Space Travel and Agriculture

I am often glutton for punishment so every now and then I venture over to Facebook and after a few short minutes I remember why I don’t go on that site all that often anymore. I ran across one of the “Agvocates” (those people who advocate for agriculture) who was on a rant about the recent space travel adventures by a few of the super-rich dudes who own space travel companies, her rant was about how space travel is not carbon neutral. The rant appeared to be a retaliation about the comments toward parts of the agriculture community that are not thought of as being so carbon friendly by the same people who travel into space. That rant is not really a rabbit hole I care to venture down about who is more right or wrong that the other, but none the less it got me thinking about what kind of things in agriculture have benefited from space travel and space exploration.

I went online and started to search for things in agriculture that have benefited from technology that was developed in support of space travel. One of the first things I ran across was the use of satellite technology in farming. Satellite data is used to monitor weather, monitor snow cover, rain fall, moisture content, climate change and its effects on the health of crops, studying floods and how they threaten food security, satellite data is also used in conjunction with ground data to build models that help scientists study areas that may be at risk of a landslide after a natural disaster, as well as drought forecasting and early detection data which relies heavily on satellite imaging.

If you use GPS on a tractor to plant or harvest your crops, then you are benefiting from space exploration, GPS stands for Global Positioning System. When John Deere was developing their tractors to be able to drive through a field autonomously they turned to NASA. John Deere used data from NASA’s global network of ground stations and incorporate JPL’s software to create a more accurate navigation system for their tractors. With the use of this NASA based technology John Deere was able to offer a self-driving tractor that was accurate within inches verses only feet which was the case with the older technology. By 2015 about a third of the crop acreage in North America was being farmed using self-guidance systems.[1]

Lindsay Manufacturing Company from Lindsay Nebraska builds the Zimmatic Center pivot irrigation system, they use technology provided by NASA in the gear boxes that drive the wheels on the towers that move the irrigation system through the field. Midwest Research Institute was under a contract with Marshall Space Flight Center to compile a handbook with details of chemical and physical properties of 500 liquid and solid lubricants used by companies in the aerospace industry. The engineers of Lindsay manufacturing were able to use the information provided by NASA in the design of their gear boxes, this information helped reduce the amount of lubricant required and allowed them to use less expensive lubricants than they had previously used.[2]

The streamlined livestock trailer was developed based on technology from a NASA Research Program which investigated the aerodynamic characteristics of trailer/tractor combinations and suggested ways of reducing air resistance. NASA’s aerodynamic research technology was applied to the bull nose trailer manufactured by American Trailer Incorporated out of Oklahoma City OK, and it resulted in a 10 percent reduction in air drag, the reduction in air drag helps to reduce the amount of fuel needed to drag a trailer full of livestock down the road. [3]

In late 70’s and into the early 80’s McDonnell Douglas was using large vacuum chambers to test spacecraft components, the vacuum chambers also used microwave energy to produce heat in the chamber, this technology was found to be very useful and more cost efficient for drying agriculture grains. The conventional way of drying grains of rice caused the shell of the grain to crack, but with the new technology from McConnell Douglas the grain of rice could be dried faster, more evenly and did not cause damage to the shell of the rice grain. The technology was later used to dry soybeans that were being processed into high protein animal feed as well as vegetable oil, all thanks to the space exploration efforts.

An Illinois based company by the name of Spectrum has used NASA derived technology to create a hand held plant chlorophyll meter, the meter can be used to determine a plants chlorophyll content. This technology can help reveal plant stress which can be caused by factors like heat, insects, disease and lack of water or nutrients, this technology allows for these signs to be seen up to 16 days before visible signs emerge.[4]

Anyone use a Cummins Diesel engine in their operation? When Cummins was designing a turbo to add to their diesel engine, they used computer software designed by NASA that aided engineers in testing and developing turbine rotor designs to help make the turbo become more efficient and help to create more horsepower out of the Cummins diesel engine.

