Archive for the 'United States' Category

Doing porridge for a farm photo

When I was on holiday in Florida a couple of years ago, I managed to convince my friends to pull our hire car over so I could stop off to take some photos of an orange grove.

Not being farmer-types, they had a bit of a whinge about the delay. They couldn’t have cared less about orange harvesting and just wanted to hot-foot it to our hotel so they could kick back on a lilo with a mojito and a slab of key-lime pie.

Turns out if I did the same thing this year, they might well have had a valid reason for moaning – I could’ve got us locked up.

This bill has just been introduced by the Florida senate. You can read all detail if you click the link, but in essence it says:

  • A person who enters a farm or other property where legitimate agriculture operations are being conducted without the written consent of the owner (or a representative), commits a felony of the first degree
  • A person who photographs, video records, or otherwise produces images or pictorial records, digital or otherwise, at or of a farm or other property where legitimate agriculture operations are being conducted without the written consent of the owner (or a representative) commits a felony of the first degree

So that’s a first degree felony for photographing a farm, regardless of whether you’re actually trespassing or standing on a road peering over a fence.

A first degree felony which, as helpfully defined by law blog  The Volokh Conspiracy, is the highest degree felony other than capital crimes and ‘life felonies’, which carry a mandatory minimum of 25 years in prison.

The terms of imprisonment would be dictated by the Florida Sentencing Guidelines, but the maximum would be 30 years.

Farmers in the UK often complain about rights of access and people wandering across their land, but this seems a tad extreme to me.

Anyway, being too scared  to share the offending orange grove photo with you in fear of being banged up, I’ve had to illustrate this post with a different picture of my Florida trip. Just be thankful it wasn’t me in a bikini.

me and pluto


Chasing developments in animal genetics

Apologies for ruining Mr Geography’s pen pal dreams, but I didn’t come back from the sticks married to an emu farmer.

I did, however, learn some interesting facts about Rod Hull’s special friends:

1. They are growing in popularity in this region of India because they are incredibly efficient animals. More than 90% of every bird can be used, from the meat, to the skin (used for bags and shoes), to the bones (which are rendered for bonemeal)

2. Emu’s feathers can apparently be plucked and then spun into wool. The emu farmer I met reckons emu wool makes smashing shawls.

3. Emu meat is incredibly good for you. It’s low in fat and high in iron, and is being touted as a health food here in India.

and finally: 4. Emu meat taste like chicken. Though doesn’t everything.

I’ve been pretty impressed about the type of livestock I’ve seen being reared and bred here in India. From the buffalo and chickens I saw around Delhi, to these birds and the cattle I saw yesterday in Maharashtra.

These dairy cows, at the KVK research centre, are bred from Australian and Canadian genetics.


They’ve also been mixed with a native breed (I can’t remember the name off the top of my head, if anyone’s desperate to know, email me and I’ll make something up for you), meaning they’re high-yielding milkers, but able to cope with the 45 degree+ temperature it reaches in summer over here .

And the developing interest in animal genetics doesn’t stop at bovine. These fellas on the left have been imported from Australia. Famed for growing a lot of flesh quickly, their semen is being turkey-basted into the scrawny-looking gals on the right, who are rubbish at producing meat, but nimble enough to walk the rocky land in the region and and can handle the heat.


The result? A hardy goat that offers more milk and more meat, helping farmers become more profitable.

It’s really interested me to see just how much technology from Europe, Australia and the US is being used in India. Before I came here I assumed the majority of farmers were working on a subsistence basis and wouldn’t be as developed as they are. Admittedly, they still have a long way to go and there are lots of farmers who still just have a couple of scrawny heifers  tied to their front door, but most of the farmers I’ve met know a great deal about international markets and the technologies they are developing and using, and they want to catch up.

If only they could harvest some of their emu’s speed, they’d be a force to be reckoned with in no time at all.


The things I do for you guys…

When Farmers Weekly celebrated it’s diamond anniversary last year, we ran a poll to find out what readers thought the greatest farming innovation of the past 75 years was.

