Ag journalism isn’t just tractors, cows and cubicles

If I had a dime for every weird look I’ve gotten telling people about what I now do for a living, I’d have my college loans paid off.

When I was first hired about three months ago and asked about my job, I would proudly respond with, “I’m the Dairy Editor at Agri-View!” After countless puzzled expressions and too much time spent explaining myself, I usually now respond with, “I’m an ag journalist.”

Sometimes I still get blank stares to that response, but people tend to understand that terminology a little bit more clearly.

My explanation usually remains relatively the same: “I’m a journalist… A journalist who writes about agriculture.”

Even that, to a lot of people, doesn’t mean a whole lot. That doesn’t explain what I do on a daily basis. Some wonder, is there really that much happening in agriculture?

The answer is yes.

When the general public thinks of agriculture, the common image that comes to mind is a middle-aged man, sporting a pair of overalls with dirt under his fingernails. But agriculture is much more than that.

Agriculture is young and old, both men and women, and includes everything from Christmas tree farming to milking dairy cows.Just in the last week, I’ve delved into the effect of stray voltage on cows and the surging popularity of non-dairy milk. We’ve also recently written about the technology of robotic milking, using cover crops to improve soil health and suggestions for preventing sow lameness.IMG_1780

As a dairy editor, I produce articles and content about happenings in the dairy industry. I take pictures, attend events and do all the things a normal journalist would do, except my focus is on dairy cows. I do, however, also submit articles for the livestock section and the front section occasionally.

For me, being an ag journalist means spending some days sitting at a desk and other days spent on farms. Being an ag journalist sometimes means doing something different on a daily basis.

Some days I’m attending media events and listening to seminars. Other days I’m traveling across Wisconsin to visit and talk with farmers. Sometimes I’m riding along in a tractor to learn about new farming technologies. And sometimes I’m learning as much as possible about new topics so I can explain new things to our readers.

And some days I sit in feed alley in front of my cows to brainstorm and pull together my articles for the week.

On Mondays and Tuesdays, I wake up, wash my face, grab some breakfast and head to the office. Mondays and Tuesdays are the days our staff spends editing and proofing our weekly paper. Wednesday through Friday, I spend my days interviewing those involved in agriculture, visiting local farms, attending news-worthy events and taking pictures.

Our office is just like you see in the movies. We have rows and rows of short cubicles, large clocks on the walls and sometimes there are even pieces of paper flying through the air as staff members rush around.

One thing that’s unusual is that our staff is housed in the same building with the Wisconsin State Journal. So it isn’t rare to receive concerned looks when I pull out my jackknife to open a package.

As more and more of us become further removed from farming and agriculture, it’s easy to think that agriculture and farming isn’t important to our economy and in our daily lives.

But agriculture really is important. New research from University of Wisconsin-Madison and UW-Extension show that Wisconsin’s farms and agriculture businesses generate more than $88.3 billion in economic activity and provide jobs for 413,500 people in the state.

Seeing those kind of numbers really make it easy to see that agriculture is important to the state’s economy and is therefore important to you.

I didn’t choose to be a journalist for the long hours or the days I spend sitting in my cubicle. I didn’t choose to be a journalist for the pay or for the constant deadlines.

But it’s been my calling for quite some time. And I followed it so I could educate, inform and write stories that both those involved in agriculture and those not involved in agriculture can relate to.

Sure, I get weird looks and have to often explain what I do. But they seem to be part of the job.

30 Days of Lessons I Learned on the Farm

I’m thrilled to take part in my first ever 30-day blog challenge! Starting November 1, I will be posting a blog every single day for the entire month. My series for this blog challenge is: Lessons I Learned on the Farm.

A sampling: Learning How to Work with others, Learning How to Deal with Crappy Days (literally), Learning How to Manage My Time, Learning How to Cope with Death, etc. The list goes on! If you have any suggestions, or want to share lessons that you have learned, please get in touch with me.

Looking forward to being a part of this challenge. Stay tuned for my first post on November 1! Introducing

What is a GMO? Are GMOs safe?

What is a GMO? How do GMOs affect your health? Are GMOs safe?

The subject of GMO labeling, farmer use of GM seeds and safety of GMOs is not going away. After Jimmy Kimmel’s recent video, it became painfully clear to me that we could all use a little education on GMOs.

If you haven’t seen the Jimmy Kimmel video, please click the link above and give it a watch. Basically, the video features Jimmy Kimmel’s crew asking people at a farmer’s market if they try to avoid GMOs, why they try to avoid GMOs and then asks them to explain what a GMO is.

Many people took the time to talk to Jimmy Kimmel’s team and most of them were firm believers in avoiding GMOs. These folks also could not explain what a GMO was or why it was important to avoid it.

I’m am in no way advocating GMOs or advocating against GMOs. I’m here to inform you what GMOs are, so that you can individually be educated enough to take a stance on this hot topic.

What is a GMO?

GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism. This means that the organism goes through a process in a lab where a beneficial trait is adapted to a new plant so that it can better survive in its environment. Some examples of beneficial traits are: ability to use water efficiently, resistance to bugs and insects, etc.

There are currently 8 commercially GMO crops. These plants include: corn, soybeans, cotton, alfalfa, sugar beets, canola, papaya and squash.

Why do farmers use GM seeds?

When we hear constant bad things about GMOs and the danger of GMOs, why would farmers ever use them?

