Author Archives: Rae

We are more alike than we are not alike, Darlin!


For the first time in a long time, I found myself with a column deadline looming, and I didn’t immediately know what I was going to write about. Oh, sure, I had some ideas, some subjects, and any of them would have been “fine” for a column.

But you know what? I think that people who take the time to read what I write deserve a lot better than “fine,” so I was in a quandary. As I watched the 2017 Country Music Association Awards, I had an “AHA!” moment and my quandary disappeared. It was on that program that Tyler Perry, an African-American director and actor known for his portrayal of Madea in a number of movies, said these words: “Now it has never been more important, that we all come together, find some common ground, spend some time listening to each other, and realize that we are more alike than we are not alike.”

And he’s right. His remarks were directed at getting people from a variety of backgrounds to come together to make the world a better place, and that’s certainly something we need to do. But I‘m thinking about how very applicable his words are for those of us in agriculture who share our stories about food and farming with the other 98 percent of the population. It’s not always an easy task, often because we know that the non-farm public (by and large) doesn’t “get it,” and they’re different from those of us in agriculture who do.

Really, though, we are all alike in a number of ways. That new first-time mom who is terrified of feeding her baby soy-based formula because she doesn’t understand the science behind GMO plant breeding? She’s not that much different than the farm mom who wants what’s best for her baby, too. The cancer patient who is afraid and hurting, and rants endlessly about glyphosate? He saw something on Facebook relating that chemistry to his disease, and in his condition, he wants some answers… and he’s not going to know if the ones he finds are factual or not.

The vegans who think that, by avoiding animal protein, they’re saving the planet? As farmers, we tout our sustainability practices as doing the right thing for the planet. See? More alike than different.

I’m not a mom, so I’ve never had that new-mom fear of everything, but I can imagine that the responsibility that comes with bringing a little one home from the hospital and being on your own for decision-making is cripplingly overwhelming. I’ve lost loved ones to cancer, as we all have, and yes – I want to know WHY. I like to believe that we all want to do the right thing – the best thing, the thing that is good and healthy for our loved ones. Unfortunately, farmers wrongly get a lot of bad press, when you and I both know that farmers are unmatched when it comes to being good stewards of the land.

It’s part of our job as agriculturalists to be open, accessible, transparent and truthful about modern ag practices. I know, sometimes it’s hard not to respond to a question with “that’s the stupidest thing I have ever heard,” but we have to try, and we have to tell our stories over and over, in person, on social media and at gatherings where we can be heard.

So the next time you hear an all-time contender for “stupidest question ever,” remember that the person asking it is coming from a place of simply not knowing and, maybe, of fear. Remember that we’re more alike than we are different, and do what you can to answer the questions and get rid of the fear.


Walkin the walk, Darlin’


So I have a friend (don’t we all that THAT friend?) who swears by “clean” eating. She has a Himalayan Pink Salt Lamp by her bed and one in her office, she makes noodles out of organic zucchini, and many of her food-related Facebook posts make my eyes roll so hard that there is danger of falling over.

And this struggle, friends, is very real. She’s a wonderful person. I’ve known her for a long time, and she’s a good Christian woman, a great mother and a loving wife. She’s not woo-crazy on the workout train, but she is concerned about her health and the health of her family, as good mothers should be.

As you can probably guess, we have some fundamental disagreements about food, food safety, animal care standards (she’s a sometimes-vegetarian, which I find to be a huge “missed steak,”) and – of course – big, bad GMOs.

This may come as a shock to some, but I am pretty blunt. (I KNOW! Who’d have thought?) I have learned to dial back the bluntness and ask questions about her fears and beliefs before jumping in with a pile of irrefutable scientific data that makes her feel defensive. That’s hard for me, but I am learning. Nobody wants to be wrong, much less be wrong because they listened to some woo-peddling crackpot wanna-be celebrity… so we often simply agree to disagree.

That said, fellow AGvocates, science is on our side! The National Academy of Sciences, one of the country’s most prestigious scientific groups, looked at more than 90 studies and a large amount of disease data. The conclusion remains that there has been no increase in health risks related to the consumption of food from genetically engineered (GE) plants.