While the three-point linkage came out top, the mobile phone came in a close second as an invention which had revolutionised agriculture.

I’m pretty sure if we do the same survey for FW‘s 80th birthday, the mobile will have have jumped to first place – especially now smart phones are becoming less of a rarity on farms.

While I was in the US in July, I met loads of farmers who were doing everything with their Blackberrys and iPhones– from simple stuff such as emailing, to checking out the weather, trading grain and asking agronomists to identify which chemicals they needed for their crops by texting a photo over. One guy even had an iPad which he was using to map his entire farm and work out soil types and the fertilisers he needed. He also had all of his workers’ phones hooked up to the thing so he could know where everyone was on the farm at any time – very handy when he was trying to keep track of his grain trucks during harvest.

I’m always interested to see people using iPhones in innovative ways and finding apps that make their jobs easier – if only because I reckon it justifies my almost incessant praise of the things.

So, as I’m sure you’ll understand, it’s out of journalistic duty that I’ve had to upgrade to the iPhone 4 so I can find out for myself the ways the latest model can be used on farms.

Hopefully upgrading will also stop my Apple-obsessed friend, Mr Geography, from harping on about how amazing the latest iPhone is. Here’s a photo of him boring me to death about it for the 14,000th time:

Me and Mr Geography

Anyway, my phone arrived this week. It’s possible its arrival may have coincided with my lack of posts on here.

It’s all in the name of research. Honest…


Tea and sympathy

Seeing as he told me he doesn’t read blogs, I think I’m safe to say what I like about farmer Steve, who I met today. This is him overlooking the lake on his farm:


I think Steve’s actually a closet Englishman, as he’s the first person I’ve met in the US who a) owns a kettle and b) knows how to make a decent brew. He’d even heard of Twinings tea and put my mug on a saucer. D’you reckon this kind of detail is embarrassing enough to get him back for calling me Australian?

Anyway, like every other farmer in the state, Steve grows corn and soya. We had a good chat about the kinds of media he uses to get information from, as well as the problems he and other farmers in the US have with explaining to the public about food production. It was easy to be sympathetic to his complaints, as they were exactly the same problems as those in the UK – how to decide upon a united message, how to counter emotion-based attacks from pressure groups and how to explain to children that milk doesn’t magically appear in the supermarket.

It makes me wonder whether we shouldn’t be taking a more international approach to educating the public and sharing the way we do things.


Any GM volunteers?

I thought I’d use my unexpected rest stop at Champaign train station to catch up on a few blog posts. I’m swinging wildly from finding this escapade hilariously funny to getting really narked about my travel-related incompetency, so I don’t know which tone these might take to reflect my mood. Apologies in advance if they got more sarcastic than usual.

Anyway, having heard nothing but how great GM crops are from certain Irish and Aussie know-it-alls, I thought I’d provide some balance from here in Illinois. Here’s a picture of a soya bean field from behind my host’s house:


I don’t know if you can tell from the picture, but the dark green stuff is soya and the lighter stuff is corn. The farmers around here call it ‘volunteer corn’. Basically it’s Roundup-resistant stuff from last year that has set itself in this year’s rotation of soya. Because it’s GM it’s resistant to any herbicide, so other than go and dig the plants out by hand, there’s nothing the farmers can do.

It’s not unique to this field either – most of the fields around here look like this. According to one chap I was talking to, he dug so many corn plants out of his fields that his soya yields were decimated. For some reason it’s worse this year than it’s ever been before.

Interestingly he reckoned that weeds were starting to creep back into the fields too. It seems plants are starting to build up resistance against Roundup…


Shootin’ the breeze

I had my first taste of home-made icream-making today (I believe my official role was foreman):

icecream making

We were joined for dinner by my my hosts’ (Jim and Marlene) neighbour Dave, an arable farmer who lives next door. Dave’s son has taken over most of the farm, but Dave still farms 100 acres of corn and beans.