A company that was helping develop technology to be able to fly a drone on Mars has built a drone named Quantix. The drone can be used by farmers to scan crops with two high resolution cameras to help identify different plant health issues. Here is one success story from a farmer in California:[5]

“One walnut farmer in central California, who grows some 2,500 trees across 40 acres, scanned his orchard and saw that the trees on the northern end were not thriving as well as the ones on the southern part of the orchard. He knew the soil there was sandier, but the images and data showed him the sandy soil was more extensive than he had thought. “Based on the data, the farmer made some changes to how that area was irrigated, how nutrients were delivered, and even how the fruits were protected from the sun.” The impact was clear, Gitlin says. “The next growing season, he was able to increase yield by over $50,000—in one season.”

You ever hop in the pickup to head out and feed the animals or check on the crops and a warning on the dash comes on warning you of a tire that is low on air? That technology came from NASA, they developed the technology to monitor the tire pressure on the space shuttle. Today, U.S. law mandates a pressure gauge on every car tire because of the increased safety the pressure sensor technology provides to the automobile.[6]

Lastly a company in Colorado is working with technology derived from NASA in their studies of growing food in space to develop a sensor a farmer can attach to the leaf of a plant. That sensor will collect data on how much water the plant has received, either from rain or from irrigation. The sensor will also be able to provide information on the health of the plant. All of this information will be fed into a computer that will analyze the data and then can text the farmer if a portion of the field needs attention.[7]

These are just a few of the numerous advancements in technology the agriculture industry has benefited from by the space travel and exploration world. The future of agriculture will continue to benefit from more advanced technology as we continue to travel and learn about Space, the final frontier.


[1] https://www.nasa.gov/feature/directorates/spacetech/spinoff/john_deere

[2] https://ntrs.nasa.gov/api/citations/20020091946/downloads/20020091946.pdf

[3] https://ntrs.nasa.gov/citations/20030004755

[4] https://spinoff.nasa.gov/Spinoff2009/er_10.html

[5] https://spinoff.nasa.gov/Spinoff2020/ee_4.html

[6] https://spinoff.nasa.gov/Spinoff2019/t_2.html

[7] https://spinoff.nasa.gov/Spinoff2012/ee_2.html

Has the meaning of showmanship been blurred in the show cattle world?

Back in the late 1800’s researchers discovered that adults in the farming community were not receptive to new agriculture developments that were created by university campuses. Researchers also discovered that young people were open to new thinking and were more willing to experiment with new ideas and then they would share their experiences with adults. Thus began the ideology and foundations of the 4-H youth clubs, the need to be able to get information of new technologies and new methods of farming and caring for animals out to the rural communities.

This past week I was able to travel down to southern Missouri and experience some real humidity and I was also able to spend some time with a good friend of mine while his kids were showing a couple of steers and heifers at their local county fair. I was excited for this opportunity to get a glimpse of what it is like to show an animal that is bigger than the bucket calf my son is showing this year with his 4-H club.

However after watching the animals be judged I didn’t really have a warm and fuzzy feeling anymore about showing a show calf. My preconceived notion was that the kids would be judged on their showmanship and how they handled themselves, how they handled their animal, what kind of effort they put into prepping that animal for the show and lastly how well they cared for that animal over the past year or two. These are all things that can be controlled by the contestant, the harder you work, the better you will do in the competition. Sadly that’s not what these kids were judged on, the judge at this event seemed to only focus on the structure of the animal, the judge seemed to be more concerned with the bone structure and the muscle development of the animal. Now I understand those things are important if you are selecting an animal to start building yourself a herd that you would like to maybe someday earn you some money, but those are things that are not controlled by a young person who is caring for that animal.

You can be the best there is at raising an animal, you can give it the best feed, the best care, the most attention, but if that animal had some structural flaws or defects in its bone or muscle mass, then nothing you do will be able to overcome science and how that animal grows or how it metabolizes the feed it is given.

Now I am not one of those parents that feels every kid deserves a ribbon or a medal for just showing up to an event, I believe it is good for kids to be competitive and learn that you may not always be the first place winner, life is full of ups and down, you win some and lose some, showing an animal at your local county fair is a great way for a kid to learn those life lessons. However I feel that if a kid is to be competitive or to be judged it should be something within their control, otherwise each competition will boil down to who has the most money to be able to afford the most perfect animal for the judge to see and base his suggestions on who he thinks should be a grand champion.

