Jul 11, 2014
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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. 

Meatless With Marilyn Monroe

Jul 11, 2014

We tend to avoid poking fun at politicians on this blog as they represent such easy targets. Some elected officials, however, just demand our attention. Such is the case with California's Tony Cárdenas from the 29th District. With this year's historic drought gripping his home state and displacing thousands of workers, Cárdenas was busy last month pushing for action by introducing legislation to .... name the U.S. Postal Service facility in Van Nuys after actress Marilyn Monroe, who attended nearby Van Nuys High School in the 1940s. But it was Cárdenas' other agenda item that caught our attention. He sent a letter to the congressional Animal Protection Caucus asking them to join him in observing Meatless Mondays to help the environment and "improve our health and wellbeing." This same issue surfaced in Washington in 2012 and was promptly tamped down by Iowa's Rep. Steve King and Sen. Chuck Grassley, who vowed to double-up on their meat consumption on Mondays.

WOTUS Proposal Called "Flawed"

After listening to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy's July 10 presentation to the Agricultural Business Council of Kansas City, Aaron Popelka, vice president of legal and governmental affairs for the Kansas Livestock Association, remains deeply concerned about the proposed waters of the U.S. rule (WOTUS). Popelka says McCarthy misrepresented the content of the proposed rule defining waters of the U.S. under the Clean Water Act, and claims "that EPA has no intention of working with agricultural stakeholders to reform this deeply flawed proposal."

El Niño May Disappoint

California and the Southwest remain mired in devastating drought, with the hottest and driest season just ahead. Many hopes in the region for ending the current drought hinge on the return of El Niño. Climate scientists, however, are backing off earlier forecasts that an El Niño in coming months might end the drought.

The U.S. Climate Prediction Center issued its monthly report on Pacific Ocean weather patterns Thursday, still projecting that sea surface temperatures will warm, a phenomena known as El Niño that can affect worldwide rainfall. But the El Niño that’s in the forecast will likely be only "weak to moderate," the report says.

Partners Plan Chinese Milk Venture

Abbott Laboratories is planning its first foray into China's dairy market through a $300 million joint venture with Fonterra Cooperative Group Ltd., the world's largest milk processor. The joint venture, which must be approved by Chinese regulators, will run as many as five dairy farms. The operation will involve more than 16,000 milking cattle, with the first farm opening in 2017. The effort is eventually expected to produce up to 160 million liters of milk a year. Fonterra, a farmer-owned New Zealand co-operative, already runs two dairy hubs in China's Shanxi and Hebei Provinces. Abbott, the largest maker of adult nutritional beverages in the world and a leader in infant formula, has allocated more than $400 million to its Chinese operations so far this year.

Did You Slop The Flies?

Jul 10, 2014

We are just as guilty of exaggerating our childhood as our parents were. We don't use the tired example, "walking uphill in the snow both ways to school." But we often remind our offspring just how easy they have it during haying season. "Big round bales? Pffftttt! We had to buck little square bales and all of them had to go in the peak of the barn." Yet, even that example seems pretty tame compared to working on the world's largest commercial fly farm. The Cape Town, South Africa, enterprise will harvest maggots from about 8.5 billion flies housed in giant cages.

This is no tall tale. A 91,000 square-foot facility is being constructed for AgriProtein, and aims to produce 23.5 metric tons of insect-based protein meal and oils and 50 tons of fertilizer a day. The feed is an alternative to soy and fishmeal. So what do you feed flies? Slop. As in out-of-date food or waste from restaurants. We can hear it now. "Son, I had to slop the flies every day before school."

"Natural" Means Nothing

According to the market research firm Nielson, the food industry sells almost $41 billion worth of food each year labeled with the word "natural." Doug Powell, professor of food safety and publisher of barfblog.com, says "natural" labels on food mean nothing. "It's probably the most egregious example [of meaningless labels] on supermarket shelves today," he says.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn't even have an official definition or delineation of what "natural" actually means. "Natural," "organic" and many other labels are helping confuse consumers by "tricking them into believing certain food products are healthier than they actually are."

Are WOTUS Concerns "Ludicrous?"

Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy is on a Midwest farm tour this week trying to tamp down concerns over proposed changes to the definition of "waters of the United States (WOTUS)."

Farmers and ranchers are notably nervous because they fear removing the word "navigable" from the Clean Water Act would greatly expand the EPA's reach. Texas farmer John Barrett says that would put "every ditch that connects to a navigable water of the United States subject to EPA and Army Corps of Engineers regulation."

McCarthy calls those fears "ludicrous," and she's trying to clear up some false assumptions. "The bottom line is with this proposal, if you weren't supposed to get a permit before, you don't need to get one now."

Donkey Power

In a strange mix of old-world and new-age production agriculture, we've learned that herdsmen in Turkey are attaching solar panels to donkeys to power their laptops and cell phones. The BBC reports that the solar power helps keep these sheep and goat herders connected to the Internet at all times. As Modern Farmer says, "these farmers will be able to check their email, obsess over Twitter and complain about HBO Go's buffering issues, just like the rest of us."

Sir Richard Is So Wrong

Jul 09, 2014

Sir Richard Branson is entitled to his own opinion, just not his own facts. Branson, the British billionaire entrepreneur, says he's given up eating beef and wants you to do the same.

Why? For your health and to save the planet, of course. He believes you should do so to reduce your carbon footprint. Seriously? That advice from a guy who owns an island in the Caribbean? That carbon footprint lifestyle must be off the charts. But wait, Branson cites some of his "facts" to support his proposition. Like, "it's estimated that 14.5% of global man-made greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock – which is more than the contribution from all forms of transport." Sorry, Richard, that claim (from the UN report Livestock's Long Shadow) was thoroughly debunked 7 years ago.

In fact, Dr. Frank Mitloehner's work on air quality at the University of California-Davis concluded we shouldn't blame cows for climate change.

Wanna tell Sir Richard he’s full of hot air? Go to Twitter and let him know @richardbranson. Or you can retweet from us @BeefToday.

Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics

There's a whole bunch of misinformation about beef and agriculture out there. Unfortunately, the digital age has made it way too easy for charlatans with a keyboard to spew garbage that is dangerous to your business and the health of Americans. We've noted recently the anti-vaccine movement has created some serious health concerns, prompting professionals such as Dr. Aaron E. Carroll to provide some common sense to parents who need to be told "Why You Must Vaccinate Your Kids."

Fortunately, agriculture has a few common sense scientists, too. Want to know the truth about beef sustainability or its environmental impact? Check out Dr. Jude Capper’s presentation, "Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics."

Here's a tidbit of what you'll find there: "If everybody in the USA went meatless every Monday for an entire year…the national carbon footprint would decrease by less than 1/3 of 1 percent." You can follow Capper on Twitter @Bovidiva.

Too Much Bull

As with any sport, American rodeo has become big business. Still, we were surprised to discover breeding bucking bulls has become a high-tech, multimillion-dollar industry. American Bucking Bull, Inc. (ABBI), the largest organization tracking lineage, keeps a DNA database of more than 160,000 animals. In short, today's rodeo bulls are bigger and badder than they've ever been. And rodeo cowboys are starting to learn the sport at an early age. Too early, according to some. Andrea Appleton writes on SBNation.com that the rodeo industry is "obsessed with breeding bigger, nastier bulls" which is "putting children in harm's way." Her story tells of one champion rider who is fighting to change that.

Cattle Feeding Margins Top $300 Per Head

Cattle feeders saw another significant bump in profit margins last week. The unseasonal rally in fed cattle prices saw the market gain $4 to $5 per cwt. last week, which pushed average cattle feeding profits to $319 per head, according to the Sterling Beef Profit Tracker. Farrow to finish pork margins increased slightly to $103 per head. Both beef and pork profit margins are calculated by John Nalivka, president, Sterling Marketing, Vale, Ore.

