Sep 21, 2014
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February 2014 Archive for Grazing the Net

RSS By: Greg Henderson and Friends, Beef Today

Our editors spend some time roaming the web looking for stuff cattle people and others in agriculture might find useful or entertaining. 

Ranchers Caught In Recall Limbo

Feb 28, 2014

Here's another story about little guys sitting on the anvil when the government's hammer comes down. USDA closed Rancho Feeding Corporation's slaughter facility in Petaluma, Calif., this month for numerous violations including not providing a full inspection for the meat processed. Nearly 9 million pounds of meat was recalled, which is a drop in the proverbial bucket – unless, of course your whole bucket was part of the recall. That's where Bill Niman and a handful of other California ranchers find themselves. Niman, operating as BN Ranch, slaughtered 426 head last year, all at Rancho Feeding.

He has 100,000 pounds of beef tied up in last month's recall that may end up in a landfill rather than on dinner plates – even though it's likely the beef is safe. If so, Niman stands to lose $300,000 to $400,000 dollars. Niman clings to hope that USDA will release the meat to him for sale.

Godfather of Natural Beef

As we've learned over the past several years, there are many markets for beef. If you're enterprising, energetic and passionate, you can develop your own market for the beef you raise. That's what Bill Niman did more than three decades ago when he launched Niman Ranch's brand of natural beef and pork. The brand became quite popular with "dozens of high-end chefs, including Jean-Georges and Alfred Portale, as well as the popular burrito chain Chipotle," proudly using the Niman Ranch name "on their menus like a badge of honor." But as many who have ventured into the niche beef business have learned, the market place demands volume and a steady supply. That's why the man many describe as the godfather of natural beef is no longer associated with Niman Ranch. Natural Food Holdings took over when Niman Ranch was on the verge of bankruptcy, and Niman left the company in 2007 when it "fell into the hands of conventional meat and marketing guys as opposed to ranching guys."

NOAA Predicts "A Warm Event"

With cattle numbers at historic lows, ranchers and feeders are hoping to rebuild their herds this year. To do so they'll need help from Mother Nature. One of the government's chief weather forecasters, however, says there's a better than 50% chance of hotter-than-average temperatures this summer.

"We expect normal conditions to continue this spring," says Anthony Artusa, a meteorologist with NOAA's Climate Prediction Center. But by mid-summer, "the slight edge may go to a warm event." There are plenty of spots in the U.S. that need rain. View the National Drought Monitor here.

Chobani Yogurt Opposes Idaho Ag Gag Law

In a move that won't make many friends within Idaho's dairy farming community, Chobani Yogurt is opposing a proposed "ag gag" bill that strengthens Idaho trespass laws. If approved, the bill would allow under-cover activists subject to prosecution if they publish video of dairy farms without the owner's permission. According to the Idaho Dairymen's Association, the bill would cover:

  • Wrongful entry and criminal trespass
  • Theft of records
  • Obtaining employment by wrongful means
  • Making recordings of workplace activities without the owner’s consent
  • Intentionally interfering with the farming operations

America's Greatest Shrine to Pseudoscience

Feb 27, 2014

Here's what we like to call a first-world problem. Do we go to a traditional grocery store for our food, or do we go to the one that offers only the best organic, natural and ridiculously over-priced varieties? But there's more lurking on the shelves at Whole Foods than just expensive vegetables and hard-to-find fruits. As Michael Schulson writes in The Daily Beast, there's a lot of "quasi-religious snake oil" at Whole Foods, too. Schulson says "a significant portion of what Whole Foods sells is based on simple pseudoscience. And sometimes that can spill over into outright anti-science (Whole Foods' overblown GMO campaign, which could merit its own article)."

Change Our Eating Habits? Fuhgidabowdit

When the feds tell food companies to overhaul food labels its big news, and those new labels could have a dramatic effect on what Americans eat and help reduce obesity. Only they won't. Sure, there's some common sense in this label redo, such as the updates to serving sizes which make calorie counting easier. But like any government project, implementation is never easy. There's the 90-day comment period, then if approved, companies will have about two years to comply with the changes – at an estimated cost of $2 billion. Once all that's done, the feds expect consumers to change their eating habits. We're not buying it. If you like Twinkies, for instance, we suspect you'll still eat Twinkies regardless of what the label says. Read the labels? Fuhgidabowdit.

Farmers are Old. So What?

Each census of farmers throws out the same red flag – as a group, they're getting older. But Carl Zulauf, a professor at Ohio State University's College of Food, Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, says we should stop freaking out about aging farmers. He conducted his own study and found farmers are getting older, but not at a greater rate than the rest of the American labor force. Further, he says, farmers have been older than everyone else since the 1980s. Then, he throws out a tidbit of common sense, mostly overlooked by the economists who have tried to scare us with their aging data, which is the fact that the recent trend shows more young farmers entering the business. Why? Profits and the recent prosperity of agriculture. "You have to realize that the longer you have above average returns, the more likely you are to pull people in," says Zulauf.


Riding the Next Wave of On-Farm Technology

The next big farming innovations might not even come from the ag industry. Instead, they may come from medical advancements or smartphone innovations, says Lowell Catlett, New Mexico State University economist and futurist. Some are not even of this earth, he adds.

Farming For Bees

Feb 26, 2014

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Tuesday what may be the best use of taxpayer dollars in a long time. The program is aimed at helping farmers and ranchers improve the habitat in five Midwestern states to provide food for the nation's honeybees. Dairy farmers and ranchers in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and the Dakotas can qualify for about $3 million to reseed pastures with alfalfa, clover and other plants appealing to both bees and livestock. The return on investment? Commercial honeybees pollinate an estimated $15 billion worth of produce each year.

