How Do I Get my Kids to Eat More Vegetables? Do I Need to Pay for Organic Food Only? And Other FAQs from the "Christian Parenting" Magazine.

I am often asked questions like how do I get my kids to eat more vegetables? and do I need to pay for Organic Food Only? I recently had the privilege of writing for an online magazine called Christian Parenting to answer these questions and other FAQs. The editor, Kelly Matthews, conducted an interview and split the content into a few different topics.  You can read the first one highlighting Farm Camp here:

Kelly asked me how I get my kids to eat more vegetables.  She made my tips look so good!

The next question Kelly asked me was one that I discuss with fellow consumers very often:  "Do I have to buy organics to be healthy?"  Read the article below to learn why I am so confident in my answer which is "No way!"  

International Harvests

On a windy winter day in Little Rock overlooking the Arkansas River, I had the privilege of hearing about Isbell Farms from Mark Isbell.  My time with Mark proved once again what I regularly tell people about farmers:  "When you stand next to a farmer you're going to get smarter!" Follow along as Mark guides us on a fascinating agricultural journey of international harvests from Arkansas to Cuba and beyond.

Family Farm versus Corporate Farm: What's the difference?

Mark began our conversation by giving us the history of Isbell Farms and explaining why many people are confused by the terms "Family Farm" and "Corporate Farm."  

Sustainability

Our visit led into questions about sustainability. I hear that word often and asked Mark to speak in greater detail about what has motivated the sustainable movement and how their farm has used advanced technology and accumulated knowledge to become more efficient. 

What Happened to Crop Rotation?

Mark shared specific sustainable practices that have evolved through the four generations of farmers at Isbell Farms.  I found it interesting when he explained that, along with the sustainable practices of zero grade rice and AWD, they are in the process of perfecting the use of cover crops to enhance the soil.  He helped me understand why the best stewardship of some land types is often planting the same crop year after year rather than rotating crops. 

Ethical Farming: Holding Onto Family Values

Even though Isbell Farms is a large family operation, Mark explained how his family still holds the same ethical farming values for sustainability as we remember former generations representing.  

American Rice Exports

Mark lives in North Little Rock, Arkansas, and chose this location along the river since a large percentage of American rice is exported.  Do you know how much rice America exports around the world and how integral agriculture is to the country's job market?  

Why would a farmer from Arkansas be concerned about what people in Cuba eat?  

Mark, who was named Rice Farmer of the Year in 2016, is working hard to transform the economic relationship between Cuba and America.  He believes in using the food market as an invitation to the table even between governments who don't agree on much of anything.  After joining Congressman Rick Crawford (AR) as part of a delegation sent to Cuba, Mark testified to the US House Committee on Agriculture in support of the  Cuba Agricultural Exports Act.  He explained his position while we visited.  

Global Marketing

Farmers are uniquely positioned to intimately know the land and fully invest in the global market.  Watch as Mark explains how he navigates these two worlds.

Number Five

My visit with Mark was enlightening and engaging as we touched on many issues faced by American farmers.  Isbell Farms is on the cutting edge of these issues as they are committed to feeding the world's growing population while caring for the land to pass along to its fifth generation.  

Fighting Childhood Obesity in Dallas: An Interview with Joy In Our Town

What a delightful conversation with Cheri Duckworth!  Cheri is the lovely host of a TV show (Joy In Our Town) that highlights the ways people are addressing public issues in the Dallas/Forth Worth area.  Rachel Logan, our Director of Media and Urban Strategies, joined me to tell our story of Farm Camp.  

Watch the video and learn about how we are combating childhood obesity in Dallas and beyond by taking underserved kids to our farmhouse to teach them where their food is grown and how to have a healthy lifestyle.

Rediscovering Nature in the Concrete Jungle

As urbanites, we spend the majority of our time surrounded by man-made things. 

There's a Big World Out There

We often forget that there are vast oceans to be navigated and deep forests to be explored and expansive mountain ranges to be traversed.  We fool ourselves into believing that most problems can be solved by well-designed blueprints and well-placed raw materials.  

Fast Moving

The daily expectations of perfectly functioning infrastructure, buildings, cars, restaurants and shops leave us far from the perspective a hike in the woods can bring.  People, images and messages are everywhere.  There’s no mental space to think and regain sight of our small place on the planet.  We need vastness to right-size ourselves in the midst of a world typically focused on self reliance.

