Common Read November 13, 2018

Common Read November 13, 2018


Hi everybody welcome back to our third
and final common read for the Purdue Ag Alumni Association. Again I’m really
excited to be able to talk about my book “Unnaturally Delicious” and today we’re
going to talk a little bit about the remaining chapters of the book sort of
the last third of the book and we again have a special guest with us that will
spend most of our talking time talking to you today. So the latter part of the
book is I, I went back and looked at it I don’t think I planned this beforehand
when I went back and looked at it there are several tensions that kind of arise
in some of the latter chapters. There’s a chapter about food waste and you know
most of us say we want to reduce food waste but then when we look at some of
the technological innovations that have come about, sometimes we may not feel so
excited about some of those innovations. So at in that chapter about food waste I
talked to Eldon Roth who started VPI Beef Products Incorporated and they
developed a process, lean finally textured beef that helped cut back on
food waste, but I won’t ruin the surprise for those of you who haven’t read it, but
it’s a technology that some people in the end decided they may not like very
well but I thought that was an interesting story to convey. You know
another one in a chapter towards the end was on food safety and of course we all
like safe food but you know I’ve talked about different technologies that can
make food safer whether it’s high pressure processing or even sometimes
some of our big food companies I talked to an executive from Walmart who from
his perspective argued that the size of Walmart and its ability to affect the
whole supply chain has really improved food safety for the country as a whole
and yet again I think kind of is attention for some folks some folks
don’t like the idea of big food or big companies but they can bring some
advantages in certain circumstances. And in the end you know I kind of tried to
wrap up a little bit of the book talking about the advantages of technological
improvement and food and agriculture and what it’s really done for us so one
example that I like to use these days if to really marvel at how what technology
has done for us is to think about something like let’s say dairy and let’s
do a little bit of a thought experiment we want to enjoy the same amount of milk
and cheese and yogurt that we actually consumed this year but
we wanted to do that using 1950s technology. By that I mean the amount of
milk produced per cow how many more cows would we need to do
that and the answer is we need about 30 million more dairy cows today. So we only
have nine million dairy cows so we basically need to triple the number of
dairy cows if we wanted to consume all the dairy products we enjoyed last year
but we wanted to do it using 1950s technology and you think about what that
means in terms of the environmental consequences, in terms of food prices, and
you really can start to get a picture of what technological improvements have
done for us, but at the same time people like the idea of these natural foods and
and people are sometimes uncomfortable with some of the changes that have taken
place in agriculture whether it’s growing farm sizes or also perhaps
sometimes the labor that’s left out of agriculture. We have a lot less labor in
agriculture than we did in the past and that frankly poses some challenges that
that are difficult to think about in the future.
And so that’s really what I want to turn today is you know one of the chapters
towards the you know middle to the end part of the book I talked about some of
the history of Ag research that’s happened at land-grant universities and
so I thought this would be a good opportunity to talk about here at Purdue
some history of research and and take a little bit of a broader step back. So my
guest today is Jim Beaty. Jim is the superintendent of the Agronomy Center
for Research and Education. So the acronym for that is ACRE so if I refer
to ACRE that’s the Agronomy Center for Research and Education and Jim kind of
runs the show over there. So Jim it’s a pleasure to have you here and to chat
with us they could be here yeah so I thought I would just start by letting
you know giving you opportunity just to tell the folks what ACRE is. What y’all
do out there and maybe some history of that place, how long it’s been around?
Sure well ACRE’s about seven miles northwest to campus. We’re part of the
what used to be the Agricultural Experiment Station. We’re departmentally
operated by the agronomy department because we work with row crops. Right
next to us is the Animal Science Research Center and out in the state are
eight regional Purdue Agricultural Centers, so the university has a network
outdoor laboratories where we can test the ideas and and hypotheses that are
thought of in the department that we take to the lab and the greenhouse and
eventually they come out and meet meet the natural world. About half our
resources are involved in genetics and and plant breeding and then the other
half of our resources are devoted to crop production technology and
environmental issues, so it’s a nice mix. We have people from several different
departments. We have about 53 researchers conducting projects out there.
