Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Establishing Common Ground and Leadership to Grow a Climate for Tomorrow

Brett Kaysen, Senior Vice President, Producer and State Engagement, National Pork Board and owner/operator of Kaysen Family Farms 

The word “polarizing” is reaching the point of over-use in our current culture. Politics, parenting, education, energy and more – every decision we make today has the potential to gain loud cheers from some and intense criticism from others. As someone who spent his whole life working on the farm or with farmers, I know debates on agriculture and food production often feel polarizing, too.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

On National Ag Day, farmers and others connected to agriculture are celebrating progress and identifying what we, as an industry, need to do to Grow a Climate for the Future. From my vantage point, the future of agriculture is bright. We can make it even brighter by finding common ground to avoid polarization of food discussions, and by developing leaders now who will take us into the next generation. We can leave a legacy of shared values, including continuous improvement, for our future agriculture industry.

As someone who speaks to U.S. pig farmers and others throughout the food supply chain daily, I know finding agreement about our food is possible. Take animal well-being, for example. Pig farmers and consumers alike believe pigs should be taken care of. We all want and need to breathe clean air. Everyone desires clean, fresh available water that is abundant. We need healthy soils to grow bountiful crops. And we all want to take care of our fellow human beings – no matter their background, education, or difference of opinions.

In the pork industry, we have progress to celebrate and innovation to demonstrate these shared values. Relative to animal well-being on the farm, we are better today in 2022 than we’ve ever been. Our pigs live in 70-degree controlled environments protected from the elements and illness while eating highly nutritious and balanced diets. Precision technology allows farmers to take pig manure – a highly renewable resource – and apply it to fields at the perfect time and rate to make soil as healthy and ready-to-yield as possible. It’s regenerative agriculture at its best.

Recently, we released our first U.S. Pork Industry Sustainability Report, which celebrates on-farm examples of progress and our goals to continue that progress. As an industry, we can elevate these examples to help create an accurate picture of agriculture for those removed from their food systems.

Next month, as we approach Earth Day, the segment of public opinion that says agriculture as bad for people, society and the environment will gain volume and momentum. We must not let this distract from what we know are our successes and opportunities. Instead, we need to demonstrate the leadership the next generation can build upon to confidently address questions while also continuing to find new ways to improve our industry.

I’m a Pork Checkoff employee, pig farmer and a dad. I have the awesome privilege raising pigs on our small-scale farm alongside my 11- and 13-year-old daughters, giving me a front-row seat to the potential the next generation of agriculture. In addition to learning how to give our animals the best care, they also are developing skills to answer hard questions about animal care and do it in a way that connects with consumers. As a result, I believe my girls will grow up to be great pig farmers, but more important, to provide great leadership for agriculture.

The more we engage with people – no matter their views on our industry – the better we can help them feel about what we do on the farm. This is how we diffuse polarizing views about our food, and instead of arguing, focus on a common vision for the future. One where we have cultivated a thriving climate for agriculture.

This blog post is made possible with funding from the Pork Checkoff.

Monday, March 21, 2022

Reaching Educators with Real Sugar Facts 

Using teaching tools to educate future generations and connect them to real sugar’s origin

For the 27,000 Family and Consumer Science (FCS) teachers across the U.S., the topic of sugar frequently comes up in class. Formerly known as home economics, family and consumer science class is a prime opportunity to educate the next generation of consumers about where real sugar comes from and the role it plays in a nutritious, balanced and enjoyable diet. Teachers should have access to accurate information about sugar to correct the misperceptions of their students, who are largely influenced by misinformation on social media.

Telling Real Sugar’s Story to the Next Generation

Students are becoming increasingly interested in where their food comes from and how to eat a balanced diet.  At the Sugar Association, we ensure our materials connect students to the agricultural roots of real sugar and give educators the tools to empower students to understand their diet and how a balanced lifestyle includes real sugar in moderation. 

All of our resources are grounded in science and equipped with references to support the facts. Providing educators, including those in FCS, homeschool programs, 4-H, extension programs and more, with free science-based educational materials that help tell real sugar’s story is one of our priorities at the Sugar Association. From coloring books to myth-busting fact sheets, offered in English and Spanish, our materials are being used across the country! 

Connecting with Educators

Participating in national and regional educator conferences and workshops provides the opportunity to meet with educators one-on-one to answer their questions, share our real sugar resources and identify additional needs. The audience at these conferences includes traditional educators, like FCS professionals, as well as those who teach in other settings. For example, the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) audience includes teachers as well as high-school aged leaders, public health professionals, 4-H leaders, and extension professionals who teach adult courses.

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Formulating Feed Diets to Improve Nutrient Uptake, Reduce Environmental Footprint

By: Paul Davis, Ph.D., director of quality, animal food safety and education, American Feed Industry Association

I recently had the privilege of presenting to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 98th annual Agricultural Outlook Forum on the ways the feed industry is working toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions on farms. Being the son of a career USDA veterinary medical officer, a fifth-generation farmer and the first person from the American Feed Industry Association invited to present at the forum, this opportunity was indeed special. It gave me the opportunity to share how established animal nutrition concepts, as well as new feed technologies, could be part of the path to less environmental impacts from animal agriculture, if certain regulatory roadblocks are cleared.

