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Out in the Cold

You know what’s amazing? Every time I turned on my TV over the last eleven days, I’ve seen something about the government shutdown. The national media have rehashed it 1,000 times. How it’s affecting furloughed employees. What does this mean for the economy? Common, everyday tasks and information that is now impossible to do and get because the government is partially shutdown. Even how it’s affecting middle America and farmers.

Shoot, as an IFB employee, I’ve gotten most of those calls from the media.

What’s more amazing? The fact that the national media haven’t picked up on one of the biggest impacts of the partial government shutdown: South Dakota farmers and ranchers being left out in the cold.

Don’t be surprised if you need me to further explain. After all, there’s been little to no national media coverage about the blizzard that ravaged western South Dakota, Wyoming and Nebraska last weekend.

But ravaged it was. While the western plains states are accustomed to early snow, they aren’t accustomed to inches of rain followed by feet of snow and 70+ mile per hour winds – all in the first weekend of October. And their livestock aren’t accustomed to it, either.

Which is why it’s estimated more than 70,000 cows in western South Dakota are now dead. And that doesn’t include sheep and horses that perished in the storm, either. Without FSA and USDA offices open, farmers and ranchers have no one in which to turn. Add to it there’s no new farm bill, and ranchers are really left out in the cold, with no disaster relief programs or indemnity programs.

For livestock producers and folks involved in agriculture, that’s gut-wrenching enough in itself. Losing animals is never easy. But, for me, what’s worse still is some of the internet chatter I’ve read following Facebook photos and information surfacing about the blizzard.

It’s the clearest illustration I’ve ever seen of the disconnect between farmers and ranchers and the general public.

SD Blizzard 2 SD Blizzard

Because of the lack of national media attention, a South Dakota rancher posted a picture to Ellen DeGeneres’ Facebook page, asking her to cover the story on her talk show and the comments got a little heated, as you can see above. As of last night, more than 6,000 people had commented on the photo. Some, just to leave well wishes, and others to question the efforts of farmers and ranchers. Still more, ranchers themselves, to comment on just what they could and couldn’t do.

Now, I’m no rancher. But in my previous life working for an ad agency (and animal health company), I’ve had the chance to visit and interview a whole lot of ranchers and I can tell you this, most of them would have given their left arms to be able to save their herds. Here are the complications with which they dealt:

  • Most cattle were still on summer pasture, meaning there are fewer draws and creek beds in which to hide out. On a normal year, South Dakota may see some early snow, but nothing that would prevent cattle from staying on summer and fall pastures through the middle to end of October.
  • Being that it is still early fall, most cattle and horses haven’t had the chance to grow their winter hair yet, which would have insulated them from 24+ inches of snow.
  • Ranching is the backbone of South Dakota, with many ranchers owning hundreds of cows. When those cows are on summer pasture, further away from homes, it’s much harder to move them quickly to another pasture. And, in many cases, shelter wouldn’t be an option anyway because of the shear number of animals.
  • Most importantly, from the ranchers I know and have interviewed, I can tell you this isn’t just a loss of profit. Sure, that will be a tough cross to bear. But many of these ranchers have been developing their genetics and family lines for generations. Meaning the cow, with the calf at her side and the unborn calf, that is lost is three generations of herd genetics those ranchers can’t get back by going out and buying a replacement. It just doesn’t work that way.

So what’s the point? The point is it’s time for more questions and less judgment. Or even, more support and less judgment. Farmers and ranchers aren’t out to make the quickest buck and leave their livestock high and dry. And, if you don’t believe me, check out some of the articles and blogs from the very best sources, the ranchers themselves.

You can read some of the best here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here (warning: some of these pictures are tough to see), here, here and here. Oh, and this last one, too.

If you would like to help support ranchers in South Dakota, visit the Ranchers’ Relief Fund.

Knowledge is Power.

Nothing lengthy today, just a link.

I’ve written about Chipotle several times on this blog. I’ve written about how much I LOVE a burrito bowl with carnitas and pico and have commended them for allowing conventionally-raised meat into their chain.

I also have written about how disappointed I was to see their latest ad, “The Scarecrow.”

Frankly, I’m getting kind of tired of writing about Chipotle.

But, I stumbled across a blog today about Chipotle that I felt was worth noting. This one comes from www.watchusgrow.org.

Authored by one of the Illinois Farm Families “Field Moms,” this commentary is from the viewpoint of a member of Chipotle’s target audience. Trust me, she has some interesting things to say.

Wait. What?

Did you see this? In case you’re feeling extra tired on this Tuesday and don’t want to click the link, I’ll explain.

