Low Stress Cattle Handling Workshop rescheduled for April 12 in Salina, Low Stress Ranch Tour set for May 3 at Olsburg

5 03 2014

The Salina workshop and Olsburg Ranch tour complete the grand finale of the Amazing Grazing Series of Educational Events. The rescheduled workshop will be offered April 12, 2014 at the Ramada Hotel & Conference Center, 1616 W. Crawford St. in Salina, KS. On May 3, two Olsburg ranches will highlight working facilities that utilize low stress methods to quietly and effectively process cattle, sheep, and goats.

People’s interaction with livestock can have either a negative or positive impact on animal health, performance, and subsequent handling ease. Cattlexpressions Low Stress Cattle Handling Workshop will explain how to reduce stress on animals and their handlers during several critical points: cow-calf, back-grounding, stocker and feedlot operations.

Dr. Lynn Locatelli of Cattlexpressions is a student of renowned animal handling expert Bud Williams. Dr Locatelli began her veterinary career in Benkelman, Nebraska after graduating from UC Davis, and has 19 years of experience in both large animal veterinary practice and consultation. She educates many by private consultation and as a national and international speaker at veterinary seminars and cattleman’s conferences. She resides in Watrous, New Mexico.

Registration begins at 8:30 with a welcome at 9:00 AM, followed by “Understanding Cattle Behavior in Order to Modify Our Behavior and Effectively Communicate with Cattle,” then “Bud Williams Low Stress Cattle Handling Concepts and Techniques for Cattle Movement.”

“Managing Cattle Movement During Grazing” takes the group into lunch, which is followed by “Cow-Calf Production Event Management and Calf-Formative Behavior,” “Weaning, Acclimation and Transition Management, “Processing and Shipping Facilities Design, Trouble Shooting and Effective Use,” and Wrap-Up, Questions, and Evaluations at 4:00 PM.

Everyone has a little different opinion about what low stress animal handling means. Plan to attend this Low Stress Cattle Handling session to learn cattle handling techniques that will improve cattle health, well being, performance, handler safety, and profitability in your operation. Registration for the day is $25.00 and can be done by going to http://www.kansasgraziers.blogspot.com, or by downloading a registration form and mailing it to the address given. For questions, or for folks with no email to register, please call Mary Howell at 785-562-8726.

Two Olsburg ranches will highlight working facilities, on May 3, that utilize low stress methods to quietly and effectively process cattle, sheep, and goats. The tour highlighting low stress handling will begin with registration at 9:30 A.M. at the Edwards Ranch, 15225 Dry Creek Road, Olsburg. The working facility designed by Bill, that he can operate alone, will be
demonstrated starting at 10:00.

A catered, noon picnic lunch will be served at the Joseph Hubbard Barn, 5025 Highway 16, Olsburg. Joseph raises sheep and goats and has designed and will demonstrate the facility using Bud Williams philosophies for low stress, small animal handling.

Alan Hubbard is one of the first ranchers in Northeast Kansas to adopt Rotational Grazing (MiG, Management-intensive Grazing). Alan will present his lessons learned with cattle handling and grazing management. The tour will then resume to the low stress facilities designed to work in sync with livestock psychology and behavior to minimize stress and improve safety to both the animals and the rancher. The tour should conclude by 4:00 p.m.

Information is located at http://www.kansasgraziers.blogspot.com. Registration is $15.00, which includes lunch. Please register online or download a mail-in registration form. For questions, or for folks with no email to register, call Mary Howell at 785-562-8726.

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Roadmap to profitability helps farmers find the hole in their pocket

5 03 2014
Sixty-five farmers and ranchers from three states learned business management strategies from Richard Wiswall, author of The Organic Farmer's Business Handbook, at the "Farming Smarter, Not Harder: Planning for Profit" held Saturday, Feb. 22 in Lawrence.

Sixty-five farmers and ranchers from three states learned business management strategies from Richard Wiswall, author of The Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook, at the “Farming Smarter, Not Harder: Planning for Profit” held Saturday, Feb. 22 in Lawrence.