As I gathered my thoughts for this presentation, I reflected on my former animal nutrition professors’ and mentors’ advice: do not discard established concepts in favor of flashier, yet unproven strategies. The feed industry is and will continue to be sustainable in several manners.

First, let’s look at some established concepts in animal nutrition. The ingredients that are included in a feed diet (or “ration” as we call it in the industry), how they are combined with respect to the amounts, proportions and ratios, how they are presented to the animals and how they may be enhanced with technologies, both established and novel, can increase animals’ nutrient utilization and thus decrease environmental impact.

Put simply, we endeavor for more of the feed ration to be ingested, digested and metabolized by the animal to turn into nutritious foods that people can eat.

When formulating a ration, we choose ingredients often from the creation of a primary product or process outside of the animal agriculture industry (e.g., dried distillers grains), otherwise known as coproducts, which can improve nutrient utilization. In doing so, we can divert materials destined for landfills and “upcycle” them into animal feeds, using more of what was grown or mined for food production, increasing efficiency and decreasing environmental impact.

Likewise, when ingredients with higher bioavailability are selected (e.g., selenomethionine), more of the nutrients can be utilized by the animal, lowering nutrient excretion. In some instances, animal food nutritionists and formulators can choose ingredients based on content of a specific nutrient into a specific application, an example being high-lysine corn included in a growing swine diet. Targeted inclusions such as these increase the utilization and decrease nutrient loss due to ‘over formulation.’

Further, the ways and means in which the chosen ingredients are processed and combined affect their utilization and efficiency, something which, at first blush, seems simple, such as particle size, but has a great impact on digestibility. Adhering to optimum particle sizes for ingredients for each species and livestock class can greatly reduce nutrient waste. In addition, some nutrients, minerals in particular, can have an antagonistic or binding effect on each other. Responsible, sustainable formulation accounts for these and helps ensure that antagonisms are not inherently created. I have known of feed formulations that contained molybdenum (included to help prevent copper toxicity in sheep) and added copper. This combination pretty well assures that the added copper will be excreted into the environment as a copper-thiomolybdate, something in which animal nutritionists are cognizant.

Once a ration has been formulated and compounded, its delivery and presentation to the animal also has bearing on its final efficiency of use. Nutrients from feed that are wasted prior to ingestion have no chance of being utilized; likened to spilling gasoline on the ground as you try to fill your vehicle’s fuel tank. Great care is taken to ensure on-farm feeders are adjusted properly to ensure proper feed flow, minimize waste and allow for the optimum height. Likewise, there should be adequate feeder space when self-feeding animals, and feeding frequency and amounts should allow for optimum production. It truly takes a village in animal agriculture!

Finally, the U.S. feed industry is blessed with a wide variety of feed additives that help improve nutrient utilization and production efficiency. We often take their safety and efficacy for granted. As part of being a good steward of feed resources, feed additives should be included in rations where appropriate.  There are instances of up to 10% efficiency being gained from the inclusion of one feed additive, and while there is no guarantee of a cumulative effect, at times, using multiple feed additives pays dividends. Even with the advances that we have enjoyed, it seems feed additives remain a new frontier. 

We have many talented nutritionists, veterinarians and other scientists across the U.S. working tirelessly to discover or create new efficacious feed additives to improve production and/or reduce enteric methane emissions in livestock. However, their efforts seem to reach a regulatory bottleneck in the Food and Drug Administration’s approval process and are further hampered by the inability to make label claims regarding production, except in the realm of medicated feed additives, which are regulated as drugs. Other countries, such as Brazil and some across Europe, have embraced these feed additives with environmental benefits, putting U.S. farmers and ranchers at a disadvantage globally.

In order to advance animal agriculture and continue to produce meat, milk and eggs more efficiently and sustainably, the industry desperately needs more expedient approvals of feed ingredients and a broader pathway for label claims. Imagine what the next great feed additive could do for improving production and reducing environmental impact.

Sunday, March 13, 2022


Public-Private Partnership Protects Pork Producers

NPPC worked with USDA and the World Health Organization for Animal Health (OIE) to recognize the islands of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands as a “protection zone” which would allow the United States to maintain its current animal health status.  

A foreign animal disease (FAD) in this country would wreak havoc on the livestock industry — killing animals, cutting production, increasing food prices and costing jobs. That’s why the organizations that represent the various species have worked so hard to keep FADs at bay. This year on Ag Day, the pork industry would like to shine a light on efforts pork producers have prepared to respond to a FAD, helping keep the U.S. pork industry free of African Swine Fever (ASF).

But they haven’t done it alone. In its ongoing efforts to prevent and prepare for an outbreak of ASF, the U.S. pork industry has collaborated with federal agencies, a public-private partnership critical to winning a fight against any FAD.

Pork producers’ concerns about ASF had been rising even before the pig-only disease began spreading through China in 2018. Fears were heightened last summer with the detection of the highly transmissible disease — which is no threat to human health or food safety — in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, the first time in 40 years ASF had been in the Western Hemisphere.