As a farm girl and Illinois Farm Bureau member and employee, I’m familiar with the concerns consumers have regarding antibiotic resistance. And, I have to say, they’re concerned for good reason. After all, no one wants to go to the doctor and be diagnosed with a disease only to find out that there are no longer any antibiotics effective against it.

This concern has left many consumers blaming farmers for overusing antibiotics and livestock production for the documented antibiotic resistance. It makes sense, but is it the truth?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it isn’t. In fact, in a Sept. 16 report released by the CDC, the main culprit is antibiotic overuse in hospitals.

According to the CDC, the most urgent threats are posed by antibiotic-resistant infections that have emerged in hospitals, as a result of heavy antibiotic use there. These include infections with Klebsiella and E.coli bacteria that are resistant to every known antibiotic.

“Right now, the most acute problem is in hospitals,” said Tom Frieden, the CDC’s director, in a conference call with reporters. “The most resistant organisms in hospitals are emerging in those settings because of poor anti-microbial stewardship among humans.”

That’s not to say, however, that the CDC dismissed antibiotic use on farms. In fact, Frieden said that any widespread use of antibiotics does increase the risk that the drugs will become less and less effective.

So, where do farmers stand on this issue? At the very least, how are they working to ensure that the antibiotics you and I use are still effective when we need them? Here’s how:

  • Before beef, pork or milk is sent to grocery stores or restaurants, it is tested and inspected by the Food Safety Inspection Service to make sure there are no antibiotic residues.
  • Farmers treat sick animals with antibiotics because it is humane and the right thing to do. But antibiotics are expensive, and they only use them when necessary. Plus, they follow the strict withdrawal times for animals given antibiotics. As an example, a dairy cow has to wait until the antibiotic clears her system before she re-enters the milking herd. Beef cattle and pigs also have to wait to be sold to the market until all antibiotics have cleared their systems.
  • Farmers only give animals antibiotics under the guidance of a veterinarian. Just like a doctor advises you on dosage and the amount of time to take a medication, veterinarians do the same with farmers’ animals.
  • The FDA does not approve the use of antibiotics until they undergo a vigorous review for safety to animals, humans, and the environment.  The FDA approval process ensures that food products from animals treated with antibiotics are safe.
  • Farm organizations have procedures and programs in place to help farmers use antibiotics safely.  For example, the Pork Quality Assurance Plus program, which emphasizes judicious and strategic use of antibiotics, has been in place since 1989.
  • Antibiotics are important in animal medicine, just like in human medicine, helping to maintain animal health and reduce suffering from disease. When you calculate the number and size of food-producing animals, the use of antibiotics in animals approximates the use of antibiotics in humans.

Want more information? You can find plenty of good, reliable information on antibiotics in food animals here, here, here, and here.

Generally, this blog is devoted to issues affecting farmers and farming communities. This time, we’re tackling an issue that affects more than 49 million Americans each year. In the following guest post, Ryan Klassy, information director, Kane County Farm Bureau, will tell you how the Kane County Farm Bureau celebrated its 100th year by challenging members to reach a major hunger relief goal to help local families in need.

By Ryan Klassy, information director, Kane County Farm Bureau

By Ryan Klassy, information director, Kane County Farm Bureau

Here at the Kane County Farm Bureau, located in St. Charles, about 35 miles west of Chicago, we just wrapped up a year of events for our 100th year with a benefit dinner at the Northern Illinois Food Bank. Not only was the Sept. 13 event a culmination of our centennial activities, it also provided the perfect venue to announce another major milestone – the equivalent of over 1 million meals in cumulative hunger relief provided to local food pantries!

Hunger relief has always been important to the association, with efforts dating back to World War I era drives to collect food for starving people in Europe and Asia.  In the last decade, thousands of dollars in food have been raised through an annual shopping spree, food drives and more recently through a Harvest for ALL program designed so farmers can donate proceeds from their fall harvest to the food pantry of their choice.

So, in December of 2012, the KCFB Board of Directors saw that the number of meals provided through recent KCFB hunger relief efforts was over 700,000 (based on the Northern Illinois Food Bank’s ability to turn $1 into 6 meals).  That’s when they decided to issue the Million Meal Challenge.  And boy did our members respond!

The goal was to reach 1 million meals by December of 2013, the end of our 100th year.  Donations poured in from farmers, Ag businesses, member donations from ticket sales at our June member appreciation picnic, and food drives.  Lots of people who couldn’t attend our grand finale event in September RSVP’d to say, “I can’t make it, but here’s a donation.”  So cool.