No Waiting

Expectations and demands are high.  During any day or season, I can stop by a grocery store with fully stocked shelves and overflowing piles of produce from around the world.  In an urban culture of Amazon Prime Now, where many items can be delivered to my doorstep within an hour, the idea of delaying desires is antiquated.  No one waits for fresh, in-season blackberries, they just grab the expensive ones that have been imported from another climate.  

Patience Required

We lose sight of the fact that a seed had to be planted, watered, fertilized and protected.  And the fruit had to be nurtured, harvested, sorted, packaged and shipped.  There are farmers, brokers, bankers, truckers, cold/dry storage managers, marketers and retailers involved throughout the lengthy process of getting our food from the field to our tables.  

Perspective

For me, the farm provides space to come to the end of myself and see the natural order designed to sustain life beyond my neighborhood.  Beaches, mountains and campgrounds are frequented for this same dose of reality.  Current circumstances are reviewed, gratitude is refreshed and priorities are renewed.  

Nuggets of Truth

I remember that I am a tiny piece of a giant puzzle.  I remember that just as the grass withers away and the flowers fade into the winter, my life is but a sliver of the story of this beautiful earth.  I remember to not take myself too seriously.  I remember that there is very little I can control.  I remember that the images I see on social media are only images, not the real-life experience of smelling the fragrant trees while climbing a mountain or feeling the salty air on my face at the beach or looking for miles across the sprawling prairie that provides life for so many creatures.  

Freedom to Be

We gain perspective about ourselves and the world when we observe the miraculous order of creation.  It feels good to feel small.  It feels empowering to release the weight of the world from my shoulders.  It feels productive to labor within the limitations of my own design and not worry about circumstances out of my control.  I am free to take responsibility for what is mine and leave the rest behind.  

Rice and Waterfowl

Whitaker Farms loves wildlife!  Jim and Sam Whitaker go to great efforts to protect and care for the animals that enjoy their land.  

Plants and Animals - the Natural Partnership 

Often, if a field is not conducive to their commercial agriculture plan, they will release it as wildlife habitat which means they no longer farm that section of land and choose to let it develop back into forest or brush for animals.  Also, they create shallow water habitats from all their rice fields during the winter for the waterfowl to enjoy.  As Jim says, "Rice and waterfowl go hand in hand."  The Whitakers promote this partnership in many ways.  

A Field of Millet

I joined Jim recently in a field he had leveled for a zero-grade rice field for next year.  Since he didn't have time to make a rice crop on it this year, he planted millet there instead.  You and I might call millet a common weed, but ducks and deer love to eat it.  Watch this short clip to hear Jim talk about this and other land they develop for wildlife and the natural habitats they create and protect.  

Extra money on organic produce?

Are you confused about the messages encouraging you to spend extra money on organic produce?

Watch today's Visit With a Farmer to hear Sam Whitaker of Whitaker Farms explain the safety of non-organic foods and the benefits we all receive because of the improved practices in modern agriculture.  Urbanites have freedom to pursue dreams and create new technologies while farmers feed the world and protect the environment!

Early Rice Harvest: So What's the Big Deal?

I’ve been posting all week about Jim’s early rice and you may be asking yourself “So what’s the big deal?  His rice was ready early, he harvested it and now it’s over.”  You’re right.  Those are the facts.  But like so many things we glimpse from the outside, there’s so much more going on if we take a closer look.

rice harvest:  coming out of the field being transferred into a hauling truck

rice harvest:  coming out of the field being transferred into a hauling truck

Field Testing

Jim’s field represents 40 of only 2000 acres spread over 4 states in the southern U.S.  Crop Production Services, a company that uses their scientific knowledge to develop and test new varieties of seed, strategically selected a small group of trusted farmers from the mid-south to provide a sample of how this seed will produce in a variety of soil types.

Uniquely Designed

This rice seed was designed to have a couple of unique characteristics:  1.) a large, fluffy kernel that many American rice mills and consumers prefer  2.) a shorter growing season for the farmer.

flooding a rice field 

flooding a rice field 

Is Faster Always Better?

