April 25, 2016

Facing the Facts about GMO

As farmers, we see the value and usefulness of biotechnology. Biotech is the farmer term for what food eaters know as GMOs.

The misfortune around biotechnology/genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) is that food eaters are unsure of what GMOs really are and farmers don’t always know how to talk about it. The seed companies are great at explaining the science, but food eaters really don’t want to hear it from them.

Growing more with less

For farmers, biotechnology is a useful tool in their toolbox of resources for growing more food sustainably. To them, that means using fewer pesticides and fertilizer, and fewer times across the field meaning less fuel. It also lets them grow crops that may be resistant to pesky pests that have damaged their crops in the past.

“As a farmer, I see biotechnology as huge investment into growing enough food for a growing world with fewer resources,” says Jay Reiners, a farmer near Juniata, Neb., who serves on the NCGA Trade Policy & Biotech Action Team and is a director on the NeCGA Board. “From drought resistance to disease resistance to insect resistance, we can grow more corn, soybeans or other food sources in a more sustainable way.”

As farmers, they see the usefulness of GMOs, but how can it be better explained to food eaters?

Jay Reiners, photo from Omaha.com
“I think the reason biotech is misunderstood is because as an industry we haven't explained what biotech is good enough from the beginning,” says Reiners. “We assumed that the public wouldn't have a problem with it because the government said it was safe. Now we are on the defense against false information.”

This challenge hasn’t resolved overnight, but farmers and farmer-driven movements are aiming to do a better job at directly conversing with food eaters through programs that get them in front of food eaters – not an easy task when you think about it. Some farmers have direct access to their customers at farmers markets. But commodity farmers who don’t directly market their grain through farmer’s market, don’t have the opportunity to have face-to-face conversations with their customers.

So programs like CommonGround, U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance (USFRA) and more have been started from the ground up (meaning started by farmers) to help give farmers and ranchers alike an opportunity to be in front of the public.

Women to women

CommonGround is a movement of farm and ranch women who volunteer their time to share about where food comes from and how it is raised. It was started in 2009 (Nebraska was one of the pilot states!) and has now grown to 19 states and growing + over 180 volunteers! These women involved volunteer their time and the CommonGround program (funded by farmer checkoffs) helps setup opportunities for them to be in front of food eaters – like dietitian conferences, grocery-store conversations, media opportunities, food meetings, moms groups, etc.

They are moving the needle as real, credible women who are relatable to the women food purchasers, which by the way, women are the majority of people who buy food for and make health-wise decisions for their families. So it makes sense to have women farmers and ranchers, who also buy food for their families, sharing what it is that they do raising food and why they do it.

“With programs like CommonGround, we are able to help change public opinion one at a time in a personal way from a first-hand account where their food comes from,” says Reiners.

Farmers and ranchers are food eaters, too

USFRA is an organization involving more than 90 farmer and rancher-led organization and agricultural partners representing virtually all aspects of agriculture. They work together to engage in dialogue with consumers who have questions about how today’s food is grown and raised. USFRA is committed to continuous improvement and supporting U.S. farmers’ and ranchers’ efforts to increase confidence and trust in today’s agriculture. Similar to CommonGround, they want food eaters to see that farmers and ranchers are just like them – people who care about what we grow, raise and eat – and are relatable. One of their main programs is a Food Dialogues format that brings together food raiser, eaters and business together to share and solve issues we face today.

Another great resource for food eaters is GMOAnswers.com. It shares easy-to-understand messages about what GMOs are and why farmers use them. It allows for anybody to ask questions and they assure those questions are answered. They use peer-reviewed information and useful experts to answer the questions so they stay objective. Go check it out for yourself: GMOAnswers.com.

GMOs and biotechnology are not meant to be scary, secretive or subjective. They have been around for over 20 years and not one case of human illness has resulted. There are just a lot of unknowns, and we are farmers want to make sure food eaters understand why it is what we do and why we care. Let’s all come to the table to discuss GMOs and why they can be a sustainable part of our future!

Watch these videos about GMOs/Biotechnology from The Cob Squad!

