Thursday, July 31, 2014

Coexistence: Organic & GMO


I drove to a customer's vineyard yesterday to do some scouting as Japanese beetles have been incessantly pesky this year. As I drove up the back lane it dawned on me that I had the perfect image and topic for a blog, one that I've mentioned in the past, and that is of the coexistence of both biotech and organic crops.

Perfect example of organic and biotech crop coexistence.
The right is organic corn.
The left is biotech corn.
They cannot "drift" or "contaminate" each other, read on to find out why.

In the rhetoric of social media, you wouldn't know it, but along the back roads of rural America, biotech and organic crops get along, and so do their farmers (at least the ones I know). I love living and being neighbors in the farmland of rural America. We hear the "noise" of social media, but it doesn't usurp our world. Our world is open, quiet, and peaceful. Neighbors still know each other and wave as they pass by. The polarization of our food and farming systems is on our phones, our iPads, our TVs, our laptops, but not in our fields.

This farm is not mine as I've written before, we no longer farm organically. It is the farm of a landlord I know who is not a farmer. He leases the farm out to different farmers, and it just so happens that one is certified organic and the other is conventional. You wouldn't know this if you passed by the farm. There's no billboard  or signage announcing one or the other. There are no battles or controversies surrounding these fields. There is just peaceful coexistence. I know because I personally know the landlord and the farmers. Just 2 farmers farming the land and trying to make a living doing what they love.

So why can these 2 corn crops coexist?

Biotech corn past pollination. 
This biotech corn is fully developed. If you read my "corn sex" (AKA #50shadesoffarming) post on my Foodie Farmer Facebook page, you are aware of the fact that the way corn has "sex" is by dropping  pollen from the tassel at the top of the stalk to the silk which is the hair on the ear of the corn in order to reproduce and form kernals. This biotech corn is way past pollination because the silk has dried up and turned brown. Pollination happens over the course of about 10 days to two weeks given good pollination conditions such as no extreme heat, no excessive rain, etc...

So you're still wondering why this organic farmer would risk putting his corn next to  the biotech farmer right? (Or vice versa as the case may be).

Organic corn not yet having reached pollination.
This organic corn is not in pollination stage yet. There are no tassels and there are no ears of corn with silks yet. There is no way for the biotech corn to pollinate this organic corn because 1) the biotech pollen is gone, this corn is well past pollination, it has no "male sperm" so to speak, 2) the organic corn has no ears of corn so no "female" parts by which to receive the "male" pollen. So to be biologically correct, the male pollen just like sperm, has a short life. Once released, it is only viable for 18-24 hours.  Pollen is not able to reproduce indefinitely. So once the silks on the ear have dried up, the pollen is pretty much past its ability to contribute to reproduction.

Given the different stages of growth these 2 fields of corn are in, it is biologically impossible for them to "drift" to one another. That's the management of field planning, something all we farmers do.

Coexistence is an extremely manageable situation and happens more often than you are lead to believe by the media. We practiced organic, conventional, and biotech farming systems simultaneously for 7 years and continue to do specialty seed production which still requires the same level of management to ensure purity. That's all coexistence is, management and planning.

So despite what you may hear in the media, know that it is very doable and happens often. We farmers have been managing it well despite those who would lead you to believe otherwise.

Likewise, when we have specialty grains or seeds, that needs storage, we clean, then we clean, and then we clean some more.
We clean this.

We clean these.

And we clean these.

We clean what I refer to  as our farm "infrastructure", the grain tanks, the grain trailer, the seed carts, the planters, the combine, anything that comes in contact with multiple crops that need to be kept segregated. Again, tedious work but simply just a management tool to allow for coexistence of commodity crops with specialty crops, those that need to be kept segregated from the rest. 

We recognize that there are pros and cons to all types of farming. There is no "one" best farming system that is without flaw. There is no "one" cookie cutter system that all farmers should universally follow because we all have different soil types and microclimates that impact what and how we grow. But know that we do respect each other, coexist with each other even when we farm with different methods. 

