The Pulse of Rural America


by Dan Miller, Progressive Farmer Senior Editor


Virginia H. Harris, Progressive Farmer Associate Editor


There was no good reason for Debbie Lyons-Blythe to shell her corn crop this year. The drought knocked the crop down to its dry, cracked knees. Rather, she chopped her entire corn crop for silage. “The cows will eat silage for the first time this year,” says the White City, Kan., rancher. Lyons-Blythe runs a couple hundred registered Angus cows and 350 heifers. She sells Angus bulls and writes a blog, Life on a Kansas Cattle Ranch (


Two ponds dried up. A third fell victim to blue-green algae, a condition that can make cattle sick—or kill them. Pastures that generally last into November and December were done by October. Lyons-Blythe's hay supply for this winter is “tight,” and she doubts this Kansas winter will be as mild as the last. In 2011, it was dry at the ranch. “But this year, we had a tremendous drought,” says Lyons-Blythe, who still counts her blessings. “This is nothing like the people in western Kansas had. So we say, 'Plan A didn't work.' We go on to Plan B, maybe Plan C.”


You will get no argument from Lyons-Blythe that the past couple of seasons have produced erratic weather. But pointing to global warming — man-made warming — as the cause? She's not going to go there. “I believe this is a cycle of warming. But I don't believe it's man-made.”


Lyons-Blythe is firmly in the camp occupied by the majority in The Progressive Farmer-Zogby Rural Issues poll. Fifty-three percent do not believe global warming is impacting their farm. But 23{8a1275384cb93b18aa3d41af404144e37302a793dec468d70d54c97b65cfac05} do say the phenomenon is affecting their farming and ranching operations. A larger group, 24{8a1275384cb93b18aa3d41af404144e37302a793dec468d70d54c97b65cfac05}, is not sure.




Eric Kamler, of Shickley, Neb., is not convinced man-made global warming is occurring, either. “The earth goes through phases,” he says. “We're warming now, but remember global cooling?” In June 1974, Time magazine wondered, “Another Ice Age?” In April 1975, Newsweek suggested the polar ice caps be melted for drinking water in the coming big freeze. (Newsweek issued a correction 31 years later, in 2006, saying it had been “spectacularly wrong.”)


One thread of conversation flowing from the global warming debate is about green fuels and, some experts say, their lighter impact on the environment. The PF-Zogby poll found you tilt negative to ethanol and soy-diesel. Thirty-six percent said crop-based energy was “bad for farming.” Thirty-three percent approved. The other third said it made no difference or were not sure.


“I don't think any more of [the corn crop] should come out for ethanol,” Kamler says. He is grateful for high prices but fears long-term damage to corn markets, in particular livestock producers. “It's not just like you can turn off, then turn back on, those end users,” he says. “It takes time for demand to come back.”


Having farmed crops and raised cattle for 31 years outside Athens, in north Alabama, Donna Curtis knows the ethanol argument well. But she can't ignore the impact of energy's demand for corn on her own cattle operation. “We're in competition [with green fuels] for the corn we need for feed,” she says. Heavy demand hits her bottom line hard. Feed went from $180 per ton to $280 per ton in just two months this past summer.


Ethanol production brings consumers into the argument. They sometimes equate corn-ethanol production as competition for food. Non-farming consumers are not always supportive of modern farming practices, either. Farmers feel the pressure. Forty-two percent of you believe critics are misinformed, The PF-Zogby poll shows. But 30{8a1275384cb93b18aa3d41af404144e37302a793dec468d70d54c97b65cfac05} disagree and say critics may have a point.




Glenn Schur, of Plainview, Texas, says there is a lot of misinformation about agriculture. He cites a recent upheaval about arsenic levels in rice. “Arsenic occurs naturally in our environment, and without totally checking it out, they [media outlets] kind of blew everything out of proportion,” he says.


Farm chemicals are a consumer concern. Like most growers, Schur hires crop consultants to help him manage his chemical usage. “I think they [critics] are misinformed about how much we use,” Schur says. “We don't use any more chemicals than we have to because of cost.”


“I don't think they understand the necessities of modern agriculture,” Curtis says. “We are growing more on fewer acres, and with the demand for us to feed the population,


I don't think they consider the consequences.”


Genetically engineered crops have given farmers a new way to manage the amount of pesticides they use.


Genetically engineered crops provide significant benefits for farmers, says Jeff Hooper, who has farmed on his wife's fourth-generation farm in West Liberty, Ohio, for 20 years.


“I think that they are just as effective, even more so,” he says. “It doesn't mean there aren't things like weed-resistance. But at the same time, these are [positive] changes that are making plants more tolerant to drought or [that bring] improving yields.”




The PF-Zogby poll finds that farmers are split on genetically modified crops. Thirty-seven percent strongly or somewhat agree they are as effective as they were five years ago. Thirty-six percent somewhat or strongly disagree these crops are as effective as five years ago. Nearly a third, 27{8a1275384cb93b18aa3d41af404144e37302a793dec468d70d54c97b65cfac05}, are unsure.


Are genetically modified products safe? That's a question mostly voiced by consumers, perhaps no more than in California, where voters were deciding on Proposition 37 this fall. It would require mandatory labeling of genetically engineered food. The issue caused a fierce struggle among consumer advocates and industry and agricultural groups. (This issue went to press before results were known.)


Sam Santini farms in Stewartsville, N.J., an hour west of New York City. He plants genetically modified seed products to haul in corn yields that win national acclaim. He's not concerned about the California initiative.


“I don't think it's going to hurt,” he says. “I don't believe the country generally has anything against [genetically-modified food ingredients].”


Lyons-Blythe, from Kansas, understands that consumers are bombarded by negative charges. But as she talks to consumers, she tells them, “I feed my kids the same things you feed your kids. I'm confident it's safe.”


Alabama's Curtis agrees with her. “If the consumers will do their homework, or if we farmers will get the facts to them,” she says, “I would hope that it wouldn't have an impact.”




© Copyright 2012 DTN/The Progressive Farmer, A Telvent Brand. All rights reserved.

Posted with DTN Permission by Haylie Shipp



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