They’ll have graduate students, they may have undergraduates work there a lot in
the summer, and they may have a technician that actually runs their
field research program. Yeah so this is a research farm so maybe one way to think
about it is it’s a since you don’t necessarily have to worry about turning
a profit you can try lots of things out see what might work. – Right. And we feel
like that we don’t have a failure if we’re ready to tell the world what works
and what doesn’t work. If something doesn’t work or we would fudge the
results then that would be a failure but we get to make mistakes before hundreds
or thousands of farmers might make that mistake so from the negative side we add
value from the positive side we try to do as you advocate in your book apply
technology to make agriculture in the world a better place. – Yeah, no that’s
right. Sometimes I think if you can prevent other people from making the
same mistake that’s a real value. -Right. -So how long has ACRE been in an operation
– Here at Purdue we moved out there in 1949 when they put Sagamore Parkway in
around the east side of Lafayette. They pretty much hemmed in what used to be
the old agronomy farm and so we moved out there. One of the reasons we picked
that location is it’s at a very historic site in the world. We have both forest-derived soils and prairie-derived soils at that
location so we can expound or expand the the impact of our research to many parts
of Indiana. – And those soils, kind of, is that dividing line kind of go down
through the state and I just we just happen to be at the… – Pretty much
Northwest Indiana would be the tall grass prairie particularly Benton County
the west part of White County, Lake, Jasper, part of Newton County are all in
the prairie. And then the forests-derived soils are pretty much from here east, and
the forests really went from West Lafayette Indiana all the way to the
Atlantic Ocean before the Pioneers came and the tall grass prairie stretched
pretty much from here to Lincoln, Nebraska and then from Lincoln, Nebraska
out to the Rocky Mountains the grasses would have gotten shorter and shorter
due to limited rainfall, right so right here in the middle of the United States
was this tall grass prairie, these dark rich soils that the first pioneers
didn’t like they walked out on that from the hardwood forests from their European
descent and said the soils so poor here it won’t even grow a tree they called it
the great American desert they got in their Conestoga wagons and they got on
the Oregon Trail and they bypassed originally. It was technology that failed
us there. – Yeah so I might uh I’m gonna put that on hold maybe we’ll come back
to it in a minute because I think that’s a really interesting story. So let’s come
back to that but I want to get a little more about your history. So how did you,
you said the agronomy research farm has been in its current location since the
40s. You’ve been there almost that long. How long, how long have you worked out
there? [laughter] -It’s had two superintendents – a man named Ozzie Lucameyer started there in 1949. He retired in 1986 and I took over in 1986 so well
in our history we’ve had had two people. It’s the second best job in Indiana. I
figure there’s a lot of jobs in Indiana and
there probably something better somewhere. [laughter] -Okay so you don’t know
what number one. – I don’t know okay and because I work in agriculture I work
with some really intelligent people that are always thinking about a better way
to do something and it’s just a real challenge to try and keep up with fifty
three people that think their research is the most important on the first day
of spring and and trying to to make them successful in their research. -Yeah -It’s
fun. – And am I correct in saying that you actually live out at the farm? -We do. -This
is a full-time job. It’s 24/7 it sounds like well good so you know you’ve been
involved with the research there for a long time now you know what are some of
the most interesting things that you said now there’s been some mistakes and
maybe some of those are really important to learn but what if some of their real
success stories are interesting interesting things that have come out of
the farm? Well I think history will show that that we started production systems
out there particularly looking at no-till and we also looked at Ridge till.
Ridge still didn’t survive the test of time because a grain carts bumping over
the ridges but now we’re looking at strip till. When we started out there
about everything around was plowed in this part of the world and now the
moldboard plow is not a tool that farmers choose to use we’ve gone to
chisel plows or reduced tillage or strip tillage so changing production systems.
There’s two ways to make changes-the biggest one I can think of is hybrid
corn going from opening open pollinated corn and farmers saving seed to hybrid
corn. That was a dramatic shift in technology but a lot of the production
research we use is incremental. A little bit of change at a time and eventually
you look at the yield curve on corn and it’s just amazing and we’ve had an
impact on that from how we use fertilizers.
The advent of herbicides and how herbicides let us change from tillage to
reduce chillage and we use the herbicides to control the weeds rather
than mechanical control of weeds. So there’s just a lot of technology that
just keeps incrementally adding up and all of a sudden you get a year like 2018
where farmers are not shocked to have 240 bushel corn yields this year or they
see their monitor and their combine jump up to 280 or 294 in part of that field.
