Farm Food Facts

Ep 23 Polly Ruhland, Kelly Griggs, New Water Rules

May 07, 2019 Episode 23
Farm Food Facts
Ep 23 Polly Ruhland, Kelly Griggs, New Water Rules
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Farm Food Facts
Ep 23 Polly Ruhland, Kelly Griggs, New Water Rules
May 07, 2019 Episode 23
USFRA
This weeks guests are Polly Ruhland from the United Soybean Board and Kelly Griggs from American Farm on History.
Show Notes Transcript

Our Thought Leader is Polly Ruhland, CEO of United Soybean Board, who joins us to discuss soybean innovation, the latest research findings and what’s next for soybean farmers.

The Stories You Need to Know:
California Growers implement New Water Rules to ensure Romaine is Safe for Consumption.
Agriculture in Alaska is Booming!
Data Shows Fundamental Shifts occurring in American Farming.
Expanding Blockchain-based Grocery Store Network can help improve Food Safety.

Today's Farmer is Kelly Griggs, row crop farmer - one of the farmers on American Farm on History who has one of the most challenging personal issues being a wheat farmer.

Phil:
0:01
Farm, Food, Facts: where every farmer, every acre, and every voice matter.
Phil:
0:10
Welcome to the Farm, Food, Facts interactive podcast presented by the U.S Farmers and Ranchers Alliance for today, Wednesday May 8th, 2019. I'm your host, Phil Lempert. Later on in the program, we will chat with Kelly Griggs, row crop farmer, one of the star farmers on The American Farm on HISTORY series who has one of the most challenging personal issues being a wheat farmer.
Phil:
0:34
Over the past few months, soybeans and soybean farmers have made headlines across the nation, and for good reason. Soybeans are the most important protein source for feed animals and a significant ingredient in many of our foods on the supermarket shelves. Soybeans are also an exceptional source of essential nutrients, providing in a 100 gram serving high contents of the daily value, especially for protein, dietary fiber, iron, manganese, phosphorous, and several B vitamins including folate. High contents also exist for vitamin K and magnesium, zinc and potassium. Today, Polly Ruhland, CEO of United Soybean Board joins us to discuss soybean innovation, the latest research findings, and what's next for soybean farmers. As CEO, she provides strategic leadership and management over all aspects of USB's planning and operations for the US soybean industry, leading annual marketing, communications, and research efforts in accordance with the policies, goals, and objectives established by the board. Polly was also awarded an Eisenhower Fellowship for international leaders and studied in Japan and Taiwan. Polly, Welcome to Farm, Food, Facts.
Polly:
1:44
Thanks, Phil. I'm really glad to be here
Phil:
1:45
These days, consumers want to know more and more about all the foods that they consume, how they're grown, how they're made, shipped, and where they come from. What would you like retailers and consumers to know about US grown soybeans?
Polly:
1:58
You know, nobody knows better than retailers that consumers' interaction with the foods, with the brands, with the products is undergoing a significant shift right now. Consumers no longer make purchasing decisions based on just functionality. They have the means and the mechanisms to ask a lot about sourcing and about sustainability. I think soybeans are exactly what consumers are looking for. They just really don't know it yet. I always called soybeans the magic beans because soy and soy products like meal and oil can be used in countless applications. In fact, we're still uncovering a lot of the opportunities in food, feed, fiber and fuel for soybeans. US soy is a very outstanding choice for consumers across the value chain and even in industrial applications, which is what we call things like fiber and lubricants and paints and adhesives. Soybean offer a sustainable and renewable option to companies looking for materials to make those things and many others.
Polly:
2:59
As far as animal feed goes - which you mentioned earlier, Phil - the nutritional bundle soy presents is among the most competitive options available, and one of the most natural options available, for animal feed. So, when they are driven by consumer demand - which we know they are - food companies and retailers are also focused on environmental outcomes to measure sustainability. And sustainability is one of the things that the soybean farmers have emphasized for many, many years. So, one way that the Soy Checkoff or United Soybean Board is addressing US soy sustainability is through some collaborative research and some communications with other checkoff organizations like the National Corn Growers Association and the National Pork Board. In many ways, all the organizations working together, they're supplying the same markets and the same consumers so it makes sense to coordinate on sustainability efforts throughout agriculture and United Soybean Board is proud to do that.
Phil:
3:51
So, you alluded to this a moment ago. Are there different types of soybeans for different products? You know, obviously you mentioned oil. Is there one type of soybean for oil and another one for consumption? Tell me a little bit about that.