In our microwave society, we often think “faster is better”, but often for the wrong reasons.  For this new variety of rice, the shorter growing season results in the rice being ready to harvest sooner which allows the farmer to put fewer total inputs (like water and fertilizers) AND another window of time to gain from the same piece of land.  So, in this case, faster is better for lots of good reasons.

my kids walking in a ratoon rice crop

my kids walking in a ratoon rice crop

To Ratoon or Not to Ratoon

However, Jim’s choice will bring deeper gains for his farming operation, but they won’t immediately increase his profits.  When I first heard about Jim’s early rice, I assumed he would try to harvest a rattoon crop, which is a second harvesting of a field that grows and produces again after it has been harvested once.  With minimal financial input, Jim has the opportunity to harvest and make another crop on the same land using the same seed that was planted in the Spring because there’s plenty of warm weather left in the year. 

For the Bigger Good

However, Jim is choosing a higher purpose for his field.  Rather than make a little extra money this year from an additional rice harvest, he plans to plant a cover crop that will be better for the soil, the environment and the waterfowl that will come in the winter.  

a radish from the cover crop 

a radish from the cover crop 

Off Season Work

A cover crop is planted in a field during the off season in order to control weeds, sequester carbon, replenish the nutrients in the soil and establish paths for the roots of the primary crop.  Jim has developed a unique mixture of eight seeds each with a particular purpose:  add nutrients, increase soil health, or provide food for the ducks and geese in the winter.

taken from the cab of a combine harvesting a zero-grade rice field

taken from the cab of a combine harvesting a zero-grade rice field

Crop Rotation Returns

When a field is precision leveled to be a zero-grade rice field, there is no opportunity for crop rotation in that particular field because the land is leveled in such a way that only rice will thrive there.  By planting a cover crop, Jim will now be able to provide the natural enrichment to his soil that crop rotation brings.  

ducks enjoying a flooded rice field in the winter

ducks enjoying a flooded rice field in the winter

Natural Partnership

Millet, a small-seeded grass grown around the world for cereal, will be part of the cover crop mixture, which will mean the wildlife will have plenty to eat during the winter months.  Rice farmers and wildlife have a great partnership.  While the waterfowl are enjoying the food and water left over in the harvested field, the soil is receiving their natural fertilizers so the crops in the coming Spring will benefit greatly.

Answer

So what’s the big deal?  Jim is choosing the long-term benefits to his soil, our environment and the wildlife over the short-term benefit of extra profit this year.  This is just one more example of how agriculture professionals are prioritizing and preserving our natural resources and our food safety.  They are intentionally making decisions because “it’s the right thing to do.” 

Harvesting in July: Whitaker Farms

Most people who think about harvest time associate it with Fall.  However, Whitaker Farms has never been limited by what most people think.  In 2016, they are harvesting in JULY!  

first hopper full of rice in 2016

first hopper full of rice in 2016

Watch today's video to learn about all the reasons Jim Whitaker accepted the invitation to participate in a trial crop of this new rice seed with a shorter growing season and how his plans will benefit their soil and the waterfowl that will visit their farm this winter.  

Willing Partners

Some teams are not always made up of willing partners, but today's agriculture professionals are inviting the input of urban families who have concerns and misunderstandings about where their food is grown.  

 

Watch as Matt Miles explains how the two voices can continue to develop the best methods for feeding all budgets while preserving the environment for the future.  

Orange Crop Damage: Asian Citrus Psyllid

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Oranges at Risk

According to a recent article in Farm Futures by Mike Wilson, orange growers in Florida are caught in a tough situation that could cost them their livelihoods.  A terrible pest called the Asian citrus psyllid is spreading a disease that is plaguing the state’s citrus groves and moving west to Texas and California as well.  

Damaging Disease

This nasty little guy lands on the leaves of the citrus trees and infects them with a bacterial disease.  The disease incubates in the root system and spreads through the trunk, cutting off the flow of nutrients to the fruit.  Obviously, the starving fruit suffers.  It ends ups dry and sour.  That’s definitely not the way consumers have become accustomed to enjoying their delicious Florida oranges.

 

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Good News!

Scientists at Texas A&M University are developing a genetically engineered solution from a spinach gene.  This gene can be inserted in an infected orange tree to create a resistance to the bacteria’s destruction and, therefore, significantly decrease the pesticides that are currently being sprayed on the groves to combat these invasive pests. 

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Consumer Confidence?

