Categories Agriculture

The Greying of Agriculture: Farm Operators Aging


The average age of American farmers is 54.3 years. In 1997, 61 percent of farmers were over the
age of 55, up from 37 percent in 1954.

 

On average, farmers are older than workers in other careers. According to the
U.S. Department of Agriculture, 12 percent of workers in the
civilian work force were over age 55 in 1997. For a complete listing of farm operators by age
from 1910 to 1997, see USDA’s Economic Research Service
agricultural census data
in PDF format.

Why are American farmers older today than in the past? Overall, Americans are living longer today,
and, as self-employed individuals, farmers can continue to work after others have retired. Also,
the mechanization of agriculture has helped older farmers continue to farm using machinery instead
of physical labor.

As with society, the future of farming depends on new, younger farmers entering the industry. The
share of farmers younger than 35 has declined from 15 percent in 1954 to 8 percent in 1997. This
shrinkage is attributed to the decline in farm numbers and the fact that families are having fewer
children than in the past.

New farmers typically enter the industry through the family farm business. The decision to enter
farming depends on the attractiveness of farm versus non-farm employment. When the non-farm
economy is robust, young people may opt for higher incomes available off the farm.

USDA’s Economic Research Service suggests that it takes
$500,000 in assets to fully support a farm household. So, access to financial capital can be a
stumbling block for young farmers eager to enter the industry. Currently, several state and
federal program exist to help young farmers. The Agricultural Credit Improvement Act of 1992
created a beginning farmers down payment farm ownership loan program, and required USDA’s
Farm Service Agency to target a percentage of its loans to
beginning farmers and ranchers.

While the aging of America’s farmers is unlikely to affect the nation’s food supply (because of
advances in technology), it is a concern for the structure of farming. The Secretary of Agriculture
has appointed a Beginning Farmers Advisory Committee to make recommendations on financial
assistance and methods to create new farming and ranching opportunities.…

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Categories Agriculture

NAFTA, the Department of Agriculture and Illegal Aliens

Acting Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Conner in a statement released January 2, 2008 has declared the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) “…one of the most successful trade agreements in our history…” citing the enormous rise in agricultural exports to Mexico, from $5.9 billion at NAFTA’s inception in 1994 under the Clinton administration, to $24 billion in 2006.

What Conner failed to discuss in his statement was the devastation NAFTA has wreaked upon Mexican farming, causing staple products such as corn and tomatoes from the United States to be cheaper to import than grow locally, with those U.S. operations using cheap – and oft-times illegal – labor imported from south of the border.

There is no question that NAFTA has been a boon to U.S. agricultural exports. But its effects reached beyond the border, and created a vacuum within the Mexican economy. The needs of the displaced and dispossessed sustenance farmers are being filled in many instances by illegal hiring practices in the United States in such industries as construction and farming.

Many of the illegal immigrants who have landed in the United States once ran their own farms at home in Mexico, but found that their hand-labor intensive farming methods had no hope of competing with the mechanized megafarms in the United States, and were forced from their land seeking work elsewhere – with the United States the obvious market with its porous border and “don’t ask, don’t tell” attitude toward illegal aliens of Hispanic descent.

Tomatoes are a hand-picked crop, backbreaking labor that pays laborers by the bucket picked or by the pound. Taco Bell and parent company Yum Brands last spring entered into an agreement with migrant farm worker organization Coalition of Immokalee Workers to double the price of tomatoes – from 1 cent to 2 cents per pound. McDonald’s was soon pressured to follow suit, as are other restaurant chains in the United States.

“McDonald’s has decided to work with the growers instead of the workers,” said Amanda Shanor, program director with the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights in an interview with New Standard reporter Kari Lydersen. That is, until McDonald’s entered into a similar agreement on April 9, drawing the ire of the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, …

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Categories Agriculture

Agricultural Production Issues – Pesticides, Organic, and Biotech

Growers rely on conventional, organic, or biotechnology-based agricultural practices for commercial production. Each of these farming practices has benefits and risks associated with its use. As the population continues to increase, polices and practices need to be continually addressed, modified, and adopted to promote sustainable agriculture, environmental conservation and protection, and to ensure an affordable, abundant, and safe food supply.

 

Food Production Issues

Conventional, organic, and biotechnology-based agricultural production policies and practices are continuously confronted with environmental, health, safety, or ethical implications and issues. Scientists, growers, governing bodies, regulatory agencies, and the public continually address these issues in an attempt to determine the most effective means to safely produce an adequate supply of food and fiber.

