Archive for the ‘Agvocate’ Category

University of Minnesota Student Reflects on his “Vern-alization” while Studying Agriculture

University of Minnesota Profressor Vernon Caldwell

University of Minnesota professor Vernon Caldwell is retiring after 45 years.

By Nick Peterson

This past winter one of my professors at the University of Minnesota retired after spending the last 45 years with the Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics. It was bittersweet, since I had learned a great deal from him through my time with the Crops and Soils Club, Crops Team, and his classes.His name is Vernon Cardwell, previous professor/advisor/researcher at the University of Minnesota for the better part of the last century. As he spoke during the retirement party, he recalled the different “vern-alizations” he had witnessed with undergraduate and graduate students. With vernalization meaning acquisition of a plants ability to flower following cold periods, it was a metaphor of his students.Growing up on the family farm it was not difficult to realize that agriculture is what I wanted to continue to pursue in my career. However, the agricultural industry is a very broad field with many opportunities. As I was accepted to the University of Minnesota, College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resource Sciences, I was still very uncertain as to where I wanted to end up following graduation.

As I attended my first Gophers Crops and Soils Club meeting, I met and talked to Vern, who was the faculty advisor for the club. Soon after, following persuasion from Vern, I decided to join the crops judging team, where we competed against students at other schools in weed and crop identification, grain grading, and seed analysis. Since the 1970’s Vern has been leading the University to top ranked finishes, although participation had been waning in the last few years. This is when my Vern-alization began.

As I spent more time looking at plant and seed mounts and taking in all the information that Vern was spewing out, I couldn’t help but notice him slowly having an effect on me. The vast amount of agricultural knowledge that he had acquired over his many years of research, extension, and interaction with students was a little intimidating. I tried to soak up as much of it as I could.

Looking at my Vern-alization, though, it wasn’t so much the knowledge but the activism that he inspired in me that I would attribute to it. What makes him such a successful mentor to students is his ability to inspire this activism.

So, as I look towards graduation and opportunities in the agriculture industry in agronomy or seed representative roles, I continue to look back and use his contagious personality as a template for myself. I have no doubt this outlook will not only strengthen my commitment to clubs and organizations that I put my time into, but it will enable me to see the best in people as well.

The agricultural community was lucky to have a man like Vernon Cardwell influencing its students for the last 45 years. And so my Vern-alization proceeds, as I am ready to follow in my mentor’s footsteps and do what I can to better agriculture and the people within.

Nick Peterson is a participant in Minnesota Corn Growers Association’s Agvocate program.

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“Reflections of a Popcorn Lover”

by MCGA Agvocate Michaela Bengtson

Growing up on the farm, we had many different traditions. But one of my favorites would have to be our Sunday night suppers. Sunday nights were always the same for our supper plans. They consisted of two things, the first was that we ate leftovers from the week before, and the second part was always my favorite: when my dad was done with chores, he would come up to the house and pull out the old cast iron pot and make fresh popped popcorn.

The popcorn usually ended up being the majority of our meals and dad usually had to make twice as much because we would eat about half the popcorn while he was still busy popping the rest. We even grew our own popcorn one year to see how it would taste and what it would be like.

Why am I sharing this story with you? March 14th is National Popcorn Lover’s day so in honor of that I wanted to share some interesting facts about popcorn with everyone! The first fun fact is that in Sac City, Iowa in February of 2009, they built the world’s largest popcorn ball! It weighed nearly 5,000 pounds and stood over 8 feet tall.

In searching for popcorn trivia, one of the most interesting facts that I have found has been the following: According to the site http://www.popcorn.org, “Many people believe the acres of corn they see in the Midwest during growing season could be picked and eaten for dinner, or dried and popped. In fact, those acres are typically field corn, which is used largely for livestock feed, and differs from both sweet corn and popcorn.” This is an interesting fact for us as agriculturalist to know about our non-farming friends: Even when considering something as simple as popcorn, many people don’t know how their food gets from the field to their table. As we go about our daily lives we need to make sure that we as individuals in agriculture are doing what we can to help everyone to understand what we do and where our food comes from.

So remember the next time you hear the pop in the microwave that we need to pop into action and make sure that we are sharing our stories and enthusiasm for agriculture with everyone!

“E15 increases consumer choice”

By MCGA Agvocate Kevin Welter

July 18, 2008, for many of you this day does not have any significance. For me, this is a day that changed my life as I had previously known it. July 18th was the day I passed my driver’s test. I remember that day like it was yesterday. Holding the keys in my hand for the first time was the greatest feeling in the world, even if the keys were to an ’89 Chevy Cavalier. Looking back on that day I gained many of freedoms and expenses. The greatest expense was gas, which made me very interested in gas mileage.

