This is a sponsored post in association with the Indiana Soybean Alliance but my opinions are my own.
I do not come from a family of farmers, but entrepreneurs (from fiddle players to cafe owners). What I know about farming is elementary-level stuff: they plant stuff, they spray stuff, they harvest stuff, they worry about the weather, and they use big tractors.
Fortunately, I have been able to expand my farming knowledge through the recent Dine and Discuss Event at Culp Family Farms in Rensselaer, Indiana, sponsored by the Indiana Soybean Alliance (ISA). Using a check-off program, Hoosier soybean farmers donate a small percentage of their sales to the ISA to, as the site reads, “fund research, promotion and educational programs.”
Dine and Discuss Farming Event in Rensselaer, Indiana
Kicking off with a reception, cheese from Fair Oaks Farm, and a wine pouring from award-winning winery Carpenter Creek Winery (Gunny Red is still my favorite), we mingled and munched. Kendell Culp spoke to the crowd, introduced his farming family, and explained the set-up.
Three separate informational stations provided attendees with a little insight into the daily workings of the Culp Family Farm, a farm selected as an example of a typical Hoosier farm. Our nametags were color-coded. As part of the Blue group, my husband, Jeremiah, and I ambled over to Bryan Inskeep, the presenter for the Technology portion of the event.
Farmers and I have something unexpected in common: we love our iPads! Though mine is used for decidedly un-agriculture purposes, farmers use it to keep tabs on their crops. Who would have thunk it?
Unmanned Aerial Vehicle or Drones in the Field
Fitted with remote sensors and the Go Pro Camera 3, farmers can now see what particular parts of the field need to be sprayed, what plants are healthy, and what plants are failing. Drones can help farmers boost the health of their crops. Even with interns, a field is a lot of ground to cover!
The Drones can provide a view of the land that farmer’s couldn’t easily get otherwise. It lets farmers become more careful in their farming practices. Instead of spraying down or even watering an entire field, farmers can now see the problem areas and react accordingly. It could cut costs across the board with less water use, less pesticide use, and even less manpower required.
Drones in Agriculture
My interest piqued, I decided to dig in a little more. Through the Ag Web website, I discovered that farmers in Louisiana use the Drones to check the poly pipe irrigation for breaks due to bear bites or missteps. Where once they had to guess where to find the damage, covering a lot of unneeded ground, and wasting time, they can use the drone to find the damage! Bears may not be something we need to worry about in Indiana, but I love the way other regions are able to adapt the Drone technology to suit their needs.
It requires a little training and a little time to become comfortable with the new technology (as with the adoption of any new device), but as companies continue to improve the technology, it will become more accessible and easier to use (and has already seen a significant decrease in pricing).
At the time of this writing, Drones have not been approved for commercial use.
What are GMO’s?
GMO is an acronym for Genetically Modified Organinism. GMO’s are everywhere. From Facebook to Twitter to news outlets and magazines, everyone, everywhere has an opinion on GMO’s–and aren’t afraid to share it! The problem? Not all of it is correct.
I admit that I originally leaned toward the “GMO’s are the devil” side of things before the talk by Kayla Culp, Vision Ag representative and daughter of the Dine and Discuss Hosts. The sound “genetically modified” didn’t exactly sound like something I would want to consume, let alone put into the tummies of our children! It turns out: I was way wrong and I am not ashamed to admit it. After Kayla’s talk, we spoke a little further with her about GMO’s.
Farmers put pesticides on the fields. You knew that already, right? Well, here’s where GMO’s come in. When a plant has been genetically modified, as in, scientists have isolated the naturally occurring gene in another species, adding it to a plant that could use a boost (like corn), it means that farmers no longer have to put poison into the ground! Host Kendell Culp shared with me that he remembers the pesticides container had a big skull and crossbones on it, but that it was used every year. It was poison! Yet, he put it into the ground because that’s what you did: it was your only option. Now, however, the introduction of GMO’s have changed the way farmers handle their crops.
Simply put, scientists have identified the genes that are responsible for different traits. For example, they seek out the proteins, the genes, that kill the rootworm or the spider mite, and insert it into the plant, giving it a natural defense. Spider mites, for example, are so tiny that the only way to even know a corn plant is infected is by shaking the plant over a piece of white paper and looking for shadows. Kayla Culp shared that the pest was so incredibly damaging before a farmer even realized he had a problem!
