Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Printed in Feedstuffs Magazine Oct 3, 2005

Ignorance leads to ungratefulness

If dairy cows in this country are trying to get attention, they should be happy with their press coverage in the past few weeks. A recent article in the Washington Post may have been as damaging as any one thing I have read in the newspaper. What continues to baffle me is they talk about food production as some profit hungry corporate entity that is willing to sacrifice human health for monetary wealth. The article never once mentions that San Joaquin Valley Dairymen raise their own kids there. The article never once mentions that these farms are producing the necessities for all Americans - food, clothing and life-saving pharmaceuticals.

Dairies have long been accused of causing air pollution in the state of California and cows are considered leading contributors to the smog problem. These accusations were based on a 1938 model of air emissions until Dr. Frank Mitloehner from the University of California - Davis released more recent air quality results.

Forgot about the cow study for a minute and think about the impact of automobiles in California? The state has 36 million people with 24 million registered vehicles that use 47 million gallons of fuel daily. Californians drive 825 million miles and kick 5.4 million pounds of pollutants into the atmosphere every single day, not counting the rubber left in the environment from wear and tear on their tires.

Alison Draper, a toxicologist at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut reports that the color of tires comes from a chemical called carbon black, which is basically soot. Soot contains chemical by-products that are known environmental pollutants. Tire rubber contains hazardous sulfur and zinc compounds that are used to speed up the rubber-making process. The main ingredient in tire rubber is a synthetic polymer called styrene-butadiene, which is a big, stable chemical that doesn't degrade very easily. But why would the west coast residents want to take responsibility for their pollution problem when they could easily point at the cows.

Mitloehner is apparently the first scientist since 1938 to study the true impact of a dairy cow on California’s environment. His initial results indicate that the old estimates are significantly wrong. His findings led him to believe that not only is the data old but it may have been interpreted incorrectly. His numbers indicate that the contribution of cattle to air pollution is considerably less than half of what was previously thought and the pollution itself does not come from the manure but from belching.

Although the new data is positive for agriculture, the discouraging notion is that much of the current EPA Consent Agreement came about because of the old dairy cow research in California. Today, dairymen are working with the EPA and research institutions to determine the true impact the 2000 dairies in the state are making on the environment. Regardless of what they find, I doubt that many of the 36 million residents will be volunteering to be monitored for belching, tire wear and transportation pollution and then face being sued for their contribution to the smog problem.

Perception is really our problem. The average car-driving American may or may not feel guilty about putting petroleum products into the atmosphere but they don’t even know that local livestock operations are actually managing nutrients that are essential to life. That is why it is so important to refer to this component of our operation as “Nutrient Management” rather than manure handling. Hopefully the day will come when consumers will realize that nitrogen and phosphorous are essential to plant and animal life and thus to the whole circle of life, rather than considering them just a smelly waste factor of food production.

Trent Loos is a 6th generation United States farmer, host of daily radio show Loos Tales and founder of Faces of Agriculture, non-profit organization putting the human element back into the production of food. Get more information at www.FacesOfAg.com or email Trent at trent@loostales.com.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Katrina shows us the problem

Where is our government? Why aren’t they helping us? Those questions have resounded through our households in the past week. So many questions have been generated since the destruction of the Gulf Coast and Mother Nature’s cleansing of the earth. We, as humans, don’t understand how our government could let a hurricane happen that would destroy part of the most powerful nation on earth. We don’t think this type of thing happens in the United States of America. I have little doubt that legislative initiatives will be enacted to prevent future hurricanes. You laugh but I contend that many in our nation are that far removed from reality.

As one who has walked to halls of Congress in our nation’s capital, I wonder if it is possible to work inside the insulation of the beltway and maintain an understanding of what is important to your neighbors at home. While many seem desperate to point a finger and find the person to blame for a delayed emergency response to Katrina, I believe this is much more complex than saying, “The President didn’t handle this properly.” We heard the response to the Asian Tsunami was swift and immediate but I believe that what slowed our response in the Gulf Coast was nothing other than the red tape and bureaucracy that exists within our political system.