An extensive report came out recently from the National Academy of Sciences confirming once again the safety of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).  So consumers will be thrilled to continue their regular consumption of oranges, right?  Farmers sure hope so!  Despite numerous endorsements and assurances by the science community, the public still seems tentative to let go of  their concerns about GMOs.  Agriculture professionals around the country are spreading the word about this most recent report.  And after reading this thorough report, Mark Lynas, an environmentalist and former anti-GMO activist turned supporter, recently proclaimed "The GMO debate is over -again."  The truth about the  confirmed safety and continued good that are developing from the revolutionary science behind GMOs is slowly seeping out from under the pile of confusion and misinformation.  Scientists, farmers, and environmentalists remain hopeful for long term answers for our environment and our growing population!

 

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Scientific Advancements 

The science behind GMOs is innovative and ingenious.  After watching this short clip, I learned that by isolating individual chromosomes, scientists can speed up and refine the process of managing nature, which people have been doing for thousands of years.  Instead of randomly cross-breeding or blasting plants with radiation and chemicals to break down the DNA, scientists are now able to replace one particular problematic chromosome with a beneficial one and keep the rest of the plant’s DNA intact.  These replacement chromosomes, taken from other naturally occurring organisms, can infuse the plant with characteristics to withstand environmental hardships such as insects, weed competition or even risks from drought and flooding.  

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How To Proceed?

So what is a Florida orange grower to do?  His current choices seem to be either  1.) continue pouring money and chemicals into his groves with little results, or  2.) risk consumers’ rejection of a safe product because of misinformation.  What would you do if you were one of these farmers who is caught between a rock and a hard place?

The Threat of Pigweed and Natural GMOs

See that tall weed growing in Layne Miles' soybean field?  That's a pigweed plant, and with all the seeds on the top of it, it can reproduce very quickly to take over a large section of the field.  Weeds compete with the crops for nutrition in the soil and space for receiving sunlight.  The loss of these necessary resources results in unhealthy crops and lower yields.  

Natural Genetic Modification

Watch this short clip and hear Layne use the example of how pigweed has, unfortunately, naturally modified itself to become resistant to common herbicides.  He explains, however, that scientists oversee this very same process in a beneficial way when developing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to be more tolerant to environmental hardships. 

The Right Thing To Do

If you've watched Sam Whitaker's other videos, you've heard him mention "The right thing to do".  Whitaker Farms places the highest value on making decisions that are the safest and most sustainable for consumers and the environment. 

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Watch and listen as Sam talks about their current nutrient management program and the benefits it brings to natural habitat around the world.  

All Work and No Play?

I remember when my brother got our first ATV.   It was a 3-wheeler.  We still have it. 

What's All the Fuss?

I was about 8 years old, and for several weeks, I kept hearing my brothers obsess over getting a 3-wheeler.  I couldn’t understand what they were talking about. 

Helpful Around the Farm

My dad said it could be used to easily ride to different places on the farm and to haul small loads.  But I couldn’t figure out why my brothers were so excited about a new piece of farm equipment.  Then I realized that ATVs aren't meant for all work and no play!

Finally, I Have Some Fun Around Here

Little did I know, it was different than any other “work vehicle” we had ever had.  It was fast and fun!  My first ride was with my dad and I couldn’t believe how exciting it was.  My brothers had had motorcycles for years, but I hadn’t been old enough to ride one.  This was my closest encounter with this kind of adventure.  I couldn't get enough!!

Work and Play

Three-wheelers actually were a huge benefit to our farming operation because they allowed workers to zip around the farm and take people and equipment from one end of a field to another.  They saved everyone lots of steps. 

Earned Freedom

Through the years I progressed in my freedoms with riding 3-wheelers.  First, I drove with my dad sitting behind me on the 3-wheeler.  Then I stepped up to following him on a separate 3-wheeler.  Eventually, if they weren’t being used during working hours, I could ride on my own as long as I stayed within sight of our house. 

Sunday Afternoon Rides

Many Sunday afternoons, my dad and I would go for rides together around the farm and on trails through the woods on our neighbor’s hunting land.  It was one of my favorite things to do as a kid.  The sunshine beaming down and the fresh air blowing my hair felt terrific.  I could get lost in my thoughts for hours.

Improved and Still Fun

Today, the farm has 4-wheelers that are more powerful and more stable than 3-wheelers.  My kids enjoy them as much as I did (and still do).  They love the feeling of independence as they ride on dirt roads far back on the farmland. 