Unheard of when I went out there in 1986. Right so I guess it’s like the you know
the story that as an economist I’ll say you know you tell people you should just
save a little bit over time but that compound interest keeps adding and
adding and adding and hopefully you wake up one day and you’re a millionaire or
something kind of works the same for crop yields – Right absolutely. yeah
Absolutely so you told me one story about one innovation out of there where
you had a researcher that worked on something that went into jello is that
well pudding pudding okay. So a company may be interested in making a better
pudding and their scientists figure out that it’s starch that stiffens pudding
and so they may invest a company invested in a breeder to change the
starch quality of the corn starch that they used in their product to make a
stiffer pudding so that the spoon would stand up stiffer in the pudding and it
not affect the taste or the quality but people wanted a better pudding. So this
research it was went on at ACRE then. Yeah yeah. So I want to you know I know
you’ve got a wealth of knowledge not just about what goes on at the Purdue Agronomy farm but also just about agriculture. You have some really
interesting thoughts there so I thought what we do now is kind of take a little
bit of a step back in you mentioned to me earlier that that they’re kind of
five things in your line of thinking that one needs to understand to be a
good agriculturalist I think so I’m going to put you on the spot and see if
you can remember all five tell us. Sure so technology comes along and you have
to be able to implement it sell it to the clientele
and and you have to prove it has value and so to be a good agronomist you have
to know your soils what kind of soils do you have what are
their advantages what are their limitations.
The second thing to be a good agronomist is you need to know your climate and the
impact that that climate has on crops we don’t grow sugar cane here we don’t have
a long enough growing season or a warm enough growing season we don’t grow
pineapples here. I mean you have to know that right here we’re going to grow
between a hundred and four day and a hundred and fifteen day corn we’re going
to grow Group three soybeans we need to know our climate particularly well. Then
the third thing is the technology you need to know how technology can help you
change how your soils or your climate affect the crop the greatest example of
this is a greenhouse why would you build a greenhouse well because your climate
doesn’t let you grow crops all year long or why would you add irrigation well
because you’re either on sandy soil that doesn’t hold water or you’re in a
climate that doesn’t provide enough water in our case we have drainage
because we have were blessed with adequate and sometimes excess water in
northern Indiana so we put in tile drainage underneath the ground to help
take away excess water so that’s part of this technology thing you can go on and
on about technology adapted varieties you really need to breed adapted
varieties for your soils in your climate adapted varieties mechanical technology
think of the changes between just a hundred and fifty years ago when
everything was done with human power and domesticated animals draught horses
mules oxen then the advent and the adoption of steam power and how these
great big steam engines that produce twenty to thirty five horsepower changed
the way we Thresh tweet our harvested crops then the piston engine
and the great revolution of horsepower where horsepower has replaced a lot of
the drudgery of agriculture so that technology things pretty important the
fourth one then is social economic and political the civilization part of our
world and how those affect agriculture were blessed in America with a
government everybody in the world knows what the value of a dollar is versus
their currency farmers and exporters all over the world know what the value of
corn is in Indiana because of the Chicago Board of Trade corn and soybeans
so we’re blessed with this social economic political climate and then the
fifth one is logistics logistics are so important we’re blessed in America with
this huge prairie that we’ve now domesticated with the mow board plow and
and we grow domesticated crops we have the Atlantic the Pacific we have harbors
we have the Mississippi River Basin for transport we’re just blessed with
logistics yeah so those are kind of the five things soils and terrain climate
technology adapted varieties social economic political and logistics yeah
you know I think that’s really a very useful framework and trying to think
about a lot of things like why we grow what we grow and you you had mentioned
you were this just a little bit earlier but I’ve never thought about this before
and that is you know why do we grow corn and this part of the India in Indiana
but you get a little further west and I start growing and South you they start
growing wheat on a great story yes why did that happen well in my opinion what
was here before was tall grass prairie it’s a warm season perennial tall grass
that grows well in the summertime it stores all of its energy down in its
roots it survives fire it survives droughts it survives harsh winters and
the Native American Indians in North America domesticated corn they started
doing about 7,000 years ago started with a
little plant in Mexico and by the time Columbus came there were hundreds and
thousands of varieties of corn that were developed by simple selection and it’s a
domesticated crop and it grows well in the tall grass prairie