By Tom Parker, guest writer

Richard Wiswall likes numbers. In that he might be an anomaly among farmers, at least where the numbers are concerned. Some of his numbers involve planting rates and seed inventory, tractor hours, and labor costs—categories most farmers are familiar with—but he takes things a step further—okay, many steps further—by calculating, and tracking, almost every facet of his family farm in East Montpelier, Vt. He tallies numbers to an extensive degree; for instance, his greenhouse operation, is broken down by the cost of each flat, the amount of soil per flat, the number of flats filled in an hour, the labor cost to fill each flat in an hour, and so on.

While to an outsider it might seem like an excessive amount of work, there’s a reason for his method that has been borne out over three decades of farming.

“You have no idea what part of the farm is making money and what part is losing money,” he said. “I can guarantee they aren’t all going to be the same.”

Wiswall, author of The Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook, spoke of the “neglected side of farming,” or the business aspect, at a special full-day workshop entitled “Farming Smarter, Not Harder: Planning for Profit” held Saturday, Feb. 22 at Pachamama’s Alton Ballroom in downtown Lawrence. The event was sponsored by Kansas Farmers Union, Frontier Farm Credit, and Kansas Beginning Farmers Coalition.

When he first started crunching numbers, he had no historic reference with which to compare the numbers. He had a good yield that year and his numbers looked good on paper, but he didn’t know how profitable, say, the quarter acre of carrots had been. Sure, it had made money, but how much? How did they compare to the potatoes, or the kale, or the spinach? He had no idea.

The answers lie in creating databases for what he called his crop journal. It was a fairly straightforward procedure that only required upfront expenditures of time before becoming second nature. Now, he says, he has real figures for how much money, labor and supplies went into each crop, which, in turn, is broken down into net profit and total expenditures.

“I needed more than one budget to compare enterprises to each other,” he said. “You need to know individual sales for each crop or animal and expenses for each crop or animal. This is standard business practice. It’s bulletproof.”

Though it might seem daunting, the hardest part is just getting started, he said.

“Generally, start with your top sellers and list everything out,” he said. “You have to put them on paper. Frame the big picture—the big numbers that are going to have the most effect—take it through to the end and then go back and tweak it. I’m not objective. I look at numbers and base my decision on those numbers.”

By comparing enterprises or products, he was able to see which were most profitable. When he compared broccoli to kale, the differences were staggering. “Kale is a cash cow,” he said. “Everything else on the farm paled in comparison. I used to not like kale, but now I love it. With every enterprise of your farm, you need to know which ones are the kale and which ones are the broccoli, and then saturate those markets when you can.”

What seemed inconsequential–and a lot of work, translated into tremendous profit once the math was done, he said. Before developing the crop journal, he had no reference point for profitability. “I had a hole in my pocket,” he said, “I just don’t know which one.”

Wiswall suggests that beginners take a couple of four-hour sessions to figure out their farms. This should be done in the daytime, not late at night when they’re tired, and it should be done without outside distractions.

“Plan your markets, plan your crops, decide how to grow those crops, and analyze the top five sellers,” he said. “After that it’s just a matter of keeping track of things. You’re going to look for the numbers you don’t have.”

Once the numbers are penned in, a workable budget can be constructed. Budgets should be kept simple at first, he advised, and with an established rate for labor. “Labor is a big budget item,” he said. “But if you don’t put something in for your labor, you’re working for free.”

Activities should be listed in chronological order, and the easy numbers should be inserted first. Overhead costs, what Wiswall called “the ball and chain” of business, can be included later once a draft has been completed.

The figures, when complete, will be a roadmap to profitability. “When you bring it down to smaller pieces, it shows you where your money is going to come from,” he said. “It’s a simplified marketing chart, and equally applicable to animal farming or vegetable farming. The spreadsheet tells a lot about your business and how it changes from year to year.”

Planning for profit is a simple equation, he said: profit equals income minus expenses. By creating a detailed overview of the farm and all of its various facets, farmers can find the pocket with the hole and sew it shut.

“If you want to make money farming, there’s nothing holding you back,” Wiswall said. “You just have to do your homework.”