Politicians and responders had to rationalize what the political fallout would be before they could make a decision about saving human lives. Within hours of the storm making landfall, members of one party were blaming the other for causing the hurricane. Democrats were blaming the Republicans for Global Warming, which, in turn, caused the hurricane. This only proves that their history is as poor as their judgment if they rank establishing blame ahead of saving lives.

The actions of our government officials in the past week have sent me back into the archives of our founding fathers. I have often thought that we elect people who are completely disconnected from the real issues affecting Americans. Without a shadow of doubt we have created a government so big that it does not recognize the fundamental needs of its own people. Reports indicate that it now costs more to be elected to a seat in the Senate than the entire annual budget of our country in the early years.

In the era of Franklin, Jefferson, Adams, Hamilton and Washington, life was conducted with the local pub front and center. Every major issue or principle evolved into a toast. This toast, common in 1776, strikes me as very relevant today: “May stipenders and pensioners never sit in an American senate.” Such words were ominous warnings that showed the Whig fear of unrestrained government growth. "Stipenders" and "pensioners" were 18th century terms for bureaucrats, parasites, lobbyists and anyone else who bilked goods from the public coffers. The political posturing today tells me that the founding fathers’ worst fears have come true.

Thomas Jefferson once said, "That government is best which governs the least, because its people discipline themselves." I have heard the comment several times that the city of New Orleans was nothing but a bunch of people on welfare who don’t know how to provide for themselves. To that I respond, “It is not just New Orleans. It is every city in this country.” Don’t play some race or class trump card on me either. The truth is that we, as a society, have not heeded the words of Jefferson and men and women of all classes and colors have lost the discipline of survival. Abraham Lincoln once said, "America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter, and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves."

As our modern media bombards us with the images of Americans helplessly crying for the government to swoop in and save them, the world looks on in shock. NOT IN AMERICA! We didn’t think that something like this could happen in America. As Americans, we have presented ourselves as Super Human heroes to the world and now nature has exposed the fact that we too are vulnerable. Water is a miraculous thing. It enables life but it also takes life away. Water, too, is reflective. Unfortunately, most Americans can’t make their way to New Orleans to get a look at the damage that has been done - not by Katrina but by the person they would see when they look into the water.

Trent Loos is a 6th generation United States farmer, host of daily radio show Loos Tales and founder of Faces of Agriculture, non-profit organization putting the human element back into the production of food. Get more information at www.FacesOfAg.com or email Trent at trent@loostales.com.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Instead of “Re-Wilding North America”, just de-humanize it

“A lot of farmland would have to be purchased,” says Josh Donlan, an ecologist from Cornell University, who released a plan that envisions the Great Plains as a place where Africa's wildlife could thrive and escape extinction. The plan is called “Re-wilding North America." You may be thinking “these people are nuts and they can’t do that,” but I believe the plan was underway with the first acre of land purchased by Ted Turner.

There are so many directions to go with this topic that I am not even sure where to start. I would like to discuss the fundamental lack of understanding that we have as a society that truly does not understand the predator concept. This not a golf game where we will give the lions a handicap. “Here cute little cheetah. You no longer need to swim the Atlantic Ocean to eat my kid. Just travel across the Great Plains and wait for a vulnerable moment.”

I recently spent time with the one person that truly understands the Animal Rights movement even better than I do. Wes Jamison is a professor at Dordt College in Sioux Center, IA. He has been studying the Animal Rights movement since 1990. Wes summed it up best when he stated this is no longer a movement but it is a societal shift in our thinking. He used stuffed animal as an example.

Who, as a parent, hasn’t given their kid a cute, cuddly stuffed bear. Think about all the animals we give them. They play with them, sleep with them and one child expert was even quoted this week as saying if your kindergarten kid has the jitters on the first day of school send a comfort critter with them such as their favorite stuffed animal. This change in attitude is probably why a plan that would have been laughed at a generation ago now has parents across the country telling their kids how wonderful it sounds. “Johnny, soon we will be able to take you to Kansas to see the African animals.”

