Posts Tagged With: agriculture

Farming: A job for all seasons

I found myself perusing Facebook while I was cooped up in my house last weekend (thanks to #PolarVortex), and this picture and accompanying caption popped up in my newsfeed from a college friend whose family operates a dairy farm in northern Indiana.


“It is hard to describe how challenging this day is on a #dairyfarm.”

Too often, I forget that the farmer’s work is never finished.  While I was in my sweats drinking tea and watching television, farmers like the Troxels continued to do their daily work of stewarding creation.  Agriculture can’t take a snow day.

Farming is a 24/7/365 job that requires a vision for the future and sacrifice.  I’m a fan of the writings of James Herriot, a British veterinarian who worked in the mid-20th century.  With a practice in an English town, Herriot worked closely with the local agricultural community.  I think this anecdote he shares sums up the farming work-ethic:  “A farmer once told me one of the greatest luxuries of his life was to wake up early only to go back to sleep again.”

Since I’ve been working in agriculture, I’ve gained a greater appreciation for the work to which farmers and ag businesses devote themselves.  Not only are farmers concerned with being good stewards of the earth and caring for their animals, they also want to create an agricultural system that is sustainable for generations to come.  These people are often heavily involved in their communities; they work with parent-teacher associations, volunteer at their churches and serve on various boards.  Their work spans the breadth and depth of society, and touches the world.

Their work is also dependent on factors outside of their control.  Not enough rain at one time of the year and too much at another time can be the difference between a good crop and a bad one. And that’s just one example.  Talk to any farmer, and he/she will tell you of dozens of instances when farm operations were impacted by weather, disease, etc.

Farming.  It truly is a job for all seasons.  I’m thankful that farmers work year-round to put food on our tables and clothes on our backs while taking care of the earth.

Categories: Farming in the 21st Century, From the Field to Your Fork | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Laura’s Links: Ensuring Your Ag-Tech Literacy

Twice monthly, Agriculture Advancement and Promotion Program Manager Laura Buck will provide a series of links that touch upon emerging technologies and innovations in agriculture. Topics will range from robotics to genetic engineering and everything in between. If it involves agriculture and technology, we want you to know about it (and sound smart when talking to your friends). For questions or comments, contact Laura Buck at

“Moving Beyond Agricultural Pesticides”

Australian scientists are exploring how fertilizers can be used to control agricultural pests. You read that correctly – fertilizers as a form of pesticide. Plants are most vulnerable to pests when they are “ill” – either too much or too little nutrients – so maintaining a correct balance of nutrients improves a crop’s resistance to pests.

English: Pea plant One of thousands growing here.

English: Pea plant One of thousands growing here. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“New, Disease-Resistant Pea Lines Developed”

Help is on the way for pea growers. USDA scientists have developed peas tolerant to a particularly troublesome form of root rot. There is currently no fungicide available for peas that is capable of tackling this form of root rot, which can result in crop losses up to 100%. Researchers hope the tolerance trait will be introduced to commercial pea varieties soon.

“Air, Water, Energy and Food in a Nutshell: Space Exploration as a Driver for Sustainable Robotic Agriculture”

The following article explores the relationship between agriculture and space exploration. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be a farmer in outer space, this read is for you. Perhaps someday in the not-too-distant future, Major Tom will be Farmer Jon.

“Science of the Times: NASA Sows Seeds of Science for Children”

Speaking of farmers in space, NASA has launched a new program to engage children in agriculture. Once again, you read that right – NASA engaging students in agriculture. Classrooms around the country will be encouraged to create “growth chambers,” which will be used as controls for the experimental growth chambers NASA will be sending to the moon in 2015. Basil and turnip seeds will be used in the experiment, which should tell us a lot about the potential of lunar greenhouses.

Categories: Farming in the 21st Century | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Introducing… Laura’s Links: Ensuring Your Ag-Tech Literacy

Twice monthly, Agriculture Advancement and Promotion Program Manager Laura Buck will provide a series of links that touch upon emerging technologies and innovations in agriculture. Topics will range from robotics to genetic engineering and everything in between. If it involves agriculture and technology, we want you to know about it (and sound smart when talking to your friends). For questions or comments, contact Laura Buck at


Canola field in Temora, New South Wales

Canola field in Temora, New South Wales (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Could Self-Fertilizing Canola Be Coming Soon?”

English scientists have already developed self-fertilizing sugar cane, and canola may be the next addition. If plants could sufficiently fertilize themselves through atmospheric nitrogen, the need for land-applied nitrogen-based fertilizers would be reduced. In turn, the environmental burden of nutrient overloading could be lessened.

