Feast & Famine in farming

FAMINE: A recent story in “Time” magazine dived into Chipotle’s efforts to mount a comeback within the restaurant industry after its stunning — and all-too-predictable — fall from grace in 2015.

Among the issues cited by the publication in detailing Chipotle’s misfortunes: A rash of food-borne illnesses that plagued the chain from coast to coast; a corporate culture that emphasized marketing over quality; and a staggering level of hubris that left a bad taste in the mouth of consumers and vendors.

“Chipotle’s habit of preaching about its methods didn’t help …” the article noted, citing among other things, the chain producing “short films that wagged a finger at anyone engaged in factory farming.”

One gets the impression that Chipotle might be able to stanch its illness-inducing production methods and might replace its carnival-barker executive team with experienced food-industry professionals, but it shows no indications of dispelling the know-it-all arrogance that left it with few friends in the sector.

“There’s nothing like success to make you a target,” quipped Chris Brandt, Chipotle’s new marketing officer.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss: Brandt completely misses the point. Chipotle was — and possibly remains — so busy “targeting” other people’s way of life that the decisionmakers left their own kitchens dangerously unattended.

There’s no indication that they’ve learned that lesson yet.

FEAST: With law enforcement turning a blind eye and the mainstream media in the pocket of animal activists, dairymen from across the Midwest instead are turning to social media and other communication tools to look out for one another.

In late January, a savvy Wisconsin farmer realized that a PETA activist was trying to fraudulently gain employment on his dairy to stage acts of animal cruelty and implicate his operation as “abusive.” 

The farmer rebuffed the attempt, but then went a step farther: He started spreading the word among neighboring operations. Details emerged about the activist’s physical description, potential aliases, companions and the vehicle he was driving. 

Social networks were utilized to spread the details and some professional organizations pushed details out to their members with electronic bulletins. Updates were sent out as more information became available. Data sharing went viral.

Now, more than ever, information is power. And farmers are raising their game in how they share it.

PETA, and others of its ilk, don’t differentiate between a CAFO and a small organic farm. Both are equally complicit in what PETA sees as crimes against the animal kingdom. But when farmers — all farmers — quit judging one another and start working together, PETA militants — more often than not — discover the barn door is closed tight.

FAMINE: A little unsolicited advice: If a lawyer ever knocks on your door with promises of “easy money,” be assured that the only one making that “no-effort moolah” is the attorney.

This is the lesson seven neighbors in Oconto County, Wis., learned the hard way.

Long story short: In 2018, a group sued to stop the construction of an agricultural manure storage area in their community. However, the presiding judge, Jay N. Conley, said there was little evidence to support the neighbors’ allegations the facility would create a nuisance, and that the attorneys should have recognized that and heeded the defendant’s request to dismiss the case before an injunction hearing late in the year.

The plaintiffs — who were once promised a cash cow by an attorney who did not give them good advice — are now potentially on the hook to pay the defendant’s steep legal fees and costs.

“I think the plaintiffs’ law firm was in a better position to understand the baselessness of the claims and that it was going nowhere, probably even more than their clients, and that’s why sanctions are appropriate, not only for plaintiffs, but also their counsel,” Judge Conley noted.

There’s a lesson here for NIMBY neighbors living in agricultural areas. Whether they heed it or not is another story.

FEAST: Congratulations to Bakerlads Farms in southeast Michigan. Blaine and Kim Baker will receive the 2019 MSU Dairy Farmer of the Year Award. The dairy is the brothers’ fifth-generation farm in Lenawee County, Clayton, Mich., which has been in operation since the 1870s.

Bakerlads Farms includes a dairy herd of 540 Holsteins and 607 replacements, as well as acreage for crops, including corn, soybeans and alfalfa. 

The farm is Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program verified in livestock, farmstead and cropping systems, and evaluated under the National Dairy Farmers Assuring Responsible Management program for animal care.

“The Bakerlads Farms is just one example of how integrating conservation practices throughout the farming system, and attention to detail in on-farm nutrient management can keep crop nutrients in the root zone and out of waterways,” noted Tim Harrigan, professor and Extension specialist in MSU’s Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering, in a 2015 MSU Extension article highlighting Bakerlads.

Breakfast at the Barn to feature Bremmer

Kim Bremmer

Manitowoc, Wis. — The Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center will host the second Breakfast at the Barn on Jan. 29 featuring a presentation from Kim Bremmer of Ag Inspirations.

The doors will open at 7:25 a.m. with the breakfast buffet starting at 7:30 with Bremmer’s presentation starting at 8.

Breakfast at the Barn is an agriculture educational event that will be held six times a year.  At each breakfast, Farm Wisconsin will feature a different dynamic presenter that will focus on a variety of topics in the agriculture industry.  

Bremmer’s presentation is called “The Talk vs. The Truth About Agriculture.” Bremmer said it’s not bad to question where your food comes from, but how do we base our choices on facts and not fear? She will lead an engaging discussion about sustainability in agriculture and balancing science and emotion from the farm gate to our plates.

A nationally recognized speaker, Bremmer started Ag Inspirations with a mission to inspire farmers to tell their stories, connect people to where their food comes from and represent the great success of American agriculture today. She is passionate about teaching the story of sustainable agriculture and the role of science, technology and innovation in how we grow and raise food. Bremer grew up on a dairy farm in north central Wisconsin. She is an academy member of the National Speaker’s Association, the Wisconsin state coordinator for Common Ground, a regular contributor on Rural Route radio and is the president of Wisconsin Women for Agriculture.