A shift in mindset may explain how it could be accepted but the bigger question is “Why is it needed?” The creators of this plan suggest that these animals are losing habitat. Of course the real scapegoat in habitat loss is none other than agriculture. A rapidly growing African population and little or no environmental protection has tainted the very resources needed to support the people of the country. The Water and Irrigation minister Martha Karua was quoted as saying "The rapid population growth has led to unsustainable exploitation of resources such as fisheries and chemical poisoning through agriculture activities and industrial effluent."

At one point, United States agriculture did not understand how to produce food without harming the ecosystem and today that is not the case. Today, 25% of our crop production is no-till application, which increases organic matter and prevents soil erosion. Today we graze for the benefit of the vegetative species and preserving water quality. As proof, we now have the same number of beef cows grazing as we did fifty years ago but they yield twice the amount of food to feed the world. Sound science has been applied and we are setting the standards of environmental stewardship for the world.

If I am to interpret this correctly, because we have the best ecosystem on the globe, some in the scientific community believe America is now the ideal location to preserve everything. Are we headed for a new national motto? Come to the United States of America, the world’s largest and most diverse theme park. I can’t help but be reminded about a book manuscript that was presented to me at one of the animal rights conventions in Chicago. The book takes place in 2047, forty years after the killing of animals was banned in the United States. The mission of the book was to develop teaching strategies for lions and other predatory animals in Africa. The goal was to teach them they no longer needed to kill other animals to survive.

When you stop laughing, take an hour or so to catch the latest Disney movie kids are watching, while holding a stuffed lion, about verbally negotiating a peaceful future for the world. Remind me again how many humans are in those movies? Instead of taking away their animals, maybe we need to spend Ted’s money teaching these people how to manage the natural resources they have been given and provide food their families.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

How my mules inspired me

I spend a great deal of time focusing on the special interest groups that are attempting to chase food production from U.S. soil. We all know who most of those groups are and that they have large budgets to implement their plans. However, I believe the true challenge we face in agriculture is ourselves. The oldest war strategy known to man is Divide and Conquer. Special interest groups are undoubtedly marveling as we continue to fragment our industry into smaller and smaller factions.

I typically stay away from issues that could contribute to the division, but no more. You’ll probably even find my source of inspiration to be somewhat humorous. We usually have about seven horses at the house including saddle horses and young horses that I am starting to ride. Earlier this summer I brought home two donkeys and, without giving it a thought, I simply put my two jacks right in with my horses. Unfortunately, the horses had different ideas.

Upon sight of these long eared critters, all seven horses, as if in choreographed unison, cleared a five-foot panel and bolted to freedom. Two of them didn’t slow down until they were a quarter of a mile down the road. Two months passed and I still couldn’t get them in the same pen. They would tolerate fence line contact but they simply would not be together. All that changed when I brought home two black mules.

When I got home it dawned on me that I might need a third pen. I decided instead to introduce the mules to the horses. They all acted like they were old buddies. One day the mules were exploring and accidentally got in with the donkeys. I had no idea what to expect but the mules seemed to get along with the donkeys just as well. Obviously the next step would be to open all the gates and see what would happen.

If I hadn’t witnessed it myself, I probably wouldn’t believe it. The donkeys and the horses taunted each other and the mules ran in between trying to break it up. The mules actually acted as negotiators for the common good. Today I am happy to report that all of my equine are in one pen and get along fabulously. In the interest of attempting the repair the damage that has been done in the beef industry, I am taking it upon myself to be the mule.

We are constantly struggling with the fact that we in agriculture have such a small number of people that it is tough to get our message out. In the same breath we attempt to dismantle one segment of the industry into even smaller factions. Would you be surprised to learn that the issues we, as an industry, are divided on such as the border closing, country of origin labeling and the check-off are always on the agenda at the animal rights meetings I have attended? These people recognize that the easiest way to destroy American agriculture is to let us do it ourselves.

