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River traffic comes to hault on Mississippi as 2012 drought water levels dropDo you ever stop to think about water under the bridge? Not past events … the actual water under the bridge. Some of our rivers serve as navigable waterways for commerce—most notably commodities produced on farms throughout this country.

The same drought that consumers heard impacted food prices also affected getting feedstuffs to market. Growing up on a farm in the Deep South, the Mississippi River was always a part of our lives. We trucked crops to the river ports many miles away, typically for a better price or when the local elevators were full.

To this day, a trip home involves crossing one of only a few bridges that span the Mighty Mississippi. It is indeed a massive river: the fourth longest and tenth largest in the world. With its many tributaries, the watershed drains all or parts of 31 states and two Canadian provinces.

Due to the 2012 drought, the water levels in the Mississippi River were severely low by late summer. By fall, grain shippers and the barge industry were warning that traffic on the Mississippi River would grind to a halt by the end of the year. But before agreeing to release the needed water from reservoirs also facing drought, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hoped “favorable rain forecasts, rock removal and dredging would sustain transportation.”

Some 6 million cubic yards of material have been removed from the Upper and Lower Mississippi since dredging began in June. In addition, the Corps dug up and removed large limestone rocks. By mid December, however, they had no choice but to release water from a large lake in Southwest Illinois to improve navigation.

The additional water was expected to literally keep commerce afloat; however, the levels continue to fall along the Mississippi and once again may be too low for vessels to operate as early as January 3. It’s hoped winter snow and rains will be sufficient to replenish this vital waterway and the drought will indeed be water under the bridge in 2013.

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Does a fence between mexico and texas protect u.s. agriculture and the food system?

Bullets and armed drug runners aren’t the hazards typically associated with farming and ranching, unless you’re operating along the Texas/Mexico border. An increasing number of firsthand accounts from the region’s farmers detailing intimidation, trespassing, drug running and property damage attributed to cross-border activity by Mexican drug cartels spurred Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples to become a strong advocate for increased border security by the federal government.

The way Staples sees it, agriculture is a $100 billion a year sector of the Texas economy, and each time a farmer or rancher is threatened, the nation’s food supply is impacted. What does the region contribute to the nation’s food supply? The 15 border counties include nearly 8,200 farms and ranches covering more than 15 million acres and generate more than $700 million in agricultural sales annually. The volume of commodities produced in Texas border counties include:

  • • 1 billion pounds of grain sorghum
  • • 439 million bounds of grapefruit
  • • 27 million pounds of cotton
  • • 332,000 head of cattle that produce almost 250 million pounds of beef.

Staples is publicizing his quest for beefed up border security on a dedicated Texas Department of Agriculture website. The site features a 16-part series of interviews with law enforcement agents, farmers, ranchers and other citizens who give firsthand accounts of drug running, human trafficking, international trespassing and other criminal activities linked to Mexican drug cartels.

Setting aside the political debate over border security, Staples makes a compelling case that increased protection is needed to keep safe not only those who produce our food, but the food supply itself.

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Thanksgiving Dinner Plate: Where does food come from?As you sit down to your Thanksgiving table this week, think for a minute about the journey the food you are about to eat has taken. And please offer a word of thanks for the people who work diligently every day to produce it.

From the wheat that was used to make the breadcrumbs in Thanksgiving stuffing to the bird that is the center of Thursday’s feast, check out these videos that show where the food on your table comes from:

Turkey Production

Potato Production

Pumpkin Production

Wheat Production

Cranberries

Dairy Production

Amazingly, all of this bounty remains incredibly affordable. According to the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), the cost of this year’s meal is just less than $5 per person.

The AFBF survey shopping list includes turkey, bread stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, peas, cranberries, a relish tray of carrots and celery, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, and beverages of coffee and milk, all in quantities sufficient to serve a family of 10.

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Ag Communicator at work in the fieldMy mom is right. And so is Lyle Orwig. They both believe that you must participate in the community in which you live, that you cannot just keep taking if you are not also giving. This holds true whether you define community by demographics or psychographics.

For this reason, I serve on the Ag Communications Alumni Leadership Council at the University of Illinois. Sure, I do have reasons now to frequent my Alma Mater, and yes, the Council does provide me amazing contacts. But I said yes when asked to serve because the program has given me so much. I want to make sure it continues to foster outstanding ag communicators for years to come. Goodness knows, we will need them.

Monday I was on campus for a Council meeting. We reviewed the great scholarship, internship and job placement rates and discussed the new, open position and the almost complete Endowment campaign. Encouraging, to say the least. Then one of the deans told us something that shocked me enough to tell you (i.e., the world). The Ag Comm program at Illinois is only half full. Half full!

It is pretty common knowledge that the U of I is difficult to get in to, but competition is obviously not the reason it is not full. There are simply not enough students interested in the program or, rather, who know it exists.

Thankfully, I learned about the program my junior year of high school through my FFA experiences. But think of all those potentially great ag communicators who are not in FFA, or whose guidance counselors don’t know our career path exists. Who will our future coworkers, colleagues and clients be if they are not Ag Comm graduates (from whichever university)?

As a Council, we are dedicated to recruitment efforts, but I challenge you all to help give back to our ag communications community. Tell you neighbor kids what you do and how cool it is. Tell them about all the other great careers in our industry and how there are typically more positions available than candidates. Take the advice we tell our clients—tell your story to those who don’t know it.

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World Food Day 2012 - LogoFor most of us, when we walk into a retail outlet, shelves—whether at a grocery or convenience store—are nearly bowed from the weight of a plethora of food options. We can choose from numerous product brands, organic or conventional production methods, and oodles of fresh fruits and vegetables.

But not everyone is so blessed with this bounty. Nearly one in seven people in the world suffers from undernourishment.

To call attention to their plight, and to spotlight how agriculture can help feed a hungry world, today (Oct. 16, 2012) has been designated as World Food Day.

According to the World Food Day website, World Food Day 2012 shines a light on agricultural cooperatives in particular, and their contribution to poverty and hunger reduction. After all, of the nearly 900 million hungry people in the world today, 70 percent live in rural areas where agriculture is the economic mainstay.

Agricultural and food cooperatives are already a major tool against poverty and hunger, but they are encouraged to do more. It is time to strengthen these organizations and facilitate their expansion while creating favorable business, legal, policy and social climates in which they can thrive, say World Food Day organizers.

So how will you honor World Food Day?

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While at lunch with a co-worker the other day, we discovered the only remaining table stood right beside one of the restaurant’s garbage receptacles. Not ideal, but, you know, it happens. By the end of the meal, however, my co-worker (whose seat faced the receptacle) couldn’t keep it to himself any longer: “I absolutely cannot believe how much food gets tossed into that thing by everyone.”

Apparently, the day’s soup proved less edible than advertised because the patrons discarded bowl after barely sampled bowl of the stuff. And one woman must have realized too late she didn’t need that half-inch short stack of napkins. They went from forest to mill to distribution channel to restaurant to tray to trash without ever wiping a single crumb from a single mouth.

Of course, our one-hour, anecdotal research project merely confirmed what all of us already know: Food loss and food waste are serious issues within agriculture and the food system. In the U.S., nearly 40 percent of our food goes the way of those soups, salads, chips, unused napkins and half-eaten sandwiches.

And that motivated me to throw down a quick challenge to our creative department yesterday: Just for grins, design a t-shirt that discourages food waste. The creative brief is pictured.

I’ll let you know what we come up with.

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