There's No App for Drought

There's an app for just about everything it seems, but even the techies in California's Silicon Valley are suffering with the state's historic drought. Almost 1.8 million Silicon Valley residents and some of the world's biggest tech companies will have to cut their water consumption drastically after Santa Clara County, Calif., water commissioners approved mandatory drought restrictions Tuesday night. The measures will have a heavy impact on tech giants such as Apple Inc. of Cupertino, Google Inc. of Mountain View and Intel Corp. of Santa Clara. The Water District board calls for a mandatory 20% water use reduction.


Schools Off-Limits for Junk Food Ads

New USDA rules propose eliminating junk food advertising from school grounds. It's part of a broader effort – championed by First Lady Michelle Obama – to combat childhood obesity. Under the proposal, sugary drinks and junk foods would be phased out on school campuses, as would advertising for those products. Which means Coca-Cola or Pepsi wouldn't be allowed to advertise on the scoreboard at high school football and basketball games. In total, companies are spending $149 million each year marketing products to kids in schools. The beverage industry says they’re on board with the rule changes. American Beverage Association President and CEO Susan Neely said in a statement that aligning signage with the more healthful drinks that will be offered in schools is the "logical next step."

Global Farm Population Declines

Well documented is the declining number of American farmers, now totaling less than 1% of our 313 million citizens. Globally, the number of farmers is also declining, but the demographics are not even close to those in America. In fact, more than one-third (37 %) of the world's population are still dependent on agriculture, hunting, fishing and forestry for their livelihood. Of the world's 7 billion people, 2.6 billion of them remain directly involved in agriculture, according to The Worldwatch Institute. Asia and Africa account for about 95% of the world's ag population, while the Americas account for about 4%.

A Crisis 20 Years in the Making

Feb 25, 2014

California Farm Bureau Federation president Paul Wenger is hopping mad about the drought and the repercussions for the state's farmers. Last week the Interior Department's Bureau of Reclamation announced they're shutting the water off to farmers in California's Central Valley, the world's most productive agricultural region. That decision was forced on officials who hope to conserve enough water for human use this year, but the water crisis has been decades in the making, Wenger says.

"This crisis is the direct result of 20-plus years of inaction by politicians and policy-makers, who have failed to take the steps required to shield California from drought." California is the world's 10th largest economy, and produces $44.7 billion worth of agricultural products. In addition to dairy and beef products, California accounts for one-third of U.S. vegetable output, and two-thirds of fruit and nut production.

Every square mile of California is under drought conditions, but much of the Southwest and Central Plains also remain abnormally dry.

Cattle Feeding Profits Top $250 Per Head

What a difference a year makes. Higher cash prices and lower feed costs have pushed cattle feeding profits past $250 per head, a margin unthinkable just a few months ago. Last year at the same time cattle feeders were losing $102.19 on every animal shipped. Those margins calculations come from John Nalivka, Sterling Marketing, Inc., Vale, Oregon. Nalivka tracks prices and feeding costs for both cattle and hogs in a weekly summary called the Sterling Profit Tracker, available at Beef Today each week.

"Got Milk?" Is Gone

Dairymen are sending their "Got Milk?" campaign out to pasture. After 20 years, the iconic ads have ended in favor of a new campaign aimed at increasing milk consumption amid declining sales. The new ads, which roll out Tuesday, have the tagline "Milk Life" and feature ordinary people and tout milk's protein richness. The Milk Processors Education Program (MilkPEP), plans to spend more than $50 million on the campaign, which will include TV, print, digital, retail promotions and PR.

Still Grazing for Sunsets

Last week, we told you about the unofficial 7 best places in the world to view a sunset, according to the website Green Landscapes.

We asked you to send us sunsets from your ranch so we could publish here for the world to see. See our updated ranch sunset slideshow. Keep sending them, and we'll add yours to the slideshow!

Searching for the Next Pink Slime

Feb 24, 2014

The Humane Society of the United States works every day to put you out of business. Their strategy is to paint you as a cruel steward of your animals and a greedy fat cat who annually eats at the subsidy trough.

Their latest attempt at scaremongering is to reveal the pork industry's attempt to control porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, or PEDV. The virus has killed 2 million pigs in 25 states since last April. The video shows workers making "feedback" from the intestines of dead piglets to feed to sows. HSUS calls that a pig "smoothie," and wants consumers to be outraged by such a cannibalistic practice. HSUS doesn't bother to tell consumers the rest of the story, but Dr. Richard Raymond does. He's the former undersecretary of agriculture for food safety who now writes a blog for (Note: Many of's articles requite a log-in but membership is free and creating an account only takes a minute or two.)

Raymond says feeding intestinal lining that contains the virus to sows is "an attempt to promote immunity through exposure." That's similar to the practice of "fecal transplantation" used in human medicine, which is just what it sounds like. We think consumers should be outraged over this issue – outraged that HSUS would want the pork industry to stop a practice that seeks to control a disease that causes suffering and death. But that storyline doesn't make for a good fundraiser.

Ag Curriculum Saves Rural School

Kids at a Kansas school are begging to do farm chores. You read that right. In fact, transforming the school's curriculum to focus on agriculture saved it from closing.

The Walton 21st Century Rural Life Center – located in Walton, Kan., population 235 – is an agriculture-focused charter school for kindergarten through fourth grade.

Prior to the curriculum change in 2007, Walton school had less than 80 students, but now the enrollment is 183 with a waiting list. Located in a farming community, the school is located about 30 miles north of Wichita but only about 10% of the students live on farms. Kids may think caring for chickens and pigs during school is fun, but what about test scores? They've increased about 8% since the switch to an agriculture-based theme.

Ranch Sunsets - Updated

Last week we told you about the unofficial 7 best places in the world to view a sunset, according to the web site Green Landscapes.

We asked you to send us sunsets from your ranch which we would publish here for the world to see. Here's our updated ranch sunset slideshow.

Keep sending them, and we’ll add yours to the slideshow!