 

Still Lost in Thought

They love “flying” on them down the runway that the ag planes use.  They love sharing rides together so they can create stories and dreams about what they would do if…..  When we come back to Dallas, they love telling their friends how fast they went and how muddy they got on them.  I loved all those things, too.

CCTF's Mission pursuit of Ethical Agriculture

This is the third and final post in a series developing our mission statement:  Promoting healthy food choices for all budgets by highlighting the nutritional value and sustainability of non-organic agriculture.  We pursue ethics in agriculture by making food available to everyone.

A Home for All

We know that with privilege comes responsibility.  It is an enormous privilege for us to enjoy this beautiful planet and all the living things that call it home.  Even with the confusion and controversy surrounding environmental issues, we know one thing for sure:  we have a responsibility to preserve the earth and it’s resources for the next generation. 

new growth

new growth

Preparing for the Future

Connecting City to Farm sees agriculture professionals proactively preparing to receive the 9.5 billion people who will live here by 2050, and we want to spread the word to others who can follow in their courageous footsteps.  We all have a contribution, however small it may be, to enrich the opportunities for future generations.  As Sam Whitaker says, "It's the right thing to do."

Who Can Meet the Challenge?

If Certified Organic farmers were called upon to provide food for the world’s entire population, we would loose a huge percentage of current forests, wetlands, prairies, and other natural wildlife habitats and suffer under astronomical food costs.  A significantly larger portion of land is required to grow and harvest Certified Organic crops because more of the yield is lost due to insect damage and low levels of nutrients in the soil from weed competition.  

flooding a rice field                                                                                                                                                                                  photo credit:  Morgan Baugh

flooding a rice field                                                                                                                                                                                  photo credit:  Morgan Baugh

More for Less

Non-organic crops are more sustainable for the environment than Certified Organic crops because it takes fewer natural resources like land and water to produce the same amount of yield.  Under strict regulations and accountability, non-organic farmers are allowed to use pesticides that protect their crops from weeds and insects.  

 

a carefully measured application being loaded into an ag plane

a carefully measured application being loaded into an ag plane

Follow the Prescription

“Are these pesticides safe?” you may ask.  Absolutely.  They are safe.  In the same way that patients follow the carefully researched, tested and specifically prescribed dosages on their medications, farmers follow FDA regulations regarding pesticide applications.  If they don’t, they will face serious legal consequences that jeopardize their businesses.

a bountiful rice harvest

a bountiful rice harvest

Increased Yield

By responsibly applying herbicide, non-organic farmers can control the weeds that compete with their crops for valuable nutrients found in the soil.  Reasonable amounts of insecticides can be used, only when necessary, to decrease costly damage from insects allowing the majority of yield to be preserved for consumption.

family on the farm

family on the farm

Family Farms Take On the Challenge 

As the Agriculture Professionals from Whitaker Farms, Miles Farms and most other family farming operations will assure you, farmers are the ones who are most concerned about preserving and protecting our environment.  They are hopeful about strategically meeting the challenges ahead, and they are daily taking on the responsibility to leave the earth ready for the next generation to enjoy.  

The Nutritional Science behind CCTF Mission Statement

 

This is the second in a series of three posts developing our mission statement:  Promoting healthy food choices for all budgets by highlighting the nutritional value and sustainability of non-organic agriculture.  

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As a planet, we are growing.  The world’s population is steadily rising and will reach 9.5 billion people by the year 2050.  Life is good, right?  And more life is better!  

Medical and Lifestyle Advancements

Today, we have a deeper understanding of personal health and how to teach others about healthy lifestyles.  As a result, we’ve seen a decrease in infant mortality and an increase in overall life expectancy.  Again, more life is better! 

my grandfather holding me

my grandfather holding me

If agriculture remains the same, we will not be able to feed the world's ever growing population.  That's a problem.  Thankfully, innovative scientists are constantly looking for answers. 

happy Kenyans

happy Kenyans

A Solution

Guess what?  They have found a great one:  GMOs (genetically modified organisms).  However, the solution has many farmers wondering how much science is necessary to assure consumers of the safety of GMOs.  

a maturing field of genetically modified corn          photo credit:  Morgan Baugh                                                                                                                                                                                             

a maturing field of genetically modified corn         photo credit:  Morgan Baugh                                                                                                                                                                                            

Knowledge is Power

The knowledge of how to isolate chromosomes and manage their placement has given us the ability to facilitate nature's process in a faster, more controlled and safer way than ever before.  Humans have been nature's stewards for thousands of years by using creative processes like grafting branches from one tree on to another and by cross pollinating plants.