Polly:
4:09
You know, we get that question all the time. How I like to answer it is, let's start with how soybeans are what we call processed, and that's a bad word these days. But really all we do with soybeans to get the elements that we need out of them is crush them. So, about half of the beans we grow in the US are actually crushed here. And that's when we prepare the beans for market. So most of the soybean, about 80 percent is the protein meal that we mentioned, goes into animal feed and human feed. That's the market driver. So 97 percent of the meal, that is 80 percent of the bean, goes into animal ag and 3 percent is used for human food and then those other industrial uses that I mentioned. The other portions of beans when you crush a bean is oil. So, you get the meal and you get the oil.
Polly:
5:03
About 58 percent of the oil that's in a bean is for food uses. And we're talking about things like salad oil, and frying oil, and shortening, and things like that. About 33 percent of all the oil made is used for biodiesel and bioheat - so, renewable fuels - and 9 percent goes to industrial uses again, that use oil for things like lubricants, that I mentioned before. So, the other half of the beans that we don't crush here are exported, primarily as whole beans. But soybean meal exports are growing as well. That's because we're so effective at sustainably growing and producing a high quality crop here - we have a very high quality crop in the US - that imports are minimal but exports are growing. So in terms of dollar value, according to the US census, US soybean farmers exported a record breaking, I might add, 2.6 billion bushels of US soy and soy products last year. Now, the export market has seen some significant challenges and we'll talk a little bit later about the farming challenges as well. So, last year we were talking about about $28 billion of soybeans and soybean products exported.
Phil:
6:14
So, let's go back to the farm. What's the process for planting soybeans through the time that they're harvested? We hear a lot from farmers of all kinds that they consider themselves stewards of the land. What are soybean farmers doing these days that we should know?
Polly:
6:31
Well, first, let's understand the process, as you asked about how a soybean comes to be. I know when the China situation started developing, one of the most searched terms on Google was a soybean. People didn't know what a soybean was! So, let's start with the basics of soybeans because people often see them in the field and you can't tell they're a soybean when they're growing because they're in pods like a lot of beans are. Farmers grow soybeans in many states across the United States, most commonly in what we call the Corn Belt, the middle part of the US. Most soybeans are planted in the spring when the soil warms up. This spring, it seems like it'll never warm up or else it will never get dry. But then they are harvested in the fall. So, today soybean farming looks a lot different than it did even 30 years ago. I read an article this week, can't remember where it was. It said farming has changed only incrementally in the last century. Honestly, nothing could be farther from the truth.
Polly:
7:30
Innovation and technology is widely available. With farm machinery, farmers gather and analyze real time data about soil, about plant health, about weather, about every aspect of planting constantly. And then they use that data real time to give the growing plants just the nutrients they need at the right rate and even within an individual field, section by section. So that means less wasted input products and giving the soil exactly what it needs when it needs it. So at harvest time, farmers work with folks all along the value chain from field to fork to ensure that the products they produce are safe and nutritious food for consumers, be those consumers pigs or chickens or be those consumers people, in the form of human food products. Our products always meet established standards for important things like sustainability - we have a sustainability standard - and purity. So right now, as I mentioned, most soybean farmers are just starting to plant, and I mean just started, because in many parts of the soybean country we're going to be getting rain again for the next week or more.
Polly:
8:32
But as they do plant, they'll monitor the health of the crop throughout the summer using that precision equipment and field expertise I told you about, they'll measure soil, they'll measure plant health, they'll add new trends and then mitigate things like weeds and pests as they need them. So the technology is so much more advanced than it was even 30 years ago. Soybean plants, if you haven't seen them growing, they typically grow to just about knee-level and they're left in the fields until the leaves drop off and the plants dry. So if you go by in the fall and you see a field full of what looks like dried up bean pods, that's probably a soybean field. Harvest ranges from late September to October depending on the region. So then we harvest them dry. One acre of crop produces about fifty bushels of soybeans. But yield can really change dramatically with weather, with soil type, with seed types, with pests and things we talked about. And then the harvested beans are brought to what we call an elevator or a crush facility. And we've already talked about crush.
Phil:
9:27
Let's stick on weather for a second. Obviously the past winter and the past spring has really been tough for a lot of farmers across all crops, across, you know, practically every state in the US. What are some of the hurdles that soybean farmers in particular have had to overcome and what steps are they taking to avoid these kinds of issues in the future?
Polly:
9:53
Well, you know, it's an incredibly difficult season for most farmers. I've heard from several of our folks that it's the worst season in their farm's history. You cannot control the weather, right? I mean, farmers are forward facing on the environmental front every day. And part of that is being completely dependent on the weather. Right now though, part of the biggest difficulty in soybean farming is that the challenges have been compounding upon one another. Bean prices are low. We have a lot of beans in storage from last year's low prices, due to the trade challenges that I mentioned and other factors. And those factors date back even beyond last year. The wet right now is wreaking havoc on getting the seed into the soil. And so there's no doubt that it's a rough cycle. Late planting will mean late harvest. So it's, it's tough and it's very, very tough for farmers.
