President's Column

The Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation is the state’s largest general farm organization representing farmers, ranchers and rural residents. We are a private, non-profit, non-governmental agency established in 1922 to bring a voice to agricultural issues. Our weekly President's Column, started in 1975, today appears in more than 160 newspapers across Louisiana. The column provides information about farming, food prices, environmental issues and other consumer news, while addressing matters important to all of rural Louisiana.

New Report Indicates Rural Areas Need Major Upgrades to Infrastructure

The national non-profit transportation research group TRIP released a new report today that shows the U.S. rural transportation system needs vast improvements. 

The report indicates roads, highways, rails and bridges in rural areas face a number of significant challenges. AFBF Transportation Specialist Veronica Nigh, in commenting on the report, said it shows inadequate capacity, failure to provide needed levels of connectivity to many communities and are inadequate to accommodate growing freight travel.

“According to the report, in 2013, 15 percent of the nation’s major rural roads were rated in poor condition and another 39 percent were rated in mediocre or fair condition,” Nigh said. “In 2014, 11 percent of the nation’s rural bridges were rated as structurally deficient and 10 percent were functionally obsolete.”

 Nigh said rural communities include more than 72 percent of U.S. land and are home to approximately 61 million people. She said transportation is essential in these communities for many reasons, including economic growth and stability.

“Rural transportation is really a three-legged stool relying on water, rail and roads,” Nigh said. Without any of the three of those, our rural communities can’t thrive in the way that they really should. Those different segments of the transportation system that U.S. agriculture relies on is necessary to ensure our future success.”

To facilitate the necessary improvements, Nigh said solutions at the county, state and federal level must be empowered and barriers in the permitting process must be reduced.

“The federal government is a critical source of funding for rural roads, highways and bridges,” she said.  “However, current federal transportation funding expires on May 31, 2015. We need to come up with a long-term solution to provide adequate funding, and timely funding, to improve rural roads, highways and bridges.”

Judy Morgan of Duson Named State Ag In The Classroom Teacher of the Year

Judy Morgan, a fourth-grade teacher at Charles M. Burke Elementary School in Duson has been named the 2015 Ag in the Classroom (AITC) Teacher of the Year.

Morgan, a 34-year veteran, was chosen for the top honor by the Louisiana Farm Bureau AITC committee because of her commitment to using agriculture as a means to give her students a real-world education. Normally active and verbose in the classroom, Morgan said the award came as something of a shock.

“It was stunned silence,” Morgan said. “It’s kind of beyond my imagination. I never in a million years dreamed of something like this. It’s beyond words for me.”

Burke Elementary Principal Loretta Williams-Durand not only had no trouble finding words, but had no doubt Morgan deserved the honor.

“Well, Ms. Morgan has always been a phenomenal teacher,” she said. Williams-Durand is the daughter of a lifelong master gardener and the garden at the school Morgan oversees evokes fond memories, as well as clear evidence of the education the students are receiving. 

“I have parents calling me,” Williams-Durand said. “Some of these kids have gardens at home.  That was very heartwarming for me—I get teary-eyed, because that’s what learning is all about.”

Seven years ago, Morgan began working with LSU AgCenter master gardeners to bring the school’s garden to life. One of the first lessons was that the garden would have to be planted in buckets.

“We had to figure out what the garden would look like here because we have unique soil problems,” Morgan said. “This land is in fact a crawfish pond that was filled in to build the school on, so the quality of the soil is not optimal for an in-ground garden.”

Since that time, Morgan has used the garden, the lesson plans and other materiel provided by the AITC program to show her students how basic educational concepts have real-world applications. 

“For me, it’s a living laboratory, because there’s so much there that’s going on,” she said. “You know, I can teach it and you might remember it, but if I show it to you, you’ll never forget it.”

Lynda Danos, the Louisiana AITC coordinator, agrees. She says with so much controversy surrounding education right now, it’s rewarding to see educators like Morgan teaching beyond the times.