Tickets for the breakfast and presentation are $10 for Farm Wisconsin members and $15 for non-members. Non-members may also add a tour of Farm Wisconsin for an additional $5. Tickets must be pre-purchased either online or by calling Farm Wisconsin at 920-726-6000. 

App helps farmers ID corn quality

MADISON, Wis.  — A new tool developed at the University of Wisconsin–Madison could save farmers time and money during the fall feed-corn harvest and make for more content, productive cows year-round.
The innovation isn’t a physical farm implement, but a smartphone app. With just a handful of harvested corn, the app allows farmers to gauge — without leaving the field — the effectiveness of their harvesting machinery so that they can achieve the highest-quality cracked corn.
The app, which is called SilageSnap, is available for free download on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. More info is at https://go.wisc.edu/silagesnap.
Cracking corn breaks up the tough outer kernel, exposing the starch inside.

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Dealing with stress on the farm

By Leah Call
Farming is not for the weak – neither physically nor mentally.
But four straight years of declines in farm income combined with weather extremes and market uncertainty are pushing mental strength to the limit. That stress can lead to depression and contribute to other serious health issues. Fortunately, there are numerous resources throughout the Midwest to help farm families make it through these tough times.
“Farmers are very resilient. They are used to the highs and lows, but this has been too long of a stretch and too severe,” said Rhonda Strebel, executive director of the Rural Health Initiative (RHI).
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Program gives lift to Iowa farmers

Bill and Stacey Borrenpohl launched Woven Strong Farm in Jackson County in 2011, then joined Practical Farmers of Iowa and enrolled in the Savings Incentive Program shortly afterwards.

AMES, Iowa — Practical Farmers of Iowa’s Savings Incentive Program aims to help beginning farmers succeed by matching up to $2,400 in start-up cash, providing access to an experienced mentor as well as support network and offering resources to build a solid business plan.
Since the popular two-year program launched in 2010, SIP has helped set 138 beginning farmers on the right path to establishing a healthy farm business.
After 24 months and completion of all program requirements, participants earn a dollar-for-dollar match on money saved up to $2,400, for a possible $4,800, that may be used to help purchase a farm asset.
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Tech giant invests in ginseng

By Jesse Cameron
A Tawainese tech company is looking to transform Wisconsin’s ginseng industry.
Foxconn Health Technology Business Group signed an agreement earlier this fall with the Ginseng Board of Wisconsin and Hsu’s Ginseng to jointly develop Wisconsin’s ginseng industry and grow Foxconn’s Wisconsin-based ginseng brand, Hong Seng.
Foxconn is building a $10 billion manufacturing campus in southeast Wisconsin and is also investing in other parts of the state, such as opening innovation centers in Eau Claire and Green Bay.
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Initiative confronts animal agriculture challenges

By Michigan State University Extension
With $600,000 from Michigan State University and the backing of the animal agriculture industry, the Michigan Alliance for Animal Agriculture was born in 2015.
Since then, funding has diversified and grown considerably.
In 2017, the state of Michigan budgeted $2.5 million and commodity organizations offered support while MSU contributed $600,000.
Researchers and outreach professionals submit proposals through a competitive grants process and are awarded funding to confront some of animal agriculture’s most pressing challenges – antibiotic resistance, infectious diseases, improving animal welfare and protecting the environment, among others.

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Tech Tilling: FVTC’s combine simulator brings harvest to life

By Jason Fischer
Fox Valley Technical College

Practice makes perfect, at least near perfect, in an industry that assumes uncontrollable factors like weather and related seasonal uncertainties.
A new combine tractor simulator at Fox Valley Technical College, donned in unmistakable John Deere green and yellow, is a virtual ride through any farm field and field condition. The simulation gives agriculture students from five different programs at FVTC another high-tech learning tool. Housed in the Service Motor Company Agriculture Center on the Appleton, Wis., campus, the technology creates an authentic experience of being inside a tractor combine, making this type of practice far from boring.
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Nutrition, warmth vital to healthy lambs

As the temperature drops and snow starts falling, it is time to start thinking differently about how we care for lambs. For sheep raisers in cold climates, winter is a time to take special precautions to ensure lambs grow healthy and strong.
“Despite the lamb’s built-in wool blanket, winter can be stressful for young sheep,” said Julian (Skip) Olson, DVM, technical services manager for Milk Products. “Sheep are most comfortable at 45-70 degrees Fahrenheit. When temperatures dip below this level, we need to do everything we can to make sure lambs stay healthy and perform.”

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Feast & Famine in the ag sector

McCormick advertises itself as a GMO-free source fo spices. The problem? There are no GMO spices available. Another example of deceptive advertising.

A far-reaching study of agricultural techniques by Cambridge University scientists confirms what our great-grandparents knew generations ago.
“There is mounting evidence that the best way to meet rising food demand while conserving biodiversity is to wring as much food as sustainably possible from the land we do farm, so that more natural habitats can be ‘spared the plough,’” said conservation expert and project co-author Dr. David Edwards from the University of Sheffield.
Researchers focused on organic farming in the European dairy sector and determined that for the same amount of milk produced by conventional dairy farming, organic systems cause at least one third more soil loss.

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