We farmers coexist and so do our crops. The world would be a better place if others followed suit.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Sustainable Ag: We're Certified Stewards!

Sustainability isn't a hot topic on our family farm, it is a way of life. Recently, our way of life was certified by Maryland inspectors as being a "Certified Agricultural Conservation Steward" under the Farm Stewardship Certification and Assessment Program. (FSCAP). The program is sponsored by the Maryland Association of Soil Conservation Districts, and farmers must meet the ACSCS standards in order to gain the status of "Certified Steward".


Under the FSCAP program, we voluntarily submit to inspections of both recordkeeping and have all our fields inspected to ensure that not only have we documented the conservation we have put on the ground, but that we maintain and preserve those practices to ensure that excess nutrients and sediment do not leave our farm.

Going through our mandatory nutrient management plan, the inspectors look for soil, manure, and plant tissue analysis and that what we apply to our plants and soils is what is required by the crop. They look at our approved soil conservation and water quality plan to make sure that all the conservation recommendations were implemented as directed. They make sure our fertilizer receipts match our application records. They make sure we correctly complete and submit to the Maryland Dept of Agriculture the mandatory Annual Implementation Report (AIR) for all fertilizer use.

Once the records pass inspection, they walk the fields, inspecting the conservation on the ground. These are practices that provide natural resource protection such as buffers around bodies of water seen below.


We're required to have a 30 foot buffer but ours is more like 1000 feet from this stream. On the right, you see trees that were planted as part of the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP). This program is a voluntary land retirement program that removes production agriculture from sensitive land such as this one adjacent to the stream. The practice of setting aside land that is sensitive is a very sustainable approach that actually benefits the larger downstream community more directly than it benefits us. In total, we have taken 120 acres of land out of agricultural production over the last 15 years, in addition to the implementation of many other active conservation practices.


Cover crops is also another conservation practice we put into place on as many acres as we can every fall. These crops take up any remaining nutrients in the soil left over from the crop we just harvested, and then slowly release those nutrients in the spring as the crop decomposes in the field acting as a sort of green manure. This practice adds to the sustainability of our soils by enhancing the qualities, improving the nutrients and organic matter and overall soil health which is critical to the sustainability of the farm for future generations.


Precision ag is another sustainable practice that we have employed on our family farm. Using the newest technology allows us to use less fertilizer by reading the chlorophyll content of the plant and the computerized technology in the tractor adjusting the rate of the fertilizer based on the specific crop. This saves us both economic resources and provides an environmental benefit to the larger watershed community around us.


Conservation tillage is a big part of our sustainable agricultural practices. We use both no-till and conservation tillage. Above you see Hans getting ready to no-till which means he is seeding a new crop directly into the residue of the previous crop (note the brown corn stalks on top of the soil). No till means we do not plow and therefore do not turn over the soil, exposing it to erosion, sediment and phosphorus loss. Our top soil and its health is our livelihood. We do all that we can to preserve and protect it.

All human activity has an impact on the environment, agriculture included. Sustainable agriculture is about being responsible to preserve and protect the resources that we have that provide food and fiber for our neighbors, while protecting the soil, water and environment for the now and the future. There is nothing at greater stake than the future sustainability of family farms like mine. Certification in agricultural conservation is striving for the best for our land, the best for our surrounding and downstream communities, and most importantly, the best stewardship for the next generation to operate this family farm.

Visit our conservation stewardship page at:  FSCAP Schmidt Farms Inc.


Thursday, June 12, 2014

I AM a Corporate Farm!

For years now I've been using this family pic during my farming presentations saying "We are a corporate farm and here's our Board of Directors." I was actually being facetious because our farm is a family farm, large yes, but still, what you see below is pretty much what you get (plus a few years). Little did I know that today, I'd discover it wasn't tongue in cheek, it was actually true! We are a "corporate" farm!


