Differing takes on key ag issues

It’s no secret that scientists and the general public sometimes view things differently.

Some newly released statistics from the Pew Research Center make that clear. The group found huge differences between the public and members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) on several issues that are important to modern agriculture:

— On GMO foods: 88 percent of AAAS members say they’re safe to eat, 37 percent of public says they’re safe to eat.

— On eating food grown with pesticides: 68 percent of AAAS members say it’s safe, 28 percent of the public say it’s safe.

— On using animals in research: 89 percent of AAAS members approve, 47 percent of the public approve.

It’s fair to say, I think, that mainstream agriculturalists generally side with the scientists on these three issues.

A nasty weekend

I love living in the Upper Midwest and covering agriculture — but not when the weather turns as violent and destructive as it did this past weekend. Hail and tornadoes rumbled through the area, a scary and painful reminder of how powerful nature can be.

Storm damage to crops is still being ascertained as I write this Monday morning. The full extent won’t be known for days, but we should have a pretty good idea before long.

I’ll be on the road Monday in eastern North Dakota, and will get a better handle on conditions there.

I hope you avoided the worst of the damage. But if you got hammered — or were fortunate enough to avoid the bad weather — drop me a line.

Google Doodle for Soils?

The is the International Year of Soils, according to the United Nations.

Now, the Soil Science Society of America has its sights on a new honor: A Google Doodle for soil on Dec. 5, which will be World Soil Day.

The soil science group notes that roughly two billion people use Google every day, and that Google Doodles — animations of the Google logo that display at the start of a Google search — have a huge audience.

If you support a Google Doodle for soils, you can write to proposals@google.com and explain why you think soil deserves one. The deadline is July 15.

Kudos to the Soil Science Society of America for its efforts on this. Those of us involved in production agriculture understand the vital importance of soil. People outside ag may not — and a Google Doodle could help to change that.

Wonderful weather for wheat

A year ago at this time, I was impressed by the many fields of fine-looking wheat I saw across Agweek country. In the fall of 2014, I did a cover story on the run of strong wheat crops that the region has enjoyed in recent years.

The wheat crop looks terrific this year. Sure, there are areas hurt by too much rain, or too little. But the crop overall looks terrific. Wheat, a cool-season grass, thrives in warm-but-not-hot weather, and the region has had a lot of that.

It’s a long way to go until harvest, of course, and much can go wrong. But for now, at least, most farmers who planted wheat are glad they did.

A Father’s Day gift for aggies (or not)

My June 15 Agweek cover story looked at New Zealand legislation that designates animals as “sentient beings.” The story examines the fundamentally different way in which animal rights supporters and folks in the livestock industry view the world. I tried to treat both sides fairly, objectively and respectfully, and I think I succeeded.

Since the story ran, I’ve received some feedback from several area agriculturalists. They expressed their frustration with the animal rights movement and questioned why an ag publication gives it any credence. I explained that it’s my job to tell all sides, which the area aggies seemed to understand.

In any case, in preparing the story, I emailed PETA to get its thoughts on the legislation. Now, with my email address in its database, the organization is sending me emails promoting itself and its causes. (Which it certainly has the right to do.)

The most recent PETA email encourages me to donate money as a Father’s Day gift. Well, that’s not gonna happen. My dad, a retired North Dakota rancher, isn’t exactly a fan of the organization.

Another good, green summer?

I talked this afternoon with an ag producer in western North Dakota. I asked about recent rains and how crops and pastures in his area are shaping up.

There was joy in his voice as he talked about the many small rains that have combined to provide enough, but not too much, moisture. “It’s really greening up,” he said.

Last summer was good and green, and a repeat is possible this year, he said.

Some Upper Midwest farmers and ranchers have been hit with too much rain recently. My condolences to them.

Congratulations to those who have received the right amount. I hope a good, green summer awaits you.

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.