The reason we do this

The reason we do this
A walk with the Coys

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

What is a GMO? What is Genetic Engineering? From the perspective of a Science Teacher :)

Lately, I have had a few people ask my science teacher side to explain what exactly Genetically Modified Organisms and Genetic Engineering entail.  Let me start by saying, I am NOT the expert, but I did find a couple of reference that I think help explain the terms.  By definition, they are organisms that have modified on the genomic level.  So their strand of DNA (A-T, G-C Double helix structure that give you the instructions for all protein structures in an organism) has been modified or altered in some way.  The same thing happens when you have a baby.. some of the DNA from Mom and some of the DNA from Dad are expressed to make a new, stronger , healthier baby (if all goes according to plan).  Sometimes random mutations happen and the new baby can be even healthier, or sadly, sometimes random mutations occur that make the new baby not quite as strong or healthy.  Its all very random through the normal processes of reproduction. 

As we as a culture and a species became much more in tuned with what was happening, we would purposely breed two creatures or plants to attempt to make offspring that had the desired traits.  This works just fine, and its called selective breeding.  Do you like your kitty or pooch?  Thank selective breeding!  The problem?  Selective breeding is kind of a shot in the dark.  You don't really know what traits are going to get passed along, and it takes a significant amount of time to get the desired results.  Enter Stage Left: Biotechnology!!

Thank you modern science and your understanding of gene sequences.  Plants that are genetically engineered are nothing short of a modern miracle, and I bet Gregor Mendel would have been doing cartwheels to see how this all worked (if monks do cartwheels).  Is this a perfect system?  Of course not, there is a great deal to learn about the process, but when we are looking at farming more effectively on less land and wanting to use less pesticides..  then GE is the way to go.

I found this article to be helpful, especially if you have some knowledge of genetics, genes, proteins and promoter sequences. The short answer is that it is a protein. What makes the protein? A gene has to be coded into the protein and the promoter is was signals transcription and translation of the gene in question. With Bt, the protein is not found in equal concentrations within the plant. The great concentrations are in the regions that the lepidoptera family likes to dine, namely the ears of the corn. By just targeting moths, bees aren't harmed. If you have been following colony collapse in our nation.. that is a big win for the honey bees. The less insecticidal agents we can use the better! The whole thing is super fascinating really. The moth larvae eats the corn, the Bt protein causes their guts to kinda "fall apart" and they become septic and die. Bad day for moths, good day for everybody else. Round up ready is a different trait..

 As far as "round up ready" corn, soy and cotton there is no round up "in" the plant as you asked earlier. It is also a genetically engineered trait that allows the plant to create an enzyme (protein) that allows the plant to continue to grow when the round up is applied. Round up denies the plant a similar amino acid that creates an enzyme that it needs to grow. I hope this helps some Here is an excerpt I found that explains how these plants work: Glyphosate tolerant crops

"The second major class of GMOs (mostly soy) have been engineered to be tolerant of the herbicide glyphosate (Roundup). Glyphosate is a small molecule that inhibits an enzyme, 5-enolpyruvylshikimate-3-phosphate synthase (EPSPS), which catalyzes an essential step in the biosynthesis of the amino acids phenylalanine, tyrosine and tryptophan. By denying rapidly growing plants these amino acids, it is able to rapidly inhibit grown of plants onto which it has been sprayed. Glyphosate is generally considered to be inert in humans, who get these amino acids from their food, and do not have an EPSPS.

The obvious problem with using glyphosate to control weeds is that it will, under normal circumstances, also kill crop plants. However, plants that have been engineered to express an alternative form of EPSPS that functions normally even in the presence of glyphosate. These plants are thus “Roundup Ready“, and will survive doses of glyphosate used to kill weeds in the field.

Although the EPSPS gene used in Roundup Ready plants comes from a bacterium, the necessary changes could now easily be made to the plant’s own copy of EPSPS. Thus Roundup Ready crops, which produce no new proteins not found prior to genetic manipulation, shouldn’t really be places in the same class of GMOs as Bt expressing plants, which are expressing a new protein. And there is absolutely no reason to expect that there are any health risks associated with eating the altered form of EPSPS found in glyphosate resistant transgenic plants."
- See more at:

I hope this might be helpful to someone who is confused on the topic.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Defining the "Image" of Agriculture

How should Farm Bureau engage farmer/rancher members, representing all types and kinds of operations (i.e. conventional, organic, large, small and niche markets), to work together to better promote a more positive image of agriculture?

This is one of the questions for Ohio Farm Bureau's annual discussion meet, hosted by the Young Agricultural Professionals committee.  I love the competition and love discussing the questions.  So, I thought for my next 5 blogs, I would focus on these topics.  If you would like more information on the discussion meet or other Young Farmer activities supported by the Ohio Farm Bureau, try here (OFBF YAP Page).

So, as all good "researchers" do, when I have a question I go straight to the academic center of our modern world, Google. (there is sarcasm and truth in that statement).  And I searched:
"working together small large farms promote agriculture". I saved it.. because it seemed like the most likely order that someone might type key words in if they were to look this up.  Not too surprisingly, it didn't come back with very many useful links. About 10 down or so, after school meal programs and other titles that did not grab my attention; I found the blog  I knew must be out there..and it dealt with the heart of the matter... well the two hearts of the matter I guess.  Globalization and Food Security are both factors in this whole "positive image" that we are trying to work on.

In, "The food conundrum: Can small farmers and big business work together to solve the world food crisis? " the issue is discussed.  The author raises two very thought provoking questions: "Do we have a global food crisis so urgent that small farmers need to be pushed to one side? and  Will increasing production alone solve the problem of hunger?" Personally after looking at these questions, and then reading the one originally stated, it reminds me that I think we are looking at this all wrong.