This pic was taken in the fall of 2007, as one of the Maryland farm families who were inducted into Maryland's Agriculture Hall of Fame.  So the kids now are all either in high school or have graduated. But this is it, the family who operates the family farm... and it happens to be a corporate farm.

I was researching USDA 2012 Ag Census data for an upcoming webinar I am speaking at on U.S. Agriculture 101. One of the questions I was asked to define was the difference between family farms and corporate farms. As I started looking at the statistics and asking questions of the folks at National Ag Statistics Survey (great guys, very helpful BTW), I was amazed at what I found out!

The 2012 U.S. Agriculture Census data shows: 
Source: U.S. Ag Census Atlas Maps
Nearly 87% of farms in the U.S. are family owned, usually a sole proprietor, or husband and wife but
with no tax or liability structure for protection
(that's scary in this day of age)


Source: U.S. 2012 Ag Census Atlas Map
Another 7% are owned in family partnerships, but does not include family farms operated by
a husband and wife. 

That's a total of 95% of U.S farming operations, owned and operated by families.... 

And here's the doozy.....!!
The remaining 5% are those horrible "corporate" farms the media is always slamming.... right?
THOSE are the ones we want to do away with right?

But wait, there's still more.....
I'm one of "THOSE"

In case that chart is too small, here is the link to the 2012 Ag Census, check it out on Table 67. 
Of the 5% that are defined as "corporate",
(you know, those "Farmed and Dangerous" farms that Chipotle slams or those big "industrial" farms run by robots and cartoon scarecrows devoid of all ethical behavior, yeah those)
Corporate farms are defined by USDA as those that are "incorporated under state law". 
So this would be an LLC, an S-Corp, or a C-Corp. 
So Schmidt Farms Inc meets USDA's definition of a corporate farm when all along we thought we were a just a good old, family farm.

Or maybe there are more of us "good old family farms" than you're being led to believe.

What the census data tells us is:

Total U.S Farms: 2,109,303
Family Held Corporations: 95,142
Other than Family Held Corporations: 11,574
Percentage of US Farms that are Other than Family Held Corporations:  0.5%   (11,574/2,109,303)
Percentage of US Farms that are incorporated:  5.1%   (95,142+11,574)/2,109,303

Less than 1/2 of 1 % are non-family held "corporate" farms. 

But the small farmer is being squeezed out by "Big Ag" right?

Hmmmm, let's look....

The average U.S. farm is 434 acres, that the median between us big guys and the small guys. Except that USDA defines farms based on gross sales, not by size or numbers of acres. Suburbia and urbanization have resulted in pretty obvious loss of farmland when you look at this map. It looks like the small guy is getting the squeeze doesn't it?

Let's take a closer look:


The majority of the acres are held by small farms, the largest segment being farms under 49 acres total.
Family farms like mine that are over 2000 acres represent only 1.4% of U.S. agriculture. 


More than half of all U.S. Farmers 52.2% reported agriculture was NOT their primary income source:
That's a lot of part time farmers. 

But historically, small farms are difficult to cash flow. 
Nearly 57% of all farms have gross sales of less than $10,000. 
That's well below the poverty line so off farm income really isn't option to make ends meet.


So in summary:
1. The majority of ALL farms incorporated and unincorporated in the U.S. are family owned & operated. Non family, "Corporate" agriculture makes up less than 1/2 of 1%. Tax and liability structure tells you nothing about the values of that business and how it operates. Let's lose the word "corporate" as a label for the way we look at farms and how they operate. 

2. The majority of U.S. farms are "small" and those farmers rely on other off farm income to earn a living. (I had a friend say they work to support their farming habit). Support your local farmers who do direct sales to consumers and farms like mine who sell wholesale to distributors which you buy at the grocery store.

Next time you hear in the media that "big ag" is putting small farms out of business, think again.

