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Natural versus Unnatural in Agriculture

Posted by Edward Romero on January 30th, 2011

I just read a great blog called Feedstuffs Food Link: Connecting farm to fork, by Dr. Normand St-Pierre explaining the difference between natural selection and unnatural in agriculture. It is a great post that explains in layman’s terms, why natural is not always a good thing. Natural eggs,  natural chicken, etc. may not always be the best. I would encourage you to read his blog to better understand why.  I think he does a great job in explaining his position.  Feel free to post  your comments on his site after reading the blog.

I think you will find the post enlightening and interesting as well as educational.

You can find the blog post here.

Until next time…

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Agriculture and the Pharmaceutical Industry; Not so Distant Relatives

Posted by Eric Brenner on August 9th, 2010

Well, I am finally done with my summer internship in Costa Rica. I came back to Texas about a week ago, and I am ready to jump back on the saddle to tackle my last semester as a graduate student. Even though it was hard to come back, I am ready to be back into the routine, and I am looking forward to graduate this December. This also means that I need to jump on the bandwagon and start looking for a job very soon.

If you have not been following my blogs, I spent my summer break working as an intern with the Ministry of Agriculture in Costa Rica. I was incorporated with DSOREA (Dirección Superior de Operaciones Regionales y de Extensión). This is the department inside the ministry of agriculture that manages, oversees, and implements the extension services in all the Costa Rican territory.

Up to this point, this has been one of the most rewarding experiences throughout the course of my master’s degree. Working with the ministry gave the opportunity to interact with people from different backgrounds like extension service specialists, agencies, universities, producers and farmers. But without a doubt, the best part was the opportunity to travel all around the country in order to analyze the extension service system, and evaluate the implementation process throughout the different regions around the country.

Many of these places I had the opportunity to visit are prominently known all around the world for its biodiversity and beauty. These National Reserves are sanctuaries for a wide array of ecosystems that support a rich variety of flora and fauna. Walking through the dense vegetation of rain forest, I found myself surrounded by the soothing sound nature, which helped me understand better how unique our planet is and how important is for us to take care of these ecosystems. I learned a great deal about the rain forests and other protected areas through specialists from the ministry, and how these specilists are actively implementing agricultural practices that are environmentally friendly. Overall, this experience helped me realize how agriculture is intrinsically related to many aspects of our lives that transcend beyond the production aspect, but we somehow fail to understand.

Irazu Volcano’s Crater

Coati at Irazu National Park

For instance, many people might not realize how closely agriculture, pharmaceutical, and the health industries are associated to each other. Many medical products like ointments, latex gloves, x-ray film, gelatin for capsules and heart valves come from the agriculture industry. In fact, the rain-forest supports millions of plant, animal, and insect species that supply some of the components that help create products like muscle relaxants, steroids and cancer drugs. More important is the fact that there are new drugs still awaiting to be discovered that have the potential to cure AIDS, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, and other illnesses.

This is one of the greatest examples on how many agriculture careers permeate into other fields, and how industries outside the agriculture arena greatly depend on agriculture professionals for their operations. The World needs more agriculture professionals in fields like horticulture, zoology, entomology, and other similar degrees that can help find the cure for diseases that could be encapsulated in plants, insects, animals, and other kinds of wild life. We also need ecosystem, wildlife and fisheries science professionals that will help educate people how to protect and conserve our natural resources.

This tiny beetle was the size of my hand

Another pretty big bug

Experts estimate that around 137 plant, animal, and insect species are lost every single day due to rain-forest deforestation. This equates to 50,000 species a year. As the rain-forest species disappear, so do many possible cures for life-threatening diseases.

Presently, hundreds of prescription drugs currently sold worldwide come from plant-derived sources. 25% of Western pharmaceuticals are derived from rain-forest ingredients. However, less than 1% of the tropical trees and plants in the rain-forests have actually been tested by scientists.