The World Health Organization had the same findings, as did The International Council for Science, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, and a whole long list (that I keep handy) of reputable scientific organizations from around the world.

But the Non-GMO Verified Project (they’re the ones with the butterfly label that companies PAY to put on their packaging) is still doing a better job than the agriculture community, swaying people into believing that food from GE plants is bad in a number of ways. I generally refuse to buy anything with that label on it, and I’m sure that one person’s purchasing decisions won’t make a bit of difference in the fearmongering marketing strategy of those companies. As those of us involved in agriculture comprise only two percent of the population, ALL of our purchasing decisions put together won’t move that needle.

But I have made it a point, when I change brands because of fearmongering or anti-GMO or animal housing sentiment, to contact the company I can no longer support with my food dollars and tell them WHY. Again, I’m not what my Granny would call “ugly” about it, just very matter-of-fact. I then also contact the company that has GAINED my business because they don’t hold that same position, and tell them WHY I am a new customer.

Sending these emails and making these contacts is tiring, (Pro Tip: keep a fill-in-the-blanks copy on your desktop – Copy and Paste is your friend), and sometimes I feel as if I am wasting my time. But then I remember a great quote from author Max Lucado that applies to so many aspects of life: “No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.”

I am someone, and I can do something. You are also someone, and you can do something. Evaluate your purchases. Are you growing perfectly safe GE crops on your farm but buying things with that goofy butterfly on the label? Are you a proponent of renewable fuels who is burning petroleum-based gas and diesel on the farm?

Back to my friend from the beginning: I think she’s misguided and mistaken in her food beliefs and choices, but she is firm in her beliefs and she’s walking the walk, not just talking the talk. Can we in agriculture say the same?


On the subject of brown bananas


So, darlin’, life is short and uncertain. If you know me at all, you know I’m a “seize the day” kind of girl. Yes, we need to make plans for the long run such as 401k and saving for the future, insurance and the like, but I’m talking about little, everyday choices that can enrich our lives.

For instance:


While great for making banana bread, these are not what I’d want for my morning snack. They’re past their prime, yet for YEARS my mom had some that looked like these on top of her refrigerator. Oh, she’d buy new bananas on her weekly grocery run, but the house rule was that we had to eat the brown, spotty, mushy bananas before we could have the new ones.

We always HAD bananas, but we stayed a week behind. Drove. Me. Nuts. After I was grown and moved out, and numerous events had happened to decrease my tolerance for living “less than,” I was able to convince my mom to pitch the brown bananas and break the cycle. I am happy to report that she has embraced fresh, yellow bananas and never looked back.

I think many folks “save the good stuff for later,” and what if later never comes? What happens is that your kids or grandkids will come clean out your house after you die, and they’ll find brand new housecoats and fancy soaps in the shape of flowers that have long since lost their scent, still wrapped in petrified plastic wrap. And those things won’t do anyone any good.

So, friends, let’s pledge to ditch the brown bananas, use the monogrammed soap while it still has a scent, and LIVE OUR LIVES. If tomorrow never comes, and some day it won’t, I want to be that person who has enjoyed and savored the life with which I have been blessed. I want you to be that person, too.

Summer is a great time to tell your story, Darlin’ !


Hey y’all! Summer is almost in full swing, and there’s no better time to share your story with the non-farm public. Chances are, you’ve been planting and spraying, doing a little side-dressing, and maybe you even have a pasture full of spring calves. Your neighbors may have some questions, and you have the answers.

Whether in person or online, there are a number of things that those of us in agriculture take for granted that the non-farm public has no idea about. Example: The Kentucky Soybean Board recently co-sponsored a farm tour with the Kentucky Beef Council, and took a couple of busloads of nutritionists and dietitians to Hill View Farms and Cecil Farms, both near Owensboro. These ladies are highly regarded as experts on food and nutrition, including food safety, yet they were shocked to see Suzanne Cecil White hold up a measuring cup to show just how much (or how little) herbicide is actually sprayed on an acre of crop land. Many of these ladies had no idea that more than 95% of the liquid in the sprayer tank is plain water.

