Mixing politics and trade

It’s hard to say how much the agreement to normalize diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba will help Upper Midwest agriculture. Cuba wants and needs many of the ag products raised here, but its ability to pay for them is suspect.

There was a time, not that terribly long ago, when a lot of people believed the United States should avoid trading with Communist countries. The thinking was, America had a moral and pragmatic responsibility to weaken, or at least not to strengthen, Communism around the world.

I don’t hear those arguments anymore. Maybe it’s because of the fall of the Soviet Union. Maybe it’s because more Americans seem to oppose mixing politics with world trade. Maybe it’s a combination of the two.

Drop me a line if you have any thoughts on the issue and the extent, if any, to which politics should affect trade policies.

Taking MyPlate a step further

MyPlate, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s nutrition and healthy eating guide, has its critics. They say agricultural groups had too much influence in developing it. Whatever the truth, there’s no denying that MyPlate gets a lot of attention.

What’s not so well known is that MyPlate has a number of “National Strategic Partners,” which seek to promote the message of MyPlate. The list includes the Alliance for Potato Research and Education.

Now, the potato group wants consumers to know about a guide from the National Strategic Partners, “Meeting Your MyPlate Goals on a Budget.” It’s aimed, obviously, at consumers of limited financial means.

I’m not a scientist or nutritionist. I’m not qualified to judge if MyPlate’s critics are right; you’ll have to decide that for yourself. But if you’re interested in the MyPlate on a budget guide, here’s the link: www.choosemyplate.gov/budget/downloads/MeetingYourMyPlateGoalsOnABudget.pdf.

One thing I am sure of: Potato growers and potato industry officials are passionate about defending and promoting their product’s nutritional value and affordability.

Linking ag and military vets

Maybe you’re already familiar with this program. But it’s new to me and I’ll pass it along in case it’s new to you, too.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Returning Veterans to Agriculture project seeks to connect returning military vets with opportunities in agriculture. The average age of American farmers is 58, so fresh blood is definitely needed.

The program’s website, www.RV2A.org., has information on USDA grants and programs, ag job openings and how the 2014 farm bill can help veterans, among other things.

Our vets have given a lot to this country. No doubt they can give a lot to ag, too.

Something we can all agree on

Modern agriculture has many controversial aspects. Issues like genetically modified crops and livestock feed additives generate strong and often contradictory views, both in and outside agriculture. Smart, well-meaning people can and do disagree.

But there can be no honest disagreement about the importance of soil. Without healthy, productive soil, production agriculture is in big trouble. Without healthy, productive soil, the world is in big trouble.

Today, Dec. 5, is World Soil Day, which kicks off the International Year of Soils.  I’m not a fan of all these “special” days, weeks, months and years  that commemorate a particular cause or issue; there are too many, and they lose meaning. But I’ll make an exception for soil.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service is among the organizations working to maintain and enhance our soils. For more information on the International Year of Soils and soil conservation in general, go to www.nrcs.usda.gov/.

It’s ‘meeting season’ again

Meeting season is what some folks involved in Upper Midwest agriculture call the long stretch of meetings that begins in early December and runs through early spring. Farmers, ranchers and others come together to listen to experts talk about everything from prices and marketing to weather and new technology. Agriculture is changing constantly, and making productive use of meeting season is important.

Agweek can’t attend all of the meetings; there simply are too many. But they’re all important, and we get to a lot of them.

If you’re involved with an upcoming meeting that you’d like me to attend, drop me a line. Let me know when and where it’s being held and why you think it’s important. I can’t promise to attend, of course, but I will give it careful consideration. And even I don’t go, I’m glad to put the meeting in our calendar of events.

Yes, it’s meeting season again. Enjoy it. Use it wisely.

Much to give thanks for

Yeah, we’d all appreciate Thanksgiving more this year if the weather had stayed nice just a little longer.

But there’s still a lot to be thankful for as another year nears its final month. Livestock producers, especially folks who raise cattle, have the most to celebrate, thanks to strong meat prices.  Crop prices have plunged, so farmers need to look harder for positives. Even so, most folks who raise crops can find at least a few  things to give thanks for.

I’ll be spending Thanksgiving with relatives. I’ll  watch football, eat lasagna and hang out with my niece and nephew. It will be simple (for me, at least, since I don’t do any cooking) and satisfying.

From all of us at Agweek, Happy Thanksgiving.

So close to the finish line

The Upper Midwest harvest was so close to completion. Then winter arrived, early and nasty, leaving some producers with corn and sunflowers still in the fields.

I talked this morning with three Upper Midwest farmers. Two are done with harvest. The other has half of his corn remaining; he’s optimistic of getting the rest. It’s a very small sample size, of course, but it’s a pretty good representation of the overall picture nonetheless.

This year’s harvest brought a series of extremes. Wet early, then warm and dry. And now cold. Folks who harvested small grains were hurt by the early wet weather, but the overall harvest has gone well, despite winter’s arrival.

Look for a harvest story in the Nov. 24 print issue of Agweek.

And good luck to area farmers who have crops to bring in.

Ag: Home of cool, hi-tech stuff

A lot of people without strong ties to  U.S. agriculture seem to think of it as backward and low-tech. But those of us involved with it know the opposite is true.

The National Science Foundation has a series of articles about how technology is increasingly important  in modern ag. As the NSF notes, “Engineers have long provided ways to raise agricultural production and efficiency, harkening back to the plow and irrigation systems. They continue that work today. The potential payoff: a high-tech harvest of new tools and understanding of increasingly complex agricultural systems.”

Here’s the link to the NSF articles: www.nsf.gov/eng/special/hightechharvest/index.jsp

‘A form of madness’

I’m working this morning on a story about GM crops and two developments that would seem to strengthen the case for their use. In researching the story, however, I came across a report that the European Union has ousted its chief scientific adviser, a GM supporter.

Professor Anne Glover, formerly chief scientist of Scotland, had said that, “I am 99.99 per cent certain from the scientific evidence that there are no health issues with food produced from GM crops. Opposition to GM, and the benefits it can bring, is a form of madness I don’t understand.”

That upset opponents of GM crops, who pushed successfully to have her removed from her post as EU chief scientific adviser.

I’m not a scientist. I’m not qualified to judge whether GM crops are safe. But there’s one thing we can all agree on: GM crops are controversial.

Upset with high meat prices?

I visited some North Dakota livestock producers this week for a future Agweek story, and went out with them when they fed their animals

It was cold. Really cold. The day was raw, and the northwest wind was strong. The producers didn’t complain, though: working in cold weather in part of their job description.

Yeah, meat prices are climbing, and it can be easy for consumers to complain. They certainly have a right to do so. But I respectfully suggest that before they do, they ask themselves if they’d be willing to feed livestock during an Upper Midwest winter.