Brawley Loses Appeal to National Beef

Despite the best efforts of community leaders, local cattlemen and state representatives, National Beef still plans to close its Brawley, Calif., processing plant.

The plant will cease operations April 4 and 1,300 jobs will be lost. Officials from Imperial County, Imperial Irrigation District, city of Brawley and the local cattle industry formed an ad hoc committee to present an incentives package that they hoped would address National Beef's concerns.

The Imperial Valley Press said in an editorial, "The Valley will feel pain for a while. The unemployment numbers will rise again. The national media will write their stories and use us as a reference point. But after that, we will rebound, move forward and end up stronger than ever."

GMOs: Yep, They're Safe

Feb 21, 2014

Dr. Steven Novella is widely known as a scientific skeptic, though he's also a neurologist at Yale University. Scientific skepticism is the practice of questioning whether claims are supported by empirical research and have reproducibility. In short, Novella and those like him follow the science. And the science says GMOs are safe. Mother Jones interviewed Novella this week to help sort out fact from fiction about GMOs. "Almost everything I hear about [industrial agriculture] is a myth," says Novella. GMOs, he continued, "is not the panacea, nor is it a menace; it's just one more tool that has to be used intelligently." So, is it okay to feed GMOs to food animals? "To date," says Novella, "the reviews conclude pretty universally that there's just no health risk."

What are Chipotle's Values?

"What kind of values would inspire a corporation to wage a smear campaign against America's farmers?" We, along with a lot of farmers, have been asking that question for a while. California farmer Ted Sheely reminds us that Chipotle's marketing campaign, which includes the video "Farmed and Dangerous," is nothing more than propaganda.

Lindsay Abrams writes on that Chipotle's "Farmed and Dangerous" – while designed to "convey a broader sense of the company's values" – is nothing more than a long and expensive advertisement. She thinks the "anti-industry message is refreshing, until you remember that it's something you're being sold by a $16.5 billion corporation." We'll agree with the last part of that sentence.

Grazing for Sunsets

Yesterday we told you about the unofficial 7 best places in the world to view a sunset, according to the web site Green Landscapes.

We noted the only place in the U.S. that made the top 7 was the Kansas Flint Hills. We like that choice, and it's one of our favorites. But we know we're biased, so we asked you to send in sunsets from your ranch. Here's what we've received. Keep sending them, and we’ll add yours to the slideshow!

Click here to send us your sunset shots.

U.S. Continues to Lose Farmers and Farm Acreage

Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack addresses the preliminary findings of the new farm census at USDA's Agriculture Outlook Forum. The data show a decline in farmers and land used for agricultural purposes.

Dirty Jobs Kerfuffle

Feb 20, 2014

Mike Rowe didn't know it was a dirty job when he agreed to narrate a Walmart television commercial. The spot, which first aired during the Olympics opening ceremony, sparked a controversy as it touts the company’s pledge to bring manufacturing jobs back to America. That's right, the Walmart that helped drive millions of manufacturing jobs offshore says it will buy $250 billion (with a B) of U.S. made goods over the next decade and put them on its shelves. A parade of critics sees Rowe’s involvement with Walmart as hypocrisy, since his eight-year run on Discovery Channel's "Dirty Jobs With Mike Rowe" connected him with regular, hard-working Americans, many of whom have a distaste for the anti-union Walmart that offers rock-bottom wages. On the contrary, Rowe says, it's an initiative we should all support, regardless of our image of the Bentonville Behemoth. Rowe continues as an advocate for Americans who work hard, and his foundation offers scholarships to learn a trade. But, you’ll have to sign "The S.W.E.A.T. Pledge."

Beef Checkoff Support Grows

Nearly 4 out of 5 beef producers support the national $1 per head checkoff, which is the highest approval rating for the program in the past 21 years. That's according to a recent random survey of 1,225 beef and dairy producers conducted by Aspen Media & Market Research for the Cattlemen's Beef Board. The survey contains some other notable findings. For instance, 71% of producers say the checkoff contributes to the profitability of their operations. Disapproval ratings have been trending lower for a decade, now 14 points lower than January 2003.

World's Top 7 Places to Watch Sunsets

Do you take sunsets for granted? Farm and ranch folks might, since they're likely to have many more opportunities to view nature's beauty than urban dwellers. The web site Green Landscapes has identified what they believe are the 7 best places in the world to view sunsets.

Only one of those places is in the United States, and it doesn't include mountains or seashores. We like the choice, though you may have a different opinion. Send us a photo of sunset on your ranch. We'll post a sampling of the best.

USDA Shutters California Packer

Federal inspectors shut down a Hanford, Calif., slaughterhouse that supplies beef to the National School Lunch Program because of unsanitary conditions. Central Valley Meat was closed Tuesday, but USDA says "The plant's suspension will be lifted once we receive adequate assurances of corrective action."

Farm Bill Flub

Feb 19, 2014

The latest version of America's farm bill has provided plenty of opportunities for critics. The near-1,000 page $956 billion bill contains some obscure provisions, like the $3.5 billion Congress will give to academic research. That part is important to ranchers because it includes funding for brucellosis surveillance, testing and vaccine development. How that money is spent and how disease plans are implemented is controversial around Yellowstone National Park where bison management and brucellosis control have been an issue for decades.

The farm bill also spends billions of dollars "underwriting a system detrimental to public health." That's the argument Tamar Haspel offers in an editorial in The Washington Post. "Taxpayers heavily subsidize corn and soy, two crops that facilitate the meat and processed food we're supposed to eat less of, and do almost nothing for the fruits and vegetables we're supposed to eat more of."

Who is Tamar Haspel, you ask? Well ... she says she spent most of her career in Manhattan but recently moved to Cape Cod where she farms oysters.