And, of course, the numbers.





Pendleton’s rely on alternative crops, flowers, butterflies to grow family farm

12 02 2014

By Tom Parker – guest writer

MCPHERSON, KS – Successful farming is all about timing, and for John and Karen Pendleton of rural Lawrence their start in farming couldn’t have been more auspicious.

It was, everyone said, one of the best years for agriculture they’d ever experienced. Fields were green and lush from plentiful rains that turned crops to gold and dreams to reality, prices high and markets good. “Remember this year,” neighbors told them, as if it were something rare and precious.

They were newlyweds, just returned to the family farm, both fresh out of college and ready for a new start. John’s father, while welcoming them, was blunt in agreeing to take them on. “I’d love to have you back at the farm,” he told them, “but if you don’t love it as much as I do, I’d rather not have you back.”

He needn’t have worried. John and Karen threw themselves into the place with zeal. They raised cattle and grains, irrigated their crops, watched the corn grow tall. That first year, 1979, was indeed unforgettable. It seemed they could do no wrong.

The following year was also unforgettable. The farm crisis struck, interest rates skyrocketed, grain prices collapsed due to the Russian embargo, rains stopped. For 21 days temperatures spiked to over 100 degrees. Fields browned and died. Irrigation kept their corn tall and green, but on closer inspection they found cobs without kernels. Everything went into silage to feed the cattle.

“It was a tough year,” Karen Pendleton told members of the Kansas Farmers Union during their annual convention in Topeka in early January. Like so many other farmers hit hard during the crisis, they had to reinvent themselves while simultaneously thinking of new and innovative approaches to agriculture.

Their neighbors spoke of alternative crops such as strawberries or pumpkins or cut flowers, something that would get them through the hard times ahead. The Pendletons turned to asparagus. Why asparagus? “We liked it,” she said. And on that quirky, singular interest Pendleton’s Country Market took seed.

Their first half-acre was an eye-opener. They discovered that people either loved or hated asparagus, but those who loved it will drive a long way to get it. They also learned a few marketing tricks that propelled the business forward. By limiting asparagus purchases to ten pounds, they found that customers would rarely settle for less. In short order their acreage grew, and as it grew so did news of their operation.

In 1987 they were featured on the covers of Vegetable Growers and Country Woman magazines. While Pendleton would like to think it was due to their brilliant marketing strategies or her degree in public relations, it really had more to do with the nationwide plight farmers found themselves in. “In the middle of the farm crisis, every story was sad or bad about farmers,” Pendleton said. “We were a positive story in a negative world, so we received publicity we otherwise would never have gotten.”

Rhubarb became a second spring crop after customers kept asking to purchase more products. Hydroponic tomatoes were added when a neighbor retired and sold them his equipment, a move their extension agent cautioned against due to their youth and naivety. Ten thousand plants later, they were in the tomato business. They now raise about 500 pounds of tomatoes per day during season, with over 70 varieties including heirlooms and hybrids.

Bedding plants followed, but their next step—peonies—was another example of perfect timing. As their first crop matured, Martha Stewart published a gushing story about peonies as the perfect wedding perennial. Suddenly, peonies were the rage, and the Pendletons were the only ones around who had them. “We got in at the exact right time,” Pendleton said. “Now they constitute a third of our business, with the other two thirds in vegetables and flowers.”

With so many customers flocking to the farm for a real rural experience, the Pendletons instituted pick-your-own produce and dig-your-own sweet and Irish potatoes days. From there it branched out into agri-tourism, complete with a butterfly pavilion, seasonal pumpkin patches with their signature no-left-turn maze, workshops for dried wreaths and decorative projects and the all-time favorite: a stock tank filled with kernels of corn. “Kids love it,” she said, “but when adults get in it’s almost impossible to get them out. They’re like little kids again.”

Three years ago they started a CSA catering to preschools, Douglas County employees and others. Unlike traditional CSAs where customers get whatever the farm is producing at the time, punchcards allow customers to purchase produce from their booth at the Lawrence farmers market as well as through the CSA. “That way people get what they want,” she said.