VIDEO: Kernels of Truth–GMO Safety

April 19, 2016

This Earth Day Choose the Cleaner-Burning Fuel, American Ethanol

As Earth Day nears, environmental stewards around the world will take part in events to raise awareness about challenges facing the environment. But drivers can do their part year round by filling up with renewable biofuels such as American Ethanol.

In 2015, the use of ethanol in gasoline reduced greenhouse gas emissions on our roads and highways by 41.2 million metric tons. That’s equivalent to removing 8.7 million cars from the road, according to the Renewable Fuels Association.

Drivers, who fill up with cleaner-burning biofuels, take a little step every day to make a big impact on the environment.

Everyone can choose E10 at the pump. If you drive a 2001 or newer vehicle, you can use E15. And if you are among the one in seven Nebraskans who drives a flex fuel vehicle, choose higher American Ethanol blends such as E30 and E85.

In order to reach the octane levels needed for our engines to run, oil companies replaced lead in gasoline with toxic chemicals – toluene, benzene and xylene. What doesn’t combust in the engine leaves the tailpipe as harmful particles.

“Hydrocarbon octane sources like benzene are highly toxic and pose a threat to our air and water,” said Roger Berry, director of market development for the Nebraska Corn Board. “They end up in the air we breathe as tiny particles that enter our lungs, hearts, brains and bloodstream.”

American Ethanol adds oxygen which helps fuel burn more completely. The more American Ethanol in our fuel, the fewer toxic chemicals and particles floating in the air we breathe.
“Adding 10 percent American Ethanol to base gasoline reduces the volume of toxic compounds in our fuel by about 25 percent,” added Berry.

By making a green choice and using American Ethanol, every time you fuel up, drivers can help improve the air quality in their community and the world. 

Learn more about American Ethanol here.

April 14, 2016

Nebraska Corn Board Presents Awards of Recognition and Achievement

The Nebraska Corn Board presented its annual awards to five exceptional individuals and organizations during its Cooperator and Awards Dinner in Lincoln last week.

For 25 years, the Nebraska Corn Board has acknowledged outstanding representatives in the livestock, ethanol and agribusiness industries, as well as awarding an organization in the media. The Ag Achievement Award is the pinnacle of awards given to an individual who has helped develop Nebraska’s corn industry and agriculture over time.

The Ag Achievement Award was the Corn Board’s first-ever award presented in 1991 with the intent of recognizing outstanding and unselfish efforts which further the corn industry.  This year, the Nebraska Corn Board selected a highly respected leader in the agricultural industry, Don Hutchens, to be the recipient of this prestigious award. Don served as the executive director of the Nebraska Corn Board from 1987-2014.   

Don has played an instrumental role in representing agriculture. His diligent leadership and commitment to Nebraska’s grain and livestock industries is evident through his many years of service on a local, state, national, and international level,” said David Merrell, farmer from St. Edward, Nebraska and chairman of the Nebraska Corn Board. “On behalf of Nebraska’s 23,000 corn producers, it was an honor to recognize Don for his tireless dedication to agriculture and admirable goals in moving the state forward in its agricultural ambitions.”

The Livestock Industry Appreciation Award was given to Duane “Dewey” Lienemann, extension educator in Webster County, whose focus is primarily on beef systems. Lienemann was selected for this award based upon his outstanding 45 years of focused commitment to Nebraska agriculture education and his continued enthusiasm to share his wisdom about the beef industry with young agricultural leaders in 4-H and FFA.

“Dewey has always had a wonderful ability to share the story of agriculture with youth,” said John Greer, farmer from Edgar, Nebraska and director on the Nebraska Corn Board. “Over the years as an FFA advisor and extension educator, he has helped students and community members not only understand, but appreciate the value of the livestock industry in Nebraska. He was very deserving of this award.”

The Ethanol Industry Appreciation Award recognizes a producer or organization in the industry who has worked hard to develop ethanol markets and expand demand for ethanol in the state while appreciating the value of the corn checkoff and its involvement in ethanol market development. The recipient of this year’s award was the fuel retailer, Kum & Go.  They were recognized for their extensive efforts to advocate and promote E85 and their continued commitment to Nebraska’s ethanol industry.