Conventional farming is aided by the use of pesticides, usually synthetic chemicals, and integrated pest management (IPM) procedures, e.g. entomophage (beneficial organisms such as, birds, spiders, and ladybug beetles, which feed on insect pest species) conservation and crop rotation. Organic farming prohibits the use of most synthetic chemicals and relies on natural chemicals, e.g. botanical extracts, and IPM (AMS). Biotechnology-based farming utilizes genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or genetically engineered (GE) plants to reduce inputs, e.g. insecticides, fungicides, and labor costs.

Each of these agricultural production practices has benefits and risks associated with its use. Legislators and policy makers have developed and continue to redefine standards for conventional, organic, and biotechnology-based practices for the agricultural industry. These standards are adopted and implemented to minimize risks to human health and the environment.

Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) of 1996 and Other Statutes

In the United States, conventional production is regulated in part by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) of 1996. The FQPA is a far-reaching statute that impacts one of the most basic needs for human survival – a safe food supply. This statute amended the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and the Federal Food Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) to address environmental, health, and safety issues. The FQPA replaced the Delaney Clause to establish pesticide risk tolerances in food and other exposure routes, such as water and residential uses.

The FQPA established reasonable exposure risks, primarily to protect children from potential harmful effects of pesticide contact and consumption of residues. …

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Categories Agriculture

Pork Producers Urged to Certify Their Operations


A voluntary certification program for pork producers just may give “the other white meat” a new
image. Until now, consumers’ fear of trichinosis-causing worms in pork has prompted sometimes
overzealous, thorough cooking of the meat.

 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service
has been working to develop a voluntary national certification program for trichinae-free pork. The
final element, a 2-year pilot study, began this summer.

In cooperation with the National Pork Producers Council, the meat packing industry, the Animal and
Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), and the Food Safety and Inspection Service, Dr. H. Ray Gamble, of
USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, developed an ELISA test that enables veterinarians to screen
live animals for the infection from a blood sample. Gamble has been testing the procedure on herds
for two years.

Now, the National Pork Producers Council is urging producers to have their animals certified by an
APHIS-accredited veterinarian. Using a standardized checklist, the veterinarians will document
management practices that protect animals from infection. Production sites that meet the criteria will be
certified as having safe management practices. At the packing plant, certified animals
will be separated from non-certified pigs for further tracking and testing to be sure they really
are trichinae-free.

Even though the number of pigs infected with the trichinae parasite has declined steadily for
decades, several overseas markets have closed their borders for U.S. pork producers. A certification
program that begins on the farm may hold promise for re-opened markets.…

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Categories Agriculture

Majestic Eagles Play a Part in Zuni Agriculture


To many Native Americans, the eagle is a sacred messenger that carries their prayers to the Creator. Feathers from these magnificent creatures are used in religious and cultural ceremonies. The soft, white feathers found near the base
of the tail often are used to represent rain clouds in crop planting ceremonies.

 

Traditionally, shed eagle feathers were collected from the wild. However, years of habitat loss and poaching have
reduced the number of golden and bald eagles in the United States. Today, only Native Americans can own eagles or
eagle parts, according to the National Eagle Repository in Denver, Colo.

“For New Mexico’s Zunis, who use a lot of feathers in their ceremonies, the problem is that there are no active eagle nests on their
reservation,” says Steve Albert, director of the Zuni Fish and Wildlife Department (FWD). “For the past few years, up
to 40 percent of requests from this region to the National Eagle Repository in Denver were from members of the Zuni
tribe.”

Four years ago, Albert began working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to provide more feathers for the Zunis. “We discovered that there is a shortage of
homes for non-releasable eagles,” he says. “These can be eagles with permanent injuries, or ones that were born in captivity and have imprinted on humans.”

With funding from the Zuni tribe, five private foundations and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Zuni FWD planned a captive eagle flight center. New Mexico
architects Donna Cohen and Claude Armstrong were familiar with pueblo-style architecture and built a full-scale model of dry-laid sandstone with no visible mortar.

Foot injuries are a common problem in captive birds. “Any sharp surfaces can lead to cuts and infections,” Albert says. “The architects studied and followed patterns
of existing eagle flight cages, incorporating vertical wooden slats to prohibit perching on the sides of the cage.”

The Zuni Eagle Flight Center also has pea gravel along the floor and artificial turf on the perches. Construction took approximately one year.

Then the only thing missing was the eagles. “We began collecting birds this year,” he says.

Three golden eagles have made their home at the Zuni Eagle Flight Center since early summer. “We have three males, all 2 to 4 …

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Categories Agriculture

African Women and the Evergreen Agriculture

Woman farmer in the fields with sleeping child on her back – Milton Grant/UN

To increase agricultural production in Africa, women need rights to land, access to quality seed and policy support to scale up existing farming practice

Declining Food Production

It is not surprising that the current trends in Africa point to a hunger and food shortage crisis. This is because of the unpredictable rainfall, ever-expanding human population and declining soil fertility levels. If these current trends continue, projections indicate that by the year 2020, 25% of Africa’s children will suffer from hunger and malnutrition that will lead to over a third of mortality of children aged under five years.