When ASF was confirmed on the island of Hispaniola, just 750 miles from the U.S. mainland, the pork industry prompted the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to move quickly to isolate it. The agency provided the Dominican Republic and Haiti with testing support, laboratory equipment, training laboratory personnel, personal protective equipment, and aid for response and mitigation measures.

USDA also asked the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) to recognize the neighboring islands of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands as a “protection zone.” The OIE designation allows the United States to maintain its current animal health status and, as an ASF-free country, continue exporting pork should an ASF case be detected in either U.S. territory.

Most importantly, the pork industry encouraged USDA to provide $500 million for keeping ASF out of the United States, an unprecedented move in terms of the amount dedicated to one animal disease and getting the funds upfront — before it gets to the U.S. shores.

In addition to USDA, the pork industry is working with the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CPB) to stop the spread of ASF, getting CBP to increase efforts to intercept illegal boat traffic from Hispaniola to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and to conduct thorough inspections at all U.S. borders and ports of entry.

While USDA and CBP put practices into action, the National Pork Producers Council — representing America’s 60,000 pork producers — asked Congress for funding to help those agencies do their jobs, convincing lawmakers to approve $635 million in emergency funding for USDA’s Agricultural Quarantine Inspection program, including for 720 new CBP agricultural inspectors. Congress also provided $30 million for the National Animal Health Laboratory Network, which provides disease surveillance and diagnostic support, and $20 million for USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to hire more staff for its Veterinary Services, which would handle controlling, depopulating and disposing of animals if there were an ASF outbreak in the United States.

That collaboration has helped keep the U.S. pork industry free of ASF and has better prepared pork producers and government officials to respond to any FAD.

Thursday, March 3, 2022

GMOs: What are they and why are they important for farmers and consumers?


By Jeanne Tuttle

National Ag Day is a time to recognize the farmers, producers, associations, businesses and universities that contribute to agriculture. It’s also a time to think about the tools farmers use to sustainably meet the demands of a growing world.

One of those tools is GMOs, or genetically modified organisms.  But what exactly does it mean when a plant is genetically modified (GM)?  Knowing what GMOs are, and why they are used, is key to making the best decisions when feeding your family.

When thinking about GMOs, it is helpful to remember that scientists are focused on finding ways to help farmers manage the many challenges of producing food — from pests and disease to drought and erosion. Scientists rely on many old and new techniques to develop the best seeds for farmers. The GMO process is just one of many techniques that can be used, along with others, to create specific seed products for farmers.

What is a GMO?

According to the World Health Organization, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are organisms in which the genetic material (i.e., DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination. Genetic modification allows selected individual genes to be transferred from one organism into another. In the case of food, crop seed can be genetically modified, which results in genetically modified food.

What does that mean? In short, GM is a process in which scientists transfer beneficial traits from one plant to another to achieve the desired improvement. When scientists find a trait that could be beneficial, they make a copy of the desired gene and put it in the plant’s DNA.

Why is GM needed in agriculture?

1.   Environmental stewardship:

  • When farmers use genetically modified crops that are resistant to herbicides, they can use a small amount of herbicide to control weeds, without killing the crops. When farmers use herbicides instead of tilling to control weeds, it helps protect from soil erosion and keep nutrients and moisture in the soil.
  • Crops can be modified to use water more efficiently, reducing water usage during dry periods or droughts. 

2.    Plant health:

Environmental stewardship and plant health are key in farmers producing more food with fewer resources. For example, below is a diagram that represents corn yield vs. population in the United States in 1975 vs. 2018. 

Corn Yield vs. Population in the Unites States in 1975 vs. 2018


U.S. Population

U.S. Average Corn Yield


216 million

75 bushels per acre


327.1 million

175 bushels per acre

Though the statistics above are from the United States alone, our U.S. farmers help feed the world. According to the U.S. Farm Bureau Federation, one U.S. farm feeds 166 people annually in the United States and abroad. The global population is expected to increase by 2.2 billion by 2050, which means the world’s farmers will have to grow about 70% more food than what is now produced.

And here’s the thing: The population is growing, but resources are not. The amount of land and water are not increasing, yet farmers are tasked with producing enough food and fiber to meet the needs of a growing world, with the same, or fewer, amount of resources.

Where can I learn more?

GM food is a hot topic, and there’s more information and questions than I can cover here. As with all topics, I recommend doing your research and not just using friends’ recommendations to make the best decision for your family.

Below are some resources that I have found helpful when trying to learn more about GM food and making the best decision when purchasing food for my family.

  • “OMG, GMOs!”: Bill Nye (yes, the science guy) has a great podcast called Science Rules! In this episode, Bill and his guests dive in and cover all things GMO-related.
  • GMO Answers: GMO Answers is an initiative committed to responding to your questions about how food is grown. Its goal is to make information about GMOs in food and agriculture easier to access and understand.

About me: I have a passion for telling the story of people who feed the growing world.  I hope you will read more of my blogs on here or follow me on LinkedIn.