Goat Amusement Park

If you're in the mood for some lighthearted animal entertainment, we recommend this French video that shows goats balancing on a sheet of extremely flexible tin. We watched the clip – which is just over a minute long – with amazement as the goats are able to hop onto the moving tin sheet and remain there as it swayed to and fro. But, since we're wayfully short on goat knowledge, we were left wondering just why a French farmer erected this goat amusement toy in the first place.

Cattle Feeding Margins Top $200

Higher cattle prices and lower feed costs have translated into tidy profits for cattle feeders. Last week on average, cattle shipped from feedyards earned $209.54 per head, according to John Nalivka, president of Sterling Marketing, Inc., Vale Ore. Nalivka tracks prices and feeding costs for both cattle and hogs in a weekly summary called the Sterling Profit Tracker.

Feedyard margins received a boost from a $1.59 per cwt. increase in cash fed cattle prices last week to an average of $142.33. Lean hog prices gained $2.43 per cwt. to average $86.67.
Cattle feeding margins increased more than $64 per head last week from a previous average profit of $145.47. The Sterling Profit Tracker also found an increase in farrow-to-finish hog margins, with average profits at $22.41 per head. The previous week’s profits were pegged at $18.30.

The Power of Meat

Value, quality and variety are the key factors shoppers seek when buying meat at retail. That's according to the ninth annual Power of Meat survey published t by the American Meat Institute (AMI) and Food Marketing Institute (FMI). This year's survey finds the first indication of a return to higher spending on home-cooked dinners since the start of the recent economic recession. The number of home-cooked meals containing meat or poultry increased slightly from 3.6 to 3.8 dinners per week. The survey also found that shoppers are trending away from a focus strictly on lower prices when making meat purchasing decisions.

Chipotle Challenge

Feb 18, 2014

Is Chipotle Mexican Grill a champion for the little guy in food production? Not likely, argues Ryan Goodman, an Arkansas rancher who advocates for agriculture on his blog Goodman is upset with Chipotle’s new marketing scheme, "Farmed and Dangerous," a four-part series which premiers on Hulu that portrays the greed and aggressiveness of a dark and industrial food chain. Livestock producers have criticized Chipotle for several years for selling their burritos with a side of buzzwords that disparage all livestock producers. Now, their satirical "Farmed and Dangerous" campaign showcases totally fictional events - such as a cow exploding - that many consumers will likely swallow along with the pinto beans and pico de gallo. Goodman challenges Chipotle's marketing team to visit some real farms to start a dialogue – and stop with the attacks on "those growing our food." We think that's a grand idea, and we encourage you to visit Chipotle's website to send an email asking them to stop attacking agriculture.

Reefer Jerky?

It was only a matter of time, we suppose, before someone began marketing marijuana-laden food products. There's already something called Nugtella, a hazelnut spread with medical marijuana in it, and a chunky peanut butter that also contains weed. Now a Santa Cruz, Calif., company hopes to market weed-infused beef jerky. The company, called Badfish Extracts, is currently having the jerky tested by a third-party facility for the medical cannabis industry. The company claims it's a great product, but they're still trying to determine exactly which aliments it will best help. Seriously.

Prices Could "Get Wild"

The calendar still says winter, but stocker operators are already thinking spring. "Despite the frozen tundra that prevails throughout much of the major cattle production areas, stocker demand was very good" last week, says USDA Market News reporter Corbitt Wall. Heavy steer and heifer calves sold steady to $5 per cwt. higher last week, while yearling feeder cattle over 800 pounds were steady to $2 lower. Lower feeder steer prices were most apparent on the Southern Plains as farmer-feeders in the Northern Plains kept prices steady.

Grass cattle demand was still pretty good despite snow on the ground. Prices could "get wild," Wall says. "There is a certain amount of people that will buy cattle and turn them out on grass, no matter what they cost." Watch Corbitt's complete report here: Beef Today's Cattle Markets Center.


BBQ Sticker Shock

Everyone's talking about high beef prices. The cash market set new records for every class of cattle this year – good for cattlemen, maybe not so much for restaurants. It's nothing less than sticker shock for barbecue smokers across Texas, reports the Dallas Morning News. The owner of BBQ on the Brazos, Cresson, Tex., says brisket prices have increased 50 cents a pound since December, and he smokes about 1,000 pounds of brisket every week. An additional $500 per week in the cost of raw product means he’ll soon be forced to raise prices, as will most other restaurants that serve beef.

Cityslicker Signs You Grew Up on a Farm

Feb 14, 2014

Looking for a lighter Friday fare, we stumbled across BuzzFeed's attempt to appease those of us with rural roots. We applaud the attempt, though we just can't resist pointing out a few errors in their "26 Signs You Grew Up On A Farm."

Number 3 on the list, for instance, about "ignoring angry honks when driving a tractor down the road," shows a young lady on the tractor seat wearing flip-flops. Opps! Flip-flops may be appropriate at the White House, but definitely unsafe on a tractor. Then there's the reference that "no gym will give you the same workout that lifting hay bales does." We agree, especially if we could lift that 1,200-pound round bale BuzzFeed shows in the accompanying photo. Thanks, BuzzFeed, an A for effort. But next time get a kid that actually grew up on a farm to look at this list and its photos before you post.

Nichols: Ahead of the Parade

There is no greater advocate for agriculture and the beef industry than Iowa's Dave Nichols. We were fortunate to meet him early in our career, and he was just as gracious to a cub reporter as he would have been to the governor of Iowa. Dr. Bob Hough wrote this excellent piece about Nichols' journey in building one of America’s premier seedstock operations, published by the Western Livestock Journal.

