Field to Market, an alliance of ag industry groups promoting sustainable agriculture has joined with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service to develop a better way to measure runoff from fields. The Fieldprint Calculator is an on-line program which utilizes farmer inputs and the NRCS Water Quality Index to determine what is staying on the field and what is not. You can use the calculator to compare your results to those around you or further out. Field to Market president Rod Snyder says the calculator is free, voluntary and confidential.
A new vaccine against BRD (Bovine Respiratory Disease) in cattle combines two popular vaccines, a combination that helps protect against both viruses and bacteria associated with BRD. Brett Terhaar, Technical Consultant with Elanco adds that the vaccine is what producers and veterinarians were wanting.
Some people celebrate Earth Day (April 22nd) with the foods they eat – and one of those foods is bison. Dave Carter with the National Bison Association says bison are grown with sustainable practices in every state in the U.S. but are mostly associated with the Great Plains states where they have been grazing on plants that have been around for a long, long time. Not only has nature created bison which are easy on the environment, Carter says, the meat is exceptionally nutritious and healthy.
There’s a ton of useful material left behind the combine. Actually it’s millions of tons, and much of that leftover crop residue in fields comes in handy as nutrients and cover in minimum tillage systems. But not all of it needs to be left behind. Matt Darr, an associate professor in the Ag and Biosystems Engineering Department at Iowa State University, has some interesting numbers about the logistics necessary to harvest corn stover for biomass fuel production. For instance, to support a 25 to 30 million gallon plant takes plenty of stover. And a car with decent mileage can roll 1,000 miles on the fuel produced by a bale of stover.
Several facilities produce ethanol on pilot scale now, but both POET and DuPont plan to be producing on a commercial scale this year. Darr thinks they’re on to something.
Dr. Jessica Young with Diamond Y Equine Veterinary Services of Ogden, Iowa says she fields a lot of questions from clients this time of year about what vaccines their horses need to have. She explains that there are two types, core vaccines and non-core vaccines.
My opinion since moving to Washington, DC – where you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a law school graduate – is the world has enough lawyers. However, there are times when lawyers are welcome because they’re very necessary. Today there’s an animal rights initiative just getting legs and its success or failure will likely hinge on whoever has the most – and best – lawyers. I’m talking about the legal concept of animal “personhood.” Stick with me; this may be esoteric and sound comical, but the threat is nevertheless very real.
“Personhood” under law recognizes only a natural person or “legal personality” has rights, protections, privileges, responsibilities, and legal liability. “Personhood,” according to one legal journal, “continues to be a topic of international debate, and has been questioned during the abolition of slavery and the fight for women’s rights, in debates about abortion, fetal rights and reproductive rights (and) in animal rights activism…” (my emphasis).
In the 1980s-90s, we beat back an aggressive campaign by PETA and other animal rights groups to achieve “standing” in federal courts to sue on behalf of animals those who transgressed the animal rights philosophy, e.g. biomedical researchers, farmers and ranchers, zoos, rodeos and other legitimate users of animals. We watched class action suits filed on behalf of unnamed millions of consumers and lots of animals dismissed because the wannabe plaintiffs had no standing.
In the early 2000s, animal rights and real world lawyers sought to change companion animals’ legal status from property owned by someone to animals as semi-persons who enjoy not an owner but a “guardian.” Some California towns actually enshrined part of this philosophy in local law. The push was to allow owners who brought suit in cases of veterinary negligence or other wrongful acts to sue not just for the property value of the animal lost as is the case today, but for noneconomic damages, i.e. emotional distress, loss of companionship, etc. While pets don’t enjoy “personhood,” there is a trend in the courts to ignore the animals’ legal status and award non-economic damages.
The whole animal-as-person effort is the brainchild of Steven Wise. Wise, who’s practiced animal law for over 30 years, heads his own group called the Nonhuman Rights Project (http://www.nonhumanrightsproject.org/). In his own words:
“Our mission is to change the common law status of at least some nonhuman animals from mere ‘things,’ which lack the capacity to possess any legal right, to ‘persons,’ who possess such fundamental rights as bodily integrity and bodily liberty, and those other legal rights to which evolving standards of morality, scientific discovery, and human experience entitle them…The most powerful ram…is the litigating of the capacity for legal rights of those nonhuman animals who are both the most cognitively complex (they have extraordinary minds) and the most cognitively similar to humans. These include the four species of great apes, dolphins and whales, elephants, and African Grey parrots.”
Wise’s goal is to litigate state by state on behalf of “smart” animals, his targets chosen based on the evolution of common law in that state and whether there’s a “plaintiff” of sufficient standing. He’s filed three cases in New York, lost one on appeal and the other two appeals are pending. It will only take one or two successes for there to be sea change in the legal status animals, including those we raise for food, use in research to find cures and treatments or those who educate and entertain us.