Their three children were integral to farming operations, Pendleton said. The oldest daughter, Liz, focused on educational programs at the farm; she now teaches in Lawrence. Margaret was the salesperson of the family, outgoing and gregarious, and like her mother has a degree in public relations. Will, the entomologist of the family and the instigator of the butterfly pavilion, is a graduate student at K-State with a degree in engineering. None of them, however, have expressed interest in returning to the farm.

Like many other farmers whose children have decided to seek employment elsewhere, the Pendletons are searching for others, mostly young people and beginning farmers, to eventually take over operations to ensure the continuation of the farm. Their own experiences in non-traditional markets and specialty crops is something of a blueprint for what they’re looking for in likely candidates, but uppermost in their minds is the memory of what John’s father told them when they were first starting out.

“The idea keeps coming back whenever we talk to bring this up,” Pendleton said. “If you don’t love the farm as much as we do, don’t bother.”





POSTPONED: Update on Low-Stress Livestock Handling Workshop

6 02 2014

MCPHERSON, KS – Due to poor current weather conditions and additional forecasted storms for later in the week, the Low-Stress Cattle Handling Workshop scheduled for Feb. 8 in Salina has been postponed.

Workshop organizer Mary Howell notes, “Kansas livestock producers are working diligently to keep their animals fed and cared for as a major winter storm shuts down the entire state and more hazardous weather is predicted for the weekend. We are working with Dr. Locatelli to reschedule the conference later this spring.”

Howell went on to say, “We have great respect for the men and women in the livestock industry, we understand the needs of the animals come first, and we most importantly do not want to put anyone in harm’s way during blizzard conditions. Watch for upcoming information as to the new date.”

For more information, and to stay updated on future events, go to http://www.kansasgraziers.blogspot.com





Not just concrete and steel—co-ops as community

6 02 2014

By Tom Parker

MCPHERSON, KS – If someone told Billie Chesney or Rebecca Hall they needed to meet this guy or talk to that person they’d track them down no matter how far apart or the amount of time it took, their journeys across the state shot through the bug-spattered windshield with a small video camera with a few selfies thrown in, the camera held at arm’s length to frame their smiling faces like a pair of bookended parentheses around a towering grain elevator jutting monolithic toward the clear blue skies of Kansas. But that in itself was only a part of their story. Some of the rest was laced through their five-minute video, something they half-jokingly called their what-we-did-on-our-summer-vacation movie, grain elevators in Delphos and St. Francis and Goodland and Larned and others, interspersed with grainy historic photos shot through the rear view mirror of time and accompanied by the ukelele-driven “Over the Rainbow” rendition by Hawaiian crooner Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, which in retrospect was charmingly relevant to the Sunflower State.

 

Their presentation, based on their Kansas Co-op History Research Project sponsored by the Chapman Center for Rural Studies at Kansas State University, was shown to members of the Kansas Farmers Union during their annual convention in Topeka in early January. With them was Tom Giessel, honorary KFU historian and Pawnee County Farmers Union president, who spoke on early co-operative history and the role KFU played in organizing farmers in the early 20th century.

 

Dubbed “skyscrapers of the plains,” grain elevators and co-operatives have a colorful history in Kansas.

 

Farmer cooperatives were brought about by a series of national events and legislation in the late 1800s and early 1900s, triggered in part by an economic depression throughout the farming community due to an unequal playing field with big businesses such as J.P. Morgan and Carnegie, Chesney said. From their beginnings they were more about people than business enterprise. One early co-op pioneer said, “Co-ops work because of the people.” Their success lay in working together toward a common goal and vision at a local level rather than at a national level.

 

On a national level, cooperatives weren’t legal until 1912. Kansas, however, got an earlier start in 1878. At roughly the same period the National Farmers Union rose from the ashes of the Farmers Alliance, first in Texas in 1902 and then spreading across the South. Like its predecessor, NFU believed in cooperatives and worked to improve cooperative law. The organization reached Kansas in 1905, by which time regulations had improved dramatically, Giessel said.