Food Security Realities and Solutions

Elanco president Jeff Simmons is an unabashed proponent of agricultural technologies and an advocate for farmer access to innovative tools to help feed a growing global population. Simmons introduced a new report, "Enough: The fight for a food secure tomorrow," during the "Feeding the World 2014" conference hosted by The Economist in London this week. Simmons says innovation, choice and trade will be the core solutions to tackle food security. As world population grows, billions of people will demand access to better diets, including meat, milk and eggs. "We are currently on the fast track to a crisis and a global shortage of basic foods," Simmons says. However, "we have—either available right now or in the pipeline—the technology that would enable us to meet consumer demand in 2050. But we need to give farmers the ability to access and utilize this technology and ensure that proven innovation and farm practices which maintain health and productivity are available for use."Simmons' call for technology is backed up by food security experts, including organizations such as Heifer International.

Caution: Crackerjack Journalists at Work

To say the The Huffington Post's blog "Food for Thought" has lowered the bar on journalistic integrity is an understatement. This week the blog painted an environmental bullseye squarely on hamburgers. "Producing one hamburger requires enough fossil fuel to drive a small car 20 miles," says HuffPo. And where did they get this information? Their crackerjack team of investigative journalists spent hours researching and uncovered this truth right there on PETA's website.

Yes, we know, shocking that PETA would disseminate propaganda about livestock production. HuffPo asks its readers to share their thoughts on their "statistics." We think that"s a grand idea – drop in here and tell HuffPo what you think of their anti-meat propaganda, and the reliability of PETA as a source of unbiased information.

Hiz Honor Lacks Horse Sense

Feb 13, 2014

As the new mayor of New York, one might think Bill de Balsio has plenty of important stuff on his to-do list. That's why we're scratching our heads over his vow to eliminate carriage horses from Central Park. He says the carriage rides "are not humane."

Of course, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is absolutely giddy with the prospect of eliminating the horses from New York and the fact that the new top-dog in New York City government has so little horse sense. Here's a dose of reality for hiz honor the mayor from a carriage operator: "What would be abuse is if we go out of business – we can't keep these horses," says Ed Hemingway, standing next to a massive Belgian draft horse named Duke. "I guarantee you, we go out of business, they'd be in a bag of dog food in a month." And that thought doesn't consider the jobs lost if the carriage rides are eliminated. We think hiz honor would be better served to focus on eliminating some real abuse in the Big Apple, like the kind you get when you slide into a New York taxi.

"Cowgirl Up" – Idaho Ranch Girl Wins Olympic Gold

Kaitlyn Farrington upset three Olympic champions to claim the gold medal in the women's snowboard halfpipe competition in Sochi on Wednesday. She gave a shout out to her parents and her ranch background for aiding her success. "Growing up in Idaho and growing up on a ranch made me the person I am today, it definitely made me a tough girl," she said. "As my parents have been saying, this whole journey is 'cowgirl up' as that's kind of what I've got to do." The result maintained the U.S. domination of snowboarding at these Games, where they have won three of the four gold medals.

An Offer Italian Farmers Couldn't Refuse

American farmers fear drought, low prices and being late for dinner. Pretty mild stuff compared to some Italian famers who have feared reprisals from the Mafia. That's because the Cooperativa Placido Rizzotto was established in 2001 on Sicilian land confiscated from organized crime leaders such as Giovanni "The Pig" Brusca, now in jail for killing between 100 and 200 people—he can't remember exactly. Now the network of organic famers called Libera Terra produces wines that bear the name of slain mob victims, and products are labeled "organic" and "Mafia-free."

Brawley to National Beef: Please Stay

Can Brawley, Calif., city officials convince National Beef Packing Co. to stay? Tuesday the details of the incentives package offered to the packer were released. The community proposes a rate reduction for utility costs that could produce a savings of $2.1 million per year, and a reduction in water rate and utility tax for another $700,000. The proposal is an attempt to prevent National Beef from closing the California facility in April, and the loss of 1,300 jobs.

Washington's Cat Management Plan

Feb 12, 2014

If you were a homeless cat and you could choose anywhere in America to be homeless, Washington, D.C., might be the best place to roam. There’re plenty of rats in Washington, to be sure, but homeless cats in our nation’s capital are also offered unique care and support that lawmakers often deny the city’s less fortunate citizens. The Washington Humane Society has started an ambitious plan to end cat euthanasia by capturing cats, neutering them and then releasing them back into the wild, as it were. WHS says it relies on volunteers to trap the cats, bring them to a monthly spay-and-neuter clinic, then release them—vaccinated and unable to breed. Last year WHS performed 1,651 free surgeries, estimated to cost $38,800, or about $24 per cat. If this trapping-vaccinating-neutering plan works, we think it’s worth a try on lawmakers, too.

A City Boy's Dilemma

There’s an old expression that you can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy. Bob Comis is an example that the reverse is also true. He’s a city boy now making a life raising grass-fed pigs on a small farm in New York. But self-doubt is creeping into Comis’ consciousness, and he posted a blog titled, "It Might Be Wrong To Eat Meat." Comis tells Modern Farmer magazine his "feelings about the ethics of livestock farming ebb and flow," though he says he failed to convert to a vegan lifestyle. Then he says, "livestock farmers lie to their animals. We’re kind to them and take good care of them....But in the end, we...dupe them into being led to their own deaths." We think Comis’ problem is that he singularly focuses on the animal’s death rather than the cycle of life. Comis’ pigs turn photosynthesis into protein that provides sustenance for humans. There’s nothing unethical about that.

Beef: It's What's Fueling These Olympians

A speed skater, snowboarder and a skeleton racer at this year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi all have ties to America’s cattle industry. Katie Uhlaender, a member of the U.S. skeleton team, lives on a ranch near Atwood in northwest Kansas.

Kaitlyn Farrington, competing this week in the halfpipe, grew up on a ranch in Idaho.

And Olympic speed skater Emily Scott, Springfield, Mo., is the 2014 Olympic Beef Ambassador of Missouri. Emily was chosen as this year’s first-ever Beef Ambassador for the Missouri Beef Industry Council because of her strong advocacy as using beef as her main source of protein and the importance it plays in her everyday training regimen.

