Draft Animal Power – Draft animals and sustainable land stewardship › Forums › Community of Interest › Public Policy/Political Activism › Interesting Conversation
- May 25, 2012 at 3:52 pm #43832J-LParticipant
While attending my daughters college graduation, I had a chance to visit with one of the professors in the Ag department. He’d heard (through my daughter) that I was trying to work out a low overhead strategy for my small ranch (defining small ranch/farm is another topic) using draft animals and smaller equipment.
During the course of our conversation he let me know that there are government policy makers that feel the best alternative for small farms and ranches is to increase or encourage teaching at college level toward encouraging the next generation on small farms and ranches to leave production agriculture.
I was dumbfounded. It makes me even more worried than I already am to find this kind of thing is being taught in our land grant colleges.
Will there be any small farms or ranches in the next few generations?
How do you counter this?May 25, 2012 at 6:52 pm #73979jacParticipant
Jeez that is a really worrying trend !!!! biggest problem is that big ag has all the money from big industry to fund “research” and twist the real numbers… JohnMay 25, 2012 at 7:38 pm #73977mitchmaineParticipant
i don’t think that there will ever be an end to small farms. people just want to farm. and they always find a way to do it.
the same people never attend ag- school. they just figure it out the old way. policy makers don’t have as much power and control as they think. my money is on the dark horse.May 26, 2012 at 1:58 am #73980JayParticipant
In my experience we are better off flying below the radar and just doing things the way they feel right to us. When you start having to justify doing
what is right for the land to people, the problems have already started. It is very sad, but the $ paying those teacher’s salaries come from the interests which gain from the “get big or get out” philosophy (at our expense, too). Our support for each other in places like this will do much more for the good I’m thinking. JayMay 26, 2012 at 2:36 pm #73972Tim HarriganParticipant
I have never heard or sensed an implication along that line in Michigan. JL, many policy makers are polititians who think they cut a much wider swath than they do. Just because someone has heard a comment like that does not mean it is having an impact in the classroom. Large agribusiness contributes very, very little direct funding for the agronomic and other research that I am aware of. I have a project in progress where a seed company has donated seed, but no $, and they are not asking or expecting any confidentiality of results or proprietary claim on the results. That is one big problem some agribusiness has with land grant research, we make the results available to everyone without restriction. They often tend to think if they pay for it, they own it. That is not the way land grant research works. I do not know any researchers who would tilt the experimental design in a way that would favor the outcome in one way or another.May 26, 2012 at 6:18 pm #73975gwpokyParticipant
The problem with academics is they never look at the real world around them. More and more people are want to know where there food comes from and many want to have a hand in its production, we have customers wanting to help make hay and butcher chickens all the time. We currently have a waiting list to get a share in our meat CS. I wish I could serve them all right away, but as you all know it takes time to get animal numbers right. Interest in how we farm with horses in this modern age with modern equipment is growing (we have one ten acre field next to a road and every time I am working a team out there someone stops to see how and why we are doing what we are doing. They are often surprised to see that even though this may look like grandpa’s farm but we are meshing the old with the new to make things run well, using horses, as most of you know, takes very little extra time then with tractors and in my opinion the benefits far out weigh the pinch of extra labor. No not every one cares where and how there food is made, but more and more are and I think the future of the small farm looks good.May 26, 2012 at 7:42 pm #73978mitchmaineParticipant
everyone would probably agree that it takes extra time with horses harnessing, brushing and so on. but when you like being around the animals, it isn’t really extra time, is it?May 27, 2012 at 1:35 am #73969near horseParticipant
@Tim Harrigan 35063 wrote:
I have never heard or sensed an implication along that line in Michigan. JL, many policy makers are polititians who think they cut a much wider swath than they do. Just because someone has heard a comment like that does not mean it is having an impact in the classroom. Large agribusiness contributes very, very little direct funding for the agronomic and other research that I am aware of. I have a project in progress where a seed company has donated seed, but no $, and they are not asking or expecting any confidentiality of results or proprietary claim on the results. That is one big problem some agribusiness has with land grant research, we make the results available to everyone without restriction. They often tend to think if they pay for it, they own it. That is not the way land grant research works. I do not know any researchers who would tilt the experimental design in a way that would favor the outcome in one way or another.