In high school, I had the opportunity to be one of four students at my high school to help start the Supermilage Challenge at Stewartville. For those of you that are not familiar with the competition, a group of high school students build a one person vehicle from scratch to achieve the highest gas mileage. The first year we competed in the stock class where your vehicle runs on unleaded gasoline. Three of the four team members grew up in a farming background, which lead to our interest in renewable fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel. The next two years we decided to compete in the E-85 class. Before officially switching classes, we did a lot of research on ethanol and the benefits it has not only for the environment, but also for the saving in consumers wallets. Many researchers agree that ethanol provides about thirty to sixty percent more energy than what is required to make a gallon of ethanol, meaning ethanol has a positive net energy. Compared to gasoline, ethanol reduces CO2 emissions.

One thing we had found from our experiences and research is that all engines can run on a blend of ethanol and gasoline. The tricky part is getting the correct blend for your engine. All passenger vehicles are approved to run up to a blend of 10% ethanol or E10. Over the past few years there has been a lot of research and tests conducted to find out which blend will perform well in vehicles currently on the road. The results of the research and tests caused the recent approval of the EPA for E15 in passenger vehicles 2001 and newer. In January 2011 about 60% of the vehicles driven in the US are 2001 and newer. With more than half of the vehicle on the road with the ability to run this blend of fuel you would think we would see an E15 option at every gas station. The issue is there are laws and regulations in 36 states that inhibit the sale of E15. These laws may take a while to be updated to include the demand for E15.

As a consumer, I hope in the future that more tests are conducted to check the performance of high blends of ethanol. In the future, I feel like there will be many different blend options available for consumers. The approval of E15 is a step in the right direction for consumer choice and for the growth of the domestic renewable energy industry. I currently drive a vehicle manufactured in 2006. Next time I fill up at a gas station with an E15 option, I will be choosing this higher blend of renewable energy.

Opportunities for Bright Young Minds

By Agvocate Nick Peterson

Most of us cannot help it.  If you find yourself perusing through all of the Yahoo news stories every other day as they pop up on your home page, you are not alone.  While I do not rely on Yahoo to base my life decisions on, I do use it to brush up on current events that I might be missing out on. I also use Yahoo to find weird or interesting stories that entertain me.  Perhaps it is common among the younger generations, but I assume that on some level, the authors of these short current event stories have at least a shred of credibility. 

The issue that I currently have and am bringing up yet once again is a story that came to my attention last spring on “useless” college majors. This caught my attention because the article listed agriculture as one of the five most useless degrees.

http://education.yahoo.net/articles/most_useless_degrees.htm?kid=1KWNU

Many people in the agricultural industry most likely have heard or were involved with the backlash that already erupted from this article.  I know my Facebook page, in which I am connected to many agricultural majors and enthusiasts, pretty much exploded.  The reason agricultural enthusiasts were upset (in addition to the damage to our pride) was due to this study misusing statistics to prove a point that is inaccurate. This statistic could potentially drive bright young students away from seeking a degree in an agricultural profession. 

The best defense is a good offense. 

I recently spoke with a professor of mine at the University of Minnesota, Dr. Vernon Cardwell.  We spoke about the current state of the agricultural field and its demand for Bachelor of Science majors.    According to the conversations he has had with industry professionals, as well as the attention that companies in the industry have directed at us undergraduate students, the demand for Bachelor of Science graduates is almost twice the supply.  As a junior pursuing my Applied Plant Science degree at the University of Minnesota, this information makes me feel pretty good about my future. 

Dr. Cardwell also mentioned that the majority of this push by the industry for Bachelor of Science graduates comes from a need for more knowledgeable agronomists.  Seed companies, such as Monsanto and Pioneer, have realized that the seed market depends on more than just the bag of seed.  The ability of a seed representative to place each bag of seed in the field or each soil type that will garner the highest yields is a must.  Therein lies the need for more qualified agronomists to either place that seed or train the seed representative who will. 

Winfield’s Answer Plots are an example of an attempt by seed companies to engage with growers on a more knowledgeable, cutting edge level.  By looking at current field issues and ways to correct or prevent them in the future, they are selling agronomic advice in addition to the traditional product sales.  As evidenced by the success that programs such as these Answer Plots have brought to their companies, this is a valuable business tool.  Since this area is only expanding, it will mean more jobs for agronomists. 