Polly:
10:48
The good news is that a lot of times, the farmer investors in the United Soybean board don't just work right now. We're one of those organizations that works toward the future and we think about future challenges and future solutions. So we can't control the weather. But what we can control is technology that helps us deal with production challenges like weather and other things so that we can do the best we can with what we're given. And part of that is like genetics. When we do seed development, for example, we're always looking for seeds that will grow in a shorter period so that weather won't affect us as much. And that's a good example of things we work on technology-wise and genetics-wise to make sure that we're doing the best we can.
Phil:
11:30
I'm probably going to show my ignorance, but I know that there's a lot of crops - tomatoes, for example - that have gone into hot houses. Are soybeans one of those foods that could be done in a hot house environment?
Polly:
11:47
You know, it really depends on who you ask. I saw a really interesting session not too long ago at a conference I was at on vertical farming where they're using soybeans in vertical farms in some countries that don't have the land availability. Soybeans don't lend themselves to those kinds of environments as well as a tomato or other kinds of fruits or vegetables. I think that we are developing and thinking about how soybeans might be grown because they're such a flexible product, because you can make so many things out of them, in countries particularly that don't have the technology to take care of land or that might not have the landmass that we have here in the United States. So, that's kind of a cutting edge question and I don't think we've explored it as thoroughly as we're going to in the near future.
Phil:
12:36
So you mentioned, it really being a tough season - not just this season, but last year - low prices, weather condition, tariffs. What can you as soybean farmers do to protect their farms and themselves? We see in the news, you know, all the time, how soybean farmers are hurting as a result of what's going on? Is there anything they can do?
Polly:
13:03
Well, what I always talk about when I talk about farmers, it's really an interesting thing, is farmers have to be experts in so many things, right? They have to be risk experts. And by risk experts, I mean, when did they sell their crop? How forward are they? Are they contracted on their crop? When do they store their crop? Part of the reason why we have so many beans in storage is because last year's harvest, the prices weren't that good and they needed to make more on their beans for various reasons, some of them political. So they put a lot of beans into storage, soybeans are one of those more flexible crops that unlike a tomato for example, you can keep in storage for a while as long as the conditions are right and your storage facilities are correct. But that's infrastructure on the farm, building more storage. So there's always this balance of knowledge that farmers have to have: the knowledge of the environment, the knowledge of the soil, knowledge of weather patterns and different genetic seed varieties, and how much storage they need to have, and how long they can store the bean, and all this kind of information and knowledge that's coming at them all the time. And truly I believe that it's one of the professions that is the least recognized for the sheer breadth of knowledge that farmers have to have to make it work for them.
Phil:
14:15
And that's why we have Farm, Food, Facts to try to make it more clear. So Polly, thanks so much for joining us today. Really appreciate it.
Polly:
14:24
Oh, it's been my pleasure. I always love to talk about beans
Phil:
14:27
And now here's the news, you need to know:
Phil:
14:31
California growers implement new water rules to ensure that Romaine is safe for consumption. The California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement Board of Directors and Romaine Lettuce Growers have introduced new measures they hope will end the recent string of E. coli outbreak associated with their crops. California and Arizona together account for 90 percent of the leafy greens grown here in the US. Growers in both states signed the Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement after the deadly 2006 E. coli outbreak associated with spinach. However, last year, doubts returned with back to back E. coli outbreaks that were linked to eating Romaine lettuce. The new standards include equipment cleaning practices, proactive steps for flooding and other weather related events, mandatory traceability measures, and buffers between growing areas and feed lots with a thousand or more animals. LGMA has always required growers to test their waters for pathogens, but the new requirements include additional safeguards and ensure that farmers categorize the source of their water and conduct testing to assure that water is safe for the intended uses.
Phil:
15:39
What growers need to know is that farmers are working diligently to ensure that our entire food supply is safe, and encourage retailers to understand their practices and food safety adherences.