“Over the last few years, Kum & Go has been an exceptional partner to the Nebraska Corn Board, hosting a series of summer E85 pump promotions in Omaha and the front range of Colorado. These popular promotions have been highly successful in educating consumers and bringing awareness to not only E85, but also the clean air benefits of using ethanol,” said Dennis Gengenbach, farmer from Smithfield, Nebraska and vice-chair on the Nebraska Corn Board.  

The Media Appreciation Award recognizes an outstanding individual or organization that helps tell the story of agriculture. This year’s Media Appreciation Award was presented to KOLN/KGIN TV’s daily show, “Pure Nebraska”. “Pure Nebraska” was started in 2012 by Jon Vanderford and was originally a weekend program showcasing Nebraska’s number one industry, agriculture. As the show quickly gained popularity, it expanded to a daily program, airing from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m.

“As a full-hour daily show, “Pure Nebraska” has become a great platform to tell the story of agriculture to a diverse audience,” said Alan Tiemann, farmer from Seward, Nebraska, chairman of the US Grains Council and chair of the communications committee on the Nebraska Corn Board. “Simply put, the “Pure Nebraska” team gets it. They have an extensive knowledge of the state and national economy, and agriculture’s role in that.  And they do an outstanding job highlighting that during their show.”

The Agribusiness Appreciation Award identifies a Nebraska agribusiness that recognizes and appreciates the mission of the Nebraska corn checkoff program, shows proven leadership in explaining the benefits of the checkoff and its investments and supports Nebraska agriculture. The recipient of this year’s award was Cargill.  While Cargill has been a valuable partner with Nebraska agriculture for a very long time, this award was in special recognition of Cargill’s generous contribution to Raising Nebraska—the award-winning ag literacy experience on the Nebraska State Fairgrounds in Grand Island. 

Tim Scheer, farmer from St. Paul, Nebraska and past chair on the Nebraska Corn Board noted that, “The Nebraska team at Cargill have been true champions of Raising Nebraska. Their communications team has served as a valuable resource as Raising Nebraska continues to evolve and educate consumers more about their food and the families who grow it. Additionally, the credibility that the respected Cargill name has brought to Raising Nebraska has been instrumental in building the Raising Nebraska brand.”

April 12, 2016

Working Off the Farm, But Still in Agriculture

Being a woman in agriculture can extend well beyond the farm itself. Sisters-in-law Jana and Becky Jobman are a great example. Jana Jobman is an ag loan officer with 1st State Bank of Gothenburg. Becky Jobman sells pivot irrigation systems for Landmark Water at its Lexington location. Jana's husband David and Becky's husband Andy are brothers and fifth-generation farmers in Gothenburg, Nebraska. Becky grew up on a small corn and soybean farm in Thayer County. Her parents moved to Nebraska from the East Coast to farm when Becky was an infant. Jana was raised on a six-generation cow-calf ranch on the edge of the Nebraska Sandhills near Arnold, living "the cowboy lifestyle" she says.

Becky started working for John Deere while in college and continued full-time after graduating with a degree in agricultural engineering. She also married Andy the year she graduated. During their first nine months as newlyweds, her career took her to Iowa and Kansas. She commuted back and forth on weekends as Andy farmed and operated his agronomic consulting business in Gothenburg. When the opportunity arose for Becky to move back to central Nebraska to work for a local John Deere dealership, she jumped at it.

Jana graduated form the University of Nebraska with a degree in agricultural banking and finance. After working for an Omaha-based bank for a time, her employer agreed to allow her to live and work from home in Gothenburg after she married David. She recently joined 1st State Bank and now works out of the bank offices. Jana enjoys the wide range of agricultural clients she serves--from feedlots to pork operations, from grain elevators to ethanol plants, from ag retailers to individual farming operations. "I love being involved in and keeping a finger on the pulse on the entire industry," she said. "People in agriculture are honest, trustworthy, real people--and I've always appreciated that." In her new position, Jana will also work with community business owners. "Gothenburg is a progressive town that truly understands the meaning of 'community', she said. "I really look forward to being even more involved in our community and contributing to its success."