Trying to Perfect the Science

In more recent years, before chromosomes were specifically identified, scientists blasted plants with radiation and chemicals to try to break down the chromosomes.  These mutations fall under the options that Certified Organic famers may choose.

my daughter in a field of genetically modified cotton

my daughter in a field of genetically modified cotton

However, scientists have discovered a way to isolate individual chromosomes in DNA and remove them from one naturally occurring organism and insert them into the DNA of another naturally occurring organism.  It’s quite miraculous!

What is it?

So what is the science?  I watched a short clip by Piffle and discovered that the revolution of genetic modification is a much more specific and intentional process than any other form of plant husbandry ever used.

a common food label

a common food label

Effective Marketing

Seeing non-GMO labels on so many products misleads consumers into believing that GMOs are somehow harmful, or should be avoided.  But what is the science behind GMOs?  A plethora of independent scientific studies have been published over the 20 years that genetically engineered crops have been grown and harvested in the US and not a single instance of harm has come to any human or animal.  These scientific studies have been rigorously scrutinized by peer reviews and affirmed in their findings.   

No Health Effects Shown

Critics would have us believe that GMOs have caused an increase in obesity, Type II diabetes, autism, and many food allergies.  However, a study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine was recently conducted comparing the health of North Americans who consume many GMOs in their diet with Europeans who rarely consume GMOs.  The study concluded that there was no greater incidence of Type II diabetes or obesity.  Also, the incidence of Autism Spectrum Disorder and Celiac Disease, which makes humans intolerant to gluten, increased in both populations equally.

A Converted Supporter

Mark Lynas was a strong Greenpeace activist supporting non-GMO agriculture until he began to take a serious look at the science behind GMOs instead of being led by his assumptions.  After significant research, he realized the safety, environmental sustainability and potential for global health solutions that genetic engineering offered.  He then presented an apologetic speech giving his full support to the science and future development of biotechnology as a way to feed the world.

 

a field of genetically modified soy beans ready for harvest

a field of genetically modified soy beans ready for harvest

There are legitimate concerns about health in the world today.   Having a diet that consists largely of sugars and processed foods causes a significant decline in a person's health.  Living a life with little physical activity brings increased risks of heart disease and other problems.  Being distant and isolated from loving relationships can cause depression and unhealthy choices.  Of these legitimate concerns, there is enough science to prove that GMOs are not one of them.

Cover Crops

"Radishes?  Are we growing radishes now?" I finally asked my family this question.  I had been hearing about cover crops through the winter and was very curious about why my family was talking about radishes.  I didn't think they had started a new endeavor on our land, but I wasn't sure how radishes fit with our farming operation.  

Jim holding a radish from Whitaker Farms' cover crop

Jim holding a radish from Whitaker Farms' cover crop

Meet Sam Whitaker

You've met Jim Whitaker on some of our videos.  Now I'd like to introduce you to his brother, Sam.  

planting cotton

planting cotton

Row Crops

Jim manages the rice acreage of Whitaker farms while Sam operates the growing and harvesting of the row crops.  Row crops such as corn, cotton and soybeans grow in different types of soil than rice and are planted on raised beds in rows from one end of the field to the other.  

Trying Something New This Year

One of the many strategies Whitaker Farms uses to protect the environment is No Till farming.  While rice fields are flooded during the winter, Sam is trying a new strategy of no till farming for his cotton crop.  He planted a cover crop that grew through the winter in the field where he will have cotton this summer.  

Watch this video clip to hear Sam explain one of the many benefits he's already seen in his first year of trying this unique solution to protecting his soil.  

Courage Continues

How comfortable are you with risk?  Do you need all your financial bases covered before you begin a project, or does the pressure of the unknown motive you? 

A view from the air of rice harvest

A view from the air of rice harvest

Risks Abound

Farmers are intimately familiar with risk because there are so many variables beyond their control.  Fluctuating input costs, market prices and weather conditions are among the biggest.  In the midst of this very risky business endeavor, their courage continues and we are thankful everyday we have an abundance to eat!