The industry of plant breeding relies heavily on the ever evolving molecular and genetic lab processes to produce the high yielding hybrids and varieties we see planted today.  Dollars invested in research and development by seed companies certainly are not dwindling with the high corn and soybean prices.  These companies are looking for graduates with lab experience to fuel their research.  For example, Pioneer just opened a $40 million plant genetics research facility that will create 400 new jobs.

http://farmindustrynews.com/seed/dupont-opens-40-million-agriculture-research-facility

This is an opportunity for graduates who may not even have an interest in the agronomic field, but rather enjoy lab and molecular level work. 

One part of the agricultural industry that is under-appreciated when comparing ag majors to others majors is the availability and profitability of internships.  First, in many other majors or professions, internships might not even be paid.  These are invaluable opportunities for undergraduates to both help pay for schooling as well as get real world, on the job experience.  Second, internships often lead to full time positions following graduation. Third, the wide availability of internships to undergraduate students is something that I feel few other professions can offer.  Whether it is through fall internship fairs on campus, direct searches, or virtual job agents through programs such as GoldPass at the U of M (through which a rough estimate of forty internships were posted and sent to my email inbox this fall), agriculture is one industry that does not fail to give prospective employees hands on work experience. 

I realize that it may be difficult for graduates to start a farming business on their own without a personal or family connection to a farm due to the high land prices and capital investment. However, this is not where the bulk of agricultural jobs are located.  The agronomist positions, plant breeding, and lab positions are where the real demand for agricultural jobs are located; these areas are booming right now.  In my Applied Plant Science major at the University of Minnesota, the students boast close to a one hundred percent placement rate following graduation.  This is why I don’t see myself as concerned about my future as other students in other majors at this university.

It is time for the younger generation to realize all the opportunities we have in agriculture. Misused statistics that pop up on laptops should not deter students from considering studying this industry.  The growth of the agricultural field is spurring our food production. Making the decision to pursue a career in agriculture is one that I have never looked back on throughout my collegiate career and I know that I will not regret it in the future.

Autumn Appreciations

By MCGA Agvocate Michaela Bengtson

Being a college student, I sometimes get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the cities.  So for me, one of the greatest things is getting to go home on the weekends, back to the farm and enjoy the country lifestyle again.  As I was driving home this weekend, I was rolling past the golden fields and started to think about how corn is used every day by my family.

My first thought was about the fuel in my gas tank, which is ethanol.  Ethanol helps the world not only save on oil costs but it helps us use more renewable resources.  Another benefit of ethanol for my family is that it produces distillers grain.  One of the components of our dairy cow’s diets on the farm are distillers grain.  If it weren’t for ethanol, we wouldn’t have that feed source for my favorite cows!  Another benefit is that ethanol can help boost local economies and provide jobs.  In Atwater, an ethanol plant was built in 2005. It not only helped out farmers by providing a new market to keep prices competitive,  but it also gave farmers more confidence that there would always be a buyer for their grain. 

The second thing that I thought about was how corn helps out my mom.  In May, right after the corn planting was done, my mom had a stroke.  Currently, she is working on rehabilitation and gaining back the mobility in her right arm and leg.  One of the things that she sometimes feels is that her arm is tight.  At therapy they have a special machine to help with that tightening.  The main part of the machine is made of crushed corn cobs.  How the machine works is that a patient’s arm is put into a sleeve in the machine and a cuff is secured around their arm to ensure that the sleeve is snug. The machine is then turned on and starts to blow hot air into the crushed corn cobs, which heats them up to very hot temperatures.  The neat thing is that even though the temperature of the air is extremely high, because of the crushed corn cobs, the patient won’t get burned and it helps to loosen and relax their muscles.  It is amazing how something that might only be used for compost is used to help out so many people! 

As I roll past those golden fields, I am so thankful for everything that corn does.  From being a fuel source, to a feed source, to helping a farmer to have an income, to helping people recovering from illness, corn can do a-maize-ing things!

Telling the Farming Story

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

For their first duty as Minnesota Corn Growers Association “Agvocates,” Michaela Bengtson, Nick Peterson and Kevin Welter found themselves at a pig farm and at a tannery–they were with 40 other young people for the annual Minnesota Agriculture Ambassadors Institute, held this year in Red Wing, enjoying field trips to area farms and other points of interest.

“It was so much fun,” said Michaela Bengtson, 20, who will be a junior at the U of M this fall. “The wonderful thing about the Ambassador Institute is that I come to it with my dairy background and then I get to meet so many people from different agricultural backgrounds. We toured the Shafer Farms, which is an amazing pork operation, and then we toured the tannery for Red Wing shoes–there are so many facets, not only in farm production, but in all the ways our products get processed into things people need and use every day.”