Phil:
15:52
And now that we've heard a little bit about the west, let's hear about what's happening up north. Agriculture in Alaska is booming. While it's true that Alaska may be most well known for oil and fishing. It's also notably unique that at a time when the number of farms nationwide is declining, Alaska, so a 30% increase in ag between the years 2012 and 2017 according to USDA's latest census of agriculture. This spurt of growth can be partially attributed to the youthfulness of the state's ag industry. Alaska is now experiencing a similar trajectory to which regions like the Midwest and the south did several decades ago. Amy Pettit, the executive director of the Alaska Farmland Trust reported in Politico, ""It's the wild wild west up here and if you have access to land, you can grow whatever you want". Alaska, affectionately known as the last frontier state, also has the nation's highest percentage of newest farmers with 46% of it's producers having fewer than 10 years experience. It's also noteworthy that fruits and vegetables in Alaska tend to have higher sugar content thanks to the high latitude agriculture. That is, crops are constantly exposed to sunlight during peak season, which results in the development of carbohydrates that converts the sugars at a higher rate making produce sweeter when harvested.
Phil:
17:18
What grocers need to know is that an up and coming trend will be produce that is imported from Alaska.
Phil:
17:24
And in other news related to the recent USDA census, data shows fundamental shifts occurring in American farming. Every five years, the USDA Census of Agriculture provides a conclusive guide to the trends behind the nation's farms and diets. And the latest recently released figures show some interesting dietary changes. In several instances, they show that veggies that were previously dismissed as fads or trends are now reshaping America's agriculture landscape. For example, the cultivation of sweet potatoes increased by 37 percent, the biggest jump of any vegetable crop. So why so much growth for sweet potatoes? Well, sweet potatoes have fewer carbs and calories as well as high levels of vitamin A and C. So it would appear that this shift is related to consumer demand, as consumers have shown an increasing interest in healthier eating and being more aware of diet and the foods that they eat. Dark, leafy greens have gone from being a trendy supplement to becoming a staple of the ag establishment, reinforcing the link to consumers striving to eat more healthy by eating their leafy greens.
Phil:
18:33
What grocers need to know is that shoppers are more willing to experiment and try new foods, especially those that have documented nutritional benefits. So be sure to promote these foods, but also include nutritional facts.
Phil:
18:46
So how can we better ensure that these healthy food options remain safe and available for consumption? Expanding blockchain-based grocery store networks can help improve food safety. Albertson's is the latest grocery store to join the blockchain- system for tracing food from the farm to the store shelf. The Food Trust, which was introduced in 2017 by Walmart and IBM, already includes more than 80 brands attempting to bring blockchain-based traceability to the food supply. Other retailers and companies that are involved include Dole, Kroger, Nestle, Tyson Foods, and of course, Walmart. Members of the network have the ability to share digital, distributed, and immutable data. Therefore, those across the supply chain can trace and authenticate products and optimize their processes. The food trust creates a digital record of transactions, including packaging dates, the temperature at which a product is shipped, and when it arrives in a grocery store. If a national food recall occurs, this blockchain can help retract affected products off the shelves more quickly and efficiently. To reinforce consumer confidence in our food supply, these participating companies are establishing this trust to strengthen our food supply. We need to prevent foodborne illness outbreaks. And the ones that do occur, we need to find the source faster.
Phil:
20:09
What grocers need to know is that every retailer needs to join the Food Trust!
Phil:
20:14
And now, let's head down to Humboldt, Tennessee and meet Kelly Griggs. This fifth-generation family operation is the model of what modern farming can be. Kelly leads the family with an open heart and a no-nonsense approach while Matt, her husband, leads the farm with five generations of experience behind him and the latest technology in front of them. This is truly a team operation with every member of the family pitching in, even the adorable nine-year-old Carter.
Phil:
20:43
Kelly, welcome to Farm, Food, Facts.
Kelly:
20:46
Thank you for having me.
Phil:
20:48
Your family farm was started back in 1882 when your husband's, I guess great grandfather Robert Buchanan Griggs, bought a cotton gin and moved on to grow cotton, hay, cattle, and even opened up a general store. Now, Matt is running the farm, he's added a lot more crops to it. And one thing I know that the family prides itself on is sustainable practices that heal the soil and protect the environment. Tell me a bit more about that and why it's so important.
Kelly:
21:22
Well we started doing cover crops back in 2011 and it was because we were trying to protect the earth. Matt was researching and figuring out a way to add more organic matter to our soils considering our soil is very sandy and he just thought, well, you know, let's try it. So, we tried a few acres and radishes and then as the years progressed and learning more and more about it, we are now doing seven to nine different species behind different crops and we always have something green growing on.
Phil:
21:57
That's a good thing.
Kelly:
21:58
It is. It's a great thing. It keeps a lot of our weeds away. He's got more of the scientific answer behind it. My common sense answer is, we're giving the soil the nutrients and the vitamins it needs. You know, if it's only getting the nutrients and the vitamins three to four months out of the year, you're looking at seven to nine months of it just sitting there dead. So keeping the land green all year round is really beneficial to the crops that we grow and beneficial to the soil.