 

Those early co-ops were different than what we know today. “We think of co-ops as grain elevators, but a lot of them were founded to bring in groceries or ship in hay,” Giessel said. “Grain handling was just one aspect of it.”

 

It soon became apparent that farmers needed both a local co-op and a regional co-op, not only for grain marketing but for grain purchasing. In 1915 the KFU formed a jobbing association that could buy from its own co-ops, a move supported by the state legislature.

 

As word got out of the benefits of co-ops, more communities wanted information. KFU stepped in with lecturers and organizers, Giessel said. The former would go out and preach the gospel of cooperatives and the latter would follow up to organize local organizations. “It was all very structured and effective,” he said. “KFU was very good at co-op development.”

 

At the time KFU was printing 28,000 newspapers weekly to spread the news. Competition, however, didn’t take the KFU intrusion lightly. One article in 1916 claimed that some grain buyers for independent and old-line elevators offered stockholders in the union elevators a half-cent more for a bushel of wheat than what the union elevators were paying. “These buyers are not bidding on your wheat,” the author wrote, “they’re bidding on your loyalty. Would you sell it for that much?”

 

 

 

 

The organization fell on hard times during World War I. It was undercapitalized and struggling to stay afloat. At the 1918 convention in Wichita it was proposed that the organization disband. According to a newspaper report, there were men with tears in their eyes, distraught over the idea. So distraught that they raised the needed capital to keep KFU viable.

 

By 1920 the organization was on the rebound. An article in Country Gentleman magazine stated that “Cooperation not only helps the cooperators, it helps the community.”

 

“I really love that quote,” Giessel said. “Those people had a real strong sense of community. They knew that if they didn’t do it themselves, it wasn’t going to happen. They struggled and they didn’t always succeed, but they always kept coming back and trying. My jaw drops when I read stories about those early co-ops.”

 

Those selfsame co-ops were the focus of Chesney and Hall as they made their way across Kansas. Their car was stuffed with cameras and video recorders and scanners and laptops and enough cables to stretch from border to border and a dog named Ivan that they considered a four-legged field assistant. Their focus was on century co-ops, those at least one hundred years old, but what they didn’t fully understand until somewhere in the middle of the project was just how big the state was. “We’d show up at the car dealer twice a month to get an oil change,” Hall quipped. “They’d look at us and say, ‘wow.’”

 

An article in a Manhattan newspaper during the 1920s asked if Kansas was the greatest state for co-ops. The question was part hyperbole and part boosterism, but it reflected the explosive growth witnessed by organizations like KFU. Cooperatives would become the norm rather than the exception, and there was no turning back the clock. Those prairie skyscrapers would stand tall and proud over every town no matter how small or remote.

 

Still, it’s important to remember those early days and what they signified, Giessel said. “When you think about a co-op you can’t just think about concrete and steel,” he said. “You have to think about the people. That’s what it’s all about.”

 





Assume the worst when it comes to climate change and population, King tells KFU audience

6 02 2014

By Tom Parker

MCPHERSON, KS – History has a way of repeating itself, which means that if military historians and strategists peer back far enough, certain precedents can be found to illustrate patterns and models useful for the prediction of the near-term future.

Unfortunately, Dr. W. Chris King told members of the Kansas Farmers Union during their annual convention in Topeka on Jan. 4, there is no historical precedence for what the nation, and the world, faces in the future from the combined forces of climate change, overpopulation and resource depletion. “We have nothing on which to base projections,” he said. “We have to assume climate change is going to make everything worse. And there’s no easy, immediate fix. It’s a really, really hard problem.”

King, chief academic officer for the U.S. Army’s Command and General Staff College, said that while the idea of climate change seems addressed to our times, it was already being discussed back in the seventies and eighties. The problem was, nobody was listening, least of all the U.S. military. Nor did the military consider them worthy of study.

“These subjects were not well received because [the authors] had patches on their sleeves and they didn’t get along with the military,” King said.