These are intelligent and educated ladies, and they would never knowingly mislead their patients. But how are they to know about agriculture? How are they to KNOW that we aren’t drenching, dousing or drowning our crops in RoundUp once a week? Should they be expected to magically know the levels of chemicals that are applied to our crops? I don’t think so.

I think we have to tell them, and others, just what we’re doing on the farm. And sometimes that’s hard, because U.S. farmers know they’re raising the safest, most affordable food supply in the world. Farmers feed their crops to their own families and livestock. Joe Farmer knows that he and his neighbor down the road have nutrient management plans and that every acre of ground has a record of what was applied, when and why. We know we’re doing the right things for the right reasons, and it’s important that farmers – a naturally modest group – talk about the advances we’ve made in erosion control, nutrient management, animal husbandry and precision application of inputs.

The non-farm public is floored to find that the nozzles on the sprayer shut themselves off if GPS tells them there’s already been a droplet sprayed on an area. They have no idea that, thanks to precision planting technology, you know exactly how many seeds per acre are in a particular field. The fact that you can overlay harvest data on top of planting data and weather records blows their minds.

So this summer, whether you’re at a family reunion cookout or selling sweet corn at the local farmers’ market, be approachable. Tell your story. Open your “barn doors” and let folks know that we have nothing to hide, and that we in agriculture are proud of the efficient, sustainable way we are producing food, feed, fuel and fiber for our families, our country and beyond.


Vietnam, Part Deux, Darlin’


After a dubious night’s sleep and waking up not knowing day from night and if I should eat or not, (is it breakfast time? is it supper time? I DON’T KNOW!!!) we gathered downstairs for a briefing prior to leaving for our first day in country tour. Agricultural Attaché Ben Petlock and Agricultural specialist Nguyen Thi Huong of the USDA/FAS joined us, and shared that Vietnam is the 8th largest market for US ag products with 13% growth over the past two years. This is the first year they’ve cracked the top ten.

3 billion in mostly aquaculture products go from Vietnam to the US, while we export 3.6 billion to them, mostly forest and fishery products. Food safety and quality are big issues in Vietnam, and US products are known for being high quality. It is important to the Vietnamese government to be seen as being ahead of food safety concerns.

The average age in Vietnam is 30, and their population is growing at the rate of 1 million per year. The population explosion is partially responsible for the addition of another attache in Ho Chi Minh City this summer, thus increasing the US commitment to Vietnam.


As for trade policy, the US normalized trade relations with Vietnam in 1995. At that time, Vietnam was our #91 market. WITHOUT the implementation of any trade agreements, they have become our number 8 customer. (Note this was external to TPP

Soy is the second largest agriculture import for Vietnam! Go Soy! They import soybeans and corn to mix feed rations for the pork industry, which is huge in Vietnam. There are about 230 feed mills in the country, and imports continue to rise as demand for pork increases. Vietnam is currently #5 in the world in pork production.


Our first visit was to CP Technology, where we saw chickens go from truck to shrink-wrapped product in 4 hours. CP is fully integrated and owns 124 farms, employing 638 people. Most of their broilers are 30-45 day birds, and much of their meat goes to KFC for pot pies. They do breasts and leg quarters, and all the rest is made into chicken hot dogs, which are evidently a popular item in this country. The birds are fed 10-15% soy in their rations.


Yes. I had my picture made in front of the Eviscerating Room. It’s a real thing.

CP said they do not have the capacity to meet the large and growing demand for chicken products, even though they process 60,000 birds per day. Leg quarters and thigh meat are preferred, as the Vietnamese prefer dark meat.

After a tour of CP’s pristine feed mill, we were taken out to dinner. Cultural differences permeate every aspect of life, and sometimes they are easiest to see in the food that different cultures enjoy. Note the use of the word different. Not better, not worse, no judgment. Just different that what I’m used to here in the U.S.