Kevin Welter, 19, became interested in working as an MCGA Agvocate when he heard a 2011 Agvocate, Greg Tusa, talking about it. He learned from Greg one of the main responsibilities for Agvocates is reaching out to the general public with positive messages about farming, using social media.

“I have both Twitter and Facebook experience, and I’m looking forward to using these to help promote agriculture,” said Welter. “At the Ambassador Institute and with other experiences MCGA provides for us three Agvocates, we’ll have reliable information to share with the consumers. Another key piece of the story is knowing that agriculture is all related–as we meet people involved in all these different areas like pork or dairy or corn, we learn that we can all work together to accomplish our goals and that makes the voice for agriculture stronger.”

Welter grew up on a hog and crop farm in Stewartville. His parents have been active in corn and pork organizations and were recognized by U of M Extension as farm family of the year in Olmsted County for 2008. Welter is impressed by the range of activities MCGA supports, including a personal favorite, the SuperMileage Challenge.

“I participated in the SuperMileage Challenge when I was in high school–I was on Stewartville’s team the first few years they participated, starting in 2009,” said Welter.  “I’m looking forward to working with corn growers when they help out with SMC, and I’m also looking forward to being at FarmFest with MCGA–I’ve been there every year for the past four years.”

Welter will be a sophomore this fall at South Dakota State University, Brookings. His area of study is ag business with an accounting minor, with an eye to becoming a banker at an agricultural lending institution. Bengtson is an agricultural education major and will be a junior this fall at U of M. She hopes to teach high school agriculture classes. Nick Peterson, 20, will also be a junior at the U of M, and majors in applied plant science with a minor in soil science.

Peterson is spending the summer as an intern for Winfield Solutions in Alexandria.  The firm is a branch of Land O’Lakes, and provides seed and crop protection products, as well as technical expertise, through affiliated coops. Peterson’s experience there will dovetail nicely with being an Agvocate. His main responsibility will be helping organize events and communicate with attendees at the Land O’Lakes ‘Answer Plot’ locations near Alexandria. The Answer Plot program collects data on agricultural products and practices at a wide variety of plots across the Midwest.

Peterson found the Ambassadors Institute keynote speaker, a representative of the Minnesota Pork Board, to be very informative.

“He told us that the best way to interact with consumers is to connect with them on values,” said Peterson, who grew up on a crop farm near Clear Lake. “When talking about farming, for instance, we can talk about how it’s a family business, and people connect to that idea immediately in a positive way.”

Home Sweet Home

By 2011-2012 MCGA Agvocate Kelsey Gunderson

College is done and I am ready for summer, excited to be home on the farm for a couple of weeks to relax, right?  It seems like farming and relaxing are not always synonyms as I came home to tractors busy in the field, a request to pick rocks from my dad, and lots of work being done around the house.  It’s planting season, perfect weather for working outside and time to get ready for summer and never a dull moment on the farm.  Farming is not a job or career, it is a lifestyle.

Having livestock and crops, my family’s work is never complete. Caring for the animals, planting and harvesting a high yielding crop and implementing new technologies are all important in our farming operation.  I have learned the skills and gained knowledge through helping on the farm while my brother has learned everything that is needed in running a farm.   My brother is just finishing up his senior year of high school, and will soon be off to his next adventure – college, studying farm operations and management with plans to take over the farm.  He has grown up as my dad’s right hand man, working with him every day and learning all of the tricks to the trade.  Nothing other than farming has interested him so deciding to go to a college near home so he could keep working on the farm was always the plan for him.  He believes in the agriculture industry and knows that his work on the farm plays a key role in our world.

I have seen my brother develop his passion for agriculture and put his skills to work into his future career on the farm.  We are going into our third generation of Gunderson Farms and it is great to see a young generation want to continue to farm.  He has developed skills such as responsibility and teamwork, and has developed a strong work ethic that never quits. I am proud he is continuing to develop our family farm.  

I am proud of the way I was raised, the farm I grew up on and the family that I have. This opportunity is one that many people do not have.  Being raised on a livestock and crop farm has taught me skills that I use in my everyday life and has helped me in my current jobs as well. After experiencing my time in the big city, I realize how much I have learned, gained, and have much more appreciation for farmers everywhere.  Farming is not a career – it truly is a lifestyle. Plans are changed around seasons, weather and the animals, and we work together as a family to get the job done.  I would not be the person I am today without my family and farm experiences.