Total food production in the African continent continues to decline. To revitalize agricultural production, a new movement known as Evergreen Agriculture has been started and is now being promoted by scientists as a way to increase food security. Evergreen Agriculture is being touted as a hybrid of conservation farming and agroforestry. Conservation farming aims to conserve soil and water by minimizing soil disturbance thus improving conditions for crop growth. On the other hand, Agroforestry involves planting trees/shrubs with crops and/or livestock…combining agricultural and forestry techniques on farmland to create a productive, profitable, diverse and sustainable land use system. Thus from an agroforestry system, farmers can harvest crop food, meat and milk, fodder, timber, firewood, fruits and other products such as resins.

The key question is…what is the rationale of promoting a “new” agricultural movement, which is based on principles of an already existing system? Furthermore, is there an added “advantage” of this new movement to African women who provide over 80% of farming labor?

 

The African Woman Farmer

The rural women of Africa are constantly looking for better and easier ways to farm and increase food in the homes while reducing the demand for their labor. As the rainfall patterns are changing and becoming more variable each year, women have started to pay attention to agricultural technologies that can increase food supply and create healthy and resilient soils, generate other products such as fruits and timber, household income and reduce labor demands, in other words, multiple benefits. In rural Africa where farm sizes are rather small, and intensive farming is done throughout the …

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Categories Agriculture

Community Supported Agriculture: A Share of the Harvest Means Fresh Produce Every Week

Community Supported Agriculture (commonly called CSA) is a marketing tool by which consumers can subscribe to a farm. In return for the price they pay for a share in the late winter or early spring, they receive a weekly allotment of the produce that is harvested from the farm.

CSAs began in Japan nearly 40 years ago and spread to the US in the 1980s. Today there is an estimated 1400 CSAs in the United States.

There is no common governing body for CSAs: each works differently and each may have a different focus.

Common Advantages to CSAs

  • It is a partnership between consumer and producer, supplying cash for operating expenses to the farmer and a shared risk of unforeseen circumstances, for example, crop damage due to hail.
  • Consumers and farmers develop a relationship: consumers know where their food comes from and farmers know the people they are feeding.
  • Food is harvested when it is ripe and delivered within hours for freshness, better flavor and less deterioration than conventionally farmed produce found in grocery stores.
  • Because the food is produced locally, less fossil fuel is spent in its transport and only minimal packaging is needed.
  • Most CSAs have organic certification or they employ organic methods.
  • CSAs practice biodiversity, growing a variety of crops for their clients rather than concentrating on a single crop or monoculture.
  • CSA farmers receive 100% of the client’s dollar, whereas conventional farmers receive only 25%.

CSAs diverge in what they offer to their customers.

Differences Among CSAs:

  • Products offered. Some CSAs provide only vegetables while others may provide fruit, meat, eggs, dairy, honey, or winter roots and tubers.
  • Weekly newsletters to update customers on crop health as well as what they can expect in future deliveries. Often recipes and tips for cooking produce are included.
  • Heirloom varieties grown for their tastiness rather than their ability to withstand long distance transport. CSAs also may grow specialty vegetables such as sunchokes and French breakfast radishes.
  • Besides charging a share price, some CSAs ask clients to volunteer time at the farm. Chores range from pulling weeds to sorting and packing produce for delivery.
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Categories Agriculture

Top Agriculture Colleges in the United States

Agricultural teaching colleges offer professional training and academic courses in the agriculture science field. Technical, community and junior colleges offer both two year Associates Degrees and professional certificates relating to agriculture. Four year universities routinely offer Bachelors Degree program in agriculture business and management. Students must have proof of a high school diploma or GED for admission. Accredited agricultural colleges accept federal financial aid waivers and offer monthly tuition payment plans.

 

Agriculture production technology Associates Degrees instruct students on the science of soil types and plant growth. Students learn both inside a traditional classroom and in a rural environment on a farm. Common courses include operating farm equipment, agricultural tools and machines, livestock care and business operations. Although the courses covered comprise an Associates Degree, they may also be accepted by students who choose to pursue a Bachelors Degree in the future. Colleges in the United States who offer this type of degree include Dixie College, Houston Community College, Northern Virginia Community College and American River College.