Next time you hear the media say that "corporate" farms are taking over family farms, think again.

In fact, I'm beginning to wonder why we don't think more for ourselves and pay way less attention to media and its false marketing messages.... we might learn something if we #FactCheck what we hear.

\

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Family Farms: Get Big or Leave Home

Last week I was invited to speak at the Eastern Shore Local Government Exchange on the topic of agricultural diversification. The title of my talk was "Family Farms: Get Big or Leave Home" and actually was equal parts agricultural diversification versus farm succession to the next generation.

Our family farm is probably one of the most diversified, large farm in the State of Maryland. We grow a variety of grains, seeds, hay, processing vegetables, and of course, winegrapes.


The picture you see here is our "Board of Directors", as we are an incorporated farm, which simply means we have a business structure for tax and liability purposes. The picture is about 7 years old so the four kids are now all teenagers, one in college, the rest in high school.

Our challenge as a farm family is 2 fold:

1) How to interest the kids who will be the 4th generation to want to farm.

2) How to diversify enough that there would be enough work and enough income to support them and their eventual families should all 4 decide to return to the family farm.

As we as a family have talked about farm succession, we've agreed that the 4 kids (2 are mine, 2 are my brother in laws) need to have at least 2 years of post high school education. That can be college, military, or technical school. They also need to work full time off the farm for 2 years for someone else, not necessarily on a farm, so that they gain an understanding and an appreciation about what employment for someone else is like. Lastly, and most importantly, they have to want to farm. Our family farm is not their fall back position in the event that they cannot find other work. The farm does not have the obligation to employ them simply because they're family. They need to have the skills and interest to return to the farm and the the farm has to need those skills and have the financial wherewithal to provide them with full time employment. Despite our current size and diversity, the farm does not currently have that capacity.

So back to my presentation title "Go Big or Leave Home". Currently, the farm employs myself, husband, brother in law, parents in law, 1 full time non-family member, and a crew of part time and seasonal workers including the 4 kids. With our current size, structure, and diversification, we do not have full time work or year round work for additional family members. To do so, we need to add more acres to the operation in order to add more work so that we can then, add more employees. We need to "get bigger" to support additional family members on the family farm.

Family farms are businesses and need to be profitable in order to make a living for the entire family. With multi-generational farms, this includes the oldest living generation to the youngest working-age generation.

Thus the premise of my presentation title "Get Big or Leave Home", the reality is to take on additional family members, there needs to be work for them to do, and income to support their payroll. Its just the reality of running any business, farm or nonfarm.

We will always need farmers. Diversification is only one part of the solution. Size plays a major role in the ability of a family farm to support multiple generations, so that the kids have the option of not leaving home.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Costs of GMO Labeling

There has been much discussion over whether or not the labeling of "GMO" foods would add to the cost of food production or not. This was one of the supporting arguments for GMO labeling at the legislative hearing at the Maryland House of Delegates Committee on Health and Government Operations during which Doug Gurian-Sherman of the Union of Concerned Scientists and Michael Hansen of the Center for Food Safety, both insisted that labeling costs would be minor at best.

So does Mother Jones

So does The Grist

Wow, do these scientists and journalists have any understanding of the food supply chain from farm gate to grocery shelf?

Apparently not, nor does anyone else who thinks that "GMO" labeling won't increase the cost of food.

Here is my pictorial analysis of the food supply chain from my farm gate:

Seed corn is ordered and delivered to farm, then planted in the spring around May.
By summer, it looks like this.
By fall, it looks like this.


It gets harvested between September and November.


Corn is transferred from the combine to a tractor trailer truck.




The grain is hauled here to our on-farm grain bins for storage.
We have storage for about 50,000 bushels, less than 25% of our total
yields in a normal year for corn, soybeans, wheat and barley, all of which need
to be stored until they're needed by our customers. This includes the specialty seeds we grow
that require segregation from commodity grains.


