Farming Insights into the Future
Recently I attended the Ag and Animal Science Conference in Willmar, MN. The speakers were top notch and their messages were very insightful. The general theme was predictions about the future of farming. Here is a brief outline of my top take home messages.
Animal Welfare and Antibiotics
Dr. Wayne Freese of Prairie Holdings Group and a veterinarian talked about the newest FDA 209 and 213 directives that will go live January 1, 2017. There will be greater oversight over antibiotic usage in livestock. All farmers will need VFD (veterinarian feed directives) for all antibiotics deemed important to human health. Antibiotics can no longer be used for growth promotion. Dr. Freese is concerned about certain aspects of the FDA directives that will be required as of January 1, 2017 but many are not aware of. For example, any business that mixes drugs for livestock is now regulated by the Minnesota Pharmacy Board. In addition, those same businesses will be required to have three separate rooms (hepa filtered) to mix drugs, which he feels not many people are aware of.
He also brought up another great point – “who determines what is the best welfare for animals?” For example, many consumers believe cage-free for chickens is better for the animal, when in fact, there is a higher mortality rate for chickens raised cage-free. He stressed that It’s all about balance.
Dr. Freese believes there will be less antibiotic usage in the future. There is new research conducted on alternatives to antibiotics. Alternatives such as probiotics, essential oils, enzymes, polyphenols, and new feed products and efficiencies. Prevention will be more important.
Another non-livestock issue is the possible elimination of seed treated with neonics. The result will be more aerial spraying. Is this better?
WOTUS (Waters of the U.S)
WOTUS requires 50′ buffers along public waters. Dr. Freese said Senator Thune referred to this as the biggest land grab of the U.S. The big question is who and how will these buffers be managed?
Mike Pearson of Market-to-Market
Mike started his presentation on what is driving ag and animal science in the year ahead. First, we have a big crop and prices are low. In fact, all commodity prices are low. But he reminded us that farming is cyclical. We always have ups and downs.
Hogs – We have a lot of hogs coming to slaughter. He said there are market chatterings that we could be seeing prices similar to 1998. As a personal note – that is not good. The solution? We need to build up demand–long term demand.
Pork is the most consumed meat in the world. And the demand for high quality meat will continue. As developing countries continue to build their economies, their demand for protein will increase. Some of the challenges we will see in the US:
- Water – losing nutrients in the water – we need a better way to manage nutrient runoff and then tell people about it. And will ag needs for water win out? Mike foresees large scale livestock will move to where the water is.
- Animal Welfare – And like Dr. Freese said, who determines the welfare of animals? Will it be famers and vets? or will it be consumers, a.k.a. soccer moms?
He encouraged all farmers to stay involved and talk about how their farms have changed over the years. A little different take compared to telling their story of today.
Deconstructing Consumer Misconceptions
A Monsanto representative talked about what consumers really care about–their family, health and environment. They are specifically concerned about GMOs, pesticides, fertilizers, antibiotics, hormones, animal welfare and water quality. We were all reminded that only 8 foods are approved GMO in the market, They are corn, soybeans, cotton, alfalfa, sugar beets, canola, papaya and squash. We all need to tell our story about why we use GMOs and how they are part of our sustainability story.
Some great resources to learn more about genetically modified organisms or better yet, genetically engineered foods are:
Will Ag Lost Significant Science to Non-Science?
Robert Saik closed out the list of speakers during this conference. He talked about the reason why people are more non-science than ever before. It’s about the Internet.
We have the technology to feed 9 billion people but will we be allowed to? That is the big question. We are now down to 1/3 citrus production due to citrus greening. We have the technology to fix the problem, but consumer disapproval of GMO is not allowing us to use it. Will we be importing our citrus? Worldwide we have children dying from malnutrition where we have a technology answer. It truly is a sad story.
First world elitism is hurting the poorest people on the planet.
He talked about marketing tactics. You can’t sell unless you create fear. And that will be our biggest challenge going forward.
The conference had a different (and very cool) addition at the end. After attending the conference, we were given the opportunity to do some brainstorming of what can we do with the information learned and what kind of changes can we bring home to our own communities. Unfortunately, many people left the conference before this portion was undertaken. It was too bad because I believe with the caliber of people in attendance, we could have created a great list of items on all of our to-do lists.
While this is not a comprehensive review of the conference, these were some of my personal highlights. It was an excellent conference and I definitely would attend again. I loved the opportunity to listen to each of these experts in their field. I learned new and reconfirmed some things I already knew. And I hope in the future the brainstorming session at the end will happen. We all have the opportunity to do great things in our communities. We are all better together than individually.