On my way to Tortuguero National Park

According to the U.S. National Cancer Institute, scientists have identified over 3000 plants that are active against cancer cells, and 70% of these plants are found in the rain-forest. Twenty-five percent of the active ingredients in today’s cancer-fighting drugs come from organisms found only in the rain-forest.

Not only agriculture has a broad array of career opportunities throughout many industries, it also is an indispensable component that feeds the world and has the potential to find the cures for life threatening diseases. So, next time somebody tells you that agriculture is a dead-end career, think again.

About the Author: Eric Brenner is a graduate student at Texas A&M University and recently returned from a study-abroad trip to Costa Rica, his home-country.

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Contemporary Agriculture: What is it?

Posted by Edward Romero on June 10th, 2010

Literature is littered with research about how students perceive agriculture to be limiting and with few career opportunities outside of production agriculture leading a successful life.  There is a critical need to better convey the vast array of opportunities in agriculture, food, and life sciences by identifying systems, industries, and careers in or associated with the agricultural industry in order to help the general population better understand the impact of agriculture in our society.  One part of the AgForLife website is to help people better understand the broad definition of agriculture and the many opportunities related to the industry.

Agriculture:  The need for a new definition.

As evidenced by the dwindling acres of farm land in production in the United States, fewer and fewer people are considering careers in contemporary agriculture due to the misconception of limited opportunities in agriculture.  Today, many people still perceive that agriculture refers only to production agriculture—the raising of livestock and crops or farming and rarely, if ever, know about the many different segments of industry that are linked to contemporary agriculture, such as natural resources and the environment or know the many service industries that help our agriculturists in financial planning, lending, insurance, commodity trading, or agricultural communications to name a few.  In addition, people have little knowledge about how equipment systems and chemical and pharmaceutical systems are part of the agricultural industry.  While people have a sense of how the animal and plant related system is part of agriculture, the population at large rarely understands the implications of how life sciences, sales and distribution services, research and development, and marketing and manufacturing play a role in agriculture.

Old Perception, New Reality

The perception of agriculture by the general public is largely still visualized as primarily farming and ranching or linked primarily to production agriculture.  Allowing the public, parents, teachers, and students to continue to have a misconceived notion or negative perception about the true meaning of contemporary agriculture is detrimental to our industry and is inaccurate at best.

Agriculture is defined by the Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary (2000) as “the science, art, or practice of cultivating the soil, producing crops, and raising livestock and in varying degrees the preparation and marketing of the resulting products: Farming.”  While the above definition of agriculture is true, contemporary agriculture is also inclusive of other practices and systems that more broadly define what the new agricultural industries represent.  Stated broadly, plants and animals, including soil cultivation, livestock and crop management, and the activities of processing and marketing, include a range of technologies associated with their production and by-products.  One term to convey the technologies that interconnect the inputs and outputs of the farming sector is agribusiness.  To this degree, agriculture can include the wide range of activities in manufacturing and distribution used in farming that is closely associated with industrial inputs.  In addition, farm production (crops, animals, animal products and by-products which are provided to the consumer) is all part of the agriculture cycle. 

The National Research Council’s definition of agriculture is broader than Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary in order to include a more accurate representation of contemporary agriculture due to technological and structural changes.  The National Research Council (1988) defines “agriculture” broadly as to:

…encompass the production of agricultural commodities, including food, fiber, wood products, horticultural crops, and other plant and animals products.  The terms also include the financing, processing, marketing, and distribution of agricultural products; farm production supply and service industries; health, nutrition, and food consumption; the use and conservation of land and water resources; development and maintenance of recreational resources; and related economic, sociological, political, environmental, and cultural characteristics of the food and fiber system.

Despite the differences in definitions, one thing is certain, there is a vast array of systems, industries, and careers that agriculture touches or impacts on a daily basis and many opportunities are available to us due to the large economic impact of agriculture. While traditional agricultural production is still very much at the core of agriculture, over the last several decades, agriculture has continued to expand it’s influence in our daily lives.

