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Is the beef industry sustainable: A look at grass-fed, hormones, growth promotants, and more

Lindsay does a great job of summarizing highlights from Dr. Jude Capper’s presentation at our Sensitive Issues Media and Communication training.

Agricultural with Dr. Lindsay

Recently, several of my colleagues and I hosted a Sensitive Issues: Media and Communication Training, we worked on developing and improving our communication skills around agriculture and agricultural topics. One of the topics we received more information on was sustainability.

Dr. Jude Capper, a livestock sustainability consultant, was our first speaker. I want to share with some of the messages about sustainability shared by Dr. Capper.

Capper– Sustainability is defined as “able to last or continue for a long time.” Many livestock farmers and ranchers are sustainable – whether they raise 10 head or 1,000 head. If you have never heard of the Century Farms Program, you should check it out. The American Farm Bureau Foundation recognizes farms or ranches by state that have been in a family for 100+ years! That is sustainable.

– There are essentially three things that need to be considered to be…

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Nebraska’s Advantage

This week, I’d like to share some information that came out in a white paper from the UNL nebraska advantageAgricultural Economics Department on the special relationship we have here in Nebraska between crops, livestock, and biofuel production capacity not found in other parts of the U.S. to the extent we have here.  It’s called the “Nebraska Advantage”.

I think it’s important for all of ag industry to realize we need each other as it seems we sometimes forget how inter-dependent we are.  Crop producers need the livestock and ethanol industries as they are a high percentage of our end users.  Yet many times I hear of crop producers fighting livestock expansion or livestock coming into an area.  The purpose of the white paper was to share the numbers of where Nebraska livestock, grain production, and ethanol production currently stands, and what Nebraska could gain if we worked to increase livestock production in-state where we have a wealth of resources with our crops, water, and biofuel production.

Nebraska currently ranks 1st in irrigated acres, 1st in commercial red meat production and is tied with Texas for cattle on feed, 2nd in corn-based ethanol production, 3rd in corn for grain production, 4th in soybean productions, 6th in all hogs and pigs, and 7th in commercial hog slaughter, and 9th in table egg layers.  However, in reading this white paper, one quickly realizes we’re not taking advantage of the tremendous grain production capacity here in the State.

We export over 1/3 of our annual corn crop, at least half of the in-state production of distiller’s grains (a co-product from ethanol production that is fed to livestock), and more than 80% of our soybean meal output.  Corn and soybean production have increased in our State by 50 and 25% respectively, which is a blessing due to our irrigation capacity.  But increasing amounts of this grain are being shipped out-state instead of benefiting rural economies in Nebraska if it was used in-state for value-added livestock production and processing instead.

In the white paper, graphs are shown comparing Nebraska to neighboring states.  These graphs show Nebraska lagging neighboring states in growth of the livestock industry.  For example, while Nebraska overall increased in hog production, the inventory increased 17.2% during the first half of the decade, but declined 11.8% in the second half.  In comparison, Iowa realized an increase of 31.5% within the decade.  What was really interesting to me is the fact that Nebraska exports 2.5 million pigs annually to neighboring states to be finished and shipped back to Nebraska for processing, showing potential for growth in the market hog sector.  The dairy sector has also declined in herd numbers in Nebraska compared to other states and Nebraska’s poultry industry (mostly egg laying hens) has declined over the past decade in spite of constant numbers across the U.S.

When one looks at Nebraska’s economy, cash receipts from all farm commodities totaled over $25.6 billion in 2012 and livestock/livestock product sales was 45% of this total ($11.6 billion).  Increased employment, local tax revenue, value-added activity, and manure for fertilizer are all economic benefits of livestock expansion.  The paper stated,

A base expansion scenario that includes a 25% increase in market hogs, a doubling of dairy cow numbers, a ten percent increase in fed cattle production and a tripling of egg production, along with the associated processing industries, has the potential to provide an additional 19,040 jobs, with labor income of almost $800 million and value-added activity of over $1.4 billion. This activity has the potential to generate over $38 million in local tax revenue. While this amounts to a fairly small percentage of Nebraska’s total economy, these impacts will occur almost entirely in non-metropolitan areas of the state and would be quite beneficial to rural economies.

Livestock development has been held back by various issues and policies including:  limitations on corporate farming activity in Nebraska, state and local permitting processes, nuisance roles and lawsuits, and issues/concerns from the general public and interest groups.  The final conclusion of the paper was that significant growth in employment and economic output throughout Nebraska is dependent upon these issues being overcome.