[box type=”shadow” align=”aligncenter” width=”400″ ]Bacillus thuringiensis, a soil bacterium, produces several crystal (Cry) protein toxins that destroy the gut of invading pests, such as larval caterpillars. So far, over 50 cry genes have been identified and found to affect insect orders differently.
Considered safe to humans, mammals, and most insects, Bt has been a popular pesticidal spray since the 1960s because it had little chance of unintended effects. Engineering the gene into corn, however, caused an unexpected public backlash. “We thought it was going to be the greatest thing since sliced bread,” says Guy Cardineau, agricultural biotechnologist at Arizona State University. “Here’s a way to withstand insect pressure, eliminate the use of pesticides, and Bt spray was widely used in organic agriculture,” he adds. The Bt wrangle illustrates how differently a product and a process can be regarded.
After the expensive development process, today’s concern is that broad-scale planting of Bt corn will render the toxin ineffective over time. Pests can gradually build resistance to any pesticide, and so the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires that 20% of Bt field areas be planted to non-Bt corn to avoid such pressures. [/box]
Popular Pesticide Turned Gene
Bt didn’t suddenly appear in corn crops. No, it’s been a popular pesticide for decades! Now, it’s a part of the plant, a plant that can’t typically thrive without some human intervention. Instead of putting more poison into the ground, farmers can now reduce the levels of pesticides that they are using, while still getting the results they need to meet their bottom-line.
Our Indiana weather is unpredictable. Some summers are wet, some are dry, some go to extremes. GMO’s can help the corn plant get a better start from the beginning by building in drought resistance. Anyone who lived in or drove through Southern Indiana back in 2012 like we did, knows that the fields were devastated. While GMO’s may not have helped in that extreme situation, it is certainly a start for summers that don’t distinctly resemble the weather patterns of the Sahara.
Between a plant possessing that trait or achieving that result through the use of poisons that go directly on the ground, I think it’s clear which one makes the most sense. I am sure that these bugs will evolve over time but that’s a part of the process for any use of pesticides, whether the gene is engineered into corn or as a pesticide spray.
Why Not Use Organic Farming Methods?
One phrase that continually popped up (and really stuck with me) was “good stewards of the land.” Whether by choice or by chance, I believe it sprang up in every presentation.
Organic farming has its place. But, we all make choices. As Kendell Culp eloquently pointed out, and I will subsequently butcher here, everyone has chosen their professions and have trusted farmers to provide them with the food they need to feed their families so they could do what they wanted to do with their lives, to be the teachers, doctors, lawyers, postal employees, real estate agents, or writers (ahem), and not have to worry about food production!
So, organic farming, while great for small scale use, still has too many downsides to see large-scale production. To see that, I only have to pick beans from “Grandma” Barb’s garden.
An organic garden in every sense of the word, her beans are getting eaten up by bugs. She never sprays them and so her yield is greatly reduced as the season continues. If her garden became one acre, an acre that’s expected to feed 155 people, you can get an idea of the kind of problems: food costs would rise, farmers would do more work for less result, and simple changes in the weather could be devastating. Anyone without a garden of their own or a steady, ample paycheck, would be in a lurch.
Do More, With Less
Farming isn’t cheap. That’s easy to see simply based on the prices of tractors! While farmers with a lot of land aren’t exactly known to be scrabbling, there is an issue that affects even the wealthiest of farmers: property taxes. Compared to the cost of homestead taxes, rental units, and the like, farmland continually increases. In fact, it’s a shocking increase! Land value has tripled in the last ten years and farmers feel that pinch particularly since these taxes pay for services that a field isn’t going to use.
The land is expected to do more, with less. What I mean, is that many smaller family farms have shut their barn doors, whether due to a lack of interest in agriculture or the rising prices associated with farmland, so the farms that are left are expected to feed even more mouths. The same acreage is now expected to feed more people. How do you do that? Technology.
Tractors are more than toys for grown-ups. Not only do they cost an arm and a leg, they are outfitted with the latest technology! In other words: these are not your grandfather’s tractors found every small town parade, but hard-working pieces of machinery.
The fields themselves are changing. Long ago, when crops were planted and harvested using horses, the crops were spaced 40″ apart. Today, that number has shrunk down to 30″! Again, it’s doing more, with less.
That rolls over into the plants themselves. Soybeans now have double the yield properties so farmers can get more out of the plant without having the field to match! In fact, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), farmers will need to produce 69% more by 2050 than they did in 2006!