“Transformational Robotics and Its Application to Agriculture”

This article discusses the vast potential of agricultural robotics and some challenges this emerging technology will face.

“New Grass Developed to Curb Greenhouse Gas Emission”

International scientists have developed a tropical grass that may reduce agricultural emissions of both methane and nitrous oxide. For example, cattle that eat the grass are reported to produce less methane while also showing improved nutrition.

“USDA Grant Aims to Convert Beetle-Killed Trees into Biofuel”

Colorado is hoping to create opportunity out of a common insect problem. Bark beetles can kill off millions of acres of trees, and the dead trees that remain increase the risk of devastating forest fires. With the support of a USDA grant, the state will be researching the conversion of trees killed by bark beetles to a high-octane biofuel.

“Genetics Might Lead to Better Apples, Other Types of Food”

Canadian Okanagan Specialty Fruits is hoping their Arctic Apple will be approved for human consumption in the U.S. within the next two years. The Arctic Apple has been engineered to not turn brown when cut or bitten.  Researchers hope this trait will reduce food waste and increase the use of fresh apples.

AgriRover Brings Mars Technology to the Farm”

The AgriRover is a tool of precision agriculture, based off the Mars Rover. The AgriRover can easily maneuver in the muddiest conditions and provide farmers with data about animal waste and weeds in the pasture (called paddock in this New Zealand article).

Categories: Farming in the 21st Century | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

3 take-aways from our radio appearance

Black and white photograph of a Neumann U87 mi...

Black and white photograph of a Neumann U87 microphone | Wikipedia Commons

Last Tuesday, my colleague Jordan Seger appeared on WFYI’s “No Limits” radio show.  Jordan is the director of ISDA’s soil conservation division.  The topic of the show was the future of agriculture, and Jordan was joined by Kim Ferraro of Hoosier Environmental Council and Laura Henderson of Growing Places Indy.  John Krull of Franklin College moderated the conversation.

I had the pleasure of listening to the show live in a WFYI studio with the show’s producer and engineers.  It was also great to meet Laura and Kim and visit with them briefly before and after the show.

Throughout the show, a variety of topics surfaced, from legislation to farmers’ markets to community development.  Here were my key take-aways from the show.

Like Laura Henderson said, the future of agriculture needs to be polyfaced.  Agriculture is a multifaceted field with many players, issues and concerns.  There is not a “right” farming method, way of approaching a problem, or solution to the issues we see surfacing.  We need CAFOs and the farmers’ markets.  In September, I interviewed Kip Tom on my blog and he put it this way: “I and many in agriculture embrace all forms of food production, whether organic, natural, local or commercial modern agriculture.  We need them all for today and tomorrow.”

Radio is a place to gain an introduction to complex topics.  There were several “hot topics” brought up on the show, including the “Ag Gag” and “Right to Farm.”  These are subjects that were introduced on the radio, but couldn’t be fully explored.  Before you make a decision on either of these topics, talk to a farmer, read some literature from both sides, and call your senators and representatives to see where they stand.

ISDA wants to help agribusinesses and farms of all shapes and sizes as we explore the future of agriculture.  Our division of soil conservation works with farmers throughout Indiana to implement stewardship programs.  In the radio program, Laura Henderson mentioned our economic development team’s efforts to assess the viability of “food hubs” (or virtual farmers’ markets)The goal of our grain warehouse licensing branch is to foster a sound grain marketing infrastructure so that Indiana can continue to be a standard in grain production.  ISDA recognizes that Indiana is a global leader in agriculture, and we want to make sure that continues into the future.

Have you had an opportunity to listen to the radio show?  If so, what questions did you have?

Categories: Farming in the 21st Century, Informational | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Some easy experiments for the classroom or home

October is National Farm-To-School Month.  Check back every Monday of the month for a post about how to incorporate agricultural themes into the classroom.

Sometimes, modern agriculture becomes an impersonal force in the food system.  We don’t understand how it works, the science behind it, and what it means for our world and our lives.


Agriculture (Photo credit: thegreenpages)

Here are two links that illustrate some of the scientific principles behind the agriculture around us.

In this YouTube video, you can learn how to extract a mass of DNA from strawberries using common household items.  This is an experiment I did in freshman botany at Purdue, and it helped me visualize the various components of a living plant.

This experiment teaches about the basics of fertilizers.  Fertilizers are mainly composed of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, and help farmers compensate for the deficiencies of the soil where they’re planting.  Through this experiment, students can learn how fertilizers are tools to help with plant growth.

Happy experimenting!

