Thursday, July 17, 2014

Weeds, Corn, and GMO's

Every year we plant corn to harvest as silage for the cows. This year's crop is growing well and so were the weeds. A few days before I took this photo we had our corn sprayed with Round Up. The GMO corn is not hurt, but the weeds do not survive.

Had we not been able to spray, the weeds would have taken over the corn and stolen nutrients, water, sunshine, and fertilizer.

What's real interesting to me is the photo I tweeted out of the sweet corn in my garden when the wind blew it over. Monsanto retweeted it and then I got a few negative comments in return.

The funny part is that the garden corn is Silver Queen sweet corn, and not anything special. What people's perspectives are based on what they've read or heard is not always true. Recently Popular Science put together an article about GMO products entitled Core Truths: 10 Common GMO Claims Debunked. Are GMO plants tested? Should we be worried? I'm about as worried about that as I am mutant cows.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Drones On The Farm Part 3: Family or Factory Farm

The Farmer's Wifee and Nurse Loves Farmer are the two blogs that brought the drone campaign to my attention. I wrote earlier about privacy and expectations in Part 1 and Part 2.

What these two farmers want to accomplish is to recognize that family farms come in all shapes and sizes. Aerial photos from drones don't tell a complete story.

If you've ever looked at a medical photo...

random 8 week ultrasound
....and not been trained in the medical field you would not be able to identify much more than "I think that's probably a baby ultrasound."

How then can you tell how well animals and the environment are cared for from an aerial photo? Does our farm look bad?

Are we a factory farm? We've got a lot of buildings? We've got a lot of cows? If you think a one hundred cow dairy is a big dairy, that is. Three family members and one hired hand. We're like a machine. A four cylinder motorized factory family farm. Do the cows think they live on a factory farm? You'll have to ask them that question.

Drones On the Farm Part 2: Rights and Expectations

I wrote last in Part 1 about a Kickstarter campaign to get drones to investigate farms. Here's a link to the main guy being interviewed about his plan. Mr. Potter actually comes across as more farm friendly than the host in that he only assumes farms are guilty until proven innocent where as she condemns them with zeal. For the purpose of the interview I'm pretty sure the phrase factory farm was interchangeable with animal cruelty.

They both agreed that the drone plan to investigate farms would circumvent the so-called ag gag law and that they have the right to see everything that occurs on farms using whatever technology is available.

Rights and Expectations

While we have the right to buy things, I'm not sure we have the right to do everything this campaign wants. On the other hand, I do think consumers have certain expectations. They have expectations that when they purchase a product or service that it will be produced at a certain moral and ethical level. Different things change their expectations, for example the worries that this Kickstarter campaign's backers have in that animal cruelty is happening on farms. That lowers their expectations of food and they are either more reluctant to purchase "common" food, thereby lowering its value, and/or more likely to purchase food they perceive, whether it actually is or not, to be closer to the expectations they want. Farmers markets, Whole Foods, and Chipotle come to mind for places that appeal to consumers' higher expectations.

Farmers, and the ag community, have to work to meet consumers' expectations. In a capitalistic society producers who make the products that consumers want at the right price survive. How are farmers meeting expectations? One way we are doing it in the dairy industry is through certification. We sell our milk through a cooperative called DFA. The processors that DFA sell our milk to have expectations on how it should be produced. DFA started a third party verified farm certification process called Gold Standard Dairy in order to prove the milk they sell meets a certain level of expectations. By doing so they raise the value of all their members' milk.

But this Kickstarter campaign thinks it has the right to come on farms and if farmers don't let them they must have something to hide. There are several reasons a farms might not allow visitors. Some don't allow them because visitors bring diseases with them that could infect the animals. Others worry about liability and lawsuits. For example, our county went without a farm for a farm day tour for several years because no one was willing to risk the liability.

Another reason might be simply that like the kid that is embarrassed that his room isn't clean enough for his mom, some farms might not think their farms are "nice enough" for company. I have to admit we have some weeds and rusty machinery around that I would hate to represent our farm in photos. Maybe some farmers are simply scared of being misrepresented by those whose only goal is to make the farmer look bad. No wonder they oppose the drones.