Phil:
22:40
It's a lot of common sense. It would be like, if I ate three months of the year and I didn't eat the other nine months of the year, I'm not going to be that healthy. I also see that you're being a bit modest. I know that Matt has won a bunch of local and national awards, Soil Health Hero, Outstanding Co-operator of the Year, Tennessee Conservation Farmer of the Year, Southern Region Conservation Legacy Award, to name just a few. Making your farm really one of the leaders in the nation. What advice can you give to other farmers?
Kelly:
23:12
I guess my advice would be that, in this day and age with the prices so low, the prices of putting a crop in the ground is higher and higher every year. If you don't find a way to keep your farm going and learning how to do it differently, there's no way you're going to survive. So, you have to adapt to what the environment and what the rest of the world is basically doing to you. We are the lowest people on the giant totem pole. So to survive, you have to figure out what is the best way to make you the most money and to keep your business in business? So Matt is a giant nerd. I tell everyone, you know, my husband is the mad scientist behind all the crops. And if it wasn't for him constantly researching, we probably wouldn't be in business. You know, you have to research, you have to branch out and find what works for you. Now, our cover crops worked for us because of where we are. But that doesn't mean that our cover crops are going to work for someone in the state of Washington. So it's really just finding out what works in your area and what works on your farm.
Kelly:
24:39
So I'm going to switch gears a little bit. I want to talk about you. You come from Chicago, you now live in Humboldt. Has to be a huge change, aren't you practically in the middle of nowhere?
Kelly:
24:50
So I've been here 19 years and I had the opportunity to move here. And living here after a year, I thought why in the world would I go back. So it's a different way of life. It's very slow. It's very peaceful. The people are amazing. For me marrying a farmer, I'd never in a million years thought I'd become one myself. I'm just a very, very, I'm a very hard worker.
Kelly:
25:22
Well we're glad. We're glad you did. Now also I'm going to stick with you on a personal level. You know, one of your crops are wheat and you were just diagnosed with celiac disease. What? How are you handling that?
Kelly:
25:36
Yes. So two years ago I had to Epi Pen myself in a cover crop field and we realized I was extremely allergic to all grasses, but wheat was not on the list. And the last couple of years, I've progressively gotten worse. And last year I got extremely sick and it started right at wheat harvest and I just could not figure out why I was so ill. And by the end of November, we realized something was severely wrong with me and went to the doctor and found out, she said, you have Celiac, your body is absolutely rejecting wheat and you are breathing in the purest form of it, which is the wheat dust. So, she said, your job is literally going to kill you. And I said, well, challenge accepted. We don't know how I'm going to handle it this year. I've done everything I could possibly do in the last couple of months to prepare my body and get my immune system ready for it. But I really don't know until we get in there. But I will do everything that it takes to get my job done but also get it done effectively and safely. I am the person who plants all the soybeans behind the wheat so ,we don't have anybody else to do that. I've got to figure out what's going to work for me and what's going to be best and what's going to be best at the farm. And Matt and I are going to figure that out.
Phil:
27:03
And I'm sure you will. So back to American Farm, how has your life changed, if at all, since appearing on it?
Kelly:
27:12
It hasn't, which is really weird. I've had a few people message me through Facebook and say, thank you for opening your farm to the world and really showing what our job is and what our lifestyle is and how hard it is. And that's been from people in the agriculture community. And I have a lot of friends from Chicago say, oh my gosh, I never knew in a million years. So, they just think it's really cool, you know, that there is a girl from the suburbs of Chicago is driving a combine and a cotton picker. So, yeah, one of my first jobs on the farm was actually driving our 18 wheeler and I was solely responsible for delivering our corn and our soybeans and our wheat the first two years that I worked full time. And I was the only woman farmer who drove her own products. The looks and the stares were there, and it took some getting used to, but it was kind of fun to me. It was fun. A lot of people who grow up around this, they don't think it's fun. But for me, I think it's so interesting. But no, life really hasn't changed. I think if this were to go on for a couple of years, it probably would, but so far it's been very quiet and nice, and people have been so positive about it and that's made our lives easier.
Phil:
28:38
Well, Kelly, thanks so much for sharing your insights with us, talking about the experience right here on Farm, Food, Facts. Appreciate it.
Kelly:
28:49
Thank you.
Phil:
28:49
And thank you for joining us on Farm, Food, Facts. For more information on all things food and agriculture, and to listen to our archives, please visit fooddialogues.com under the Programs and Media tab. And visit us on Facebook at US Farmers and Ranchers or on Twitter at USFRA. Until next time.