Cloning Could Produce More Prime Beef

Scientists at West Texas A&M say a new cloning methodology has the potential to increase the amount of prime beef carcasses produced by American ranchers and feedlots. The method is similar to the technique used to clone Dolly the ewe in 1996, but with modifications regarding the primary source of DNA. The new method starts with the end product—Prime Yield Grade 1 carcasses—and collects muscle tissue samples to extract the DNA.

Sausagetarian and the Tibetan Medicine Man

Feb 11, 2014

For better or worse, the Internet gives all sorts of people a platform to tell the world what they're up to. Take the Sausagetarian, for instance, and consider this from her recent blog: "Kyle, who in his non-farm life is a massage therapist and practitioner of Tibetan medicine, kept on pointing out different highlights of June's anatomy as we disassembled her." Wait ... what?

Turns out, June was the name of the cow Kyle was butchering, which led Sara Bir – also known as the Sausagetarian – to compose a blog titled, "I love cutting up dead cows." Her blog describes in detail the act of disassembling June into skillet-sized portions, calling the activity "one of the most thrilling things a person can do." To each his own, but that claim is oh so confusing when you learn Bir is a vegetarian. Well, sort of. "For a while, I only ate meat in the form of sausage," she says. Hence the nickname Sausagetarian. So, this blog was written by a vegetarian, who loves sausage, about cutting up a cow named June with the help of a Tibetan medicine man. "But I love hot dogs," she says, "and there is no acceptable vegetarian substitute." At least we can agree with that.

Pigging Out in New Jersey

A New Jersey casino is seriously pushing the limits of bacon obsession. We agree that a little bacon makes a burger even better, but does the world really need bacon-flavored beer and lip balm? It is, however, all in good fun at the Bacon Week festival at the Tropicana Casino and Resort, one of about 30 bacon festivals around the country. Some of the strange bacon-themed items: bacon vodka, bacon cupcakes, chocolate-drizzled potato chips with bacon and bacon-flavored dental floss. "Bacon is like heaven," said Nadina Fornia, one festival attendee. "If you're going to die, die with bacon on your lips and a BLT in each hand."



A 'Kickstarter' for Cattle in Africa

Livestock are essential to food security for millions of people around the world. In Ghana, Africa, for instance, there is a deficit of 95,000 metric tons of meat annually, and owning cows is "next to being king." A US and Ghanain based firm is set to launch Farmable, which is a Crowdfunding platform that aims to create a new form of global collaborative farming called 'Crowdfarming.' It's an Internet-based program that allows anyone around the world to invest in cattle farmers in Ghana and later across the continent. The portal is expected to support farmers in Africa and other emerging markets by equipping farmers with the tools and resources necessary to fight hunger and build a sustainable food supply.

Chronic Disease Related to Income, Skin Color and Zip Code

In recent years, we've learned about food deserts, those places – usually in the urban core of large cities – where the availability of healthy food is scarce. There have been numerous efforts to change that paradigm – farmer's markets, nonprofit food distributors, etc., with marginal success. Now we're recognizing that poor eating habits and high illness rates in the urban core is the result of poverty, not the lack of good food. Common sense? Maybe. Nathanael Johnson argues, "The science on health disparities is extensive, and it suggests that chronic disease is often closely related to income, skin color, and zip code." The conclusion is that giving people greater access to fresh food isn't enough to improve their health.

Marketing With Integrity?

Feb 10, 2014

Americans love a success story, and Steve Ells' story is one of the best. He's founder of Chipotle Mexican Grill, which now boasts annual revenue of $2.7 billion from 1,539 locations that employ 37,000 people. Chipotle promises "Food With Integrity," and the company's marketing campaigns have helped transform the eating of a burrito into and environmentally and socially conscious decision – or so its patrons believe. Ells' latest campaign to sell burritos is a pledge to "remove the GMOs from our food to the fullest extent possible."

He explains that decision in a column posted on The Huffington Post's site "Food For Thought," which is sponsored by Chipotle. Those explanations are heavy on opinion and misinformation and light on science – as one might expect from an art-history-major-turned-restaurant-entrepreneur. But the Huffington Post offers a counter-point from Dr. Robert T. Fraley, Monsanto's chief technology officer, who is not short on the science stuff. Food With Integrity, Chipotle? Why won't you implement Marketing With Integrity?

Farming Gets No Respect

Rodney Dangerfield said he was "so ugly my mother used to feed me with a sling shot." That's about how much respect agriculture gets these days, but one farmer is trying to change the dialog. Missouri Farm Bureau president Blake Hurst argues farmers deserve more respect for utilizing technology to grow safe, nutritious and sustainable food. Hurst's column was published Saturday as an installment in The Kansas City Star's Midwest Voices series, which allows guest writers to explore various topics of interest. We were pleased the Star offered Hurst the opportunity this year since they've frequently published views in opposition to agriculture since Midwest Voices was launched in 2003. Of those opposed to modern ag, Hurst says, "Our critics are convinced that technology applied to personal communications devices and medicine is a net good, but science applied to growing things is freakish, unnatural and dangerous."



California Drought Continues

Ninety percent of California is experiencing a severe drought, and the state's cattle producers are in crisis mode. California is America's largest agricultural producer and the drought will have an impact on grocery prices nationwide. But California is also home to 2% of America's cattle herd and ranchers are downsizing in an attempt to survive. That's bad news for an industry hoping 2014 will see an overall herd expansion. The state could suffer as much as $5 billion in drought- related revenue losses from farming and related businesses. The cattle industry is the fifth-largest in California agriculture with $3.3 billion of revenue in 2012.