I would challenge all of us to keep an open mind when producers desire to diversify by including livestock in their operations or through livestock expansion.  In many cases, doing so allows another person to come back to an operation, or allows someone to get started farming, which in the long run benefits our rural economies.  It’s ok to ask questions, to become more educated.  It’s through these questions that one learns how production practices have changed to ensure the health and welfare of our livestock and in odor reduction from the facility and manure application.  You can read the entire white paper contents here.

Cow-Calf College

This looks like an excellent workshop for anyone in cow-calf production.  Hope to see you there!
(Click on the agenda below to enlarge the view).

Cow-Calf College

#Ag Tour Day 1

UNL Extension Ag Educators from throughout Nebraska gathered together in late October for an excellent professional development tour toWhat is that bush and how many educators does it take to figure it out?  Apparently a lot and we still sent it to Elizabeth Killinger! Iowa and Minnesota!

Before the bus started moving we were working on plant identification for a client.  Then we learned about the status of Emerald Ash Borer among other pests at the Douglas-Sarpy County Extension Office.  By the end of the presentation we were considering getting a meat thermometer and recordable Hallmark card!  (will explain later).

Along the way, John Wilson provided an update regarding the flood recovery efforts from the 2011 flood.  He mentioned at Gavins Point Dam, the lake would have drained every 25 hrs. when releases were occurring for  the flood.  He was involved with an effort in putting togetherJohn Wilson speaking a webinar that involved 25-30 agencies and 14 speakers from 5 states.  During the recovery there were 2″ to 25′ drifts of sand in fields.  One piece of ground that was reclaimed cost $125-150K and needed 7 excavators for a month.  One 300 acre piece of ground that wasn’t reclaimed was going to cost $10,000/ac. to reclaim it.

John Hay provided an update regarding wind energy.  He pointed out the different types of towers along the way as we passed several wind farms.  Facts included:  a 1.5Megawatt wind turbine can run 1000 homes each and the gear box is turning 2000:1 compared to the blades.  Iowa is #1 in  percent of electricity produced from wind power (20%) and it costs $3-6 million each to install a wind turbine (essentially double the cost of how many megawatts).  The life span of a turbine is 20 years with a maintenance cost about $0.05/kwh.  When considering efficiency, wind turbines are 40-50% efficient vs. coal power (35%), nuclear (35%), cars (25%); so they’re more efficient at converting free energy into electricity but they are less cost John Hay speaking about wind energy.efficient than those other energy sources.  Windfarms also typically pay for themselves in 5-10 years.

Our first stop was at Hawkeye Breeders where we saw their semen storage facility that essentially had enough semen to fertilize every cow in the U.S.  They ship all over the world and their primary customer is the dairy industry.  We also toured their semen collection facility and got the coolest pen from there.

From there we stopped at Blue River Organic Seeds and were surprised to learn that all their organic seed research is done conventionally.  They provide organic seed for corn, alfalfa, soybean, and various forages and are looking for more growers.  We also learned about PuraMaize which was developed by Dr. Tom Hoegemeyer to essentially block pollen from outside sources to maintain purity.Semen storage at Hawkeye Breeders.

That night we had supper with faculty from Iowa State University talking about programming efforts there, including their manure programming, ag economics, and Roger Elmore spoke of the corn programming there.  But before that, a few of us took advantage of the 45 min. of time to get a few geocaches in the area 🙂

IMAG2514 Geocache #1Geocache #2

Toothless grins…Fun Fact Friday

Welcome Dr. Lindsay Chichester, UNL Extension Educator, to the blogging world! Here is her first post regarding a “fun fact Friday” on how cattle eat!

Agricultural with Dr. Lindsay

Did you know…

Ruminant animals (animals that have one stomach with four compartments and chew their cud; includes cattle, sheep, goats, lamas, etc. – will explain more later) do NOT have teeth on their upper jaw?

Well, technically they have premolars and molars in the very back of their mouths on the upper and lower jaws, but no teeth upper front teeth. Instead they have a dental pad, which would be hard, slick surface.

Photos used in blog(Photo: Virginia cooperative Extension)

So how do they eat? Glad you asked! The part of their mouth where the upper teeth would normally be is called a dental pad. When they take a bite of grass they wrap their tongue around it and use the dental pad and their bottom teeth to bite it off.

So how do the young animals nurse you ask… They wrap their tongues around the mother’s teat and use pressure from…

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