbox. Your Ph.D. teaches you how to use those tools. The thing is, your toolbox doesn't go away once you graduate. You should be able to use those tools for whatever science and science communication you are interested in." Klopatek plans to use her toolbox at the senate to help influence change and policy for the science and agricultural community. It has been a pleasure getting to know her, we wish her the best of luck in her future endeavors, and we look forward to continuing to work with her.

Click here to watch Sarah Klopatek's video on why she is so passionate about people, the planet, and animals.

By: Kylie Peterson

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

CAST Has Much to Look Forward to in the New Year

A Word from Gabe Middleton, CAST's New President

As I recently took over the gavel as President of the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology, I was able to reflect on last spring’s Board of Directors meeting in Washington, D.C., as well as my recent trip to the CAST office in Ames and the World Food Prize in Des Moines. I am reminded of a simple yet significant quote by one of CAST’s past presidents, Dr. Mark Armfelt: “CAST does important work.” CAST’s legacy of communicating sound science, started by Dr. Norman Borlaug, has never been stronger and more exciting.

As I visited with agricultural professionals in D.C., I recognized the impact that CAST’s publications have on ag policy. I attended a Global Farmer’s Roundtable in Des Moines at the World Food Prize. Farmers from around the world discussed their challenges, none greater and more timely than access to biotechnology and acceptance of that technology by consumers. Dr. Armfelt’s words continue to run across my mind.

CAST has remained relevant due to the work of the staff, Executive Vice President Kent Schescke, and the boards (representatives, directors, and trustees). I have been so impressed by the engagement these groups have shown and how that commitment helps to further the mission of CAST to synthesize and communicate sound science. The publication output has never been stronger in CAST, and the future for 2019 is very bright. CAST has published six papers so far in 2018, with another potential paper soon to be released. All of this year’s publications have been well received, with no CAST paper ever being as popular as Genome Editing in Agriculture: Methods, Applications, and Governance. This paper will be presented to global ag policymakers and may shape the regulation of gene-edited crops throughout the world.

As mentioned, CAST has several very interesting and important papers to be released in 2019. This is a testament to the CAST staff and boards’ abilities to create a proposal, create a task force, and keep authors on track for a timely release. When all of this happens in an efficient manner, the results are phenomenal. All of those involved in CAST have their fingerprints on publications in some way.  I would encourage you to join CAST for a paper rollout if you have never done so before. While travel to the rollout may not always be feasible, look for other options, such as Facebook live or archived videos, to view the publication release. CAST, and agriculture in general, benefit when engagement and education are increased.

I’m humbled and excited to lead CAST in 2019. Everyone involved in CAST certainly feels the same excitement for the coming year. I am looking forward to increasing involvement of the boards, maintaining excellent publication output, and continuing CAST’s relevance to ag policy and science communication into the future.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Cattle and Science Excite This Young Scientist

Maci Mueller, a graduate student assistant at the University of California-Davis, was one of the five students to receive a scholarship to attend the 2018 CAST Annual Meeting in Sacramento, California, during the last full week of October. The pilot CAST Science Communication Scholarship program required applicants to submit a 30-second video explaining why science communication plays such a critical role in sharing their research findings. Mueller explains why implementing sound and scientifically based agricultural policy is crucial for meeting the global needs of the future. Her video can be found on CAST's YouTube channel and other CAST social media.

Mueller's passion for science and cattle runs deep. In fact, one of her earliest childhood memories is when she hosted a cattle sale in her family's living room. "Well, we have a real nice group of cattle to look at here today. They are nice, big, and black," announced a young Mueller from her auction block (a Little Tykes table) as her younger brother entered the "show ring" leading their black lab puppy, appropriately named Angus. She feels very fortunate to have grown up working with her family on their first-generation Angus beef cattle operation. It has been a lifelong dream of hers to be influential in the cattle industry.

