A couple of events – one put on by people and one put on by nature – in the past couple of weeks give me pause to reflect with you in this blog post. Both are powerful examples of the importance of reason and common sense rising above anger and destructiveness.
A case originating from people . . .
Last week was the annual Borlaug Dialogues and awarding of the World Food Prize, often referred to as the Nobel Prize for food and agriculture. The award is given in honor of Dr. Norman Borlaug, a native Iowan and wheat breeder who received the Nobel Peace Prize in the late 1960’s for having alleviated hunger and poverty in many regions of the world through introduction of improved varieties of wheat. His work was followed with improved hybrid rice varieties developed by Nebraska’s own Hank Beachell that did much the same for many people in southeastern Asia. It was a pleasure to be there participating in the dialogues and to see the 2013 laureates awarded the World Food Prize for their phenomenal and pioneering work that led to today’s plant transformation methods for genetic enhancement. It was a fitting and very well deserved honor for three giants in the plant sciences — Marc van Montagu, Mary Dell-Chilton, and Robb Fraley.
Sadly, the World Food Prize leadership has been highly vocally criticized since naming the 2013 laureates in June by individuals and groups who are opposed to technology, and specifically opposed to GMO crops and the delivery of GMO seeds to farmers by private industry. As our own Sally Mackenzie so eloquently presented in this year’s first Heuermann Lecture on September 30th (see http://heuermannlectures.unl.edu/web/heuermann-lectures/2013-2014 ), there is no defensible argument for such mis-guided and wasteful criticism. In the week leading up to the WFP events, op-eds provided voices of reason and common sense around the world in supporting the awarding selection of these pioneers, including one from the Land-Grant university system that I was pleased to support (http://www.startribune.com/opinion/commentaries/227904771.html).
A case originating from nature . . .
One of the things that makes agricultural production more challenging than most any other profession is that it happens in the midst of the planet and its climate – so risk is always looming from disruption of the production environment from devastating weather extremes. We certainly understand this well in the Midwest and High Plains of North America, as many do in similar regions around the world. After the severe drought conditions of the past 18 months, it had to feel like a knock-out punch to many ranchers in northwest Nebraska, western South Dakota, and eastern Wyoming when an early fall blizzard hit the area recently. Both people and cattle were unprepared for the severity of the storm that dumped 3 feet or more of wet snow with blizzard winds over the region. The result was tragic, with cattle losses in numbers not seen for decades. For many of these ranchers who lost not only this year’s calf crop but much of their cow herd as well, the effects are devastating both emotionally and financially.
As a person who has worked in and for the beef industry most of my life, my heart goes out to them for what they must be experiencing – and will for some time to come as they rebuild in a time when cattle numbers are the lowest in the U.S. since the 1950’s (meaning replacement costs will be very high after losing out on one of the highest feeder markets in history). There is nothing worse than losing an animal for which you have been given the opportunity to care and steward – but to experience it en masse is unfathomable.
Relative to the blizzard and its aftermath, you may have seen this opinion editorial written by Nebraska Senator Al Davis in last Wednesday’s Lincoln Journal Star. Senator Davis is from Hyannis, Nebraska and represents the majority of the cow-calf country of the Sandhills region of Nebraska.
I could not agree with Al more. After watching several months of increasingly mean-spirited action all around us from Congress and federal politics to protests against last week’s World Food Prize, I am convinced that we need an additional goal in our IANR to 2025 plan and approach.
To be regarded as the world’s leading place for truth, compassion, kindness, and belief in the goodness of the human spirit while working to address the world’s great challenges in sustainably feeding, clothing, and fueling the world’s people and its natural resources.
I know that is what we already strive to be and do every day, but I am going to make a conscious effort every morning to pledge to live it to the fullest.
Have a great week and thanks for all you do.
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