Animal welfare issues are driving change

The vice president of animal well-being for Tyson Foods, Dean Danilson, says farm animal welfare issues will continue to be “a driver for change” in the industry.

“More consumers are becoming aware of animal welfare issues, which are increasingly becoming factors in their purchasing decisions,” Danilson says, “and consumers want to know more about how food is produced—but they aren’t sure where to go for accurate information.”

But Danilson says, at the same time, studies have shown that consumers aren’t interested in hearing science-based arguments.

“Consumers are overwhelmed with studies and facts—they don’t know what to believe,” he says. “In our industry, we use scientific- and experience-based language, (but) it doesn’t resonate with consumers—with the moms in New York City.

“The food industry says ‘here’s the reality of pig farming’—the consumer hears ‘you’re speaking down to me and ignoring my very real concerns’.”

So, Danilson says, the industry must continually ask itself, “Is there a better way to do things?”

“Is what we do today the best and the right thing for sustained animal agriculture—and for the welfare of the animal?  Is what was good yesterday mean that it is good for today or good for tomorrow? And we must always ask ourselves, individually and professionally–is there a better way?”

Danilson spoke at the Iowa Farm Bureau Economic Summit in Ames.

AUDIO: Dean Danilson-excerpt from his presentation at the Iowa Farm Bureau Economic Summit (12:58 MP3)

Changes in the farm economic landscape

oppedahl_davidDavid Oppedahl is a senior business economist in the economic research department at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. Oppedahl conducts research on the agricultural sector and rural development as well as conducting microeconomic research. He also directs the Chicago Federal Reserve District’s survey of agricultural banks on agricultural land values and credit conditions.

Oppedahl spoke at the recent Iowa Farm Bureau Economic Summit in Ames, after which Brownfield visited with him about changes in the farm economic landscape.

AUDIO: David Oppedahl (4:10 MP3)

Pressure mounting for farm bill implementation

Pressure is growing on the USDA to step up its implementation of the 2014 farm bill.  Iowa Farm Bureau president Craig Hill says farmers will need some time to study their options when it comes to new crop commodity programs.

“When will farmers go in and sign up? What tools will they have to be able to evaluate the commodity title in the farm programs?  There are lots of decisions to be made and USDA is about 20 percent of the way through discovering what these new decisions should look like—so we’ve got a ways to go there,” Hill says.

“But by next year, hopefully, farmers will be signed up and know the rules of the game in farm programs.”

At a recent Congressional hearing, Minnesota Representative Collin Peterson criticized USDA for not doing enough to educate dairy farmers about the new Margin Protection Plan. Lawmakers also expressed concerns over implementation of the farm bill’s crop insurance and conservation compliance provisions.

For its part, USDA says it has made “significant progress” on farm bill implementation.

AUDIO: Craig Hill-interview at Iowa Farm Bureau’s economic summit (5:40 MP3)

Young farmer concerned with water rule

The EPA’s “Waters of the U.S.” rule dominated the discussion on the Nebraska Farm Bureau’s Young Farmers and Ranchers National Affairs Trip to Washington, D.C.

One of the participants, Dustin Fairley, wonders if the EPA hasn’t already set the wheels in motion.

“I serve on our local FSA board and just since the first of the year we’ve had six new rulings on wetland classifications,” Fairley says. “We haven’t had six in the last six years.  So all of a sudden to have six in one year, it kind of makes you a little nervous about how EPA is going about this.

“They have this new proposed ruling, but I kind of think they’re already starting to push that ruling through other routes.”

Fairley says over-regulation of agriculture and regulatory uncertainty are major concerns.

“As a young farmer, these rules will impact everything we do in the future of ag,” he says.

Fairley farms near Fairbury.  He also has a custom farming business.

AUDIO: Dustin Fairley (8:59 MP3)

Tyson official: Animal wefare will continue to drive change

The vice president of animal well-being for Tyson Foods, Dean Danilson, says farm animal welfare issues will continue to be “a driver for change” in the meat industry.  And Danilson says those in the meat and livestock industries must continually ask themselves, “Is there a better way to do things?”.

Here is an excerpt from Danilson’s presentation at the recent Iowa Farm Bureau Economic Summit in Ames.

AUDIO: Dean Danilson (12:58 MP3)

Farmland prices remain strong

Prices and demand for farmland remained strong in the first six months of 2014 in the four-state territory of Farm Credit Services of America (FCSAmerica).  It includes Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming.