I realize I am new to this industry, and I have a lot to learn, but I have to wonder has the lines become blurred on what showmanship is? I look to the 1800’s and the reason why 4-H clubs were invented, and I look at today, is showing an animal still about teaching the kids something new, teaching them about how to care for an animal and teaching them responsibility, or are we teaching them it’s more about who spends the most money to get a calf with perfect form and structure so a judge will name you the winner?

I don’t have a problem with some friendly competition, but the ultimate goal of the completion should be more about rewarding the kids who put in the effort to try and be the best at showing their animal. Anyways I still look forward to watching my kid show his animal this year in a few weeks at our local county fair, I just hope the judge will base his recommendation more on true original showmanship and less on what he thinks he can sell that calf for based on how well its bone structure has formed.

Stop Blaming Beef Growth Hormones:

I came across an interesting conversation on Facebook the other day of people arguing about beef and the dangers of (as they called it) using growth hormones in the beef that we eat. One of the people engaged in this painful social media conversation that was filled of opinions and false truths was blaming beef growth hormones for the cause of problems in today’s children in regards to things like early development issues and a whole host of other problems. One of the few people to actually present a non-emotionally charged response offered up a good point about the amount of estrogen that naturally occurs in many types of food that are much higher than beef and a lot of us consume daily.

So I set out on another adventure to seek out the actual facts about just how much estrogen there is in a chunk of beef verse what I would get from eating non beef items. Here is what I found.

First off you might say what is estrogen, well estrogen is a hormone that promotes sexual and reproductive development, it is found in the human body in both females and yes even men, maybe even a little more in some men than we care to admit, hey, maybe that’s why I love to cook so much… well that’s for another day’s discussion….

Below I have listed several types of food and how many nanograms of estrogen each of them have per a 3 ounce serving.

  • Soybean Oil 168,000,000
  • Pinto Beans 153,087
  • Eggs 94
  • Milk 11
  • Potatoes 225
  • Peas 340
  • Ice Cream 520
  • Wheat Germ 3,400
  • Beef with hormone Implant 1.9
  • Beef with no growth hormones 1.3

Data collected from https://www.meatinstitute.org/index.php?ht=a/GetDocumentAction/i/82078

Basically if you eat 3 ounces of organic grass fed beef you will ingest 1.3 nanograms of estrogen, if you consume 3 ounces of traditional raised beef that had been given a growth hormone you will ingest a mere 1.9 nanograms of estrogen. What if you are not in the mood for a steak and want some ice cream, well you will intake 520 ng’s of estrogen.

So all in all if you are worried about the amount of estrogen you or your child is getting from a piece of beef that may have been raised with a growth hormone, chances are it has way less effect on you than eating something made with soybean oil which contains 168 million ng’s of estrogen. Oh, and watch out for fruits and vegetables, many of them also offer significantly higher amounts of estrogen that a good old fashion steak or hamburger. The point here is stop using beef as the scapegoat… it’s not the source of the problem that is causing early development problems in today’s children.

Below I have added a few info graphics that I found while researching estrogen in our food systems.

Hot Dogs and the 4th of July

With the 4th of July just around the corner I thought it would be fun to do a little research on the hot dog, being that millions of Americans will be doing their annual 4th of July celebration which often includes indulging themselves with hot dogs.

Like many foods, the exact origin of the hot dog is often debated about who truly was the inventor of the hot dog. One of the theories is that the hot dog was derived from its predecessor the frankfurter which was developed in 1487 in Germany, just 5 short years before Christopher Columbus was to set sail for the new world. Many others feel that the American hot dog came from butchers of several nationalities that had traveled to America from Europe bringing along with them the traditions they had learned before leaving their mother land.  

1893 was the year that baseball parks began to sell sausages, it is believed that the tradition was started in St. Louis by a German immigrant who was the owner of the St. Louis Brown major league baseball team.[1]

The hot dog often goes by several different names, you will hear some people refer to hot dogs and franks or wieners. Traditionally a frank typically refers to an all-beef product while a wiener usually contains pork.