I don’t think he really got the hang of my accent, but he could certainly tell a story. Dave used to breed and race horses, and at 81 still gets on a horse when he can ‘to prove he can still do it’. He told tales of when he used to race his horse against motorbikes – and win – and stories about his various escapades trying to shoot the raccoons that plagued his farm.

“I set a trap for the ‘coons and dagnammit di’n’t I only go and catch mysel’ two skunks. Did I have ter shoot ’em? Well, no, I didn’t have ter, but I sure did.”


Popping corn (not corks) in Champaign

While my host, Jim, has spent most of his life working for the University of Illinois, he’s continued to dabble in farming. His father, Walker, was interested in growing popcorn so Jim has followed in his footsteps and grows about half an acre of the stuff with his son-in-law, Bruce.

We went and checked on the crops this morning and they’re looking pretty good. Illinois had some heavy rain over the spring which led to water-logging in some fields and patches where the corn hasn’t come through at all, but Jim’s popcorn all looks healthy, despite his concerns about the arrival of dreaded Japanese beetles.


This is red popcorn, a variety I’ve never seen before. Once it’s ripe in the autumn Jim and Bruce harvest it, process it and pack it using Jim’s father’s old machinery which they’ve automated themselves by adding motors. The tractor they use is even belongs to Mr Evans Snr, circa 1945:

Old tractor

Et voila, here’s the finished article:

Red popcorn
It’s sold health food stores and gourmet food shops, apparently it tastes nuttier than white or yellow varieties so it tends to go well.


The corn belt

I’ve travelled about three hours south of Chicago to a place called Champaign, Illinois. Part of the United State’s corn belt, the countryside of Illinois is very flat, with a perfect mixture of sunshine and rain to be able to grow corn exceedingly well. Apparently the saying goes that it should be knee-high by the fourth of July. This stuff has managed another four feet on top of that:

Champaign is home to the University of Illinois and about 40,000 students from around the world. It’s a huge campus with a variety of faculties, including a department of agriculture which has the longest-running cropping experiments in America:

Crop trialsUOI crop trials
It’s not quite to Rothemsted standards, but it’s impressive to think these trial plots have survived all that time despite being right next to the halls of residents and tipsy students. I imagine students in the UK would find it hilariously funny to try making crop circles after a few pints of snake bite.

The plots are taken seriously by the university too – rather than move them to make way for additional faculties, new buildings have been built below ground to ensure the crops aren’t disturbed and remain in full sunlight:

Underground library
Trial plots aside, I’m in Champaign to visit Dr Jim Evans, who seems to be the king of agricultural communications in the US. He used to be a journalist but spent the last few decades teaching the future farm journalists of the world how to write about the industry, as well as researching the ways media communicate about farming all over the world. It’s amazing to think farming communications is given so much credence as a subject to study over here, I don’t know of anything similar in either our ag colleges or mainstream universities.


Laters, Windy City

No meetings yesterday so Kev, an Irish scholar who happens to be passing through Chicago, and I spent the day together doing some proper touristy stuff.

First though, we had to head back tot he airport so he could pick up his hire truck. Apparently he would have felt too ashamed visiting farms in a little car, so he felt this was in order:

Monster Truck

I couldn’t even reach the roof standing on my tip-toes. The open back was quite handy though, it meant I managed to get a good tan on the way back into the city:


Don’t panic mother, I’m obviously joking. Anyway, we had a savage day of boating, learning how the river’s turned green for St Patrick’s day, story-telling, playing with lego, overcoming vertigo, almost buying aviators and the world’s best taxi ride.

Spending time with Kev has also taught me I need to be a bit braver about talking to people – I’m not sure I need to go for the whole Irish Effect, but some of the best bits of yesterday were chatting to locals. Anyway, Kev’s off to St Louis today to the John Deere factory (I assume he’s bought the giant suitcase to fill up on JD stuff from the gift shop) and I’m heading south to Champaign and the University of Illinois. I’d better go and pack…


A taste of Chicago

I reckoned I could spend ages writing about all the stuff I did on Friday, so here’s a photo summary, cos it’s not like I don’t take enough pictures….

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