Tim, I have to respectfully disagree with your assessment of how land grant institutions work now. My opinion is based on my experience working in animal science at the University of Idaho, the state’s land grant school. While initially established to support agriculture in a given state, land grant schools have fallen prey to the same economic pressures from their state legislatures. The administrations at the college and university levels ARE politicians who respond to the whims of the state political powers. In Idaho the state is demanding universities become more self-sustaining and that means getting more and bigger grants while the feds are cutting back funding as well. So where do investigators turn? Primarily industry. It’s hard to lay all the blame on the researchers as they’re responding to pressure from the college admins to get funding who are in turn responding to the univ admins and the state legislature.
I signed more than one confidentiality agreement limiting our ability to publish without permission from the funding agency (an enzyme company in one case) during my 10+ years in beef cattle nutrition. Anyone who had access to the data was required to sign or the money would not be available. And this grant was piddily – maybe $8,000. The university wants the big hitters who can draw the 6+ digit grants and that usually means molecular biologists and gene jockeys, not production ag guys. We also got regular funding from a pretty big player, Pioneer Hybred, for doing work with their corn although they required no confidentiality.
But, while the funding structure is a mess, I don’t think that there is a movement afoot to convince young people to leave production agriculture. Perhaps they should leave it if they want to try and compete at the level of the “big boys” but many ag schools have embraced the “sustainable ag” movement and have certificate or degree programs addressing that need. So while those university admins may be beholden to the legislatures, they also know how foolish they will be to overlook the interests of potential students who will go elsewhere (with their tuition) if their program interests aren’t addressed.
Unfortunately, I have to agree with Gene Logsdon’s assessment of the land grant system today (he gets The Ohio State University for his). If it’s not completely dead, it’s certainly on life support.
JL – To tell the truth, I think some of the points George makes about meeting client needs speaks positively of a place for the small producer. Fifteen years ago, I would have been more pessimistic.May 27, 2012 at 2:48 pm #73968J-LParticipant
This proffessor wasn’t really saying that he was swayed (or others) by this, but the fact was that there is pressure or influence there. We didn’t have a chance to really delve into it to far and he didn’t name any agencies (hmmm… what agency deals with agriculture?). Actually this particular person was very interested in how we are working it out.
Interestingly we’ve been contacted by a few students to study our layout and try and figure out ways to improve our operation. From kids at CSU and another school in WY. It seems they have a hard time finding anyone that is a full time cow/calf operation that’s under 300 head of cattle. They are all amazed at the low overhead, especially equipment and fuel costs.May 28, 2012 at 5:44 am #73974Big HorsesParticipant
They were pushing “big ag” in my Vo-Ag courses in high school in the late 70’s. It was always about “bigger and better”…not more self sustaining, so it’s nothing new. Low overhead and small operations were scoffed at, but the guys that were in debt way past their eyeballs, and had to hire a dozen guys to drive their tractors, etc… were what it was all about. Just look at the direction that the FFA has gone…they wont even call themselves “Farmers” anymore. (they eliminated it from the name officially a few years ago…how sad!) Geoff is very correct in his statement that “The administrations at the college and university levels ARE politicians who respond to the whims of the state political powers.”May 28, 2012 at 1:32 pm #73976gwpokyParticipant
Just a note.
I was talking to a larger farmer in our area a while back and I asked him how much does it cost you to produce a bushel of corn he said ,depending on which ground it was, anywhere from $5.15 to 5.45 and acre at the time corn was hovering around $6.10 as of Friday it was at $5.78 on CBT but it has closed under 5 in the last two months. I guess my main point is, and I have a BS in Animal Science, academic institutions teach: production production production, they never really touch on profit. I don’t care if you produce 1,000,000 bu of corn costing you $5 to produce and you get paid $4.99 you still are losing $10,000. Anyway I digress.
Looking for a stretch of dry days, its time to put up some hay. I hope you all are well.May 28, 2012 at 4:11 pm #73970near horseParticipant
I never sat through one, but I assume in your degree program you had ag-econ courses but that might have had more to do with macroeconomics, I don’t know.