Looking out the window of my dad's truck when I was young

Looking out the window of my dad's truck when I was young

Truck Rides

I remember riding with my dad in his farm truck.  We drove around so many green fields that all looked exactly the same to me.  What could his eyes see?  How could the next rice field look any different than the other nine we had slowly circled? 

Me on Daddy's shoulder 

Me on Daddy's shoulder 

Looking Out Windows

But I didn’t mind.  I enjoyed having the windows rolled down, looking for snakes and turtles in the ditches and being with my daddy.  On many warm afternoons I dozed off for a while, especially if one of his farming buddies joined us and they talked shop. 

The grain dryer in our area

The grain dryer in our area

The Dryer

We usually ended up stopping by “the dryer”, as everyone called the grain dryer that was sure to have a hot cup of coffee.  There was always a small group of farmers crowded around the TV watching a station full of numbers. 

Jim Whitaker  and my dad discussing farming

Jim Whitaker and my dad discussing farming

When to Sell

As a kid, I didn’t realize that these farmers were strategically watching the market prices and trying to know when to lock in the best price for their crop.  “Three dollars is really high for rice right now” I would hear one say.  Another would reply “I don’t think it will ever reach four”.  Some years it didn’t, some years it did, but no one could have known before a seed was even planted earlier that Spring.

 

Unknowns on All Sides

A farmer confidently runs his operation with many unknowns on both the cost AND return sides. Some business models are based on signing contracts spelling out exactly what is expected of each party involved.  Other models give bids after careful calculations of material or labor costs that change little before the project’s completion.  Not so with farming. 

Ag airplane hanger prepared to provide spray services for local farmers

Ag airplane hanger prepared to provide spray services for local farmers

What If's

While a farmer always tries to use as little expensive chemical as possible, he can never know for sure what pests will begin eating away at his crop mid-season or which disease or fungus will bring mold that will deteriorate the sturdy stalks. 

Family enjoying a tractor ride

Family enjoying a tractor ride

Fuel and Other Unforeseen Costs

Who ever knows how the fluctuating oil and gas markets will drive fuel prices in the next month, much less six months, which is a typical growing season?  So a farmer can’t predict the cost of fuel for a tractor to make a pass over the field.  This could be a dry year.  If so, he will have a high electric bill to pay for pumping water to irrigate.  Although farmers spend much of the slower winter months refurbishing their equipment, many parts and maintenance costs are required throughout the season but he can’t know how much.  After all the unpredictable inputs, he now must try to get the best price for his yield.

A rainbow over the farm

A rainbow over the farm

Weather forecasts

Weather is impossible to predict, and it effects almost every aspect of farming.  Rain and wet fields can create delays during optimal planting time, as tractors can’t drive through the fields in wet conditions.  High winds gusting when it’s time to apply fertilizer and chemicals make it impossible for the ag airplanes to fly.  Extreme heat during the summer growing season scorches tender plants and sometimes rushes plant development which brings low nutrient levels. 

Rice that was blown over in the field just before harvest  

Rice that was blown over in the field just before harvest  

Down Rice

And just when the farmer has fully invested in his crop and put his hopes in bringing a bountiful harvest to provide for his family, rain and wind can blow the entire crop down overnight.  This makes it more expensive, if not impossible, to harvest.  Because the combine, which is the equipment used to harvest grain, must drive so slowly to pick up the “down rice” in the picture above, fuel and labor costs are greatly increased.   

My dad's weather radio

My dad's weather radio

Listening to the Weather

In our house growing up, the weather radio was strategically placed in the most receptive window with the antenna extended as far as possible.  This special radio only received one station that repeated the weather every 15 minutes.  I think my dad got it for his birthday.  He was thrilled!  I used to sit by him in the sun room and wait quietly until they announced the forecast for the next 24-48 hours.  There was no immediate accessibility to the hourly predictions or the 15 day forecasts we have in our pockets now.  Even when he heard the report, there was little he could do about it.  He would look at me with resolution and say “We’ll see”.  Then the two of us could visit.

Matt Miles  in front of his soybean crop

Matt Miles in front of his soybean crop

Courage Continues

Agriculture Professionals are well aware of these risks and continue to courageously develop their operations for the good of their families and ours.  And just like many other business owners, they don't want to be doing anything else!