When its time to sell, we reload the trucks and haul it to the local grain elevators.
The tractor trailer delivers the corn here


Or here

Or here


And that's just 3 of the local grain elevators. We have several other options depending on who is buying our grain. We and all our farming neighbors deliver to the same elevator and unload grain. This is called "commingling" where our crop is combined with everyone else who delivers to the same elevator and stored together in these large bins, regardless of what variety or trait of corn was grown.

So where's the cost you ask? Well, every farmer in the region is hauling grain usually around the same time... to the same group of elevators. Hopefully you read my blog on seed choice last year and realize that all farmers determine their own purchases for seed and we don't all grow the same thing. In fact, we grow 3-4 different varieties of corn ourselves. Why? Because we match the varieties of corn to our soil types. That's called good stewardship and good business practice.

The food supply chain in the United States relies on a system of commingling, grain delivered to the elevator by farmers throughout the region. Maryland has 2 million acres of farmland, nearly a half million of which grew corn in 2012. In a not very good growing year, Maryland farmers produce 53 million bushels of corn.

If GMO labeling were to pass, that would require a HUGE addition to both on and off farm storage. Nationally, we're talking billions of dollars in infrastructure needed to segregate grain. What none of these labeling laws is clear about either is how to achieve this segregation? Should it be segregated by trait? by variety? both? The more layers of segregation, the more infrastructure is required and the more the costs escalate. 

Segregation is costly. We know because we do it every year, year in and year out, and have for years. We do it because we get paid a premium for ensuring that the specialty grains and seeds we grow are "identity preserved", very much like the certified organic process, involving higher management, higher tracking, and systems in place to ensure that the grains and seeds are genetically consistent and true to their traits, of highest quality meaning they are uniform in size, shape, color, free of weed seed and contamination. We will have 900 acres of grains and seeds this year that will require some protocol for identity preservation. They will be tested for the presence of GMO and tested to ensure that they are genetically consistent to parent seeds. This requires us to use some of our grain tanks for segregation. It requires us to do more "housekeeping", cleaning equipment, trucks, trailers, planters, harvesters, grain bins, etc... all along the food supply chain to ensure that we have preserved the identity of that crop. It is an inherently more costly system.

So what are the costs? Here is my rudimentary analysis from the USDA Crop Production 2013 Summary

There is 13 billion bushels of on farm storage in the United States.

There is 10.4 Billion bushels of off farm storage in the United States.

Last year, U.S. Farmers grew the following crops ALL of which require storage:
  • 13.9 billion bushels of corn
  • 389 million bushels of sorghum
  • 421 million bushels of rice
  • 3.3 billion bushels of soybeans
  • 2.1 billion bushels of wheat
  • 215 million bushels of barley
  • 1 million bushels of oats
  • 7.6 million bushels of rye
  • 18 million bushels of millet
  • 3 million bushels of flax seed
  • 7.8 million bushels of safflower
  • 1 million bushels of canola
  • 65 million bushels of sunflower
  • 38 million bushels of rapeseed and mustard seed
  • 301 million bushels of lentils
  • 937 million bushels of dry peas
  • 250 million bushels of peanuts
  • 1.5 Billion bushels of other dry edible beans including:
      • light red kidney
      • dark red kidney
      • Great Northern
      • baby limas
      • large limas
      • pinto beans
      • small white
      • navy beans

So 2013 produced roughly 23.5 billion bushels of 26 different grains and seeds, including those already in some form of identity preservation protocol, and have storage capacity of 23.6 billion bushels... without the extra infrastructure to segregate "GMO" from "nonGMO". To segregate, additional infrastructure would be required along the entire food supply chain from farm gate to grain elevator to processor to manufacturer, in order to separate corn, soybeans, and canola. 