Massive Meat Recall

USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service recalled nearly 9 million pounds of meat from a Northern California company over the weekend, saying the meat came from "diseased and unsound" animals that weren't properly inspected. According to FSIS, the products were processed by Rancho Feeding Corporation and because of the lack of inspection the products are "adulterated, because they are unsound, unwholesome or otherwise are unfit for human food and must be removed from commerce." FSIS noted there are no reported illnesses tied to these products, which went to distribution centers and retail establishments in California, Florida, Illinois and Texas.

Good News for Grazing

Feb 07, 2014

This morning, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Grazing Improvement Act, a bill that aims to improve the process of renewing grazing permits for BLM and Forest Service land. A key provision of the bill is that it would expand the permit term limit from 10 to 20 years. NCBA and the Public Lands Council are applauding the bill, saying it adds stability to the operations of federal lands ranchers. We're inclined to agree.

In other grazing news, a group of nearly 30 western U.S. scientists have agreed that eliminating grazing on public lands would do nothing to reduce the impact of climate change on rangeland. In fact, they argue that grazing can help by managing grasslands that are at risk of catastrophic wildfires due to climate change. Additionally, the researchers say that much of the criticism against grazing is based on decades-old studies, before grazing regulations were in place. "Since then, we've learned more about the ecology and management of rangelands," says co-author Dave Bohnert of Oregon State University. "Ranchers are constantly looking at ways to be more sustainable in their grazing practices." Now that's good science.

Water on the Horizon?

The drought in the western U.S. continues to expand, and its hitting ranchers and farmers in California especially hard, driving up input costs and leaving many without water. However, hope is on the horizon. According to climatologists, a weak El Nino could return this summer, which would bring some much-needed preciptation to the western states. And CattleFax market analysts predict that the extra moisture will create a good growing season, lowering feed costs and driving calf values to record-highs. CattleFax says this combination will eventually allow the U.S. beef herd to expand, and long-term the industry should remain profitable. We love to hear a little good news now and then.

Don't Read on an Empty Stomach

While we are normally skeptical of anything that Huffington Post produces, they did get one thing right: These recipes really are a meat lover's dream come true. Just seeing the photos of this array of tempting beef and pork dishes got our mouths watering. And while a few of them seemed a little too "Top Chef" for us, the bacon-wrapped meatloaf topped with mashed potatoes and gravy definitely reminded us it was time for lunch.

Focus on Your Offense

We announced earlier this week that we would be at the 2014 Cattle Industry Convention, and while there, one of our editors got caught on camera. Adam Callaway from the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation cornered livestock and production editor Sara Brown, and got her thoughts on beef advocacy. So what did she have to say? Here's a hint: Ms. Brown believes offense wins games, not defense.

Going for the Gold by Way of Cow

Feb 06, 2014

As we are certain you are all aware, it is time once again for the Winter Olympics. With stories of the conditions of Sochi, Russia, pouring out of every news outlet, how could you not be aware? However, we are not interested in regurgitating the double-toilet/no toilet issues the Olympians are facing, nor do we wish to bore you with further talk about very dangerous beer-colored "face" water, electrical wiring connected to the shower faucets, peculiar bathroom rules, or women painting brown grass green. We were unaware that the Red Queen lived in Russia ("Off with their heads…"), but we digress. Instead, we would like to enlighten you on an interesting story about a young woman, her dream of being an Olympic athlete and the cows that got her there.

Yes, cows!

Kaitlyn Farrington, a 24-year old snowboarder competing in the women's halfpipe, made it to the Olympics by selling cattle. Her parents farm in Sunny Valley, Idaho, and to pay for their daughter's training and travel they would sell a cow at a time. What an amazing support system Miss Farrington has. Well, we certainly know who we're rooting for in the women's snowboarding competition.

The Cowboy Way

Some ranchers prefer to move cattle with four tires instead of four hooves. After all, It's faster, easier, alleviates saddle sores and ensures a smoother ride. But moving cattle the "old-fashioned way" is one of those rare treats that you can't help but smile about. The Eaton family of Ellensburg, Washington, does just that and they make it a real family affair—complete with an authentic circa-1870 chuck wagon and good old-fashioned campfire food. We're not talking about beans and weenies, either.

Between the kids, family members and neighbors the Eaton family managed to move more than 170 cattle to greener pastures just in time for calving. Kevin Barnhart says, "It's a good thing to bring the family out, to help neighbor-to-neighbor, so to speak. It's a little bit of showing the kids the cowboy way, helping others whenever you can." We couldn't agree more!

Supersize Me

McDonald's is supersizing their investment in sustainable beef. Bob Langert, VP CSR and Sustainability for McDonald's Corporation, spoke at the NCBA to give cattle producers an idea of what Mickey-D's goals are; however, a clear definition of 'sustainable beef' has yet to be outlined. Despite a lack of total clarity, we're happy to help feed good ol' American beef to 69 million people around the world per day. And here's a fun fact: Did you know that there are 34,000 McDonald's restaurants in 119 countries?! That's a lot of Big Macs.

No Yogurt for You!

Remember the "Soup Nazi" from Seinfeld? Well, Russia is now the Dairy Nazi. According to media reports, a large shipment of Chobani yogurt was refused entry into Russia. Jim Mulhern, NMPF president and CEO had this to say: "There is no rational reason why safe, wholesome dairy products consumed by millions of Americans on a regular basis would not be equally healthful for Russians. It's a shame they want cultural exchanges like the Olympics, but fear cultured dairy products. They'll welcome our Olympians but not their food."

We can't say we're surprised. After all, this is the same country that tried offering a nuclear submarine to settle dairy debt with New Zealand—which has a nuke-free policy. Some things just make you scratch your head.


