I Know Where My Food Comes From

This is in response to the editorial in the Iowa State Daily entitled “Do We Really Know Where Our Food Comes From?

When I walk into a grocery store, I am overwhelmed with the amount of options I am given, from the juice I drink to the meat I eat.  There is one thing I know for sure, the options of meat that are given to the American consumer are safe and nutritious.  How do I know?  Because I am part of American Agriculture.

Today, Madison Ward asked students really know where their food comes from (Iowa State Daily, 4/17/15).  As a student in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, I wish Madison would have approached myself or my classmates this question and discussed her concerns. Maybe even a farm visit would clear up many misconceptions about life on the farm. Instead, I welcome Madison to listen to our opinion and continue an open discussion about where your food comes from. 

This response is a collaboration from the mad minds of Ashley Smeby and Lexi Marek, about what we have learned from our experiences growing up on a farm in Iowa. 

I’ve seen Food Inc., a documentary that looks into large agri-businesses in America, which is produced by Hollywood.  Hollywood is looking to make a bang for their buck and most likely has not experienced everyday life on the farm.  I would not ask my hairdresser to diagnose a health issue for me, so I sure wouldn’t ask Hollywood how my food is grown.

Instead I would ask a farmer. 

Madison suggested supporting PETA.  We do not support them, and this photo is just one reason why.

The photo on the right was sponsored on social media by PETA, and the photo on the left is a freshly sheared lamb.  Shearing a lamb is like shaving your legs, no blood involved!  As usual PETA has twisted a safe, ordinary farming practice and made it appear to be cruelty to animals.That is the reason I do not trust PETA or any organizations that are supposed to be supporting animals but instead spend millions of dollars promoting the mistreatment of animals instead of helping them. 

We are a part of the strongest agricultural university in the nation, and it is our responsibility to get the facts from respected, science-based sources.

Now, lets talk about the “almighty dollar” that Madison mentions. Farming is unlike any other career path.  This industry is not just a business, but a lifestyle. Growing up on the farm I was taught the importance of taking care of the land and our animals.

When most look at farming, it can be easy to look over the initial costs that come with the lifestyle. Over the years, more and more people have left the farming business because of the input costs, and the amount of time that goes into farming.

Many important aspects of farming often become overlooked by those who have been raised away from the farm. Things such as land, machinery, fuel, labor and even time often become forgotten. 

Farmers depend on their animals for a living they are too invested in this lifestyle to mistreat their animals. Most farmers spend day and night, working more than just 40 hours a week, to care for their animals. 

Within large companies, growers are held reliable by the company and also by government restrictions, to make sure everything is done correctly, from caring for the animals, to caring for the land. They are part of the communities they live in, and contribute to its economic stability. They have the responsibility of providing high quality, safe food for consumers around the world. In order to grow enough food for the growing world population, agriculture has had to evolve from it’s past. Farmers are continuing to improve their practices to better care for their livestock, families, community, and the world. 

We suggest for anyone who has questions about agriculture to ask a farmer, or check out the following blogs written by Lexi Marek and Ashley Smeby, who both grew up on farms in Iowa.

Check out Ashley's blog at http://ashleysmeby.blogspot.com/

Day 6) Dinner at Lence Farm

I loved having a professor who was from the country where were toured, because of the insight he gave and the connections he had.  One of the best nights in Argentina was the asado held at the Lence farm.  Not only was the food delicious, the family was very welcoming.

Food is an important part of Argentine culture, and it's a good thing I like meat.  Asado is a type of BBQ where the meat is cooked for many hours over an open fire.  It is also usually cooked without being cut away from part of the caracas.  After playing yard games and touring the farm, we all sat around the fire for a great meal.  

The meal consisted of meat and bread, and I tried to eat traditionally only using a knife and bread to eat the meat.  Although I was only somewhat successful, I enjoyed the company.  We couldn't all speak the same language, but we did laugh quite a bit.  While eating, I discovered the lamb kidney is not my favorite, but it's all the experience, right? 

A big day ended well with good food and good people, I really was enjoying Argentina.  

Day 7) Los Grobos Agribusiness Cooperation

ur first stop on one of the last days we spent in the Las Pampas area of Argentina was at Los Grobos.  Los Grobos is a very impressive agri-business that is the connection between land, farmers, and necessities.  They are a leader in products, services, and knowledge. 