A new grain bin cost approximately $2/bushel to buy and install, so a 50,000 bushel bin will cost $100,000. If we currently have sufficient storage for commingled grains and seeds, what will be the astronomical figure to segregate them by trait? That answer is dependent on how we are going to segregate.  In order to have true traceability, GMO seeds and grains would have to be segregated by trait, so RoundUp ready traited grains would have to be segregated from Bt traited grains, and the stacked or combined traited grains would have to be segregated from those that are just Bt or just RoundUp Ready, and the combinations of traited grains would have to be segregated by the combination or stack of traits in the seeds too, because otherwise, you don't have "truth in labeling" to say which GMO is in the product. 

I mean surely, we need to label it by GMO trait right? because otherwise "we don't know". This is the premise by which the activists say is the problem right? The uncertainty of GMO? We can't commingle traited seeds and grains because then we no longer have true traceability. Absolute and utter segregation by trait or combination thereof is required to meet the demands of what is being called for in the GMO labeling legislation across the U.S.

True GMO labeling will require vast capitalization of infrastructure to segregate grains and seeds by trait. (Read $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$).

And I've only been talking about the costs of grain storage.  I can't even begin the fathom the costs that it would take to segregate all along the entire food supply chain, keeping GMO corn, soybean or canola ingredients segregated by trait from conventional counterparts from the farm to the processor to manufacturer. We're talking billions of dollars in order to maintain the absolute traceability of a certain genetic trait in a seed from farm to final product. 

Those who say GMO labeling won't add to the consumer's grocery bill need to go back to Economics 101 and some basic high school math. 

True traceability in our food supply system will be hugely expensive.

Its likely that as a nation, we'd never capitalize all that infrastructure to achieve true traceability.

Which goes to the crux of the matter -  this isn't about labeling, as I cited in my last GMO blog, labeling is a means to an end. As noted by many activist groups, the ulterior motive behind labeling is not about a consumer's right to know, it is about banning the technology. 

Say NO to mandatory GMO labeling. Stand for science.











Wednesday, March 12, 2014

I Grow GMO: Not Ashamed or Embarrassed

Yesterday, I testified before the Maryland State Senate Committee on Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee. I was speaking against SB778 "Genetically Engineered Foods - Labeling Requirements" 


My interview with WBOC on GMO labeling

Introduced by Senator Karen Montgomery, of Montgomery County, the bill synopsis states: 

 "Requiring specified raw foods and packaged foods that are entirely or partially produced with genetic engineering to display a specified label beginning on July 1, 2015; requiring a manufacturer to include a specified label on specified foods; requiring a supplier to include a specified label on a container used for packaging, holding, or transporting specified foods; requiring a retailer to place a specified label on a shelf or bin containing specified foods; etc."

She introduced the hearing legislation by asking why people acted "ashamed or embarrassed" about GMO. She claimed she was a supporter of biotechnology and wasn't afraid of it but that consumers have the right to know. 


But many of the groups who claim that consumers have the "right to know" are actually working toward a ban of the technology. 


Organic consumers Association: "Once GMOs foods are labeled, informed consumers will move to protect themselves and their families by not buying them. Once enough consumers shun GMO-tainted and labeled foods, stores will stop selling them and food manufacturers will stop putting GMO food ingredients in their products."


Center for Food Safety:  "Labeling #GMO food is not enough. We must keep new GE crops out of food supply to begin with take action @TrueFoodNow"


March Against Monsanto: "Many presume the March Against Monsanto is a protest about GMO. While food plays a very big role in the global protest, there are many insidious tentacles to the biotech giant. MAM seeks to destroy the root."


Truth-Out: "GMO labeling laws are the cornerstone of the anti-GMO movement. But consumers are also expanding the fight by demanding outright bans on the growing of GMO crops."


In fact, two consumers who testified at the same hearing in favor of labeling voiced the very same thing, that labeling didn't go far enough, that biotechnology needed to be banned.