Carbon Credits: Agricultural Currency

I’ve got great news for the world!  Have you heard of carbon credits?  A carbon credit is a cash incentive that an organization can receive for reducing its annual Green House Gas emissions.  Did you know that the State of California will issue carbon credits to any organization in the US that gives evidence of lowering its Green House Gas emissions? 

 

Tractors planting rice                                                                                                                                                                  Photo Credit:  Morgan Baugh

Tractors planting rice                                                                                                                                                                 Photo Credit:  Morgan Baugh

A New Category 

Maybe that’s not news to you, but did you know that, originally, California did not include agriculture as a category that could receive carbon credits?  This hurdle didn’t stop one group of forward-thinking Arkansas farm families from proving that the efforts they are making on their land should be recognized by California and many other groups around the country.  

 

The Whitaker family

The Whitaker family

Promoting Current Processes

Mark Isbell wrote in a recent article about ways that rice farmers in the mid-south region of the United States are developing practices to decrease their carbon footprint.  Nature’s Stewards is a group of families that are quantifying their carbon-reducing methods in the areas of water reduction, decreased fuel usage and intermittent flooding in rice fields for the purpose of receiving carbon credits from California.  The Whitakers, Isbells and Sullivans are all successful farming families throughout the state of Arkansas.  They have formed a group to validate the extra effort that many farmers around the country are making in order to preserve the environment while feeding the world’s growing population.  

 

My dad and nephew in front of a well that supplies the water to surrounding rice fields

My dad and nephew in front of a well that supplies the water to surrounding rice fields

The Way We've Always Done It

For hundreds of years, rice farmers around the world have understood the only way to grow rice is in a “continuous flood” environment.  Whether using contour levees or leveling their land to a precise grade, farmers have maintained 3 - 5 inches of water through the plant’s growing season and then drained the water just before harvesting.

 

Planting rice in a  zero grade rice field                                                                                                                                         Photo Credit:  Morgan Baugh

Planting rice in a zero grade rice field                                                                                                                                       Photo Credit:  Morgan Baugh

Unavoidable Sources

Motivated scientists have discovered many specific sources of Green House Gases.  Some originate from unavoidable, nature cycles based on the earth’s design, while others are derived from humans.  Because methane is released when soil that is full of organic material is flooded, rice fields have, historically, released a large portion of the carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

 

Kids playing in a rice field that is being flooded

Kids playing in a rice field that is being flooded

Do We Have to Do It the Way We've Always Done It?

Seeing the need to do their part to sustain the environment while feeding the world, Nature’s Stewards are perfecting a new method called alternate wetting and drying (AWD).  Instead of maintaining the same water level throughout the growing season, these farmers are halting their irrigation mid-season which allows the soil to dry for a brief period of time.  Water is soon re-applied in order to preserve the crop.  

 

Water seeping across a rice field

Water seeping across a rice field

Surprise Benefit

The Sullivan family, one of the families involved in Nature’s Stewards, has been implementing AWD for several years for the purpose of water conservation.  They have seen a 30% decrease in overall water consumption.  While this is great news for the environment, that’s not even the best part of it.  By interrupting the continuous flood in mid growing season, the Green House Gas emissions are reduced by up to 1 ton per acre!

Jim Whitaker reading a water gage that documents how many gallons are used

Jim Whitaker reading a water gage that documents how many gallons are used

Documentation

Proving this enormous emissions reduction has given Nature’s Stewards credibility in the carbon market.  During the 2016 growing season, they are keeping copious records of the water levels, tractor hours operated, and the amount of pesticides used on their lands.  The pioneering families in Nature’s Stewards have been able to significantly reduce the carbon emissions in each of these areas.  

 

The next generation                                                                                                                                                                        

The next generation                                                                                                                                                                        

More to Come

While rice is the first crop to officially enter the carbon market, these innovative farmers hope that other agriculture professionals will be encouraged to develop and document creative processes which they are implementing so we can pass-on a thriving environment to our children and grandchildren.  We would all love to look back in a few years and see that this was just the first of many steps the field of agriculture took into the carbon market.  Nature's Stewards are inviting all farmers to ask the question, "How can I do my part?" even if it has never been done before.  If more families follow their lead, we will soon have more great news for the world!