That began to change when one of the leading environmental scholars of the time, Norman Myers, characterized the impending shortage of resources as a national security issue on par with hostile nations. “It relates to watersheds, croplands, forests, genetic resources, climate and other factors that rarely figure in the minds of military experts and political leaders,” he wrote in The Environmentalist.

That assessment was mirrored in the latest National Security Strategy of the United States, dated May 2010, which declared “the danger from climate change is real, urgent and severe. The change wrought by a warming planet will lead to new conflicts over refugees and resources; new suffering from drought and famine; catastrophic natural disasters; and the degradation of land across the globe.”

The bottom line, King said, would be more failed states, more tension and conflict, and higher demand for military forces. “So now it’s my business,” he said. “Everything I do in the Department of Defense has been to address the threats identified in the National Securities Strategy, to protect the nation against all enemies.”

The primary culprit is climate change, he said, but it’s driven by population. In the past 30 years, the world’s population almost tripled from 2.5 billion to over seven billion, and projections estimate an additional billion people for every decade and a half.

Space is already at a premium, he said, and many parts of the world have already reached or exceeded their carrying capacity. “Where do you put all those people?” King asked. “All the good spots are already taken.”

Half the world’s population live along coastlines and many others live by necessity on marginal lands susceptible to flooding or weather extremes. During a presentation given two two months ago, Bangladesh was struck by a record-breaking typhoon that killed more than 100,000 people. In America the fate of the Ninth Ward in New Orleans followed similar lines, he said. “That’s where people could afford to live,” King said. “And that’s where the rest of the world lives.”

With sea levels rising—the Alaskan town of Newtok is predicted to be underwater by 2017, earning residents the unfortunate status as the first climate refugees in America—the loss of living space and freshwater salination hold potential catastrophic outcomes, as would the collapse of estuarine fisheries. The loss of ice and snow in the arctic poses additional security problems of an open, unregulated and unguarded northern border. Rising temperatures will trigger fluctuations in extreme weather by increasing intensity and frequency as well as expanding areas at risk. Precipitation patterns will also change, impacting water, sanitation and food sources.

The military needs to adapt to changing climate and its associated global threats, and to develop strategies for action, King said. “When you dial 911 on a national level,” he said, “you call the military. Nobody else has the logistics capacity to move people and supplies on so vast a scale.”

Already 780 million people lack access to clean water, he said. More than three million people die each year from causes related to water or sanitation. Basic sanitation is lacking for two and a half billion people, and more than one billion people suffer from chronic hunger; most are children.

Compounding the problems, he said, is that many of these countries have the highest birth rates.

“Even if climate change didn’t exist, the 7.2 billion people or the limited resources to produce food and clean water to meet basic human needs is a disaster that’s coming at some rate which we don’t know yet,” he said. “And climate change is going to make it worse.”

The military response must be in less emphasis on force-on-force and more on humanitarian assistance, developing strategies for handling huge refugee and migration populations and to provide massive amounts of water when needed during emergencies, King said.

The solution, he added, isn’t up to the military. “We have to partner with the State department, economics, agriculture and other parts of the government that are going to have to adapt and develop,” he said.

The key is education. Kansas State University is now helping developing countries develop sustainable systems rather than resource mining, he said. Overall, government agencies and organizations are trying to initiate a basic sustainable-needs model that will guide them into the uncertain future.

“This is our biggest threat,” King said. “But we’re not managing the planet that way.”





Understanding the future of agriculture may be found in our history, Mitchell tells KFU members

26 01 2014

By Tom Parker

MCPHERSON, KS- The early 1970s were good times for American agriculture, with expanded exports to the Soviet Union creating higher profits for producers, stimulating rural economies and revitalizing farm implement manufacturing. News from the agricultural sector was generally upbeat. Then, on June 30, 1975, Time magazine ran an expose piece entitled “Dirty Grain,” and suddenly Americans-and the rest of the world-discovered that the U.S. was not a reliable supplier of grain.

By the end of that year 256 criminal indictments were handed down for corruption in a scandal involving private sector grain inspectors, grain prices crashed and the farm crisis spiraled out of control. “What did this erosion of our credibility do?” Larry Mitchell, Administrator of the USDA Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA), asked. “I won’t say the grain scandals were the reason for the farm crisis of the late ’70s and ’80s, maybe not even a large reason, but its impact was huge.” In the following decade hundreds of thousands of farms were foreclosed and over a million family farms were lost.