Animal agriculture must pay attention to this legal threat now. This sounds fanciful, even ridiculous, but remember at least two European nations amended their national constitutions to recognize animals as “sentient creatures.” Remember there exists the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) to provide pro bono (free) legal assistance to animal rights groups, that HSUS and TV game show host Bob Barker have spent literally millions of dollars endowing “animal law” chairs at some of this country’s biggest and most prestigious law schools, and the American Bar Association (ABA) has an “animal law committee” and the majority of its members aren’t our industry’s best legal minds.
Which brings us back to lawyers, numbers and talent. We need to find working attorneys willing to donate – yes, I said donate – time and talent to help us prepare for this assault before someone files a personhood suit on behalf of pigs – deemed by those in the animal rights movement as one of the most intelligent animals we routinely kill and eat.
We need young attorneys and law school students to help us – and the rest of legal animal users – to maintain our legal rights and protections. We’re fortunate to have the National Agricultural Law Center at the University of Arkansas (http://nationalaglawcenter.org/). This is a group which needs our attention, our support and our donations. I have a feeling it may be our version of ALDF one day in the future.
Check out the websites I’ve listed; check the Internet and newsfeeds for “animal law” and “animal personhood.” It’s a serious issue – at least for the other side – and one that gives the term “kangaroo court” a whole new meaning.
Consumer communications director Pamela Johnson with the National Pork Board tells us how ham came to be an Easter favorite. She also explains the nutritional values of ham and how to store leftovers. The ham sandwich is the most popular sandwich in the U.S.
It won’t be long before we’re back in the hay fields for another season. Of course time is money when making hay, so we asked CLAAS product manager Matt Jaynes for some tips on getting those mower-conditioners ready to go.
Cow-calf producers Tom and Paula Peterson farm near Waverly, Nebraska, just north of Lincoln in the southeastern part of the state.
The Peterson’s recently hosted USDA deputy secretary of agriculture Krysta Harden when she visited Nebraska to promote the start of sign-up for USDA’s livestock disaster assistance programs. During a break in the action, we visited with Tom Peterson about his cattle business.
The Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) has released a study on the importance of machinery to the productivity of agriculture. The Economic Footprint of the Agricultural Equipment Industry assesses the progress of equipment and how it has enhanced productivity to this point; how big of an impact the industry has on our economy and what will be needed to meet the growing global demand in the future.
Charlie O’Brien is senior vice president with AEM, he cites his own family as an example of how mechanization has changed the productivity of the American farmer. His father talked about “putting the husking glove on and husking corn all day long.” At that time in the 1930’s, one farmer could husk about 100 bushels of corn by hand in a 9-hour day. “Today’s combines can do that in 7 minutes.” He notes that is a significant improvement in a very short period of time. Along that same line, the average farmer has gone from feeding 25 people in the 1960’s to 144 today. Because of that increased productivity, we need less than 2 percent of the population on the farm today to feed us.
The study also looks at the economic impact the agricultural equipment industry has on the United States. O’Brien says as the generations go by, there is less understanding of just how big the industry is. “In 2011, the agricultural equipment manufacturers had overall sales of about $31 billion.” But add to that the layers of business supplying the manufacturers as well as the sales, distribution, service and others downstream; “then we’re up to about $51 billion in economic impact.” He also notes while the industry did take a hit with the economic downturn in 2008, it was also one of the fastest to recover.
A big part of the economic footprint is jobs; 78,000 were directly employed in ag equipment manufacturing but there are another 118,000 working in upstream suppliers and 117,000 in the downstream businesses. “You are looking at almost 400,000 people employed by the sector. And these are high-paying jobs with the average salary at $67,000. “This is a highly-skilled industry and one that we want to attract very highly-skilled laborers to.” One of the challenges the industry faces is getting that labor force.
Looking ahead, the industry will play a key role in feeding a global population expected to hit 9 billion people by the middle of this century. O’Brien says plainly, “We have to be much more productive than we are today even as productive as we are today.” He says the equipment manufacturers are investing millions each year in research and development to make sure the tools farmers use “are in lockstep with what’s going on with developments on the inputs side.”
Part of that challenge is for the industry to not only meet the needs of the technologically-advanced farmers of North America and Europe but also the needs of those regions of the world which are still mainly dependent on hand-labor today. O’Brien says many companies are multi-national and are positioned to fill those needs and help bring those developing countries up-to-speed, “bringing the technology there as it is adopted.” He points to a number of North American companies which have already expanded into other parts of the world.
O’Brien says one of the biggest challenges the industry faces is the lack of understanding by those who make the rules, “legislation without full knowledge” is how he phrases it. That is one of the main reasons for this report which has been sent to every member of Congress, “and we are sitting down with each of them and going over the details.”
The Top Ten Takeaways of the report are available from the AEM website and the full report is available for purchase.