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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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Photo of hay bales on hay cartOn our small farm in Wisconsin, the July 4th holiday typically means two things, we will be moving at least 160 bales of hay into the barn to feed the horses for the winter and there will be sweet corn for the holiday cookout; neither of those things happened this year. The loss of the sweet corn was sad but the loss of hay is a true hardship for anyone feeding livestock in our area. Hay that typically sells for $2.75 to $3.00 per small bale is now going for $6.00 per bale; that is if you can find any. To supplement this loss of forage horse owners like us will need to buy pellet feed, which means feed bills will more than double.

To make matter worse, drought conditions in the Midwest are also impacting Southern and Plains states. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has designated more than half of all U.S. counties—1,584 in 32 states—as primary disaster areas for this growing season. The USDA monitors the drought on a weekly basis to identify farmers and ranchers who may be eligible for federal aid, including low-interest emergency loans.

USDA drought map 2012 - July 31stTo aid ranchers, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Thursday opened up 3.8 million acres of conservation land to be used for haying and grazing. Under this conservation program, farmers have been paid to take land out of production to ward against erosion and create wildlife habitat. “The assistance announced today will help U.S. livestock producers dealing with climbing feed prices, critical shortages of hay and deteriorating pasturelands,” Vilsack said.

The lack of rain isn’t the only problem. Recently hailstones in Washington State damaged the apple crop with production losses expected to be a high as 25%. This will impact the ability of Washington to cover the supply losses already documented from the Eastern and Midwest markets. In addition to the decrease in apple production, consumers will also see availability concerns with other fruit like tart cherries.

The weather forecast for today is dry. We’re hoping the rain will come back soon.

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