Agriculture business management occupational degrees at two year college educate students on related service, sales and management aspects of farming. Instructors teach courses which include plant science, basic economics, soil sampling, accounting and vegetable production. Although students will complete hands-on components related to agriculture, this degree is geared to primarily the business management aspects of farming. Students will learn how to budget expenses, supervise an agricultural company and the plant growth process. Degree candidates will discover how environmental aspects affect plant production and how to identify various plant species. Colleges which offer this type of degree include Valencia Community College, Ashford University and the Tarrant County College District.

Vegetable production occupational degrees prepare the student for agricultural related careers and the workforce. Commercial vegetable production techniques, farming technology and management courses comprise the typical coursework required for degree completion. Common classes include vegetable crop production, soil labs, oxycetylene cutting and biology. Colleges offering this type of degree include Arizona Western College, Broward Community College, Southern Main Community College and Southeastern Illinois College.

Plant science degrees focus on the germination and reproduction process of plants. Students will learn how and when to plant seeds, environmental impact factors and safe uses of pesticides. Typical classes include vegetable crop …

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Categories Agriculture

Community Shared Agriculture in Relation to American Food Culture

There are many significant events in human history. Inventions made from human hands that have made everyday tasks easy, such as the wheel, cars, planes, the internet, and the list goes on. Approximately ten thousand years ago, the beginning of agriculture was an event that changed the way humans would live. Such event has rapidly taken over the way humans eat, and therefore, the way they live. Since then, the foodscapes of local communities, regions, and nations have undergone transformations, one after another. Nearly everyone in our modern world relies on agriculture to sustain them, and each time one lifts their fork to their mouth, they are participating in agriculture. Food is essential to every human life, so humans have come up with methods to distribute food throughout villages, communities, cities, and countries. On a global level humans have become skilled at distributing food around the world and back, but is that really what should continue to sustain lives?

The United States of America is beginning to see many food movements arising that have to do with environmentally friendly ways of eating, such as local and organic food. This progressive thought just may be the answer to a lot of the issues that may concern the average American. One may ask how they may accomplish this? Though agriculture is hardly a new concept since it arose roughly ten thousand years ago, the idea of community shared agriculture as a new form of obtaining produce groceries, is. In discussing the topic of Community Shared Agriculture, it is important to look at the concept as a whole (where it originated, why, when), its impact on the economy in a local, regional and global sense, and the influence it has on the way we look at food as a culture.

 

CSA in Lake Oswego, Oregon, is included.

Community shared agriculture, or, CSA as it has come to be known, is a fairly new concept of food distribution in which a farmer and consumer(s) interact directly with each other and assume the risks and benefits of food production together. Beginning in the early 1960’s in areas such as Germany, Switzerland, and Japan, the ideas and displays of CSA are now rapidly spreading throughout our industrialized world (DeMuth, 1993). …

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Categories Agriculture

The Influence of Historical Agriculture

A recent edition of “National Geographic” magazine contained an article about the archeological excavations at Gobekli Tepe, a religious site in the Fertile Crescent. The article suggests that as a result of the end of the Ice Age about 9600 B.C.E. and the resulting climate change, the population felt a sense of “wonderment” over the evolution of new plants and animals. This sense of wonderment then gave rise to early religion. And populations began to cluster together near the religious sites in communities founded for the purpose of worship. This trend of forming communities then may have given rise to the nascent development of agriculture. At this time in human history, the Neolithic Revolution, religion tended to be matriarchal even in patriarchal societies. (Examples of matriarchal religion are the Minoan Snake Goddess and, perhaps, the Venus of Willendorf.) The National Geographic article suggests that religion was the prime mover for settlement, cooperation and the birth of agriculture near these sacred sites.

Agricultural Tool Development

So as agriculture progressed moving populations away from horticultural practices or slash and burn types of food gathering, various tools were developed to raise previously wild crops which were now domesticated. Animals were domesticated and raised as food sources or for reproduction which required settlements to contain and protect the animals. By the 1800’s, Thomas Malthus hypothesized that populations would overtake agricultural technology and that certain populations would starve to death as a result.

Ester Boserup’s Contributions

Ester Boserup, born in Copenhagen in 1910, hypothesized that Malthus was wrong based upon his static view of agricultural technology. Boserup’s theory maintained that agricultural methods were a product of population pressures. She argued that when population is low, land tends to be used intermittently. As an example during the Medieval period when war and plague ravaged the population, agricultural practice dictated that fields remain fallow. Modernly, with ever increasing population, agricultural practices favor rotating crops to replace nutrients lost in the soil through planting a specific crop, such as fodder crops. Modern agriculture uses supplements to replace nutrients although arguably, this practice has not been beneficial to the top soil or riparian corridors.

 

Ester Boserup has been characterized as an “anti- Malthusian” but her theories are not limited to the relationship of …

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