“They don’t just learn science, they do science,” Danos said. “When it comes down to it, it really doesn’t matter what we call them, whether it’s a benchmark, a standard, a common core, or an objective.  It’s what do we need those students to learn. Those life skills that we need them to learn. And this living laboratory here, provides us that opportunity to teach those skills.”

For being named the AITC Teacher of the Year, Morgan received an iPad from Progressive Tractor and Implement, $500 from the Louisiana AITC Foundation and an all-expenses paid trip to the national AITC convention in Louisville, KY also courtesy of the La. AITC Foundation.  Since the national AITC convention is on a different week, Morgan gets to go to the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation annual convention in New Orleans, courtesy of LFBF.

For more information on Ag in the Classroom, you can visit the website at www.aitcla.org

New Website Helps Spread the Healthy News About GMO Foods

Recently, Chipotle made a major blunder by over-promoting its underdeveloped ideas on what constitutes healthy food. 

The idea of the advertising is GMO’s are bad and what Chipotle are selling is ‘organic,’ ‘natural’ and good. While the public seemed to reject this slick ad campaign, the false ideas behind it—namely that GMO food is bad for you—live on. 

In order to help combat the misinformation out there, GetaMoveOn.fb.org is Farm Bureau’s just-launched advocacy website that gives farmers and ranchers a simple way to “Get a Move On” for GMOs.Through the website, farmers can easily express support for a national, science-based labeling standard, like the approach taken in the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act (H.R. 1599).

“Now is the time for farmers and ranchers to take action in support of innovation in agriculture,” said American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman. “Access to crop traits that resist pests, diseases and drought stress is helping farmers across the nation grow more food using less land, water, fuel and pesticides,” Stallman said. “Biotechnology will offer even more benefits in the future.”

From the website, farmers and ranchers can send House members emails encouraging “yea” votes for the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act. The bill will clarify the Food and Drug Administration as the nation’s foremost authority on food safety and create a voluntary labeling program run by the Agriculture Department’s Agricultural Marketing Service, the same agency that administers the USDA Organic Program.

The legislation will provide a federal solution to protect consumers from a confusing patchwork of 50-state GMO labeling policies, and the misinformation and high food costs that would come with them.

Through GetaMoveOn.fb.org, farmers can not only connect with their lawmakers, but find state-by-state fact sheets detailing the value and share of GMO crops in each state. They can then share this information in their emails.

“It’s critical that we as farmers help our lawmakers understand that there’s a cost associated with discouraging agricultural innovation,” Stallman said. “That cost will go well beyond the higher prices consumers will pay at the supermarket if each state passes its own GMO labeling law,” he added.

In addition to the advocacy site, Farm Bureau’s grassroots toolkit continues to be a helpful resource for farmers and ranchers who want to share the many positives about biotechnology with policymakers, community members and others. Accessible at fb.org/biotech, this free online resource includes an overview of biotechnology; an explanation of biotechnology’s benefits to consumers, the environment, farmers, the U.S. economy, and more; links to credible sources for biotech information; and avenues for getting active on social media.

A strong consumer-focused resource is GMOAnswers.com, which allows people to ask any and all questions about GMOs. Responses come from independent experts in leading academic institutions, industry groups and representatives from Biotechnology Industry Organization member companies. The website also features studies, articles and safety data.

Flying High: America’s Farmers Embrace Drone Tech, Require Sound Policy to Soar

Farmers and ranchers are eager to use airborne drones to improve their businesses, but they need flexibility to use these tools to their full potential.

The American Farm Bureau Federation told the Federal Aviation Administration in comments focusing on performance-based standards. The comments were part of the FAA rule on the “Operation and Certification of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems.”

In his comments to the FAA, Dale Moore, AFBF executive director of public policy, said farmers and ranchers have increased their yields while reducing their environmental footprint, thanks to advances in precision agriculture.

“Drones are the next evolution in American agriculture,” Moore said. “Used properly they let us grow more food on available land using less water and fewer pesticides. High-tech cameras and other airborne sensors give us important tools with which to reduce erosion and keep agricultural runoff to the absolute minimum.