As she matured and became more involved in the family operation, she learned that it is so much more than just feed, care, and animal husbandry. "I saw firsthand the crucial role that innovative animal science research, particularly in genetics, plays in improving animal protein production efficiency. These experiences have ultimately led me to combining my two passions of science and cattle to pursue a career in animal genetics." Mueller's goal as an animal geneticist is to help make the premium source of protein produced by cattle more readily available through the use of genetic-based biotechnologies and related production practices and policies to help producers be as efficient and sustainable as possible.

Working closely with Alison Van Eenennaam, a BCCA Laureate, Mueller's graduate research focuses on the application of gene editing in livestock production systems for improved animal welfare and production efficiency. Her Ph.D. research is centered around examining the potential for combining advanced breeding technologies, like gene editing and the recent isolation of bovine embryonic stem cells (cells that are self-renewing and can differentiate into any embryo cell type), to produce surrogate sires. "This technology could be used to produce commercial environmentally  adapted bulls that produce elite donor bull-derived sperm to cows via natural service. The application of this research has the potential to improve beef production efficiency in the U.S. and worldwide, thereby reducing the carbon footprint of animal-sourced protein production."

Making it a priority of her graduate career to continue improving and refining her science communication skills, Mueller understands the importance of being able to communicate with and educate both producers and consumers about innovative science-based technologies. "I greatly appreciated the opportunity provided by CAST to attend the 2018 CAST Annual Meeting in Sacramento. I gained valuable insight and understanding of how this nonprofit accomplishes their important mission of assembling, interpreting, and communicating credible, balanced, science-based information." We believe she has a wonderful example of effective science communication through her mentor Van Eenennaam, and we look forward to watching Mueller follow in her footsteps.

As Mueller looks toward the future, her ultimate career goal is to provide research and education that results in new genetic-based biotechnologies for use in livestock production systems to improve animal production by decreasing its environmental footprint and enhancing its nutritional quality. It has been a true pleasure getting to know her, and we look forward to working with her in the future.

Related Links:
Click here to watch Mueller's video submission.
Follow Mueller on Twitter and LinkedIn.
Learn more about her research and FFAR Fellowship here.
Visit Van Eenennaam's Lab Website here.

By: Kylie Peterson

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Climate Report--Forecasts, Links, and Extremes

Global Forecast: 

* A majority of scientists will continue to note that: (1) the earth's climate is changing, (2) humans have some influence over that, and (3) projections are dire if no further action is taken.
*In the short term, pressure systems will build as hot air blows from various directions.
*Long-term trends show that high and low pressure fronts may generate thunder and lightning but little concrete action.
*Optimistic prognosticators indicate that a pressure system built on scientific facts and common sense practices is slowly building--and less threatening climate patterns could dominate in the future. Other forecasters are less hopeful.

Climate Report:

A recent U.S. federal report finds that climate change is affecting the natural environment, agriculture, energy production, land/water resources, and human health. Some government officials disagree with the findings, saying the predictions are "worst-case scenarios." One of the lead authors of the report counters those statements with a list of "five misleading myths" that are being promoted by climate change deniers.

Agriculture and Climate:

Commentators and experts reacted to the report with predictions and observations about specific sections of the United States. This Kansas City publication focuses on potential dangers for Midwest agriculture, and another response says that effects will vary, but major crops in various areas are posed to suffer. A livestock expert also points out that meat production is not a major culprit for climate change--he says modern practices make livestock agriculture more productive and environmentally friendly.

A Blast of Hot and Cold Air:

What we're all trying to avoid.
According to this report, combined data from NOAA and NASA show that the twenty warmest years on record have all come since 1995. Of course, old timers can point out extreme weather seasons in the past. Dad was a teenager when the 1940 Armistice Day blizzard "froze roosting birds to branches in the trees" and "stranded children in the one-room school houses that dotted the rural areas." And the heat waves of the 1930s were burned into the psyche of some of the farmers we worked for when we were kids: "Folks slept in their front yards and went to the town ice house to buy chips of ice. Main Street was melting and horses were dying on the farm." A little hyperbole didn't go wrong either: "It was so hot the eggs were hard boiled before we even cracked them to fry on a car hood, and the cows were only producing evaporated milk."  

by dan gogerty (map from, report cover from, and cartoon from