For more information, read about it on the AgForLife website. We welcome your comments and thoughts on this topic.

Until next week.

Adios!

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Hoofing it up Hallaway Hill

Posted by Edward Romero on June 2nd, 2010

I hope everyone had a wonderful Memorial Day weekend. For those of you who had a three-day weekend, lucky you!

Some of you may have wondered why I was MIA the last week but I was one of those lucky ones who was able to enjoy a long weekend with friends and family. Needless to say, this has caused us to be a little late with posting our weekly blog.

I was able to make my way up to Minnesota for the first time and enjoyed spending a few days fishing and being on the lake with new found friends and family. I also enjoyed driving the countryside and seeing many beautiful small farms along the way to and from the airport. I could not help but wonder how many of those farms were growing crops or feed we would eventually consume. It was interesting to see how different the farms were from where I now live in Texas, but also in some ways, how similar they are.

I was able to tour Maplewood State Park near Pelican Rapids. As I was hiking up to Hallaway Hill with friends, Ron and Alex at the park, I could not help but reminisce about our forefathers and all they had to endure when that park was once a working farm prior to the 1960’s when it became a State Park. The park has rolling hills with some wooded acreage and some open prairie and as we meandered down Hallaway Hill, Ron, my German tour guide and native Minnesotan proceeded to share his story of when he grew up on his small Minnesota farm as a young boy. He told me how many of the farms where he grew up were dairy farms and included some swine farms as well. Actually, the farms around where he grew up raised just about anything you could think of such as pigs, chickens, goats, sheep, etc. He proceeded to tell me that now there are less dairies but the few that are left, are milking more cows. Those kinds of stories are priceless, and in some ways sad, but nonetheless, should be captured by those fortunate to learn from experienced and seasoned friends.

During our trek up and down Hallaway Hill, he shared his rangeland expertise as well, which is something I am lacking at this point. I remember studying the different types of grass when in high school and some classes in college, but that was a long time ago. He pointed out the different types of grass such as June Grass, Quack Grass, Wild Oats, and even legumes such as alfalfa. We even spotted some red clover. I am sure those were only a small sampling of what can actually be found on the 9,200 acre park, but it was enough to appreciate his knowledge and history of the place.

I almost forgot to mention…for the first time in my life, I actually saw a Bald Eagle in free flight out in its natural habitat. Had I been prepared, I could have snapped a picture, but true to form, they are stealth fliers. He gracefully approached us from behind and before I knew it, all I would have been able to capture would have been his white tail feathers. Instead, I just appreciated the beauty of our National Symbol in flight. It was awesome how close he flew above us.

Being a horse lover and avid roper, I appreciated Ron showing me the park’s horse trails. I had never seen nicer facilities at a state park, but as we were leaving the park, there were horse trailer after horse trailer going into the park. It was a clear sign that the park was a big supporter of the equine method of mobility and the facilities are used quite extensively.

As we were driving away from the park, I could not help but think about the many careers that are involved in running such a place like a State Park like Maplewood. I imagine it takes quite a bit of different people with a variety of degrees. I would assume many of the positions at the park would involve people who have received their degrees from colleges of agriculture or natural resources. There are many careers and majors that come to mind such as range science, rangeland management, equine science, animal science, natural resource management, wildlife, fisheries sciences, agronomy, soil science, crop science, recreation park and tourism sciences, ecology, bioenvironmental sciences, ecological restoration, environmental studies, and horticulture, to name a few.

Next time you have an opportunity to tour a park, farm, or ranch, keep in mind the many majors that can be studied to carryout an effective business in agriculture or ventures tied to agriculture such as the State Park I toured that once was a working farm, but is now used for our enjoyment. There are many career opportunities and usually not enough students to fill the vacancies.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot one more career or major that can be added to the list above. A tour guide!

Until next week.

Adios!

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