The U.S. Government defines a hot dog as being cooked, it is prepared from one or more kinds of muscle meat or poultry. Water and or ice, may be used to help mix the seasonings that are used to flavor the hot dog. Hot dogs may contain more than 30% fat or 10% water. Up to 3.5% of the hot dog can be a non-meat binder like not fat dry milk, cereal or dried whole milk, or it can be made up of 2% isolated soy protein. The U.S. Department of Agriculture requires that whatever ingredients are used in making the hot dog they must appear in the ingredient statement of the product. [2]

In 2020 consumers spent more than $7.68 billion on hot dogs and sausages in U.S. supermarkets.[3] Another fun fact, Mickey Mouse’s first on screen words were “Hot Dog” marking his transition from the silent screen. Residents of Los Angeles consume more hot dogs than any other city, in 2020 they consumed about 30 million pounds of hot dogs. On the 4th of July Americans will consume 150 million hot dogs, which is enough to stretch from D.C. to L.A. more than five times.[4]

The peak season for hot dogs runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day, during that time Americans will typically consume 7 billion hot dogs. That comes out to 818 hot dogs being consumer every second during that time frame.

Larger households that are made up of older children in the Midwest and south tend to be the highest consumers of refrigerated packaged meat products. A recent survey showed that sixty percent, which was mostly older consumers, stated they preferred all beef hot dogs, and the younger consumers preferred other products such as pork and chicken. [5]

So there is a little history and some facts about the American Hot Dog, Happy 4th of July, stay safe and go celebrate your freedom.


[1] https://www.hot-dog.org/culture/hot-dog-history

[2] http://hot-dog.org/sites/default/files/pdf/Hotdog-Facts-Figures-Folklore-Brochure.pdf

[3] http://hot-dog.org/media/consumption-stats

[4] http://hot-dog.org/media/consumption-stats

[5] http://hot-dog.org/media/consumption-stats


Grocery stores are not just for city folks

Agriculture Influencers, or “Agvocates” as they often refer to themselves, need to stop doing this “us vs them” mentality style of social media posts. When an agriculture influencer eludes to the thought that only city people use grocery stores it only helps further the divide between the rural communities and the people who live in the city.

I saw an Instagram post from a young female farmer that said “food does not come from grocery stores, it comes from farmers.” I understand the young farmer is trying to raise awareness about who grows the food that is sold in grocery stores, yet at the same time, that young farmer just lost a lot of credibility with me about her ability to be an advocate because food does in fact come from grocery stores. Let me explain why.

Chances are that same young farmer uses a grocery store just like the rest of us. It’s not just the city people who use grocery stores, many farmers use them as well. Now sure I know that many farmers may raise their own beef, or pork and maybe their own milk and eggs to name a few things that are commonly grown on a farm, but chances are there are many items they still have to get from the grocery store that they are not producing themselves.

Let me paint a picture of what happens if we cut out the grocery store and the factories that produce food and we just buy everything from the farmer, or the person growing or producing the food.

I live in Nebraska, I will be really hard pressed to find someone local who will be able to sell me all of the ingredients to make homemade tacos. Living in the beef state, I am confident I can find someone locally who can sell me a couple pounds of ground beef that they raised and harvested themselves. But…. What about a jar of salsa, some tortillas, cilantro, an avocado, oh and my one child does not want tacos, so I will need a loaf of bread, some lunch meat, a slice of cheese, and a little mayo and mustard to top it off. Can one farmer sell me all of that? I am most likely going to have to venture around to several different farms to find all of these items, and good luck finding someone around here actually growing an avocado. After supper, my kids have asked for a piece of cake and some ice cream, I don’t even want to go down the road of where I am going to find someone to sell me all of the ingredients for that stuff.

Most of the items I mentioned before can all be made at home, if you have all of the raw ingredients. But that’s not what the city people want to do. Farmers are just as busy as the city people, do the farmers today have the time to make everything from scratch, or are they also more inclined to just grab items from the grocery store once a month, or once a week or however they do their grocery shopping?

Grocery stores are not the problem, they are not the enemy, they have evolved from people wanting to simply things in their life, and they have given the consumers what they have asked for. Don’t get me wrong, I fully support the need to educate the common person about where the food comes from and that it is not just some big corporate farm producing all of this food, but we need to find a way to educate the masses without being so condescending or creating a division and stigma that grocery stores are only for the uneducated city dwellers. We need to stop painting a picture that the farmers are so different that those of us in the city, where in fact we really all do have a lot in common, often more things in common than some people are willing to admit.

