Apr 292010
Authors: Robyn Scherer

Agriculture. What do you think of when you hear this word? I know what a lot of people think. They picture a cowboy. His brim pulled over his brow, his chaps swaying with the walk of the horse, his spurs rattling with the movement. They think of a button-up flannel shirt and a red bandana.

A long time ago, this represented a lot of America’s ranchers. But agriculture has expanded far beyond that.

The new face of agriculture is all encompassing and is different from the past. I have one question for you: Have you eaten today? If so, then look in the mirror. You are also part of agriculture.

Don’t believe me? Agriculture is not just about producing food and fiber anymore. Customers (you) have become more aware and more demanding. You don’t want just food, you want food the way you want it.

Consumer’s tastes and preferences have driven a lot of changes in the industry. “Back in the day,” cattle ranchers used to go out and pick their animals to continue breeding based only on phenotype (what the animal looks like), because that’s all they had.

Today, there are geneticists who calculate EPDs (expected progeny differences) on cattle, which has greatly increased productivity. Consumers want a better eating experience, and producers can breed their animals to fit that.

For example, marbling (the intramuscular fat in meat) is what makes it better.

Ever heard the term prime? That is the highest quality meat. More and more consumers want higher quality meat, and EPDs can be calculated on things such as marbling to help producers meet this demand.

So what else does agriculture encompass? Almost everything that you deal with on a daily basis had some origin in agriculture. Did you put on makeup this morning? There are components in makeup that come from processed animals.

Did you throw a football today? Put on some shoes? Both are made from the hides of animals. Did you give someone roses? Put on a T-shirt? Fill your car with gas? All of these things have roots in agriculture.

If you don’t know where your food comes from (and I know some of you do not), I suggest you do a little research on the topic. It’s good to know how it got from the farm to your table and in fact, there is a class that talks about just that.
Knowledge is key to understanding. I know most of your have heard the terms conventional, natural and organic. However, do you really know what these mean?
Conventional is the way a lot of things are grown. This is done for several reasons, but one of the main ones is to reduce costs. As a consumer, you want healthy food, but you also want it cheap.

Naturally grown food is, as defined by the USDA, “A product containing no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed (a process which does not fundamentally alter the raw product) may be labeled natural.”

100 percent organic, according to the USDA is, “Can only contain organic ingredients, meaning no antibiotics, hormones, genetic engineering, radiation or synthetic pesticides or fertilizers can be used.”

Do I think that natural or organic food is better than conventional? No, but I believe that there is a place for it. As nice as it would be to produce everything organically, there is physically not enough space on this planet to do so, and produce the amount of food that will be needed to feed the world.

However, this is not about arguing which is better, but simply to inform you of the difference.

Have you ever wondered where you would be without agriculture? I can tell you. You would be naked and hungry.

Robyn Scherer is a senior animal science, agricultural business and journalism and technical communication major. Her column appears Fridays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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