Categories: Farming in the 21st Century, General, Informational | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Two (non-ag) picture books for Farm-to-School month

October is National Farm-To-School Month.  Check back every Monday of the month for a post about how to incorporate agricultural themes into the classroom.

"A New Coat for Anna" by Harriet Ziefert

“A New Coat for Anna” by Harriet Ziefert

Did your parents read to you as a child?  I’m thankful that one of my most vivid childhood memories is of my mom reading to me.  Although we didn’t read many (if any) books explicitly about agriculture, I found myself exposed to timeless truths about agriculture through children’s literature.

One of my favorite books as a child was “A New Coat for Anna” by Harriet Ziefert.  This post-World War II story follows a young girl named Anna who needs a new coat.  Through bartering and ingenuity, Anna and her mother use their possessions to work with a farmer, a spinner, a weaver and a tailor to make a coat.  The story introduces readers to the role the farmer plays in clothing us and sound animal welfare information while describing simple economic principles.

oxcart man

“Ox-Cart Man” by Donald Hall

Another book I enjoyed while growing up was “Ox-Cart Man” by Donald Hall.  A Caldecott Award Winner, this story skillfully captures nineteenth-century rural life and lauds the men and women whose livelihoods were tied to farming.  The beautiful illustrations and prose remind readers how agriculture shaped our country culturally and economically in the early years of settlement.

Are there any “non-ag” books you read as a child (or that you read to your children) that teach important lessons about agriculture?  Leave a comment below or email me at

Categories: General, Informational | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

4 links about farm safety

Although National Farm Safety Week may be officially over, I’ve been seeing articles, posts, tweets and pins about farm safety all over the Internet.  In 2012, more than 300 deaths were attributed to livestock and crop related accidents.  Farm safety is a topic to learn more about, and here are four items to look over during the weekend if you have an opportunity.

Have a great weekend, and stay safe!


Categories: Agriculture in Indiana, Farming in the 21st Century | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Talking with an Indiana Farmer | Part 2

Kip Tom

Kip Tom

Today, I’m finishing up my interview with Kip Tom of Tom FarmsClick here to read Part 1.

AM: Like every job, I’m sure yours has ups and downs, good days and challenging ones.  What aspect of your job do you find most gratifying?  What has been the most challenging experience you’ve encountered as a farmer?

KT: One of the most gratifying experiences is 1.) seeing committed young people come into our business (or another farm) and engage in the work with a desire to make a difference, and 2.) having the opportunity to help them along the way.

I also enjoy opportunities to transfer knowledge of production agriculture and give others the opportunity to change their lives and businesses.  It’s exciting to ignite the spirit of entrepreneurism that is embedded in some people and watch it flourish.

One of the challenges I face is attempting to make a significant impact in consumer awareness of modern agriculture systems.  Another challenge is attempting to change and improve global food security when those in developing countries want to engage, but politics, governance or cultures do not allow it to happen.  It starts with our youth, and one person at a time.

(Photo by Borden)

(Photo by Borden)

AM: In the profile about you in “Indianapolis Monthly,” you said something about GMO crops providing millions of meals served to a starving world while noting there has not been one hospital visit reported because of GMO use.  Can you expound on that? How is modern agriculture and biotechnology helping to feed a starving world?

KT: First off, I will say that I and many in agriculture embrace all forms of food production, whether organic, natural, local or commercial modern agriculture.  We need them all for today and tomorrow. 

My reference to biotechnology was in respect to concerns about food safety.  Since 1996, the global population has consumed 17 trillion meals without one documented overnight hospital stay that was verified and attributed to approved biotech crops.

Biotechnology has delivered crops that have improved yields and productivity, including new advanced molecular breeding techniques and the ability to ward off pest more effectively.  The biotech changes have reduced the impact of pesticides to humans and the environment. 

Up to this time, most biotech crops benefits were focused on improving production.  Going forward, there has and will continue to be significant investments in developing seeds and traits that benefit the diets of consumers and livestock.  We will build coordinated supply chains that will deliver more value, and improve agriculture systems and those that agricultural systems support.

As the world’s population climbs to 9.3 billion people in tandem with improved diets, we will need to double the worlds food supply by 2050 with the same or fewer resources we have today while protecting the environment.  We are (and will be) merely using science in food production, just as we do in so many other areas of our human existence like medicine and technology.

Thanks Kip for some great insights into Indiana agriculture.  Do YOU have any questions about ag that you’d like to see answered on this blog?  If so, email me at Thanks for reading!

Categories: Farming in the 21st Century, The Faces of Modern Agriculture | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

What’s to come on this blog

As I mentioned in my previous post, the Indiana State Fair reminded me of some important agricultural lessons: Farmers feed me, agriculture is more than corn and cows, and people are at the heart of farming and agribusiness. 

