A Little Inspiration As We head Into The Holidays

My wife and I, like most, tell our kids to be thankful for what they have as many are much less fortunate. We’ve always heard our parents give similar advise so I suspect we simply followed suit and passed it along. Unfortunately, I wonder if some of today’s youth haven’t become too far removed from pain and suffering to really recognize the true message. Not only should we be thankful for our blessings, but we should be working each and every day to make the absolute most of our own situation. Instead, there’s many today who are looking to blame their circumstances for their inadequacies or failures. I remind myself each and everyday, it’s not about feeling pity for those less fortunate, but rather am I fully using all of the blessings and abilities God has given me? I included below an a great video that a friend sent my way. It made me again realize there’s so much more I could be doing… To see the short video of this forgotten story Click HERE

Are Sweet Potatoes A Natural GMO?

With Thanksgiving this Thursday, I thought it only appropriate to debate Sweet Potatoes. As many scientist argue, the first genetically modified crop wasn’t made by a corporation…nature did it — some 8,000 years ago. Actually bacteria in the soil were the engineers and the microbe’s handiwork is present in sweet potatoes all around the world today. Scientists at the International Potato Center in Lima, Peru have found genes from bacteria in 291 sweet potato varieties, including ones grown in the U.S., Indonesia, China parts of South America and Africa. The findings suggest bacteria inserted the genes into the crop’s wild ancestor, long before humans started cooking up sweet potato recipes. Scientists reporting in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences think that extra DNA helped with the domestication of the sugary vegetable in Central or South America. Sweet potatoes aren’t tubers, like potatoes. They are roots — swollen, puffed-up parts of the root. When our ancestors started to farm sweet potatoes, they very likely noticed the puffed up root and selected plants that carried the foreign genes. The genes stuck around as the sweet potato spread across the globe — first to Polynesia and Southeast Asia, then to Europe and Africa. Today, the sweet potato is the world’s seventh most important crop, in terms of pounds of food produced according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. While sweet potatoes seem to be important only at Thanksgiving in the U.S., it many parts of Africa it’s a staple crop. In China, sweet potatoes are used to feed livestock. Interestingly, science says all these farmers are basically raising a natural GMO crop. So why does this matter? The sweet potato example is helping many around the globe better understand how plant genetics have been being changed for hundreds of years. I also understand the flip side of that argument, which is that genetics changing naturally in “nature” is much different than genetics being changed in the “laboratory”. I like the thought of a natural GMO, but I doubt it does much to alter the opinion of those who are wildly protesting and against genetically engineered corps. Try explaining it at Thanksgiving dinner with the cousin or aunt who only buys organic. I suspect it will be huge hit:) (Source: NPR)

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Innovation Pushes Definition Of ‘Organic,’ Upsetting Traditionalist Who Are Losing Market Share:

Organic production and sales continue to grow in the U.S., but a recent newcomer to the game is getting certified organic, and that has traditionalist upset. As I understand it, the hydroponic method of growing crops has gained organic certification status and is claiming market share at stores across the country. As you can imagine, this has traditionalists upset as the new player isn’t growing crops in the dirt. According to traditional organic farmers, this method goes against the methods originally established. Meaning, the foundational principles of soil health and regenerating the soil are not being adhered to when you simply are feeding the plant the nutrients it needs. Recently, at a meeting of the National Organic Standards Board in Jacksonville, Florida, the National Organic Coalition lost its argument in an 8-7 vote, to rid the label of certified organic for hydroponically produced crops. It seems the board accepted the point of view of companies like Wholesum Harvest, which grows tomatoes and other vegetables in high-tech greenhouses. Keep in mind that there are huge environmental benefits to growing vegetables indoor with the roots in containers. Company representative Jessie Gunn shared that Wholesum Harvest grows their tomatoes with only three to five gallons of water while it takes 26-37 gallons outside, uses more land, and destroys natural habitat. She goes on to argue, ‘what is the true essence of organic?” This is where the rubber hits the road within the organic community as traditionalist stand firm on the ideas of Albert Howard, the English botanist who inspired the organic farming movement. It is a principle of Howards that “the health of the soil, plant, animal, and man is one and indivisible.” So for the traditionalist, if the roots are not in the soil, the crop is not organic. This is a tough argument for me, I can certainly see both sides of the debate, but I have to say in my opinion, the “essence” of organic is maintained at least from a consumer perspective, as they are getting crops without synthetic pesticides and are certainly being grown in a sustainable manner. I’m guessing the loss of market share for the traditionalists has more to do with the debate than the method, although true believers would probably argue. The bottom line is that innovation has now made its way to the organic sector and everyone involved will have to make the best business decision for themselves. It will be interesting to see if this trend continues and what that could mean for growing different crops inside.​ ​(Source: NPR)

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Ag Educators Remain In Short Supply