That said my former boss at the UI was willing to arrange for me to buy Holstein bull calves from the dairy (~ 25 miles from my home) for market price PLUS what I was paying in fuel to travel to central WA (360 mi round trip) to get my current calves. We parted ways over that idea because he couldn’t see how charging me for 360 miles of transportation on animals that never left the barn was BS. That’s from a guy w/ a minor in ag-econ. Nice.May 28, 2012 at 4:30 pm #73973Tim HarriganParticipant
I don’t really agree that academic institutions are the cause of the large production structure of the US and many other countries in the world for the commodities corn, soybeans, cotton, wheat, etc. Certainly they have contributed because much of the technological advance from equipment, to seed, to herbicides and now biotechnology have largely been the result of research at universities. But big agribusiness has consolidated into only a few mega-corporations that have research budgets bigger than probably all the state land grant institutions combined. They emphasized efficiencies and convinced farmers that they needed the tractors, hybrid seeds, herbicides, GMO seeds etc., and of course the farmers had to pay for those advances. So they had to rent or buy more land to pay for it, more $ went to the corporations and maybe a little more, but not much landed in the back pocket of the farmers. Agribusiness and politics got involved and the farm programs, despite good intentions, encouraged overproduction that kept prices low. Agribusiness took the new technologies that the US public payed for and sold them around the world, pulling the ag competitive advantage rug out from under the feet of the US farmer who now had to produce even more for less to compete in the world market. That has been the treadmill for the last 100 years.
Land grant universities have been a part of the process by developing ‘efficient’ systems of animal housing etc., but to say that they were pushing or somehow leading the march to big ag, I am not so sure. Some agribusiness and farmers complain that the universities are always behind. So are they leading the charge, or behind the curve?
These relationships have gotten very complicated over time and it is difficult for me to lay blame or find anyone blameless. I know that of the work I am aware of at MSU I would say it is independent of scale, it involves principles that can be applied on big and small farms alike if they fit in the system. We have a lot of fruit and vegetable production in MI so we probably have a more diverse range of interests and activities here than in some states. The economics of farming clearly favors large farms if your starting point is commodity production. Much of the new thinking over the last several years has rejected that starting point and has shown that other opportunities exist in some geographic locations.June 1, 2012 at 2:56 am #73971dominiquer60Moderator
As a Land Grant graduate I often say that I went to school to learn how not to farm, but so far none of the papers have used that quote from me. It was get big or get out, professors joked about abolishing tie stall barns and how little tractors only had 6 wheels. I really didn’t get a whole lot from school that I could apply to the life that I thought that I wanted and am finally starting to live. With that said since then I have started to see some changes that I like. Cornell for example has a new farmer online course program a small farms program. Their sustainable Ag course used to address 3rd world issues and now it is about alternative farming in our country. I recently attended a soil pathogen course and often at Extension course I have to raise my hand after they talk about all of the “cides” that one can use and ask about any more organic alternatives and that was not the case this day. They talked of crop rotations, beneficial insects and cover crops, then at the end they mentioned some “cides” that might work, but that it was best to use the non-chemical methods. We actually had the Dr. that is researching the Garlic Bloat Nematode there to ask questions, he was clearly about using the most effective methods and refreshingly, a spray rig was not part of his answers.
It has been years since I have heard Dr. Bauman lecture, but it does not surprise me that a Monsanto employee is part of his research group, since he claims to have developed synthetic BSt that Monsanto then bought from him. There is no doubt that there are financial ties between land grants and Big Ag, but I think that like Tim, not all professors are under the influence. My soil pathogen class certainly made me hopeful that some schools are coming around to a better school of thought.
In the mean time I really want to say that since being involved with another state’s extension service, I totally appreciate now what NY offered to its farmers. Though not exactly what we want done with our tax dollars at least we have agents, many well involved with their industry. Thankfully I will be able to remain in the Capital District Vegetable and Small Fruit Growers Program, I see now that it is worth the money for the weekly pest, disease and crop updates. Sometime you don’t know how good you have it until you see what little support others have.
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