Pigs and Beef Discussion
I hate to do this to you but…remember last winter? I know, it was rotten! Brutal, even. Well, just imagine if pigs lived outside. How long do you think they would have lasted? How high would bacon prices rise?
The host shared that when the LP tanks were hard to fill, not exactly through a shortage, but more from the inaccessibility of the roads, and many families needing the product, the pigs had it 5* warmer than the Culp’s did inside their house! These animals are expensive. Much like anything that you’ve made an investment in, you want to protect it. That’s what farmers are trying to do when they keep their animals inside. The animals stay indoors to protect them from the elements and disease. Dr. Kenneth Culp III covered this portion of the event.
Although I like the idea of animals enjoying a bit of sunshine, I can also see how that vision just doesn’t jive with the reality of producing enough food for everyone–without sending costs sky-rocketing. Looking for more information, I stumbled onto the excellent letter below that really puts things in perspective.
Why Are Pigs and Beef Kept Inside?
Again, I wanted to learn more. From Pork Network, a Letter to the Editor, from a long-time pork farmer, Linden Olson from Worthington, Minnesota. He wrote:
[box type=”shadow” align=”aligncenter” width=”400″ ] The housing systems we built and the production practices we use were highly influenced by the experiences we had during the extremes in weather: the night it rained 6 inches and drowned two-thirds of the baby pigs housed in an “ideal” outside pasture setting; the winter it did not get above 32 degrees for 63 days straight and snow and wind made it impossible to keep pigs warm and dry because they tracked snow into their sleeping quarters faster than we could haul straw bedding for them; the two days in which a raging blizzard with a wind chill in excess of 60 below made it dangerous for both man and beast; and the days when the heat index soared to over 100. These are but a few of the days etched into my memory that influenced our decision to put our hogs under roof and our sows in individual stalls 24/7/365. [/box]
Next he commented a little on the benefits to man. Here’s another nice blip about the animals:
[box type=”shadow” align=”aligncenter” width=”400″ ]…No more broken legs from fighting or slipping on the ice…Fewer sows were injured or died and fewer were too thin to reproduce. No, this type of housing does not fit the “ideal” image of raising pigs, but then we have very few “ideal” days of weather in a year. It is because we care for the welfare of our animals that we house them the way we do. The result of that care is they are more productive, and therefore more profitable, not the other way around.[/box]
Yet again, it boils down to how the consumer wants to live. Try to see both sides and then figure out where you fit in.
The “Dine” of the Event
After bumping into Rensselaer Adventures, local resident blogger, and Lana Wallpe, also a previously Featured Indiana blogger, it was time to eat! Kendell gave a phenomenal information packed closing.
He told of when he was going to be on live TV to illustrate the severity of the 2012 drought. Here’s what Kendell said:
[box type=”shadow” align=”aligncenter” width=”400″ ]He told me that I would be live on the London evening news and then the following day it would be translated and replayed in the Arab states. I asked him why would someone I’ve never met who lives on the other side of the world in a place I’ve never seen would care what is going on, on a small farm in northwest Indiana?
He said because our people know that by and large the world’s food prices are set in Chicago. And that the majority of the food grown is in the U.S., and most of that food grown is produced in the Midwest. He said that when our people set food on their table to feed their family, they know it was probably grown by a Midwest farmer, much like you. Our people, he said, depend on you to provide their families next meal. Pretty sobering when you think about the responsibility we have as farmers.[/box]
Afterwards, table conversation flowed. In a particularly nice touch, the entire meal was made with locally sourced products from the pork to the tomatoes to the green beans, sweet corn, melons, and blueberry pie! I think it illustrates an important fact: farmers also consume what they are growing.
Kendell nicely sums it up:
[box type=”shadow” align=”aligncenter” width=”300″ ]Our farm is an example of a typical farm in Jasper County. Even though each farmers story may be a little different, our drive to make it a place for the next generation, our willingness to adapt and grow to make it better and our promise to feed you and the folks on the other side of the world is what gets us up every day. [/box]
As “good stewards” they have a vested interest in ensuring that the land keeps producing. Destroying the land wouldn’t benefit anyone. After all, what’s a farmer without a farm?
Small Towns: Destinations, not Drive-Thrus! I’m Jessica Nunemaker and THIS is little Indiana!
Just don’t forget to tell ’em that little Indiana sent you!
Rensselaer, Indiana in Jasper County
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