Then-Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz fought for a federalized system of inspecting grain to reduce possible conflicts of interest, but he was reminded by the White House Budget Office of President Ford’s initiative to reduce overly-burdensome regulations on the private sector.

The following year Congress established the Federal Grain Inspection Service, to  federalize grain export inspection and weighing. Domestic inspection would be voluntary.

The grain scandals of the 1970s aren’t just past history, Mitchell told members of the Kansas Farmers Union during their annual convention in Topeka in early January. “It’s not that we want to dwell on the past,” he said, “but we need to understand the past in order to understand where we’re going in the future.”

Though the second smallest agency in the Department of Agriculture, GIPSA is responsible for a variety of programs that facilitate the marketing of livestock, poultry, meat, cereals, oilseeds and related agricultural products, as well as promoting fair and competitive trading practices for the overall benefit of consumers and producers. Mitchell stressed that the grain scandals of the 1970s were symptomatic of larger forces still pushing for the complete eradication of regulations. A careful reading of Dan Morgan’s “Merchants of Grain,” a history of five major grain companies from their inception to the mid-eighties, was not only the best explanation of the scandals but also an indication of where the U.S. might be heading.

The Federal Grains Standard Act, for instance, has been controversial since its beginning. In 2005 when the act came up for reauthorization, many major grain companies lobbied to return to private grain inspections similar to the 1970s, Mitchell said. Farm organizations such as the Kansas Farmers Union rallied to defeat the measure and continue a federal system of grain inspection. Mitchell predicted a similar if not tougher fight when the act is up for reauthorization next year.

When Mitchell was hired to lead the agency, he reread Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle,” a novel that exposed health violations and abuses of America’s meatpacking industry during the early 1900s. Though the book brought about many necessary changes, including the Packers and Stockyards Act, legislation since then has been contested at every turn. “We still have a long way to go,” he said. “The act is a former remnant of what it was.”

Mitchell also spoke on changes in farming practices and of the constant battle for small producers and farmers to compete with increasingly powerful corporate interests.

“I don’t think agriculture is always asking for special treatment,” Mitchell said, “it’s asking for equal treatment.”

Farmers and producers need to learn to work together for the common good, he said. Unfortunately, agricultural groups often tend to disdain others even when their similarities are more than their differences.

“Too often farmers are crop bigots,” Mitchell said. Beans and corn, the major staples, are prioritized while fruits and vegetables lag behind. Jimmy Carter, for instance, wasn’t known as a farmer, he was referred to by most farmers as a peanut farmer, Mitchell said, “and in farmer jargon that means he was knocked down two or three pegs because of it. I know a lot of crop farmers who think a little less of dairy farmers, and it doesn’t serve us well.”

The basic makeup of American agricultural production encompasses the whole, not the parts, he said.

“This is all of it,” he said. “Half of it is animal agriculture, half of it is crop agriculture. Half of the crop half is the major commodities, the other half of the half is fruit and vegetables-in value. Fruits and vegetables are one-fourth of our food industry regardless if you’re a truck farmer or a peanut farmer.”

Currently there’s a huge demand for local foods, he said, and it’s growing stronger. “Some people want organic, some want natural, but a lot more folks just want something local,” he said. “Maybe that’s the future.”

Mitchell said he’d been to too many agriculture banquets, especially in 70s and 80s-even FFA banquets-where spokesmen would stand up and tell attendees where everything on their plate came from. The beef came from some faraway place and the lettuce equally far or farther, until it seemed everything on the plate was as exotic as kiwi.

“So I added it up and I’m thinking, there’s 7,000 miles of travel on this plate!” Mitchell said. “It doesn’t make sense to me. This is just not efficient. Don’t downplay the impact of locally-grown fruits and vegetables. And we need to expand it to animal agriculture.”

The bottom line, he said, was simple. Know your farmer, know your food.