FCSAmerica’s semi-annual appraisal of farmland values shows a stabilization of prices in Iowa, where the market showed signs of softening in the last half of 2013.  And land values continued to increase in the other three states, with Nebraska up one-point-five percent and South Dakota up nearly six percent.

Meanwhile, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) report on the Nebraska farm real estate market indicates that average farmland values were up about nine percent for the 12-month period ending on February 1st of this year.   One of the report’s authors, UNL Extension Educator Jim Jansen, says the strongest percentage increases were in hay land and grazing land.

“As an example, for the grazing land, non-tillable—the land class that includes pasture and rangeland—we’d seen increases anywhere from maybe a low of about ten percent all the way up to 40 percent,” Jansen says.

Overall, grazing land increased 24 percent with hay land up 26 percent.  Jansen says those increases are a reflection of the increasingly bullish outlook for cattle prices.

The report showed pivot irrigated cropland in Nebraska increased six percent in value over the same period.

More shoppers say they care about ‘animal welfare’

A spokesman for the organization that represents U.S. food retailers says more consumers are identifying “humane treatment of farm animals” as one of their food-buying concerns.

“In looking at some of the (survey) data, we’ve found that it jumped about seven percent—so it’s a growing concern,” says David Fikes of the Food Marketing Institute. “Most other concerns were growing about three percent, but humane treatment of animals was one that was getting a little bit more attention in consumer attitudes.”

Fikes says most consumers just want some reassurance that animals are being treated humanely. “Most of them want to believe that the animal had a good, stress-free life and a very peaceful death in preparing it for the plate,” he says.

But Fikes says cost, convenience and taste continue, by far, to be the biggest factors behind consumer food purchases. Fikes was a presenter at a beef cattle welfare symposium in Ames, Iowa.

AUDIO: David Fikes (5:32 MP3)

Potential for big crops in Iowa

Iowa secretary of agriculture Bill Northey tells Brownfield that, with just a few exceptions, Iowa’s corn and soybean crops are looking very good.

“I talk to producers and they get kind of quiet—they don’t want to jinx anything—but they’ll say, ‘you know, I’ve got one of my best-looking crops ever coming’,” Northey says.

While the crops still have a ways to go, Northey says it’s hard not to be optimistic.

“We’ll need some moisture later on to be able to fill this crop on out, but we’ve got some moisture in the soil profile to help take us through,” he says. “And we’ve had decent temperatures here as we’re pollinating in lots of the state—so there’s a lot of optimism.”

Iowa’s weather has settled down after frequent, heavy storms and near-record precipitation in the month of June.  The statewide average rainfall in June was nearly 10 inches.

AUDIO: Bill Northey (3:00 MP3)

Grandin concerned with ‘biological overload’

Animal handling expert Temple Grandin delivered some good news at the International Symposium on Beef Cattle Welfare in Ames, Iowa.

Grandin says she’s seen big improvements in cattle handling at ranches and feedlots across the country.  But Grandin says while handling has improved, she’s now seeing a new problem starting to develop.

grandin-temple-stock“Now we’re getting an animal that’s more difficult to handle—because I’m starting to see some of the leg conformation problems that started happening in pigs 20 years ago,” Grandin says. “They’re too straight, they’re collapsed in the ankle.  Let’s not repeat those mistakes.”

Grandin says some of that is related to what she calls “biological overload”.

“The dairy industry has pushed the dairy cow genetically to the point where she’s having trouble reproducing.  We’ve got to start looking at what’s optimal.  A bunch of leg problems in cattle is not a place where the beef industry wants to go,” she says.

And Grandin believes growth-promoting beta-agonists have also contributed to structural issues in fed cattle.

“If they want to keep those products, they need to use them much more carefully,” Grandin says. “A bunch of stiff, sore cattle showing up at the plant is not acceptable.”

AUDIO: Temple Grandin (4:13 MP3)

Iowa’s ag secretary on RFS delay and EPA’s water rule

At the International Symposium of Beef Animal Welfare in Ames, Iowa, we asked Iowa secretary of agriculture Bill Northey for his thoughts on the delay in the announcement of the Renewable Fuels Standard volumes and the debate over the EPA’s plan to extend its jurisdiction over “Waters of the U.S.”.

AUDIO: Bill Northey (4:10 MP3)