The irony of the current situation is that we, in the beef industry, have accused the animal rights groups of using emotion instead of logic and facts. If you honestly evaluate what is creating the division that exists in today’s beef industry, it is emotions and not facts.

As the self-appointed industry mule, I feel compelled to share one more thing. I have witnessed two national groups who use issues like COOL as divisionary tactic rather than really debating the merits or downfalls of the labeling. How many times when COOL comes up will the justification be anti-R-Calf or anti-NCBA reasoning? I don’t really care about the groups that represent the individuals involved in food production. I care about the families and the people who are involved. I care that each one of those families is doing everything possible to ensure a better opportunity for our kids in the greatest endeavor man has ever been a part of - FEEDING THE PEOPLE OF THE WORLD.

There is one statistic that seems to say it all. USDA reports indicate that 800,000 individuals own cattle. The two organizations that claim to represent cattle owners report memberships between 40,000 and 50,000. Where is everybody else? The worst thing that can happen is that the majority of the beef producers will sit around drinking coffee in town, complaining about what this group or that group is doing or not doing, and they won’t show up at the proper venue to voice their concerns where they can have an impact on the future of the industry. The only path that I see to regain unity in the beef industry is for all beef producers to join both organizations. That way we may have an impact on what is left for the next generation.

In conclusion, this may be far from original and old and cliché but undoubtedly it is still appropriate: United we stand or divided we shall fall.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Dear Trent,

I have just returned from on a 5 day vacation in some of the most beautiful lake and farmland in the USA, Pierz, Minnesota. As I drove around checking out the scenery I noticed something peculiar. The land was green, rich and beautiful. The rolling hills were surrounded by swamps and lakes and dominated the countryside. Tree's and wildlife flourished due to excellent farming practices. It was calm, quiet, and serene. However, this land was galacial and boulders that virtually blanketed the land had to be cleared. It was amazing!

However, while the land was breath taking, the conditions of many ( too many) of the barns and farm houses were in desperate need of repair. Paint was pealing, wood was rotting, gutters ( if they had them) were falling off. This was a common theme in the area. It occured to me that these farmers and dairymen understood that their life was connected to the cow, the corn and the land and it's ability to produce. They cared more about the land than their possessions. That made me feel good. I felt that somewhere in the world there was someone looking out for me.

Then questions ran through my mind as I drove...

If they were'nt looking out for others, why would they grow more than they need to sustain themselves?
Why try to make the extra buck when you forced to undersell in the first place?
If they are growing and selling this much food, how come they can't fix the farm? That bothered me.
Why do they do it?

I think it's because they care enough to take on the responsibility to feed everyone they can with the land they own. They receive little in return. However, they continue. I believe that makes farming the one of the most honorable professions in America. It ranks up there with protecting our nation from tyranny. The farmer rarely receives a word of thanks.

I just want to say to the farmer, rancher, cattlemen, dairymen etc, "Thank you for keeping me and my family fed and for the many hard hours of labor you put into providing food for my table."

In Pierz, a story was told of a single father who was trying to hold onto a farm. He was struggling with finances due to his wifes illness. Also because of that his farm fell into dis-repair because his children want nothing to do with farming. You hear about that all to often. However, you don't hear about the one young man who volenteered to help. The young man has a family of his own but cared enough to step up and try to help this man save his farm. It's a noble and honorable act rarely seen anymore. My hat is off to him.

Robert W Fasl

Single father of 2, head chef of the household, a man who likes to eat!

Monday, March 28, 2005

See the trees through the smoke

I was recently asked if I had read Robert F. Kennedy’s Crimes Against Nature because I was included in Kennedy’s ramblings. While I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of another sale, I did check it out from the library. Chapter 5 is called Science Fiction and that would have been an appropriate title for the entire diatribe.