The Consumers Union, Food and Water Watch, and Union of Concerned Scientists had their legal team of suits presenting. I'm not going to restate their position because if you google Michael Hansen or Doug Gurian-Sherman, you will find pages of testimony nearly word for word identical to what they told the senate hearing yesterday, including continuing to claim the validity of the retracted Seralini study.


In response to Senator Montgomery's comment: I am an unashamed and unembarrassed supporter of biotechnology. On my Maryland farm it has resulted in higher yields and lower pesticide applications, year after year, wet season, dry season, normal season. Even when Hurricane Irene knocked our corn flat, biotech held its ears better than non GMO corn by 26 bushels per acre, which in a very crappy year, makes a world of difference to our family farm's ability to stay afloat.



Our corn yield comparison data
Our soybean yield comparison data
Biotech out perform our specialty seeds: non GMO & Identity Preserved. Yes, we grow and segregate a variety of different types of grains and seeds, all of which are tested and verified as pure to the variety they are supposed to be. This year, we will have 900 acres of grains and seeds under some protocol for identity preservation. The seed must be genetically consistent and true to its traits, uniform in shape, size and color, and free from weed seed and contamination. They are tested and verified to meet those standards. So co-existence of conventional, biotech, and organic/Identity Preserved/nonGMO grains and seeds is possible. We do it every day on our family farm and have for many years now. Biotech threatens none of our niche or specialty markets. These farming systems are not and should not be considered mutually exclusive.

When you combine higher yields consistently, with less man hours on a tractor, burning less diesel fuel, and saving pesticide sprays, you have a far more sustainable family farm on the environment: less greenhouse gases, less fuel consumption, less pesticide use = protecting and preserving more resources.


But to the larger picture, biotechnology has brought us Humulin, Epogen, Herceptin and many, many other excellent lifesaving medical therapies. 


Biotechnology means we don't harvest insulin from hogs or cattle pancreas anymore.


Biotechnology means we don't harvest the enzyme chymosin from young calves to extract rennet from their stomachs which is then used to coagulate milk in the cheese making process. 


To me, this is progress. To me, these are reasons to oppose mandatory labeling of "GMO". It is both safe and efficacious in medicine and in food. 


Science and research concurs. Published last year, An overview of the last 10 years of genetically engineered crop safety research reviewed 1783 studies, 312 of which were GE food & feed consumption studies finding "no scientific evidence of toxic or allergenic effects". The researchers concluded that "that genetic engineering and GE crops should be considered important options in the efforts toward sustainable agricultural production."


1783 studies... 312 of them on consumption of GE food and feed. That's a safety track record.



Nicolia, et al, 2013. Critical Reviews in Biotechnology
The technology is valuable in both medicine and food. The technology has many benefits to mankind.No one but the activists are saying biotech was supposed to be a "silver bullet". Farmers know its one of many tools in the tool box to improve sustainability and produce more food on less land.  Efforts to undermine the technology through mandatory GMO labeling that falsely implies there are safety concerns where none exist is misleading and a disservice to consumers.

I oppose Maryland SB778




Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Divest Chipotle: Vote with your $$$

As Chipotle continues to release their "Farmed and Dangerous" advertisements, I continue to promote the message that people should boycott from eating at their restaurants and now encouraging consumers and especially family farms to divest of their stock (NYSE: CMG). Last week, I had our investment advisor verify that none of our retirement was invested in mutual funds that hold Chipotle stock. Thankfully we didn't. I shared my blog and concerns with another investment broker I knew. After watching Chipotle's commercial, they sold off quite a bit of CMG stock the next day, despite it being a good investment. Divestment is more important than holding the stock of a profitable company who lies about and earns profits off of the backs of family farms.  I've encouraged the agriculture boards that I serve on to divest from funds holding Chipotle and published a letter to the editor asking others to do the same.

How to divest:
1) call your financial advisor and ask them to verify that any investments you have in mutual funds do not hold CMG funds. If they do, sell off those mutual funds and find others without CMG stock.
2) look at your copy of your mutual fund prospectus or bring it up online and review the stock that they're invested in. Sell them if they hold CMG shares.
3) If you own shares of CMG stock as part of your investment portfolio, sell those shares.