When ticket sales were tallied, those who did attend the Centennial Celebration learned that we had eclipsed our goal – with pledges and donations totaling 1,016,908 meals. And the best thing is that donations continue to come in. Our total is at 1,051,990 meals as of Sept. 26 with more donations from the fall harvest right around the corner.

It was perfect to be able to announce the milestone at the Food Bank, one of the largest beneficiaries of our members’ contributions.

Kane County Farm Bureau President Joe White, right, presented a check to Northern Illinois Food Bank’s Nichole Okapal, Meeting Space and Volunteer Coordinator, and Steve Ericson, Director of Food Procurement, to help them in their quest to stamp out hunger in Kane County and Northern Illinois communities. Proceeds from KCFB’s Centennial Celebration, combined with recent KCFB hunger relief efforts, pushed the association over its hunger relief goal – the equivalent of one million meals in cumulative hunger relief to local food pantries.

Kane County Farm Bureau President Joe White, right, presented a check to Northern Illinois Food Bank’s Nichole Okapal, Meeting Space and Volunteer Coordinator, and Steve Ericson, Director of Food Procurement, to help them in their quest to stamp out hunger in Kane County and Northern Illinois communities. Proceeds from KCFB’s Centennial Celebration, combined with recent KCFB hunger relief efforts, pushed the association over its hunger relief goal – the equivalent of one million meals in cumulative hunger relief to local food pantries.

To me, the accomplishment embodies much of what farmers are all about, here in Kane County, across the state, and throughout our country.  Community, hard work, helping others, and making the best of things even in bad times  – in this case an economic downturn that left a lot of families without the ability to put three square meals on the table.

Like a farmer lending a hand to harvest a sick neighbor’s crops or put a roof on a storm damaged barn, achieving our Million Meal Challenge is not the end of the story, but part of a continuing effort to be an outstanding member of the community.

Speaking of community, I invite you to visit kanecfb.com, or the Kane County Farm Bureau Facebook page, to check out a new video that chronicles our first 100 years. No matter where you reside, it’s an interesting look at the early days of Farm Bureau and how things have changed in the last century.

As energy transmission line projects continue to multiply in Illinois, the Illinois Farm Bureau and its members are keeping a close eye on their progress. Here, Illinois Farm Bureau President Philip Nelson shares his thoughts on the many proposed projects.

By Philip Nelson, president, Illinois Farm Bureau

By Philip Nelson, president, Illinois Farm Bureau

Illinois has become the frontline in the battleground of Midwestern energy transmission. But for many residents, the argument isn’t with wind energy production itself. Instead, the controversy lies with how to get that wind energy from point A to point B.

With the growth of wind energy, Renewable Portfolio Standard mandates and reliability issues, transmission lines are popping up all over the country.

Rock Island Clean Line is just one of those proposed lines. The 500-mile overhead high-voltage direct current line in northern Illinois will transmit wind energy produced at point A, in Iowa and further west, to point B, a conversion station in Grundy County, Illinois. In addition to Rock Island Clean Line, several other transmission lines are currently in the works or proposed in Illinois.

The Grain Belt Express and the Illinois Rivers project are two such projects. Owned by the same company as Rock Island Clean Line, Grain Belt Express Clean Line is set to travel through several Midwestern states, including Illinois and stretch more than 750 miles.

The Illinois Rivers Project by Ameren will span 380 miles, 18 Illinois counties and three states. But, opposition to the expedited review process that Ameren chose to pursue before the Illinois Commerce Commission for the project is growing at a rapid pace.

It’s easy to see the benefits of renewable energy projects, but the issue with transmission lines is a bit more complicated. Farmers and landowners oppose the transmission lines because they don’t always follow established routes. Instead, they cut through farmland, leaving thousands of acres of farm ground dotted with lines and towers, making farming much more difficult.

In most cases, transmission lines cut through open farmland diagonally, in the shortest possible distance, rather than following the roadways, property lines or field lines.

In the case of Rock Island Clean Line, the electricity is ultimately destined for markets east of Illinois. In other words, this transmission line is like a one-way interstate highway with no on ramp, and only one off ramp in Illinois.

Rock Island Clean Line also is seeking public utility status from the Illinois Commerce Commission, which would be the first step toward the company receiving eminent domain authority. If landowners in the area want to grant an easement to Rock Island Clean Line, they have that option, but Illinois Farm Bureau opposes granting a private company public utility status for a merchant transmission line, especially when the need for the line has been questioned.

While Illinois Farm Bureau supports wind energy generation as a component of the U.S.’ energy portfolio, it’s important to remember that building the wind energy industry in the state must be done in a way that is mutually beneficial to both the consumers buying the energy, and the farmers and landowners who have to live with the structures on their land.