Because interest rates in Argentina are about 35% per year, Los Grobos helps farmers manage risk by assisting farmers by lending credit.  I thought it was interesting that through consolidation, Los Grobos was able to grow. 

After talking to a farmer, he mentioned that the community was skeptical at first but they are now supportive of the business.  The business so very diversified so they are able to help farmers with almost everything, from purchasing grain to selling products.  They also help companies, like Rizobacter, move product past their company salesmen and Los Grobos helps sell product to their customers. 

The large company was interesting and I am looking forward to seeing the company grow and prosper in the future.  

Day 6) Orazi Feedlot and Pork Producer

The last stop on our longest day did not disappoint.  We visited the Orazi Farms, owned by two brothers.  One brother was passionate about beef cattle, while the other was beginning in pork production.  Because of the poor infrastructure, we were picked up in vans to avoid the bus traveling down the rural roads. 

The feedlot was comparable to a feedlot seen in the United States.  The cattle were kept in a large pen with feed bunk where they eat.  Orazi’s have 1000 cows, which they raise their own cattle.  They also are hired by outside sources to feed out cattle.  The calves are descendants of Scottish breeds, making them smaller in frame size.  The calves are weaned at about two to four months old and go to market after one year at 750 pounds.  Growth promotions are prohibited in Argentina and the cattle are usually sent to local markets to cut transportation costs. 

Instead of charging his customers a rate to care for their cattle, they are only charged an increase above what it costs to feed the cattle, usually 20-40% depending on the markets.  Orazi’s farm about 2,800 hectors (7000 acres) of corn and soybeans.  They yield goals are 60 bushels per acre for soybeans and 160 bushels per acre for corn, which is just slightly lower than yields in the US.

Again it was mentioned that it is difficult to find good employees who are knowledgeable and motivated.  The people who work on the farm have been there for quite a while and are valued. 

Since my background is mainly in pork production, I was very excited to see a pork production facility.  The second Orazi brother showed us his new facilities that he is in the process of building.  By this fall, this goal is to have 50 sows with one of four groups farrowing every 30 days.  The farm consists of four hoop buildings, one for maternity, finishing, keeping the sows, and growing the pigs. 

Although slats in buildings are common in Argentina, the costs are high.  The maternity hoops will have pens that are between a farrowing crate and an open pen, allowing the sow to move. 

To breed the sows, a boar is used to heat check and see if the sow is in heat.  Then a foam rod is used during Artificial Insemination.  The semen costs about 70 pesos per dose and he is currently using 3 doses per sow but make sure they are bred. 

It was interesting to hear that feed is the highest cost just like it is in the US, being 70% of the total cost in Argentina.  This was one of my favorite stops because of the dedication and excitement the Orazi brothers had with their farm.  

Day 6) Roberto Lence Dairy Farm

Never being on a dairy farm before, I enjoyed traveling to Roberto Lence’s dairy farm.  The farm was started in 1991 and currently runs 345 cows.  The goal is to have 80% of the cows always milking; so 300 cows are currently milked twice a day.  I had the opportunity to step down and watch alongside the milkers as they worked to milk 24 cows at one time.  I loved seeing the passion and dedication that each person on the farm consisted of. 

Dedication is important on a dairy farm, and the family in charge of milking was defiantly dedicated.  They milk at 2 am and 2 pm each day so the milk is ready when the truck comes at 5 am.  Each milking takes about 2 ½ hours and the milk is then sold for 38 cents per liter. 

It was also great to hear that about once a month the surrounding farmers gather to discuss issues and challenges with their local vets and other people in the industry.  I could tell that farming in Argentina was a collaborative effort and everyone worked together.

All the feed that is fed to the cows, calves, replacement heifers, and feeder steers is mixed on the farm.  It consists of cottonseed, wheat burrs, and corn silage.  Vitamins and minerals are feed but rarely are their antibiotics and steroids given to the cattle.

When breeding the cows, they use Artificial Insemination.  Hormones are given to the cows so they know when she is in heat and can be bred.   They are bred throughout the year to meet the goal of having 80% of the cows in milking conditions at all time. 

Seeing the young dairy calves was one of the highlights on my trip, and I thought it was interesting that they are kept outside with constant access to feed and water.  Every two weeks the calves are moved to a different part of the yard to keep the ground clean and limit bacteria growth.  They are kept outside because it is a healthy alternative to stay warm in the sun while their mothers are being milked. 