And those lessons gave me insight into what to cover on my blog.  I have decided to take the lessons I learned at the Indiana State Fair and focus blog posts around them.

Photo by Beeker.

Photo by Beeker.

My first area of focus on the blog will be “The Faces of Modern Agriculture.”  People are at the heart of farming and agribusiness.  I want to introduce you to the people who comprise the field of agriculture.  In the next few weeks, I’ll feature Kip Tom of Tom Farms.  Kip was recently profiled in “Indianapolis Monthly” and was noted for championing private business and his commitment to family.  In addition to farmers like Kip, I want to talk with ag economists, agronomists, commodity specialists and the next generation of farmers.

I will also feature posts on “Farming in the 21st Century.”  If you watch the news, you know that agriculture is more than corn and cows.  As agriculture has grown more complex over the years, the vocabulary has too.  Words like biotechnology and organic are perfect examples of terms that can be confusing.  What do those words mean for you and your food choices?  That’s the question I want to answer.

“From the Field to Your Fork” will look at the products we grow and produce in Indiana, and show you where they can be found in your daily life.  If you visited Indiana Soybean Alliance’s Glass Barn at the fair, you know that you can find the products of local farmers on the shelves of your grocery stores.  Farmers feed us, and I will show you how they do that.

My friends in the Ag community are fond of sharing this quote from Thomas Jefferson: “Agriculture is our wisest pursuit, because it will, in the end, contribute most to real wealth, good morals and happiness.”  While I would contend there are other disciplines we would be wise to pursue (medicine, humanities, etc…), I do believe that agriculture is one area of life in which everyone should take an intense interest.  What and how we eat shapes who we are as individuals.  So join me in this journey of exploring Indiana Ag and learning about the people and practices that put food on our kitchen tables.

Categories: Agriculture in Indiana, Farming in the 21st Century, From the Field to Your Fork, General, The Faces of Modern Agriculture | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Ag lessons from the Indiana State Fair

For an agricultural communicator, the Indiana State Fair is dream come true. Where else can you find almost a million people in the heart of a major metropolitan area congregating around an event that is in large part all about youth, education and agriculture?

During the 17 days of the Indiana State Fair, I found myself making numerous trips to the fairgrounds to work ISDA’s exhibit, generate content for social media and cover various events. I also had the opportunity to spend two afternoons at the fair with family and friends, enjoying the food and activities as an attendee.

Beef Sundae (photo courtesy of my dad, David).

Beef Sundae (photo courtesy of my dad, David).

Sitting at my desk in Indianapolis, I can easily forget about various aspects of the farm-to-fork continuum. The fair showed me three important facets of agriculture of which I needed to be reminded.

Farmers feed me. Like most fair goers, I had the opportunity to eat a lot of good food. Milkshakes, grilled cheese sandwiches, pork burgers, beef sundaes, ribeye sandwiches, funnel cakes, popcorn and soft pretzels were on my menu at the fair. As I ate classic fair fare, I was reminded that I owe a debt of thanks to the men and women who make it possible for me to eat.

Agriculture is more than corn and cows.  As the industry has advanced over the years, the jobs and needs of farming and agribusiness have evolved. During the fair, I had a chance to hear men and women like Norman McCowan and Marianne Ash. McCowan serves as the president of Bell Aquaculture, the nation’s largest yellow perch aquaculture facility. Ash is an Indiana veterinarian who works for the Indiana Board of Animal Health, planning and coordinating responses to animal health emergencies. People like them remind me that there are numerous components of agriculture that play an important role in safely and sustainably placing food on the kitchen table.

ISF Opening Ceremony_08022013_ISDA (19)

Taken at the Indiana State Fair opening ceremony.

People are at the heart of farming and agribusiness. I had the privilege of helping with the Hoosier Homestead Awards Ceremony, a biannual ISDA event that honors Indiana farms that have been in the same family for over 100 years. The 69 farms honored at the ceremony had stayed in business through World War I, the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl and World War II. A handful of the farms have been in the same family since the Civil War era. One of the farms honored has been operating since 1812 (four years before Indiana became a state). Family businesses like these don’t happen by chance. They’re the result of people who faithfully invest in their operations for the sake of their families and communities.

The Indiana State Fair reminded me of the vital role farming and agribusiness play in placing food on the kitchen table. I’m thankful I have a job that offers me the opportunity to continue learning about the products, people, and processes of Indiana agriculture.

Did you attend the Indiana State Fair this year? If so, what did you enjoy most about the event?

Categories: Agriculture in Indiana | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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