“This is important not just for farmers but for anyone else who cares deeply about the environment,” he added. “These tools won’t do anyone any good if they’re grounded by restrictions that make them too cumbersome to use.”

Farmers need performance-based standards for drone use that promote innovation while keeping safety a top priority. For all the good they do, new technologies are not without risk, Moore said. Producers need to be able to manage these tools assured that their farm data is secure and cannot be used unfairly against them.

 “Farmers and ranchers are ready to unlock the potential of new technologies in agriculture,” Moore said. “We’re hopeful that the FAA’s final rule gives them a key to do that safely and quickly.”

Despite Myth, Farming Environmental Impact Decreasing Over Time

Though they seldom get credit for it, U.S. farmers are, in fact, decreasing their environmental footprint.

Field to Market, the Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, is helping farmers measure the environmental impact of farming, track and promote their improvement efforts, and share their progress with others in food and fiber supply chains.

The program promotes a voluntary, collaborative approach to sustainability that is expressly science-based, technology-neutral and focused on outcomes within a farmer’s control. Field to Market seeks to measure and advance the sustainability of agriculture. Its goal is to create opportunities for continuous improvement in productivity, environmental quality and consumer health.

The program involves a collaborative effort with more than 70 members – including the American Farm Bureau Federation – representing all facets of the food supply chain: from farmers and retailers to academics and conservation groups. Combined, Field to Market member companies represent nearly 4 million workers and $1.3 trillion in revenues.

Sustainability is a complex issue, with economic, environmental and social impacts. Food supply chain efforts to improve environmental sustainability, launched by major retail grocers, restaurant chains and processors, began in earnest in 2006. Field to Market was established in 2007 as an initiative of the Keystone Center, an independent, nonprofit organization that covers a wide array of environmental, energy and health policy issues. Field to Market became an independent, nonprofit organization in 2013.

“Going green” is trendy and lots of practices may sound “green,” but long-term improvement requires establishing metrics to measure actual impacts. From there, the supply chain can work together to set reasonable and achievable goals that do not favor improvement in one of the environmental, economic or social impact areas, while negatively affecting the others. In the mid-2000s, the concept of sustainability metrics was in its infancy. There was little understanding or agreement about which metrics could or should be measured, and few tools to undertake the daunting task.

In collaboration with the Natural Resources Conservation Service of the Agriculture Department and others, Field to Market developed the Fieldprint Calculator to help farmers assess the efficiency and environmental impacts of their management decisions. Corn, cotton, rice, wheat, potato and soybean farmers are using the Fieldprint Calculator to track and improve impact based on seven indicators: land use, soil conservation, soil carbon, irrigation water use, water quality, energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. Farmers can compare their performance against local, state and national averages developed using publically available data. Farmers can also use the calculator to share their progress with the rest of the supply chain.

Field to Market has ambitious goals. More than 1 million acres of farmland are currently involved with the program. By 2020, Field to Market hopes to cover 50 million acres, or about 20 percent of U.S. commodity crop fields.

Field to Market’s broader definition of sustainability is equally ambitious: to meet the needs of the present while giving future generations the tools to meet their own needs. The organization hopes to achieve this by focusing on critical outcomes: increasing productivity while improving the environment, human health, and the social and economic well-being of agricultural communities. Specific goals are tied to each indicator tracked in the Fieldprint Calculator.

A 2012 Field to Market report, which reviewed data from 1980 to 2011, tracked six crops and their environmental impact across five indicators: land use, soil erosion, irrigation water use, energy use, and greenhouse gas emissions. The 2012 report showed that while greater productivity also led to increased resource use, all six crops tracked in the program demonstrated progress in improving resource use and impact per unit of production. Along with this progress, the report also shows room for improvement.

Continuous improvement is a guiding principle of Field to Market and all of its participants. Farmers often get criticized for their practices while their careful stewardship is too often overlooked. In addition to promoting, measuring, and improving environmental impact, Field to Market and its Fieldprint Calculator provide farmers with another very important tool – the means to track their progress and the facts to tell their stories.