First and foremost, it’s important to remember to not believe everything we hear. Farmers are not out to get anybody! Farmers are working hard to produce food for the growing population that is expected to reach around 9 billion people by 2050.

Some reasons that farmers choose to use GM seeds are:

-Farmers are looking for ways to grow food while using water and land more efficiently.

-Less pesticides and herbicides are needed

-GM seeds allow farmers to grow crops that feed large populations in an economical and sustainable manner883752_606884546042264_1917479408_o

Are GMOs safe?

There are no credible scientific studies that show us that GMOs pose any unique threat to human health or the environment. In reality, there are thousands of studies that show us that GMOs are safe!

According to Jon Entine, author and editor of seven books on genetics, chemicals, risk assessment and sustainability, “every major international science body in the world has reviewed multiple independent studies—in some cases numbering in the hundreds—in coming to the consensus conclusion that GMO crops are as safe or safer than conventional or organic foods.” Read more of Jon’s article here.

Simply put, that means GMOs and GMO crops are just as safe to eat as conventional or organic foods. You may still have reasoning against choosing to eat GMO crops, but please know that these foods ARE safe.

Biotechnology is bad news. What’s next after GMOs?

According to Dictionary.com, biotechnology is defined as: taking advantage of biological processes for industrial and other purposes, especially the genetic use of microorganisms for the production of antibiotics, hormones, etc.

Many associate biotechnology with GMOs and Monsanto. While this is true, biotechnology also does many other important things for our world! Did you know that Ebola vaccinations are biotech products?

This blog is not meant to sway you one way or another. This blog is meant to give you tools to make educated decisions and to help educate the general public.

Take away message: GMOs are safe to consume. GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism.

 

Sources:

Entine, Jon. “2000+ Reasons Why GMOs Are Safe To Eat And Environmentally Sustainable.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, n.d. Web. 16 Oct. 2014.

“Food Sustainability.” Monsanto Company. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Oct. 2014.

 “GMO Facts.” GMO Facts. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Oct. 2014.

The Truth

It’s true. Animal abuse happens.

As a dairy farmer and advocate for agriculture, I work very hard to be transparent. I post pictures, blogs and stories about daily occurrences happening on my family’s operation.  Being transparent means telling you the truth, even when it’s hard to choke out.

Just as some children are abused, some cows are also abused.

Seeing videos of rough handling of cows makes me physically sick to my stomach. A new video that will soon be released, features several incidents where force and rough handling is used on dairy cows.

If you see this video, please remember a few things. This video takes place on one dairy farm. It is not normal for cows to be handled in such a rough manner. Please do not let one video shape your perception of the entire dairy industry.

The other 99% of dairy farmers love their cows. My family falls in that 99%.

We work hard on a daily basis to provide a clean, dry and comfortable living environment for our cows. We provide our cows with high-quality forages and grains to keep their bellies full and keep them growing. Our cows and heifers get regular pedicures by their hoof trimmer so their feet, legs and hooves stay healthy and allow them to move with ease.

We occasionally have down cows. When a cow is down, it’s necessary to get her up in order for her to live. If you have questions about down cows, read Carrie’s blog here. In those situations, farming isn’t all rainbows and smiles. We do what is necessary to get our cows up and moving because we care about them.

The truth is that there are dairy farmers who make poor choices. We usually don’t see the stories about all the good, happy cows that make up the large majority of our industry. 

The truth is that we care about our cows. We choose to be farmers and choose to be involved in the dairy industry. We choose to provide for our cows and wake up every morning to do so.

The bottom line is that there are cases of animal abuse, but the large majority of farmers truly and deeply care about their cows.

Be sure to visit my Facebook page this week to view more pictures of how we care for our animals on our family operation.

As always, please don’t hesitate to ask questions!

How One Cow Contributes to a Sustainable Food System

What exactly is a sustainable food system? And why should we care?

A sustainable food system is a collaborative network that integrates sustainable food production, processing, distribution, consumption and waste management in order to enhance the environmental, economic and social health of a particular place, according to the Agriculture Sustainability Institute at UCDavis.

Did you know that dairy cows play an important role in a sustainable food system? Having a four-chambered stomach means cows can digest the nutrients in many types and parts of plants that people can’t eat. For example, citrus pulp and cottonseed can be converted to milk by dairy cows, rather than being sent to landfills. In fact, 75% of a cow’s diet is not consumable by humans.

Manure is also becoming a source of additional value. Anaerobic digester systems convert manure and commercial food waste into electricity, fuel for cars and trucks, fertilizer and fiber. That comes out to $200 per cow, per year in combined revenues and savings costs!

Knowing this, it’s important to recognize that avoiding specific foods such as dairy and meat does not take into account the goal of sustaining lifelong health, since it can mean not getting enough essential nutrients.

Consumption of delicious dairy foods provide our bodies with affordable health benefits!  Dairy intake is associated with strong bones and teeth, reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes and lower blood pressure in adults.

Since dairy production in the U.S. is responsible for only about 2 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, adopting a vegan diet wouldn’t make a meaningful environmental impact. There is a significant opportunity for environmental, economic and social gain by focusing on improving food production methods as well as reducing food-related waste. This is more responsible and sustainable than eliminating certain foods from our diets.

 

Resources:

http://www.sarep.ucdavis.edu/sfs/def

http://dairygood.org/

http://www.usdairy.com/~/media/usd/public/sustainabledairyportrait.pdf.ashx