Farms don't get a free pass, however, if they choose not to be open to the general public. As a grade A dairy farm we are inspected by state and federal inspectors. There is no warning when they will arrive to make sure all of our milking equipment is clean and in order. Larger farms have to meet more government regulations and can be inspected by multiple government departments. 

Regulations give us the expectations that businesses are operating at a certain set of standards. While I may not have the right to walk through the kitchen of my favorite restaurant to make sure everything meets my standards, I do have the assurances that it is inspected and has a health department score sheet hanging in public view. If it doesn't meet my expectations I can choose to eat somewhere else. 

Having choices is what the free market is all about. Look at the smartphone market. You can get a phone at various price levels that have varied features and operating systems. No one is telling  Apple or Samsung to make all phones identical and to one particular set of standards because "that's the way I think it should be." No, if you don't like the way one phone is made or works, then you, the consumer, can choose to buy something else. Just like you can choose to buy grass fed beef, free range eggs, or organic milk. 

Part 3: Family or Factory

Friday, June 27, 2014

Drones On Farms (Part 1)

Imagine an afternoon when all the stars have aligned, you have completed all your work, you're alone, and have nothing to do. I know it never happens, but lets imagine it anyway. You check your doors and windows and make sure they're locked, then you yawn, and start a nice afternoon nap.

Suddenly you are awakened by a bright flash. Before you can say, "holy cheese and crackers (instead of something unprintable on this blog!)," you see a man standing in your bedroom taking a picture of you sleeping with drool on the pillow and everything. But what's more, the man is not just any man, he is part of the self proclaimed Behavior Police. He's looking out for all of us.

What offends you the most about this hypothetical?

  • Breaking and entering your house?
  • The invasion of privacy and posting of your sleeping and drooling photo on the internet?
  • The fact that he's reporting on your behavior to see if you live up to his standards?

Personal Space

We all have personal space, whether we're on a crowded bus or in our house. We have expectations about how other people interact with that. For instance, if you have a door to your house, which I assume everyone does, you would expect someone, a stranger, to knock before entering. If your door was locked you would expect it to keep them out. Let's say you have a yard of any size. Do strange people play in  your yard? No. It is your space. Like your house, other people should ask before they "play" in your yard or come into your house. 

Does that sound logical?

Drones Are All Seeing

Farms are no different than houses and yards. Farms have fences and gates and these define property lines. They define personal space for the farm. In other words, just like you should knock before entering someone else's house, you should ask the property owner for permission before going on a farm. 

Unlike people, drones can fly right over fences, and barns, and houses. They can choose to ignore personal space and property lines and courtesy. Drones are all seeing. Go ahead and ask Tom Cruise if you don't believe me.

And according to one meme making its way around the internet and the following Kickstarter group that kind of thinking is okay. They want to use drones to fly over farms to make sure the farmers are behaving correctly. They want to investigate "factory farms." Unlike most normal people, they are choosing to ignore courtesy and want to, figuratively if not literally, break down gates and fences and enter farms whenever they choose. When the police do this they have to have a search warrant or probable cause.

But obviously this group, while they are completely behind free speech, don't care about privacy, or at least other people's privacy. 

All people are not good. We have prisons to prove this. And I'm not saying all farmers are good. There are farmers that make mistakes, or do wrong on purpose just like they are people who make mistakes and do wrong on purpose in every walk of life

What I am questioning is the use of drones to spy on people and report on their behavior, and not just because someone-has-to-make-sure-people-aren't-making-bad-choices, but also for a profit (think tv promos, book deals, and speeches). Where does it go from here? Should we use drones to check up on over weight people to make sure they don't pig out on Oreo's in the privacy of their own home? Isn't it in the public's best interest that people eat healthy? Should drones sit in bathroom stalls of restaurants and report on the cooks' hand washing habits? Someone needs to make sure they don't make customers sick, right? 

Where does it end?