The Vegetarian Butcher

Jul 08, 2014

This story surfaced after the July 4th holiday for reasons that will become obvious. Michael Abramson calls himself a vegetarian butcher because his food shop in Toronto offers only meatless items. The shop, YamChops, offers such tantalizing selections as "No Pork Pulled Pork" and "No Crab Crab Cakes." So just what is this stuff? Abramson's "No Pork Pulled Pork" is made with cabbage (yum), the "Tuna-less Tuna" is made with chickpeas, and his "Korean BBQ Chick'n" is made with soy. We might tolerate Abramson's meat-in-name-only foods without ridicule except he commits a most unpardonable sin by offering a bacon-less bacon product. His "Coconut Bacon" is marinated coconut flakes that are hickory smoked and baked until crunchy. We're pretty sure there wasn't any "Coconut Bacon" served at a Texas barbeque over the holiday weekend.

Drought-Relief Food Boxes

Recent rains have improved drought conditions over much of the Southwest and even parts of California.

Unfortunately, California's extreme drought has already dealt the Golden State a massive economic blow. Further, the state is furnishing so-called drought-relief food boxes to individuals and families in need. Most of the requests for the food boxes come from the ag industry where pickers and packing house workers have either been laid off or had their hour reduced due to the drought. Many farmers have pulled their crops and cut down fruit trees because they lack sufficient water to irrigate them. FoodLink for Tulare County and other organizations delivered 17,000 food boxes in June.

Beef Carcass Bruises Quantified

Profitability and animal welfare can be improved with greater animal care that minimizes bruising, according to a report from the Beef Cattle Institute, Kansas State University. Beef carcass bruising causes a loss in revenue to the producer due to trim loss and can be an indication of substandard cattle management or handling. A recent study of 18,031 carcasses evaluated at commercial slaughter facilities found bruises on 37% of the carcasses, with 20% of those described as severe. The report's authors suggest further research into loading, transportation and unloading of cattle to determine corrective actions.

Have Grass, Will Profit

Record high cattle and beef prices are actually making rebuilding herds a good bet, at least for some beef cattle producers, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert. "'Out of sight' is a good term for the prices," said Dr. David Anderson, AgriLife Extension specialist in livestock and food products marketing. "And it doesn't really matter whether we're talking about retail prices to consumers, the wholesale beef market or at sale barns for calves and feeder steers."

Ahead of the Parade

Jul 07, 2014

Funny, reverent, jovial, intelligent, entrepreneur, cattle feeder, cattle breeder, community and industry leader. That's Dave Nichols, Bridgewater, Iowa. Later this month Nichols will receive the Livestock Publications Council Headliner Award during the Agricultural Media Summit in Indianapolis. The award recognizes someone from outside of livestock publishing for actions that produced a positive change in livestock production and marketing. Nichols certainly qualifies as he and his family built Nichols Farms into one of America's leading beef genetics suppliers, with breeding and marketing programs that have become a model for the industry. Iowa Public Television recently profiled Nichols on its Market to Market segment.

Economic Espionage

Three years ago the FBI uncovered an elaborate plan to steal American trade secrets. Prosecutors claim that for six years Chinese nationals "hopscotched across rural Iowa and Illinois, stealing valuable inbred corn seed from Pioneer, Monsanto and LG Seeds." According to a report on CNN Money, the "group rented storage facilities, bought their own testing field and concocted elaborate cover stories." Last week a seventh defendant, Mo Yun, was arrested and charged with stealing trade secrets for her husband's seed company, the Beijing Dabeinong Technology Group Company. The FBI's case helps underscore the difficulty of safeguarding U.S. intellectual property.

Trader Joe's Not So COOL

Trader Joe's, the trendy grocery store that features private label specialty foods, organics and other hard-to-find products, is in hot water over COOL.

Last week, Joel T. Joseph, chairman of the Made in the USA Foundation, filed suit against Trader Joe's for allegedly selling meat and produce to consumers with country of origin labels that are "outright misleading and confusing."

That's a powerful claim considering the whole COOL saga has been notably confusing. Adding to the confusion, the lawsuit seeks a meager $25,000 in damages.

Flooding Presents New Challenges

Many Iowa cattlemen are shifting from drought strategies to coping with extremely wet and flooding conditions. Water-logged facilities, flooded pastures, earthen basins that are full and financial issues are immediate concerns. The Iowa Beef Center and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach are addressing producers concerns in multiple ways, including online resources.

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