The times they are a-Changin'

The lack of knowledge of how our food is actually raised and processed has never been lower.

Dr. Richard Raymond 1, Consultant

September 11, 2016

5 Min Read
The times they are a-Changin'

“The line it is drawn, the curse it is cast

The slow one now, will later be fast

As the present now, will later be past

The order is rapidly fadin’

And the first one now, will later be last

For the times they are a–changin’ “

I don’t think Bob Dylan was thinkin’ about the agriculture industry when he sang those words, but then who ever knew what he was really thinkin’.

Agriculture has certainly taken more than its share of hits and misplaced criticism in the last decade or so, and now the ever increasing demand for organic products only shines more light on what consumers are thinking and valuing, even if misguided.

The demand to “buy local” and “natural” and “humanely raised” has never been higher.

The lack of knowledge of how our food is actually raised and processed has never been lower.

It is nobody’s fault; many are just too many generations removed from a farmer to have a clue. And so they assume what they read on Face Book and Twitter to be the truth.

One often repeated mantra is that “Big Ag” is driving small farmers out of business and that this is bad for our communities.

If you are talking about my home town of Loup City, NE, population 1,510 when I graduated from High School, then yes, the loss of farmers has certainly hurt that town.

But if you are talking about my place of residence before my move to Colorado, then that would be Washington D.C., and without “Big Ag” that conglomeration of people from every walk of life would starve to death.

Oh we had a very nice Farmer’s Market at Dupont Circle on Saturdays, but that did not attract a crowd from the down and out sections of town.

Both of my Grandfathers were small farmers, barely eking out an existence on land that was mostly leased. A few milk cows, a sow or two, chickens, a horse and a few beef cattle.

For Christmas every year Granddad Raymond gave my brother and I a box of 22 long rifle bullets—to share.

They did not contribute much to their small towns of Broken Bow and Oconto, Nebraska, food wise.

Every Saturday night they went to the CO-OP and sold a few eggs and some cream, then bought what they could not grow for Sunday dinner.

Today they would be on public assistance themselves.

I never lived on a farm, just worked Summers and Saturdays on one, so I really can’t begin to explain all the technology that now allows one farmer to work an amount of land that would dwarf what my two Granddads worked on combined.

Sixteen bottom plows drawn by a massive tractor with eight wheels instead of the little Ford tractor.

Corn picking monsters replacing the high walled wagon that shucked corn was tossed into as my Dad and his Dad walked the rows picking corn by hand.

Center pivot irrigation that takes no man hours to operate vs. walking the rows of gravity irrigated crops to see when the water had reached the end.

Dairy farmers can use recombinant bovine somatotropin to get 14% more milk from cows with the cows taking up no more space than conventional nor producing more methane gas.

Beta-agonists to improve weight gain in cows, pigs and turkeys so less land is required to produce more meat.

While not gaining much traction in the U.S., we have products to improve the image of humane handling by chemically castrating little piglets.

Carbon monoxide stunning at slaughter facilities also presents a more pleasant image to those who have never been on a farm, but have formed their mental image of modern ag from the HSUS videos of a knife and squealing pigs or an inadequately stunned steer.

We have antibiotics that allow animals to be raised together in large numbers, antibiotics that will prevent infectious diseases from spreading when in close quarters and will also prevent diseases most prevalent at certain times in an animal’s life.

And yet recently several large corporations that  raise and animals for slaughter, or outlets that sell the finished products, are announcing they are going antibiotic free.

The times they are a-changin’.

While some will wring their hands over pesticide and insecticide use on crops, these products do allow farmers to produce more per acre than ever before, as does the selective seed modifications to produce drought resistant crops, etc.

And that genetic selection process also creates birds that are larger and healthier, cows that produce more milk, and pigs that produce larger litters.

GMO is a bad three letter acronym to many.

Hunger is a six letter word to too many more.

And hunger creates social unrest often followed by uprisings and/or war.

I consider the combined technologies developed over the last 50 years that allow farmers and ranchers to produce the amount of food necessary to feed this country an affordable, for most, product on limited acres of land one of the most amazing advances in history.

Over 330 million people in the US should be saying thank you instead of criticizing modern agriculture and its changes.

I have lived long enough to see the change from the party line phone at my Grandfathers’ houses to the smart phones we all use to check the weather and stock market five times a day.

My seven year old Grandson asked me if I was old enough to remember when you could not take videos on a phone.

Yep, the times they are a-changin’.

But what is the biggest change in agriculture that has happened in the last century?

I think my Grandfathers would tell you it was the Rural Electrification Act that brought lights to their barns and refrigeration to their homes, changing their work patterns tremendously.

See, not all technology is bad, but those who complain and petition for GMO labeling etc. do not even think of the REA as a technology that affects how our food is raised.

Too many think it just magically appears in the super markets.

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