what’s corn a tall grass tall grass a warm-season tall grass but it’s an
annual so it doesn’t put a lot of effort in the roots it puts all of its effort
into making seed that as domesticated crop we humans use that for starch and
protein and energy out west where the short grass prairie was is now the wheat
belt or the breadbasket of America we short grass it uses less water than corn
it’s no coincidence in my mind that the crops that have naturally been the most
profitable for farmers happen to have a distinct advantage here because they
mimic the natural environment so you go out west now you fly over western
Nebraska and Kansas and you look down and you see a lot of circles what are
those circles those are irrigated cornfields
so they’ve gone back to number three soils are good not enough rainfall so
you add water you can now grow the next most profitable crop which would be corn
right so those three things are all working together yeah and and that’s
technology that’s civilization that’s humans like us and particularly those of
us in the land grant system and the experiment a world trying to to improve
agriculture over and over yeah so you you know we’re talking about the
evolution of agriculture in the environment I think sometimes we have
this tendency to think well there was it was just all natural out here before as
you say Columbus got here but you’d mentioned to me actually the the tall
even the tall grass prairies that we have or partly because of the way the
Indians were managed the lay end in response to trying to get buffalo is
that absolutely it’s a cute story so yeah the
tall grass prairie would have been a little further west in here because of
the periods of dryness that kill the trees and and the prairie kind of
stabilized here because the Indians relied on the Buffalo they never
domesticated him but they saw where there were wildfires the grass is the
first thing that comes back and it was lush grass where it had burned off all
this residue and that’s where the Buffalo kind of showed up so it was
easier to burn the prairie and have the Buffalo come to them than it was to
chase the Buffalo because they did not have horses until the Spanish game so
where there’s fire there were Buffalo where there Buffalo there was life for
the Indians and so the prairie really kind came a little bit further east to
Illinois in Indiana then then it might have normally so humans have had an
impact on the ecology here for at least 7,000 years yeah that’s amazing to think
about what even thinking about agriculture itself you also told me a
story about you know whether the number of arrowheads increased or decreased you
know in response to filters so talk a little bit about that well think about a
sociologist looking back at the beginning of civilization and and and
the Native Americans were hunter-gatherers maybe and so Arrowhead
makers are making arrowheads and as soon as we started domesticating corn squash
and beans there might have been less demand for Arrowhead makers because
we’re now eating a different diet and so you think well the poor Arrowhead makers
well that may have been the case technology does sometimes put people out
of business but the population increased and so they needed more arrowheads so in
this case it may not have put the Arrowhead maker out of business but your
book in the later chapters talks about the impact of change due to technology
and so technology’s changing us all the time and it’s putting people
to work or out of work and it’s changing what work they may do mm-hmm
I had summer jobs in college working with wood to make consoles for color TV
there was a time when color TVs were all in big wooden beautiful cabinets but
plastic TVs did away with that so technology changes and you have to
change with at the times but I think we’re all better off for for that
improvement in technology and and and I’m encouraged by your book that people
will understand that technology can be used to make things better technology be
can be overused and have unforeseen consequences
technology can be used by people for evil things too and that that’s our
human decision but if we’re going to continue to improve civilization and can
prove the human lot in life if we’re going to continue to have billions of
people on earth that need and use resources then we have to count on
technology to help improve not only that standard of living but the environment
as well and so that’s why so deeply believe in what we’re doing here at
Purdue and and the other land-grant institutions and and I just think it’s a
worthy cause or worthy investment in our not only our state and federal tax
dollars but the private sector office also gets involved and we have producers
we just built a new building out at the acre called the Indiana corn and soybean
Innovation Center ten million dollars of that came from president daniels during
the big moves announcement three years ago but the Indiana corn and soybean
checkoff people invested two million dollars apiece by Indiana farmers into
the future of agricultural research at the acre and I I think that’s really
important yeah what’s it’s good when you know it’s a shared trust I guess then we
have to deliver on the investments there’s some research that
some of my fellow economists have done that looked at public investments in
agricultural research you know the estimates there even some of the most
conservative ones suggest maybe a dollar invested in a greaser CH yields thirty
two dollars and benefits in terms of lower food prices and more food
