America’s favorite vegetable: Enemies, defenders

It’s not exactly a secret that potatoes have critics — enemies, even.  For instance, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health advises Americans to “eat more vegetables and fruits every day” but also to “skip the potatoes —  choose other vegetables that are packed with more nutrients and more slowly digested carbohydates.”

Them are fightin’ words to the U.S. potato industry, which likes to describe spuds as “America’s favorite vegetable.” I’m on the online mailing list for the Alliance for Potato Research and Education, an industry-funded organization “committed to informing the conversation that white potatoes are affordable, nutrient-dense vegetables and are an important part of USDA’s MyPlate.” 

The Alliance’s latest mailing is on the trans-fat content of French fries, which “has declined in the last decade to become virtually undetectable,” according to the email.

I’m not a scientist or nutritionist. I’m not qualified to say whether the critics or defenders are right. You’ll need to study the evidence and make up your own mind.

But I will say this: I planted red and white potatoes in the garden this spring. I’m going to eat ’em and enjoy ’em.

Let it wave

The flag is waving this long Memorial Day Weekend over countless rural cemeteries in Agweek Country.

This one is in North Dakota’s Nelson County, next to the farm where my great-grandfather homesteaded. Most of my father’s ancestors are buried there.

So many Upper Midwest farm kids have served their country in the military. They were scared, but they swallowed their fear and did what was necessary. They’ve helped to keep us free. I always say this to vets, and I always mean it, but I’ll say it again now.

Thank you.

Those of us involved in Upper Midwest ag also owe thanks to the generations before us who opened the Dakotas, Minnesota and Montana to farming and ranching and who then expanded what the settlers and homesteaders began.

Thank you.

Are you better off than you were 10 days ago?

Politicians, at least the ones challenging an incumbent, are fond of asking voters if they’re better off than they were four years earlier.

I’m not a politician, thank goodness. But I’ll ask the same basic question of Upper Midwest farmers and ranchers:

After our recent rainy stretch, are you better off than you were 10 days ago?

Most area aggies, I think, will answer yes. The new moisture, though excessive in places, was needly badly to recharge dry fields and pastures. Yeah, the rain put planting on hold, but planting had been well of ahead of schedule and the delay is OK.

If you’re worse off than you were 10 days ago — if you received too much rain or were hurt by freezing temperatures — drop me a line.

Now, it’s the stretch run for planting. A week or so of dry, sunny weather should get us close to the finish line.

It’s the middle of May, and it’s snowing

Despite being of Norwegian descent, I’ve never cared for coffee. I drink it only to warm up on very cold days. But I had some today.

I’ve been in northwest Minnesota on stories. The temperature is barely above freezing, the wind is howling, and light snow is falling. There’s concern that freezing temperatures tonight might hurt crops.

And I hope not to drink coffee again until next winter.

Good news: Temperatures didn’t fall as far as feared, and it appears crops in northwest Minnesota escaped serious damage.

A million dollar rain

Older aggies — a group that apparently includes me, unfortunately — sometimes describe timely, beneficial precipitation as “a million dollar rain.” The description, as much poetical as practical, gets across the idea that the new, additional moisture will benefit growing crops and put money in farmers’ pockets.

The recent series of rain showers across much of the Upper Midwest fits the bill. Many farmers have received an inch to 2 inches of rain, and the moisture will help newly planted crops — some of which needed rain badly — get off to a good start.

It’s a long way to harvest, of course. More timely rains will be needed throughout the growing season.

But the recent rains give farmers a fighting chance for a good crop. This million dollar rain was welcome indeed.

Outstanding in their field

One of the most enjoyable things about covering Upper Midwest agriculture is the opportunity to meet and work with outstanding farmers.

This week brings two terrific examples of that. Two of the farmers I’ve worked with took honors in the Outstanding Farmers of America’s 2015 Outstanding Young Farmers of America competition.

Randy Melvin and his wife, Kristi, of
Buffalo, N.D., were among the four winning farm couples nationally.

I’ve known the Melvin family for a decade and have worked with them on several stories. I visited with Randy this week about planting progress; the story will run in the May 11 issue of Agweek.

Matthew Erickson and his wife, Patricia, of Fertile, Minn. were among 10 finalist couples in the competition.

I visited with Matthew, for the first time, for a package of stories on young farmers. The story will run later this spring.

Congratulations to the Melvins and Ericksons.

‘Too busy to answer the phone’

I’ve been trying to contact a certain farmer for an upcoming Agweek story. I sent him an email and left him a voice message last week. I knew he’d be busy with planting, but hoped he’d be able to find a few minutes to chat.

This morning he called back, very briefly, and said he’s preoccupied with planting and “too busy to answer the phone.” With a little luck, we’ll be able to talk later in the week.

Hey, that’s the way it goes at this time of year. The planting window can be very narrow, and farmers need to take advantage. True, modern equipment allows producers to plant a lot of acres quickly — but only when the weather cooperates.

By and large, Upper Midwest farmers are off to a good start this planting season. Let’s hope it continues.

What I learned in Washington

I’m back home after attending the annual convention of the North American Agricultural Journalists in Washington, D.C. I’m now the group’s Midwest Region vice president; it’s by far our biggest region in terms of membership, so the position is a real honor.

It was a busy and beneficial trip that included a trip to the White House, visits with others ag journalists from around the country and and meetings with top USDA officials and Congressional ag leaders.

I learned a lot on the trip. Some of it was important, some merely intesting.
Some of it was new or virtually new to me. Some of it was reinforcement of what I’d already known or suspected.

Here’s a sampling of what I learned:

— Farm groups aren’t exaggerating when they say the proposed Waters of the U.S. Rule, often known as WOTUS, is a huge threat to production agriculture. EPA has insisted farm groups are making too much out of WOTUS; two Washington-based ag writers who follow the issue closely told me that EPA is being, well, less than candid.

— Sen. Pat Roberts, the Kansas Republican, is a genuinely funny guy.

— Media relations folks working for elected officials and government agencies put in long hours. You may or may not care for their employers, but you should respect their work ethic.

— Wearing a suit coat and tie straight through from 6:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. is no fun at all.

— Though agriculture dominates my life and the lives of many Agweek readers, it’s just a minor player in Washington.

— Our system of government is messy and inefficient. It can be both scary and silly, sometimes simultaneously. But on balance it works pretty well.

More from Washington

I’m in Washington, D.C., for the annual convention of the North American Ag Journalists. So is my stalwart Agweek colleague, Mikkel Pates.

Monday was a big day. It included a trip to the White House, meetings with top USDA officials and awards for Mikkel, me and Agweek.

Today features meetings with ag leaders in Congress. I’ll write later in the week about what we’ve learned.

On my way to Washington

I’m on my way to Washington, D.C., for the annual convention of the North American Agricultural Journalists. Mikkel Pates, my inestimable Agweek colleague, will be there, too.

We and other ag journalists will, among things, meet with various big shots, including USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack.

I really enjoy going to small farm towns. This trip will be quite a change; USDA probably has more undersecretaries than some of those towns have people.