I first heard Kennedy speak in December 2001 at St. Olaf College in MN. I could not believe anyone could spread such outlandish lies about my industry and not be held accountable. The statement that sticks with me from that day will always be my rationale for associating faces with the production of food. Kennedy told 600 people that those working on livestock farms today were “losing humanity”.

Following his presentation, I informed him that if continued to lie about my industry, I would be there to hold him accountable. In Clear Lake, IA on April 5 2002, I recorded him saying that what was happening on farms was a greater threat to democracy than Osama Bin Laden. For the next eights weeks, every time he spoke I was in the front row.

By the third week he started introducing me as his shadow. He would add, “Trent wears a black hat because he represents the evils of modern agriculture”. The one thing that troubled him most about my efforts was that he could not determine who had hired me. He could not believe that a single person would go to such lengths just because of their passion for an industry. Unlike him, I was not paid one dime. I simply took it upon myself to make a difference.

Ironically, during this same time period, I was in a legal battle for having hauled one cow from the state of South Dakota to Nebraska without proper brand inspection two years earlier. During the second week of the shadowing, an AP writer with ties to the Kennedy crusade released a story that suggested I was a cattle rustler. That has been Kennedy’s only argument in his attempt to smear my reputation, despite the fact that it was a paperwork violation regarding one cow.

Crimes against nature is Kennedy’s attempt to prove that George W. Bush is the worst environmental president in history. I have not finished reading this collection of lies yet but there is no doubt that what troubles Bobby most about Bush is his determined effort to rid our country of frivolous lawsuits, of which Bobby could be the king. One of Bobby’s worst days may have been Feb 18, 2005 when President Bush signed the House bill curtailing class-action lawsuits. Businesses and livestock producers finally saw a glimmer of hope against being inundated by frivolous lawsuits.

A Florida judge threw one of Kennedy’s lawsuits out of court in 2002 calling it frivolous and ordering him to pay legal fees for the defendant. Inspired by big tobacco settlements, Bobby thought he could make derogatory statements about pig farmers and pocket a similar windfall. He makes statements like the following, “hog barons build football-sized warehouses and cram genetically engineered hogs into tiny cages where they endure short, miserable lives deprived of sunlight, exercise, straw bedding, and interaction from other animals. Concentrated waste from these facilities is saturated with dozens of toxic chemicals and antibiotics, which are fed to pigs to stimulate growth and keep them from dying from stress”.

Kennedy used the same tactics on fishermen before he decided to fight hog farmers. He promoted filing lawsuits to “benefit the small fishermen” of Hudson Bay. While in New York, I spent one afternoon visiting with fishermen. It became dangerous to mention Kennedy’s name because the typical response was “ that --- of a ----- put more fisherman out of business than prices ever did”.

Kennedy’s book implies that power plants are contaminating the environment with excess mercury. Imagine my surprise when an EPA official reported only 3% of mercury comes from power plants. The two primary sources of mercury in the environment are volcanoes and forest fires - the very forest fires fueled by the environmental policies of people like Kennedy.

In the book, page 71, Kennedy wrote, “The National Pork Producers Council and an industry goon named Trent Loos launched a smear campaign against me.” My dictionary says a goon is “a simpleton hired to eliminate opponents.” All livestock producers should understand from this statement that Bobby is afraid to deal with anyone who really knows the industry. I have experienced every level of pork production giving birthing assistance to the two sows in my 4-H project to marketing 2 million market hogs a year for producers in an alliance. I guess you can call me a simpleton too because I believe you should either tell the truth about American Agriculture or be held you accountable, even if you are President of the “Lucky Sperm Club”.

Trent Loos is a 6th generation United States farmer, host of daily radio show Loos Tales and founder of Faces of Agriculture, non-profit organization putting the human element back into the production of food. Get more information at www.FacesOfAg.com or email Trent at trent@loostales.com.

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"I thought this was simply a  nursery rhyme:  how could one bake living birds in a pie? I discovered that royalty and the upper class, ...