Some farmers have initially been skeptical of working with a woman to purchase a new pivot irrigation system, but Becky has established credibility thanks to her education in college and on the job. "You don't have to act like you know everything. If you're open-minded and like to learn, you'll succeed," Becky said. "That's been especially important to me as a woman in a nontraditional role." Their off-the-farm responsibilities still allow some time for Jana and Becky to help on the family farm as needed--irrigating, moving cattle, driving a grain cart during harvest or shuffling vehicles from one place to another. Their day jobs also help them contribute to the success of their family farms. "Our entire family is really good at coming together and listening to each other when it comes to making a big purchase or setting direction for the operation," Jana said. "My financial background and insight on the industry as a whole are beneficial when we're making big decisions of this nature."

Jana and Becky believe that there are great careers in agriculture for women, both on and off the farm. "Even a woman who doesn't want to be directly involved in the the agricultural field can still engage with farmers through careers in banking, insurance, healthcare, or law." Jana added. "If it's the right company, they will totally support you regardless of gender," Becky added. "If you're a good fit for the job and you work diligently at it, then it will be a good experience for you. The biggest thing is to stay flexible and know what your unique skills and talents are."

April 5, 2016

Harvard Family Welcomes Fifth-Generation Daughter Back to the Farm

As a young girl growing up on a farm near Harvard, Nebraska, Jessie Portenier Ruppert didn't get to enjoy extended family vacations with her parents and three sisters. A camping trip meant sleeping out under the stars in the pasture and fishing in the farm pond. Attending a high school basketball game was only possible if the cattle were fed first. So after what some would view as a "deprived" childhood, why would this young woman decide to return to the family farm after graduating from college--to manage her own herd of cattle? Because she loves it. "You could just see her passion as a young girl. Whether it was running the tractor or working calves, she was just a natural," said Jessie's mother, Sharon. "It's just been kind of a given that Jessie was going to be our farmer." Jessie is the fifth generation in their family to become a farmer. She began her college career as a criminal justice major, but soon realized that her heart was in agriculture while working part-time at a feedlot during college. "I love being outdoors and just couldn't see myself being in an office with a lot of people," Jessie said. "Just being around cattle comforts me."

After enrolling in the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture (NCTA) in Curtis, Jessie's dad, Kif, presented her with the opportunity to buy a small herd of cows following graduation. Because of her hands-on experience of working with cattle, many of Jessie's college classes at NCTA were a review of what she already knew. "But I was especially grateful for the business classes that taught me how to create spreadsheets to manage cash flow and set up record keeping for my cows," she said.

In addition to the farm near Harvard, the Portenier family has a ranch near Elwood, Nebraska. Jessie's cattle, as well as those owned by her father, are located there from early spring until after corn harvest. "During the summer, I spend most of my time at the ranch caring for the cows and calves--checking their health, getting them mineral to supplement the nutrition in their forage nutrition, and so forth." While Jessie is focused primarily on the beef side of the family operation, she's also always ready to step up when her parents need help with the crops--taking seed to the field during planting, putting out irrigation pipe, and hauling grain. The corn crop is a critical component in the family's beef business. Having both crops and cattle helps diversify the family operation. During the winter months, the cattle are transported from the Elwood ranch to the farm near Harvard to graze on cornstalks. This is also where calving takes place in February.

Jessie has a special place in her heart for cattle, but she points out that they are not companion animals like the cats and dogs on the farm. "We care for and love the cattle we raise, but it's important to understand that we are in this to raise beef. That's the way we've chosen to generate the income we need to provide for ourselves," Jessie said. Jessie has learned that the business aspects of beef production are critical to success. "Marketing is perhaps the most important thing a corn producer or cattle producer needs to understand," Jessie said. "I sold cattle for the first time last year when the market was at an all-time high, so that was exciting. But I also know that won't be the case every year."

So what's it like being a young woman in what is typically thought of as a "man's world"? 

"We have definitely always been a family farm and we never really had any hired help." Jessie said. "It was just dad, mom and us four girls. Everyone in the area talked about 'Kif and his girl crew' because that's just what it was. So I've never struggled with people saying that farming is a man's job." Jessie was married this past November to a young farmer and rancher from the McCook area, and the couple is working out the details of helping both of their families with their operations that are 150 miles apart. "If you want to be able to see your husband, you need to go out and spend time with him doing what he's doing," she said. "My mom has been dad's right-hand since they've been married. That's what I watched growing up and that's what I have always wanted."