Walking around the dairy farm reminded me of a farm in Iowa, complete with passion, hard work, and lots of animals.  

Day 6) Zubeldia Manufacturer

During one of the stops in Carlos Casares was at Zubeldia, an agriculture equipment manufacture.  The 38-year-old company specializes in quality manufacturing and is family owned.  Zubeldia has a total of 16 employees, four in sales and 12 manufacturing the equipment, and exports to four to five countries. 

I enjoyed seeing their latest breakthrough product, a sprayer that is the longest in the world with the boom width at 41 feet.  It was also very interesting to see the quality of work that the company prided themselves in.  They said it takes one week just to sand and paint the equipment.  They produce various sizes of equipment, ranging from $800-$250,000. 

After viewing the various types of equipment at Zubeldia, we had lunch hosted by a local honey producer’s house.  The typical lunch included delicious bread, cured meats, and farmer’s cheese.  Our host is a mid-size bee producer with 1,200 beehives around the area. 

It was interesting to hear the large amount of impact that the government has on the honey industry, specifically with exports.  Currently, there is no market for honey and they are also being forced to mix the high quality honey with lower grade honey, which also hurts the business. 

It was an honor to have dined in an Argentine home, mostly because our host felt like it was a great honor.  He was delighted that we were able to experience his culture and was very welcoming. 

Day 6) Pagano South America

Living on a cattle farm, I’ve always known that the tags we put in the calves and cows to mark their identity are important.  I never knew how the tags were exactly made.  After visiting Pagano South America, I gained an understanding of the plastic industry.

First we learned about the company that was started 47 years ago as a repair show.  Now ran by the two sons of the founder and president, Pagano manufactures electric fence, ear tags, and security fence.  They sell to 14 countries and never sell directly to producers. 

The government requires two tags per each cow that includes the producer’s number and the tag manufacturer’s number assigned by the veterinarian.  I found it interesting that AllTech, an American company, has about 50% of the Argentine market, while Pagano has 20% of the market. 

We walked throughout the factory, seeing how the plastic is melted and stretched to make fence, while the tags are written on by a laser.  It was also neat to see that the company has had a competition the past three years that gives the useless leftover plastic to artists and encourages them to create a sculpture.  The creativity and efficiency was very impressive.  

Above: ear tags that will be sent to distributers  Top Right: sculptures make from plastic  Top Right Bottom: tags ready to on the laser

Above: ear tags that will be sent to distributers

Top Right: sculptures make from plastic

Top Right Bottom: tags ready to on the laser

Day 5) INTA

hen we arrived at INTA, the National Institute for Agriculture, I immediately noticed that a sign was posted that said “Centro de Capacitcion; Dr. Norman E. Borlaug.”  I later found out that a group that was working on sustainable agriculture practices with Dr. Borlaug once visited, which I thought was very neat since he is an iconic legend from Iowa and someone who I admire.

While at INTA, we listened to a panel of speakers who discusses various topics.  Since my class topic is rural Argentina (we have to look into a specific area of interest before and after the trip) I was specifically interested in how agriculture has affected rural Argentina and how women are involved in agriculture.

INTA was created in 1956 to help agriculture research improve rural life.  One thing I found very interesting that the term “agriculture” does not mean everything involved in agriculture, it only implies to crops.  Livestock is the term to describe animals and agriculture was never used to describe livestock. 

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Day 5) Rizobacter

After eating with two employees from Rizobacter, we were able to tour their business the next day.  The company was very impressive and hospitable to their visitors.  We first listened to a presentation that covered the company overview.  Rizobacter focuses on the treatment of seeds as well as microbiology.  They were founded by five friends in 1977 and how have almost 400 employees spanning 25 various countries on four continents.  They have grown to this size by investing 50% of their profits into continue research and have been able to make four large alliances with over companies, Syngenta being one of them. 

71% of their products go to distributors, who sell the product to farmers.  One advantage of farming in Argentina is that they have a longer growing period and have more time to plant, harvest, and sell products. 

Their labs are continuing to develop products that help with sustainability.  There is at least one person in the labs at all times.  I was very surprised to see the same kind of values and goals instilled in this successful company that would be important to successful United States businesses.  Although I am not interested in microbiology or agronomy, this was one of the most interesting stops on the trip.