Let's be clear here, Chipotle knows what's at stake. They acknowledge so in their 2012 annual report:

"In addition, our marketing has increasingly incorporated elements intended to encourage customers to question sources or production methods commonly used to produce food. These elements of our marketing could alienate food suppliers and may potentially lead to an increased risk of disputes or litigation if suppliers or other constituencies believe our marketing is unfair or misleading. Increased costs in connection with any such issues, or any deterioration in our relationships with existing suppliers, could adversely impact us."

Farm friends, Chipotle laid the groundwork for us, they themselves acknowledge their marketing plan for "Farmed and Dangerous" could adversely impact them and I submit to you that it's our duty as farmers and supporters of agriculture to do exactly that, by boycotting their restaurants and divesting their stock. We cannot only give lip service to disliking their campaign, we need to follow through by voting with our dollars. Just as any consumer, we can choose not to be part of their marketing ploy by opting out of their food and their stock.

Below is my recent letter to the editor of the Delmarva Farmer. I encourage other farmers to write similar letters to their Ag media sources as well as their commodity boards and farm organizations.

(Editor’s note: The writer, Jennie  Schmidt is vice president of the Maryland Grain Producers Utilization Board.)

(Feb. 25, 2014) I am putting out the call for readers of The Delmarva Farmer to boycott Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurants and to divest from their stock.
Recently, they launched an advertising campaign titled “Farmed and Dangerous” on Hulu which is a web-based TV and movie channel.
It is a four-part satire supposedly representing today’s modern family farms, which Chipotle says are “dangerous.”
It’s not so much a comedy, but a highly charged, offensive campaign to make consumers believe lies about how their food is produced and all that is “wrong” in agriculture today.
This is not the first time this fast food restaurant chain has targeted family farmers.
Last year they launched “The Scarecrow” campaign which also targeted agriculture, demonizing family farms as “industrial” and “factory” farms.
USDA data shows that 97 percent of all U.S. farms are family owned and operated.
Chipotle is a good example of double-speak in attempting this “big” campaign to redefine itself as “small.”
Established in 1993, Chipotle has expanded to more than 1,500 restaurants and ranks second only to Taco Bell in the Top 50 Quick Service Restaurants in the Mexican food segment.
Chipotle’s fourth quarter 2013 profits increased 20.7 percent to $844 million.
Let’s be clear, if there is “Big” in food and agriculture, it is Chipotle, not the U.S. farmers supplying them.
Chipotle recognizes they may alienate the very people who supply the food to their restaurant.
In their 2012 annual stockholders report they state “we invest in marketing and advertising strategies that we believe will increase customers’ connection with our brand.
“In addition, our marketing has increasingly incorporated elements intended to encourage customers to question sources or production methods commonly used to produce food. These elements of our marketing could alienate food suppliers and may potentially lead to an increased risk of disputes or litigation if suppliers or other constituencies believe our marketing is unfair or misleading. Increased costs in connection with any such issues, or any deterioration in our relationships with existing suppliers, could adversely impact us.”
We the agricultural community need to let Chipotle know how we feel about their “Farmed and Dangerous.
Our farming community needs to take action against Chipotle by doing two things: Boycott their restaurants, and divesting their stock.
Check with your investment advisor to see if mutual funds in your investment portfolio hold Chipotle stock (NYSE: CMG) and divest from that fund if they do.
If you own Chipotle stock, sell it.
It makes no sense for us as farmers to complain about their advertising campaigns and yet be one of their investors.
If you serve on a commodity board or other farm organization, encourage the board to divest any funds they may hold that include Chipotle.
We need to put our money where our mouth is.
Let this taco joint know it does not have moral authority over family farms. Boycott and divest Chipotle.

—Jennie Schmidt