Hobbies

I just finished listening to the Ag State of Mind latest podcast, in this latest podcast Jason talks with his guest Michelle Bufkin Horton about the necessity of hobbies being incorporated into your life. What the both of them had to say really hit close to home for me.

Overall my life is pretty routine, I go to work 40 hours a week, my job brings me some satisfaction because my job is centered on helping to protect our nation and provide aid to our allies around the world. When I am not at work I am usually cooking something to eat for my wife or kids, when I am not cooking food and cleaning the kitchen, I am typically running my kids around to their events or working on some to do list item that the wife needs done immediately if not sooner.

For a majority of my life firefighting was my hobby, it was the thing I got to do that brought me excitement and joy, it was that thing that was not just going to work and doing the same thing over and over day in and day out. My life was balanced, I had work, family, and play, until the day came and I could no longer be a firefighter.

After a few years of being miserable and nearing the end of my rope, I had that epiphany moment where I realized I needed to find a new hobby, I needed something to focus my mind on that was positive, something to fill that void of no longer being a firefighter.

Wood working became my hobby that I used to bring back joy into my life, it gave me something to focus my energy on. It also helped me to build back up my self-confidence, and it gave me joy to make something with my own hands that I could give to someone that hopefully gave them joy as well. It’s also what led me into learning about the agriculture industry which became another hobby of mine. Wood working and learning about agriculture, and eventually speaking out about mental health awareness became my hobbies, it made me feel like I finally had balance in my life again. Finding that balance has really been key to maintaining a healthy mental health lifestyle.

If you have a few minutes go check out the Ag State of Mind podcast and see if maybe a hobby is something you need to incorporate into your life.

Here is a link to podcast, you can also find the Ag State of Mind on many other platforms as well.

Brianna Buseman of The Meating Room


I have two reasons why I wanted to learn more about beef and the beef industry. The first reason was due to my own health reasons, I had to pay close attention to what I was eating, the best food that works for me is true whole food, things like beef, chicken, vegetables, something that you can either grow or raise with minimal processing. I learned that beef is very good for you and I found it really was useful for providing the nutrition I needed to allow my body to heal itself and be able to supply me with the nutrients I needed to be able to function on a daily basis.

The second reason I wanted to learn about the beef industry was to sort through the mounds of information that is available on the internet about beef. My personal opinion from the research I have done is that there is a lot more “wrong information” about beef and how it is raised than there is truthful and factual information about the beef industry. So instead of just believing what I read on the internet I set out on a mission to learn as much as I could on my own about beef, and the best source of information was from the people who actually raise and produce beef cattle.

There have been many people that have helped me along my journey to learn about beef, one person that has done a phenomenal job of breaking down the science in the beef world to a level I can understand is a young talented lady by the name of Brianna Buseman.

I asked Brianna to give me a brief description of what drives her to want to teach others about beef, here is what she wrote:

I grew up on a farm and understand the amount of work and care that goes into producing a high quality product. I share about meat science because I want other people to see that too. I am not a nutritionist, but I know that meat is good for you and an important part of the diet. I share about meat science because I want other people to see that too. The meat industry (the entire production process) provides food and financial stability for people worldwide. Meat is a core part of the diet around the world and it takes a lot of hands to get that product to the consumer. The opportunities to be a part of that production cycle are seemingly endless. I share about meat science because I want other people to see that too. And finally, I just think it is really interesting. I remember being in my first meat science class and just being amazed by the amount of science that goes into something as seemingly simple as a steak. I think it’s amazing and I want other people to see that too.

Brianna has a podcast that I enjoy listening to because it is very informative, it is easy to follow along with and even easier to understand what she is talking about. You do not have to be someone in the beef industry to enjoy her podcasts and come away learning something. If you are wanting to learn more about the beef industry or just meat science in general then check out Brianna and her webpage at https://themeatingroom.home.blog/ On her webpage there is also a section where you can check out her podcasts, I urge you to check out a few of them, I think you will enjoy what she has to say as much as I do.

Call for Backup

Did you know . . . (from https://callforbackup.org/)

. . . we lose more police officers and firefighters to suicide every year than are killed in the line of duty?

. . . the rate of suicidal thinking among paramedics is at least 10 times greater than in the general population?

. . . that dispatchers and corrections officers are at a greater risk for suicide due to stress-related issues?