America has an agriculture problem – teachers in the field are in short supply. The lack of ag educators has been an issue for years now, but the situation just continues to get worse. According to the National Teach Ag Campaign, there were 769 open agricultural education teaching positions in 2016. The shortfall was exacerbated by the net creation of 76 new ag programs created in 2016-17. At the same time, 721 agricultural educators who taught in the 2015-16 school year did not return to the classroom in 2016-17. The biggest reason for leaving was retirement, followed by finding employment with a business. Nationwide, U.S. colleges and Universities only produced 772 ag education graduates and only 569 of those actually took teaching positions. The NAAE says on average, only about 75% of agricultural education graduates go on the teach. Additionally, about 40% of those that do teach leave the profession within five years of starting. The supply shortage has led to some positions being filled with alternatively certified or non-licensed teachers. Robert Torres, president-elect of the American Association for Agricultural Education, explains that the lack of qualified teachers has a multiplier effect – “If we don’t have quality teachers in the classroom (then) it affects agricultural education and the ability to attract students to the agriculture career field and preparing them to function through that career.” In some instances, ag teacher positions are simply left unfilled and programs are shut down. Ag education has dramatically changed over the years. There is a lot less focus on production agriculture and more focus on technical science aspects, such as biotechnology and agriscience, which the NAAE says has helped to attract more students. Still, the increased enrollment has not solved the supply problem. Compensation is cited as one major reason the field is failing to attract enough interest. The average annual starting salary in 2016 was $40,142. Industry advocates are pushing for school administrators to rethink compensation levels in order to head-off what many feel is developing into a crisis. They point out that education is a critical component in our ability to feed a global population of 9 billion people by 2050. (Source: NAAE, Western Farm Press, FarmWeekNow)

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The Estate Tax, History and Debate

Here around the office we’ve been discussing and debating the Estate Tax. As most of you know, its been in the headlines a lot as of late as leaders in Washington debate its future. We did a little historical research on the topic to help us get a better understanding and perspective to what many consider a terrible penalty. For what it’s worth, many rich folks are actually divided on the subject. With some of our countries wealthiest actually in full favor of the tax. In fact, many who are in favor often reference Andrew Carnegie’s rousing and still-famous defense of the estate tax back in 1889: “Of all forms of taxation, this seems the wisest. Men who continue hoarding great sums all their lives, the proper use of which for public ends would work good to the community, should be made to feel that the community, in the form of the state, cannot thus be deprived of its proper share. By taxing estates heavily at death the state marks its condemnation of the selfish millionaire’s unworthy life.” Rember, Carnegie was one of our nations wealthiest when he made those comments. But what many in the media fail to report is that these comments were made during a period when our nation needed to raise money for the Spanish-American War. These comments were also made prior to any income taxes being levied by the federal government. Keep in mind, the “federal income tax” as we know it did not become law until 1913. Later that year, Congress enacted the Revenue Act of 1913, with the income tax ranging from 1% on income exceeding $3,000 to 7% on incomes exceeding $500,000. Shortly there after we need more money to increase military spending in order to defend ourselves and our allies during World War I. At the time, adding an estate tax seemed less controversial than expanding the income tax. Therefore in 1916 our modern day Estate Tax was put in play. The modern estate tax was temporarily phased out and repealed by tax legislation in 2001. This legislation gradually dropped the rates until they were eliminated in 2010. However, the law did not make these changes permanent and the estate tax returned in 2011. “But late in 2010, before that clause took effect, Congress passed superseding legislation that imposed a 35 percent tax in 2011 and 2012 on estate in excess of $5 million. Like the 2001 legislation, the 2010 legislation had a sunset clause so that in 2013 the estate tax would return to its 2001 level. But then on New Year’s Day 2013, Congress made permanent an estate tax on estates in excess of $5 million at a rate of 40 percent.” As of late the amount we are taxed upon after death has varied year by year: In 2014 and 2015 it was an estate in excess of $5,340,000; In 2016 it was an estate in excess $5,450,000 (effectively $10.90 million per married couple) would have to pay the estate tax. Because of these levels, it is estimated that only the largest 0.2% of estates in the U.S. will pay the tax. In other words, of the 2.6 million people who will probably die this year in the United States, there will be only about 5,000 tax returns that will owe estate taxes. It’s also interesting to see just how small the estate and gift tax revenue is as a percentage of federal revenue. Hence, another reason I believe the tax should be eliminated. I could understand the argument of being in favor of the Estate Tax, if like our forefathers we weren’t already paying a heavy amount of income tax on the money or assets that is again being taxed. At the same time, I also understand the opposite side of the argument and the need to try and dilute income inequality and slow dynasty-building. It will be interesting to see how leaders in Washington play this hand. It certainly has a large impact on farming families across out nation, so we will continue to monitor closely.

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