Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Tuesday Links +

"In the Redwoods" 1894. Thomas Hill.

This Tuesday news thread is a weekly feature here at Big Picture Agriculture.
  1. Remarkable photos capture the light that plants emit. | Wired
  2. Survey reveals ‘amazing’ soil loss in Great Plains region | Producer
  3. Spray this invisible, edible coating on produce and it will last five times longer | Business Insider
  4. The 16 Questions Facing Production Agriculture in 2017 | Agriculture Economic Insights
  5. Vast genetic resource will aid development of wheat plants with improved traits | ScienceDaily
  6. CrowdCow and other start ups help distribute small amounts of grass fed beef. | NYTs
  7. Could Lab Grown Meat Signal the End of Slaughterhouses? | Plant Based News [The 12-minute interview at the end of the article is well worth watching.]
  8. India in 2050: Future of Food | Business world India
  9. Trump expects 'big results' from his choice to lead USDA  | AP/StarTribune [2 comments: 1) He's not a lawyer from Iowa or Nebraska 2) I'm not holding my breath for much change to occur under Perdue.]  
  10. Trump's order to withdraw from TPP concerns US agriculture | Delta Farm Press [Remember that Bernie and many Dems opposed the TPP, so this should please a wide swath. A conservationist's viewpoint/writing I covered last August opposing TPP can be found here.]
  11. $252 million for Conservation Partnerships in 2018 | NSAC
  12. USDA Sets Tougher Animal-Welfare Standards for Organic Farming | WSJ
  13. Addressing the gap between research and practice in sustainable agriculture | ScienceDaily [This is important on a couple of levels.]
  14. Organic farmers call for sustainability-driven CAP payments | EurActiv
  15. Returns for US grain land investors lowest since at least 1980s | Agrimoney
  16. An urban logistics crisis is looming which, if not addressed now, could even lead to a shortage of essential food supplies on the shelves of grocery retailers and at other food outlets. | SHD Logistics [This is the 1st time I've seen this problem raised. It is not surprising. Will delivery/logistics technology save the ever-increasing urban density trend?]
  17. Farmers' choice not to participate in surveys poses threat to USDA data objectivity | Reuters [Huge problem, here.]
  18. Last-minute proposal from Obama administration addresses CRISPR and other technologies. | Nature 
  19. Growing Pains for Illinois Cannabis Farm | Agriculture.com
  20. Does Precision Ag Increase Profits? | DTN [No, not for the farmer anyway.]
  21. For Taste of Farm Life, There’s No Place Like a Homestead | NYTs
  22. Some French Tired of the Urban Rat Race are drawn to the Farm | NYTs
  23. Clare Mukankusi, Bean Breeder at CIAT, Kawanda, Uganda | CIAT/CGIAR
  24. Do farm folks have better vision because they spend more time outdoors? | NYTs [Perhaps. My father and brother who farm have 20/20 vision. Me? Not so much. Small sample.]
  25. Coffee/caffeine have anti-inflammatory effects which increase longevity.  | MNT


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  1. Re ag statistics. I am a farmer who, as a matter of principle, will not answer National Agricultural Statistical Service (NASS) surveys that fail to identify me as a certified organic grower. The issue first arose in 2003 when I received a survey on chemical use on various fruits. I declined and wrote a detailed letter. I received a letter back explaining that the survey was designed to assess trends in chemical usage not management. All of the data would be compiled so it didn't matter if I was an organic grower. I disagree and found it troublesome, a bit like asking the general population how many pregnancies they have had and ignoring the gender of the respondents.

    In addition, agriculture has undergone a bifurcation of sorts and the current questions have no relevance to a highly diversified farm such as ours. For example, we grow wheat and harvest it green, we burn it and sell it at $9/LB. When I get the small grain survey, it simply asks how much I planted (in acres), harvested (in bushels) and received when I sold it (in $/bushel). So even if the NASS asked about certification, my answer would an acre+/-, 35-40 bu at $540/bu. It would have no meaning in the survey and might be kicked out as an outlier or simply a lie. The truth is that way we and my fellow market farmers farm have no place in the surveys. We are simply irrelevant to the service. It is shocking how hide-bound they are.

    When something is described as the "gold standard" I can help but laugh. There is no currency that I know of that operates on a gold standard, an outdated idea. It is also sad because I value good data, but the collection must reflect an understanding of the population, and the NASS sitting on its proverbial pile of gold has failed to change as agriculture has changed. They also ignore farmers who try to help.

    Anthony Boutard, Ayers Creek Farm

    1. Anthony
      Thanks for painting a picture for all of us about how inadequate these survey questions are. Would it be that hard to make questions that would be more inclusive of all types of farming? Or, do "they" want to??

      I hope others weigh in if they have other examples.

  2. Kay,

    Coincidentally, just today I learned the results of a survey that I answered because it was relevant to our operation, and included questions about organic certification. Proves I am actually an easy mark when the questions make sense. The survey was the first to question farms like ours that direct market the food we grow. The survey estimates that 167,000 farms sold about $8.7-billion of food directly.

    What is striking about the survey, and underscores my observations about the NASS as a hide-bound agency, is that a 8.7-billion dollar agricultural sector has developed and this is the very first time the agency has bothered to survey its participants. The 2015 Local Food Marketing Practices Survey was still pretty clunky in its mechanics still a good albeit over-due start.

    I remember hearing a statistician with the NASS explains how important it was that they could show a continuous sequence of data, and that is why they were loathe to change the questions or even units. The questions were shaped by the farms of the 1950s. This is gold standard thinking, base your value on unchanging material. Farming is changing, though, and the questions, units and structure need to evolve.

    Many farms like ours produce and market a wide array of crops. As I tell visitors, our approach is more like Seurat's pointillism than Rothko's broad plains of colors. If you get wrapped up in the details of one dab of paint, or just one crop, you miss the picture. Surveys need to evolve with farming, and they need to become finer grained if they are to be useful in the future. That 2015 survey I took the time to answer is a start, but it should be used to craft better questions and not just become a first in a sequence of identical surveys.


    1. Again, very interesting and helpful and makes sense. Perhaps a new corner has been turned with the new survey and statistics. The art comparison gave me a chuckle.

      Thanks, Anthony.