. . . that the greatest concerns of first responders are the stigma associated with mental health issues and their departments’ seeming lack of support?

If you are a Police Officer, Firefighter, EMS worker, Dispatcher, Corrections officer or any type of first responder, I urge you to go check out the Call for Backup organization, and see what they can offer to you, you can find information about them at https://callforbackup.org/ or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/CallForBackup.org/

(Taken from their website:)

Our unique training program helps first responders understand how the stresses of the job impact them mentally, emotionally, physically, behaviorally, and spiritually, and also helps them see how certain skills can make them more resistant to stress and more resilient when a major stressful event occurs. Most importantly, we teach them how important it is to look out for one another – to be the backup when someone needs it, and to call for backup for themselves when necessary.

Please be aware that we are not a “crisis line” or “hotline,” but a resource for peer support.  If you’d like to speak to one of our peer support specialists, please send a message to m.me/callforbackup.org/ and someone will respond as quickly as possible. 

IF YOU ARE IN CRISIS NOW, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1(800) 273-TALK (8255), or text the keyword BADGE to 741741 to be connected to a trained crisis counselor, 24/7 – always free and confidential.

Mental Health Sobriety

When a person lives with addiction and they get clean they call that sobriety, typically those terms are most commonly reserved for people who have used drugs or alcohol. But what about someone’s mental health? Could the same terms apply as well?

If you have ever lived with depression, people often say they felt like they were in a dark tunnel, and it was hard to see any light that would indicate some form of hope or safety. If you are fortunate enough to find your way out of that darkness you know what a great feeling it is to be back to being happy again, back to being productive and possibly enjoying interacting with other people again.

Once you have repaired your mental health to a level that you are happy with, you will soon realize that after that “honeymoon” period of feeling back to “normal”, you will need to change your ways or your habits so that you don’t slip back into the depression you fought so hard to get out of. For addicts it’s the same thing, treatment centers teach addicts tools and tricks they can use to keep themselves sober and to help prevent them from going back to a lifestyle of using again. Mental health is no different.

Learning about your mental health and identifying things that may trigger your depression is the first step, next you will need to develop tools that can help you navigate around those triggers should a situation arise that can harm your positive mental health fitness. Now each person is different, things that help you stay healthy and happy may not work for the next person, this is why it is important to take time and reflect on the things that make you angry or upset, and discover what you did to overcome those feelings.

It’s what I call maintaining your mental health sobriety. It’s just as important to take care of your mental well-being as it is to take care of your physical well-being. The two truly go hand in hand. If your leg is broken you go to the doctor and get it fixed so you can get back to “normal” and you more than likely learned a lesson of what not to do to avoid re-breaking that leg again. You need to do the same for your mental health, if needed, get some help, get it fixed, and get back to living your life, but remember how you got there and learn ways to prevent from going back there. Your life has value, your life is important, so make sure you do what you need to do to stay mentally sober.

Facts about Food

The below information is not mine, it is from an article written by Jodi DeHate, when I read the article I thought she did a great job of breaking down a lot of information about farming practices to the point that you do not need to be a farmer to understand what she is saying. I reached out to Jodi and asked if I could post a copy of her article because I felt it was great information to share with all of you. Hopefully you will learn something I did.

Decisions, decisions…Which food is better? 1-19-21

It’s a new year and for a lot of people it means a resolution to eat healthier. Which is a great goal! Eat more vegetables and fruit, yay! A question that came up is, “Do farming practices impact nutrient density in our food?” What’s your guess here? Yes, no, or have no idea and just give me the answer.

Myth #1 Soils are depleted

One of the common myths is that our soil is depleted, and farmers are producing nutrient empty foods. Or that using commercial fertilizers makes our foods less healthy. Let’s unpack those thoughts.

Crops remove nutrients from the soil. That’s a fact. To the point, scientists have calculated averages for how much each crop will remove nutrients from the soil.  To replenish those nutrients farmers can replace them with fertilizers. Cover crops, crops that are grown after the main crop, can help scavenge nutrients and hold them there till the main crop is grown again. Cover crops like clover, vetch, peas, and other legumes can actually add nitrogen to the soil, further reducing the need for commercial fertilizers.