Bowl o guts.jpg

I am told that this is a delicacy, and am sure that’s so. Different strokes for different folks, y’all! I must admit that, in this case, I’m happy that this meal was a buffet.




I have visited Vietnam, Darlin.


Hi there. Remember me? Sorry I haven’t posted in forever and a day – life happens, and I get a D minus (see previous post re: D minus).

So – I had an incredibly exciting work opportunity to visit Vietnam. The people in this developing country are hungry. I mean really hungry, and they need protein. Protein is well conveyed in fish, and the folks there can grow fish (pangaseous catfish, tilapia, shrimp) in ponds. Fish eat… anyone? anyone? Ding ding ding! Soybean meal as a high-protein part of their rations. US soy has  high protein content and 8 essential amino acids, so there’s the connection.

These next few posts will be kind of in journal form, so bear with me.


Big ole airplane for a mighty long flight.

Day One: flight from Nashville to Chicago is delayed 45 minutes. This is worrisome, because I booked Chicago to Hanoi (by way of Tokyo) separately from Nashville to Chicago. Sadly, American Airlines has a new rule and even though it is all on American, they couldn’t/wouldn’t combine my ticket nor check my bag from Nashville through to Hanoi.

Crisis averted, as I was able to arrive Chicago, claim my bag and re-check it through security and still meet my party in the Admiral’s Lounge.

Have boarded the plane, and – to my dismay – there are about ten children under 10 on my flight. My 13 hour flight. Ugh.

Fast forward 12 hours – I have surprised myself by sleeping. A lot. Time back home is 12:30 am and we have about an hour left in our flight. I politely declined a meal of eggs, gravy and potatoes (yuck!) and had lo mein noodles instead. I owe the rugrats an apology, as I’ve not heard a peep since boarding.

Our flight has been the longest I’ve been on to date – 13 hours. We crossed the Bering Sea and of course the International Date Line. The combined shading of the window and dimming of the cabin lights made for a lovely faux-night, and it’s hard to believe it’s 2:36 pm in Tokyo right now.

We have a few hours’ layover in Tokyo, then another 6-hour flight to reach Hanoi in northern Vietnam. We’ve been cruising between 36,000 and 40,000 feet at a speed of about 562 mph. Haven’t had to stop for fuel. Amazing.


This drives me NUTS, darlin!


So. It’s the day before Thanksgiving and I am grocery shopping. DON’T YOU JUDGE ME! lol. I used to be such a planner, and now I am flying through life by the seat of my pants. I was cruising down the baking aisle and what to my wondering eyes should appear but this:


Now, I realize that ‘Tis the Season for pecan pies, and yes, I live in Kentucky. I have it on very good authority that this is a bag of “puh-cahns” because a “pee-can” is what used to be under Granny’s bed at night so she didn’t have to go to the outhouse. See that little label up there in the top right corner? It says Non-GMO project Verified, and that chaps my bee-hind. (Not to be confused with “behind.”)

Why? Well, first off, food from biotech/genetically modified/GMO plants has been proven nutritionally equivalent to food from conventional plants, and second, THERE ARE NO GMO PUH-CAHNS. Not on the market. They don’t exist in your neighborhood Kroger,Walmart, or corner grocer. So why in the world would Fisher and many other companies that have products not even available as a biotech crop pay the money to have their stuff “Verified” as non-GMO?

Fear factor, my friends. It makes me so sad that people are afraid of their food, here in the US where we have the safest and most affordable food supply in the world. Don’t fear your food! There are no antibiotics in your ham/turkey/standing rib roast. There are no added hormones in the cheese you’ll use in your holiday meals, and there is no scientific evidence to support the outlandish claims that enjoying food with biotech ingredients is any more dangerous than enjoying those same dishes containing their non-biotech equivalents.

So as the holidays are upon us (and I don’t even have my naughty/nice list made yet!) please eat, drink and be merry. Don’t fear your food. And, IMHO, tofurky is for the birds. Remember, your Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts are brought to you by Granny’s recipes and America’s farmers.