I personally feel that if it ever comes a time when we need to push any segment of food production to one side, then we will have lost our balance.. much like a delicate ecosystem. "‘Smallholder farming, which has been long neglected, is not a single solution, but an important component of both hunger and poverty reduction’. "

The question of "image" itself demeans the conceptual notion of farming and agriculture.  By that I mean, instead of working on the positive "image" of agriculture, perhaps we just need to keep improving agriculture's role in society. Our role in society was put on display this year during the superbowl advertisement by Dodge.

Why do you think the super bowl advertisement by Dodge was such a hit amongst non-farmers and farmers alike?  The ad has (now 3 days after it aired)  4.1 million views and won the "ADBOWL" while it finished third in USA TODAY's likability Ad Meter, behind the Anheuser-Busch Clydesdale colt commercial and the Tide "Miracle Stain" spot.(Pillar, What actual Farmers thought..)  In his article about the ADBOWL, Marcucci reported: "An iconic radio voice took the cake, as Dodge Ram’s “Farmer” spot with Paul Harvey as the v/o was the highest-rated commercial during Super Bowl and wins the ADBOWL XLVII (video) ."

I think the message was a hit because it was coming from a seemingly unrelated entity; it was genuine.

Dodge's message spoke to the deep rooted love and respect we have for farmers.  Instead of wasting time and energy on an "image", why don't we spend more time on working together, supporting one another and involving as many people as we can, so we can focus on assessing the food security of our people and those of our allies.  When we work together, as we have been, then our image takes care of itself.  Dodge has tugged at the heartstrings of most of America with that commercial, and we thank them.

When the message comes from Monsanto or another larger agricultural supply corporation, the message is perceived as unauthentic.  If a politician praises agriculture it can give the perception of hidden motives.  If the message comes from a farmer, it is often received by the viewer as authentic and honest.  But Dodge seems to have, for now, trumped even us, as farmers, with its Super Bowl Commercial this year, "God Made a Farmer"  So Why all of the love for farmers?

Why did Dodge name 2013  "The year of the Farmer" ? Why do people treat farmers with so much respect? Why do little children treat us as if we are super heroes? 

This is because our actions speak louder than our words.  WE ARE APPRECIATED and the current "image" of agriculture is positive.  If we, as farmers and stewards of this land continue to do the Lord's work then the truth is promoted by our actions.  The good works we do in our communities, the good food we provide our nation and world, and the land we leave for the future generations speaks for itself.

How can we band together and work together into the future?  I don't have one single answer for this, but if we can answer this, then we can solve any of the other questions posed in this entry.  Michele Payne-Knoper discussed this at length in her excellent blog "Cause Matters Corp, Connecting Gate to Plate".  She asked: Can Agriculture Lead into the Future?, and in this she addresses some areas that we will need to address down the proverbial, 4th dimensional road:

"*Why is it so very easy for agriculture to be divided and conquered?
*Does agriculture care enough to speak out proactively?
*Is it possible that we try to fix things that aren’t broken?
*Do we sometimes get so hung up on bringing recognition to farmers that we lose the millions  of others responsible for food, fuel, feed and fiber?
*Are we so stubborn that we sometimes lose sight of the big picture?"

Ok, So now that I have started the ball rolling, how would you answer this question?  Join the conversation at "Ohio's Advisory Council" Facebook Group.

To refresh you, as the start of this blog seems SO long ago, here is the question again:

How should Farm Bureau engage farmer/rancher members, representing all types and kinds of operations (i.e. conventional, organic, large, small and niche markets), to work together to better promote a more positive image of agriculture?

Other related Links:

HLN News for "So God made a Farmer"

Mixed Reviews

What actual farmers thought

View the add to give back to FFA

Can Small Farmers work together with Big Business?


Cause Matters

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Baby its COLD outside! Taking care of the critters in the COLD!

It has been cold in the Ohio Valley the last couple of Days, REALLY cold.  Cold enough that my nose hairs freeze upon entering the outdoors.  This lead to extreme conditions for our furry friends and livestock.  So how do you keep Cattle warm in the winter? 

The best advice I can give is to keep any animal out of the wind as much as possible.  The wind in this region is primarily Westerly, and therefore you need a place for every head of animal to be on the East side of a wall/structure/natural windbreak.

What does a natural windbreak look like?  It could take on a geological form, such as a hill/cliff or bedrock outcrop, or it could be of the more "supple and green" variety.  Iowa State Extension has a handy publication on Natural Wind Break planning for increased herd protection.

We utilize a feed lot shed that was here when we purchased the farm in 2004.  Its a sturdy structure, that still needs some tuning, but it does an excellent job blocking the wind.  This being said, where do you think our cattle were at the break of dawn when the day is at its coldest? 

They were bedded down on the heavy use pad! (The feed lot shed is directly to the left in this picture, its just not visible).  So, you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink, and you can provide a cow some shelter, but that doesn't mean she'll choose it! 

I interpret this to mean that they must be enduring the weather without too much issue.  If you would like some more helpful perspective on winter cattle care, try this video by the Ohio Dairy Farmers .

Another challenge is the watering need in the cold months. For that we have an insulated automatic waterer (the yellow box with a red top in the above picture).  Jim wired it so we could also plug a de-icer into it if needed.  The frost free hydrant he installed in the barn is also keeping the water flowing for the barn critters.  What else lives in that big ol' barn? 

We  have peacocks that like huts made out of straw, horses (with a couple that are quite old - one is 35) that require extra supplemented calories, two goats who think they are dogs and not goats and a barn cat (who has been upgraded temporarily to "house cat" status :)  

Stay warm over the next month, and remember greener days are ahead!

If you have any questions, or tips, please send them along, Jim and I are always eager to learn new tricks! :)