Sizzling Romance

Feb 05, 2014

Usually we're all about beef, and for good reason, but even we have to admit that nothing goes better with a big juicy burger than a few slices of crisp bacon. Bacon is one of life's great pleasures and, apparently, it is also incredibly romantic. At least that is what two couples who tied the knot at this year's Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival think. There is just something sensual and bonding about a bacon-themed wedding—one of the couples even smoked bacon-wrapped chops for the reception. So, from now on when you smell bacon, take pause and think of all the wonderful little things in life because it's not just the aroma of sizzling pig fat—love is in the air.

Conciliating Beef Cuts and Consumers

Not all cuts of beef are created equal, and no one knows that better than the consumer. Well, not all consumers are created equal either, but that is a-whole-nother topic entirely. Point is, not everyone wants a 14-oz. porterhouse sirloin steak—given, we can't imagine why anyone wouldn't want it but the fact remains, some just don't. This is one of the many topics being covered at this year’s National Cattlemen’s Beef Association conference. Since producers aren't going to start growing smaller cows, how do we get smaller steaks? Well, researchers and meat scientists are looking at new cuts to please even the most discerning of consumers.

California Cattle are Drying Up

The drought has devastated the cattle industry in California. Ranchers are spending thousands on feed because the grass has burnt-up. NBC Bay Area has the story of one rancher in San Jose who's wondering if he can keep his head above water during this disastrous drought. With the costs of additional hay and the real possibility of having to start hauling in water, it is a dire situation.

"Animal House of Horror"

PETA is in the news again, but it isn't for their outrageous (usually laughable) antics—it's for the death toll of pets attributed to their so-called 'animal shelter.' To say PETA is a hypocrite is a gross understatement. According to the Center for Consumer Freedom's recently released review of PETA, the animal rights group has killed over 31,000 ""perfect" and "adorable"" pets. Worse yet, the report showed that 84% of the animals were killed within 24 hours of being in the care of the PETA shelter. And they call us murderers?!

Let's Give them Ground

Feb 04, 2014

If the cattle industry is going to stay competitive, ranchers need to change the way they produce their beef. At least that's what Don Close, an economist for Rabobank, said in a recent report. He says producers are too focused on raising cattle for steak and other quality cuts of meat, when most Americans are buying burger. He adds that if the beef industry is to stay competitive, then ranchers should be raising between a third and a half of their cows for ground meat.

"Early identification of end use, and managing the choice/prime and select grade animals in a manner consistent with their best end use, is key to the U.S. cattle industry developing a long-term, sustainable future," Close says in his report.

We certainly wouldn't mind a sustainable future. If Americans want burger, then let's give them burger!

A Trade War? Not COOL.

As we count down to today's Senate vote on the farm bill, meat and livestock groups are still, unsurprisingly, upset about the mandatory country-of-origin labeling rules in the legislation. Ranchers groups from the Dakotas to Texas say they are concerned about the cost associated with the new labels, and some are already feeling the pinch. But what's more alarming is the possibility of a trade war with Mexico and Canada. If the U.S. goes through with COOL, Canadian officials are threatening retaliation in the form of tariffs on American products.

Several national meat groups expressed their concern about the COOL rules in a letter last week to the members of the House and Senate ag committees. "COOL is a broken program that has only added costs to our industries without any measurable benefit for America's livestock producers," they wrote. We couldn't have said it better ourselves.

Cattle Convention Kicks Off

The national Cattle Industry Convention kicked off today in Nashville, Tenn. More than 6,200 ranchers from across the country are expected to attend. The convention and trade show are the beef industry's largest, and feature education, entertertainment, the latest new products and lots of good people and good food. And our editors will be there to cover it. Be sure to check with Beef Today all week for the latest news from the event. No, we're not afraid of a little shameless self-promotion.

Behold, the Power of Plants

The PETA folks are at it again. This time, the group is petitioning jails in Australia to stop feeding meat to prisoners. Claire Fryer, who organized this ridiculous campaign, is convinced that forced vegetarianism will lead to more compassionate inmates. "If they're thinking about the animals' lives that they've saved, perhaps they'll be less prone to violence against other humans as well," she says. Yes, we're sure inmates who are accused of murder or assault get really broken up over their salisbury steak.

The Super Bowl of Commercials and Commercialism

Feb 03, 2014

Now that the big game is over, we can start discussing what's really important—the commercials! Everything from a comical '80s takeover to a Dorito eating goat—let's not forget that great Chevy "Romance" commercial—were aired Super Bowl Sunday. Where else can you watch a freakishly cute "Doberhuaha," a heartwarming bond between a puppy and a Clydesdale, plus see Terry Crews sing alongside Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem all in one spot? Only the Super Bowl. Entertainment Weekly gave their pick for the best and worst commercials. But if you'd rather just view them all, well, here you go.

Chop Shop Fills Void

No, we're not talking cars, we're talking cattle. As the demand for locally raised beef rises, so does the need for facilities that can accommodate both farmers and consumers. This trend is usually synonymous with the urban sector; however, the rural folks are getting in on the action, as well. The Chop Shop, a processing facility in Eastern Kentucky, is filling that void. This is great news for producers and consumers alike.  Not only is this facility meeting a consumer demand, it is also helping a struggling economy by creating 20 jobs. With the markets still at record highs, we'll take all the processers we can get.


Flatulent Flare-Up

There's nothing quite like waking up to a methane fueled detonation—at least that is what's being blamed for a barn explosion in Germany. We don't fool around when it comes to flatulence. The old "pull my finger" bit doesn't make us laugh—it makes us duck for cover. We're hoping this German dairy farm has learned a valuable lesson and takes a little more care when it comes to those gassy bovines. Perhaps they should Bean-O before so there'll "bean-o" explosion.

Regulations Lacking or Resolutions?

We all are well aware that America is facing an "obesity crisis" and a study published in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization suggests that it is due to a lack of government regulations on fast foods, such as burgers and other tasty treats. We're not so sure that's the case, though. Perhaps instead of more regulations and red tape people just need more self-control and discipline when it comes to dining-in and dining-out. 




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