Farmers soil test their fields every few years. Soil tests tell farmers which parts of the field need more nutrients and which parts don’t. Farmers apply fertilizers using the 4R’s of fertilizer stewardship: the Right type of fertilizer, Right time, Right rate, and Right amount. Due to the number of dairy farms in our area, many of the fields here receive manure. Manure contains nutrients and something commercial fertilizers don’t have- organic matter. Farmers do test the manure for what nutrients it contains, reducing the amount of commercial fertilizers needed. Without the proper amount of nutrients in the soil, crops simply will not grow well.

Crops do NOT know the difference between nutrients coming from organic sources like manure versus nutrients coming from commercial fertilizers. If a nutrient is present near the root hairs then the plant will uptake it.

Organic vs. conventional

Surely food produced using organic methods is far healthier than those that are produced conventionally, right?  The short answer is not really.

Remember this article is on nutrient density, and while organic foods do have lower amounts of pesticides you would still need to eat tons of food per day to feel negative effects from what residues that may still be on your foods that were produced conventionally. Check out https://www.safefruitsandveggies.com/ . There’s a fun food calculator to use.

Back to nutrient density. From a 2012 Stanford University study, organic foods in a few instances are marginally better nutritionally than conventional, but not enough to make a huge difference in your overall diet.  An exception is for organic dairy products that have significantly higher levels Omega-3 fatty acids, but this wasn’t necessarily conclusive either since the studies were on fairly small samples size.

What about livestock feed practices?

Which one is better for you? Grain finished or grass finished beef? Most beef is raised on forages regardless of how they are finished. Forages are grasses, legumes (think clover or alfalfa), and forbs (things like dandelions, wildflowers). Then cattle are brought into a feedlot 6 months before slaughter and finished on feed that is a mix of forages and grains. This gives beef its nice marbling and flavor profile.  Grass finished is where animals are kept on the forages until it’s ready for slaughter.

What’s the nutritional difference? Grain finished is .4 grams higher in protein, .1 mg higher in zinc, .2 mg lower in iron, and is 2.3 grams higher in total fats per serving of beef. This information is supplied by the Beef Checkoff Council which represents all beef producers.

What about eggs? There is definitely a difference when it comes to what eggs look and taste like when chickens have access to the outside. The color of yolk is yellower and tastes richer. Chickens are getting more bugs in their diet aka protein, and more beta carotene from plants they are picking at. But what about nutrition? Unless the chickens are fed an Omega-3 rich diet which translates to more Omega-3s in the egg, then nutritional differences are not statistically different between eggs.

Veggies are wild

In vegetables especially, there are huge differences in nutrient profiles amongst varieties. This is a known effect called nutrition dilution. Breeders of vegetables have focused for the most part on yield. The more the farm yields the more the farmer gets paid, so yield has been the main focus for plant breeders for a long time.

It’s known that some varieties of vegetables aren’t as nutritious. Because the plant was bred to produce more, less nutrients are expressed in the product. Plant breeders are now aware of this phenomenon and are breeding plants that both have high yield and are more nutrient packed. It’s going to take time to get those varieties onto farms and to you in the grocery store, about 20 years or more.

Even with this known, nutrient density is wildly dependent on soil types, weather events, plant stress, and pest stress. There’s some interesting research coming on how soil health may impact vegetable nutrition.

So what should I eat?

Dieticians recommend eating a variety of foods: fruits, vegetables, meats, grains, and fats. Eating the rainbow has been a popular mantra from dieticians for good reason- you’re more likely to get all the nutrients you need from food by eating a large variety of foods, but especially fruits and vegetables.

With all this said, there is a difference in how things taste. Homegrown or local tomatoes in the height of their season are the best tasting tomatoes. Same with fresh sweet corn. You can’t beat local or homegrown. Many dieticians still recommend eating a variety and eating what you like as far as taste of a product. If that’s a grass fed steak and organic salad, great! If you like grain finished burger and conventionally grown, but local potatoes, awesome!

Good stewardship in farming practices is still important for a plethora of reasons. One is reducing impact to the environment which is what the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP) does with cooperating farmers.

Jodi DeHate is the MAEAP technician covering Missaukee, Wexford, Kalkaska, and Crawford counties. She can be reached at jodi.dehate@macd.org or 231.839.7193 at the Missaukee Conservation District.