availability so I think it’s about time too for us to look and see if we have
some questions from our audience and so for those of you in the audience if you
have some questions you’d like to ask like to ask us please please go ahead
and type them in ask all the hard questions to Jim though I told me the
softballs so you talk to up we talked a little bit about funding there you know
I think there’s maybe a little bit of cynicism sometime that we we have
taxpayer funded research we have research that comes from companies how
do you sort of see the role of the university in in research relative to
you know some agribusinesses that may be at best their dollars nothing great
question is where does our funding come from and how do we filter out any biases
that that funding might create so we think because we get government funding
either through the state or the federal or USDA or niffle one of the funding
organizations that that it’s totally unbiased and and part of our system is
built in checks and balances with peer called peer view peer group reviews of
papers you write research papers and probably other economists review that to
make sure that you have your facts sometimes I don’t like what they have to
say sometimes they’re tough they’re tough on they’re tough on one another so
we kind of count on that to happen but it’s also a matter of that filter so a
few years ago I had a group when the Soviet Union was changing that came over
and every time I tried to explain the Extension Service and our research I
heard the interpreter used the word propaganda Department of propaganda and
I realized that in government’s the information that might
be coming out might be the political solution to whatever agenda they might
have that’s not particularly the case here I think the fact that we’re trying
to do unbiased research and its peer reviewed is really important and and and
so I’m convinced that we can do unbiased research but it’s only because we have
checks and balances in place and I’m concerned that the public gets
occasionally conflicting information there’s a research study that says you
know X Y Z’s good for you and in two years later you find out that well maybe
maybe eggs are better for you than we thought ten years ago you mentioned that
in the break so I think we’ve created this confusion with the public too much
information who do I trust to do I not trust and and we need to work on that
yeah no I agree one of the motivations for writing this book in some cases and
you know talk a little bit about sort of the you know that in the university role
like this sort of short term versus long term kind of research you know relative
to to private companies so a lot of a lot of people wonder if we’re doing too
much basic research you know that right down there at that cellular molecular
that really basic place to start or if we’re doing enough Applied Research you
know we’re trying to figure out whether 30 inch wide rows of corn are better
than 28 inch wide rows of corn that’s really applied that’s that’s where you
know the farmer asks you a question you have the answer because it’s applied
research and we have to have a good balance of that because it’s hard to do
applied research if you don’t have enough basic research in front of you to
lay that foundation so we’re always wanting to do more both
yeah that’s right there’s the more you learn the more you
find out you don’t know yeah well got one last question here I think I’ll ask
you maybe somebody’s trying to hire you away I don’t know they said they want to
know what you’re gonna be doing over the next ten to twenty years or what what
research may be going on at acre what do you see you know like here yeah well I I
think it really is in data and digital I don’t know if it’s a digital world but
using GPS using smart technology to to run more machines to we’re doing a lot
right now and they’ve started that in the last three years using sensors
sensors can see things that our eyes can’t see sensors can if they’re on a
robot of some kind and that might be a drone or something they can be out there
24/7 watching the crop force so it’s all going to be in I think the sensor world
and that reaction to what the sensors may see and find and then the other side
of genetics it took thousands of years for the Indians to domesticate corn it’s
taken us a hundred and twenty-five or fifty years to make corn better with
hybridization we’ve done GMO corn since the mid-90s and now we’re phenotyping
that long string of DNA and we’re learning the code and boy that’s going
to be exciting when we can turn genes on and turn genes off that are already in
crops if we can domesticate the crop even quicker and make it work for us so
genetics and the mechanical technology I think are the two really exciting areas
well good well Jim I really appreciate you being here with us today and for
those of you watching you know you go out to the acre farm Jim might even give
you a tour and as you can tell he’s a wealth of information I guarantee you’ll
learn something I also wanted to say thanks for joining in this series and
the common read it’s been a real honor to do it and
folks reading my book and I’m happy to answer questions that you might have so
don’t hesitate to shoot me an email and we may try to do this again next year
I doubt I’m gonna have a new book to read but hopefully as you can see here
there’s a lot of great things going on here at Purdue and we’ll be able to look
out for for new topics that we can engage you all with in the future so
thanks for joining in

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