Renewable fuels like biodiesel, ethanol and wind energy are necessary for our continued growth and energy independence. However, these must be considered with care and thought. Companies should work together with farmers and land owners to put a long-term plan in in place. A comprehensive approach that minimizes the impact on farmland, rather than a case by case approach, will create the best outcome for everyone.

Into Harm’s Way

If you watched the news at all during the last week or so, you probably saw images from Colorado’s historic flooding. It’s heartbreaking to look at, especially because, in many instances, the flooded areas haven’t seen flooding in so long that many weren’t prepared.

Of course, it’s tough for homeowners dealing with massive damage and loss, but many people forget about farmers and ranchers who are not only potentially dealing with the loss of their homes, but also the loss of the livestock and livelihood.

From my past life as an account executive at an advertising agency, I know several farmers and ranchers out west – and a couple in Colorado. One such acquaintance is Kevin Ochsner, host of RFD TV’s Cattlemen to Cattlemen.

I met Kevin a couple of times working on segments for Cattleman and Cattleman. He’s a good guy and a good rancher and, in the case of the below news clip, is just one example of the lengths to which farmers and ranchers will go to protect - and rescue – their livestock in severe weather.

 

To watch the video and read the story about Ochsner and his family, visit http://denver.cbslocal.com/video?autoStart=true&topVideoCatNo=default&clipId=9308963

 

To watch the video and read the story about Ochsner and his family, visit http://denver.cbslocal.com/video?autoStart=true&topVideoCatNo=default&clipId=9308963.

 

It has been a dramatic few days for Cattlemen to Cattlemen host Kevin Ochsner, his family and friends as they have been working non-stop to get cows and horses to safety in the wake of Colorado's devastating floods.  Their cows are safe now, but prayers continue for all those affected by this costly disaster. (From the Cattlemen to Cattlemen Facebook page)

It has been a dramatic few days for Cattlemen to Cattlemen host Kevin Ochsner, his family and friends as they have been working non-stop to get cows and horses to safety in the wake of Colorado’s devastating floods. Their cows are safe now, but prayers continue for all those affected by this costly disaster. (From the Cattlemen to Cattlemen Facebook page)

The cattle and horses are safe at the Ochsner place in Colorado, but here's one more shot of Kevin with two faithful friends on their way to gather horses - in a boat!  Note by the way that Kevin is wearing a Cattlemen to Cattlemen hat! Continued prayers for all those in Colorado who are in clean-up mode and assessing damage. (From the Cattlemen to Cattlemen Facebook page)

The cattle and horses are safe at the Ochsner place in Colorado, but here’s one more shot of Kevin with two faithful friends on their way to gather horses – in a boat! Note by the way that Kevin is wearing a Cattlemen to Cattlemen hat! Continued prayers for all those in Colorado who are in clean-up mode and assessing damage. (From the Cattlemen to Cattlemen Facebook page)

Ochsner isn’t the only rancher working around the clock to pull his animals onto dry land. IFB’s Alan Jarand spoke Robyn Sherer, director of communications for the Colorado Farm Bureau. She said this fall’s flooding will have a tremendous impact on agriculture in the state, as pastures and fields in Boulder and Weld Counties – and several others – are all under water.

“Producers are facing washed out roads and bridges,” Sherer said. “Infrastructure is completely destroyed and many don’t have ways in and out. And it’s affecting a large area. There are 17 counties across the state with flooding and 14 of those have been declared disaster by the governor. (as of Sept. 17)

“We haven’t had any reports of lost livestock, but we know there are some,” Sherer added. “We don’t know what those numbers are yet, but Colorado ranchers and farmers have worked very hard to get their livestock out if they could.”

In the wake of the disaster, Colorado Farm Bureau has set up a disaster fund. To donate, visit coloradofarmbureau.com/disasterfund. Those wishing to donate may send cash or check by mail, or provide a donation online.  The Colorado Farm Bureau will donate 100 percent of the money raised toward aiding farmers and ranchers that are in the affected flood area.

If you’re involved in agriculture (and unless you live under a rock), you’ve probably heard about Chipotle’s new video, called “The Scarecrow,” and a game to go with it.

scarecrowBurrito

In a word, ugh.

Many have written about it, including USA Today and the Center for Food Integrity.

But, perhaps the best we’ve seen is this blog post from the Center for Consumer Freedom and reposted by HumaneWatch.

Really, they’ve said all that needs to be said. So, in a move very uncharacteristic for this writer, I’m not going to write a book and a half. Instead, check out what the Center for Consumer Freedom had to say.

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