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Blog | June 12, 2015

Egg shortage, Texas floods & Other news

Late last year, Texas farmers finally got some relief from drought. At the start of May, though, after a short period of recovery, the rain began to fall, and didn’t stop all month. A Memorial Day flood proved devastating for ranches across the state, including 44 Farms, which suffered the destruction of fences and loss of crops to feed the cattle, and Liberty Bell Ranch, where the rising waters of the Trinity River trapped about 500 head of cattle.  “People don’t give water enough credit for how much damage it can do,” James Burks, general manager of 44 Farms says. Standing water from the floods are also the perfect breeding ground for flies, which became a real issue due to their ability to carry diseases, “If one [cow or bull] gets pinkeye, flies get in their eyes and then they land on another one. So it’s easily transmitted,” explains Bob McClaren, owner of 44 Farms. While other areas of Texas agriculture, like cotton farming, have seen similar disastrous results, the flooding may eventually prove positive for crops like grass, hay, and forage, which are expected to thrive when the water drains off.

In his op-ed “Let’s Help Create More Farmers,” New York Times contributing writer Mark Bittman tackles the existing barriers for farmers: the aging workforce, expensive land, lack of opportunities, and particularly, student loan debt. But the latter could be addressed by a new bill. Proposed by Representatives Joe Courtney and Chris Gibson, with input from the National Young Farmers Coalition, the bill gives farmers the opportunity to be added to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, which would forgive the balance of student loans for those who have spent 10 years as farmers. “Conceptually, this isn’t radical or symbolic,” says Courtney. “It’s recognizing a huge workforce need.” Added Gibson, “In the five years from 2007 to 2012 we only gained a little over 1,200 farmers. Since we aren’t going to stop eating, we have to reverse that trend, or we’ll see even more consolidation, more corporate farms, or increasing food imports; none of that is in our interest.” Bittman, while recognizing this step may be in the right direction, points out his immediate objections: it’s only applicable to those who’ve gone to college, and it doesn’t do much to decrease start up costs. All of us at Farm Aid, however, agree, it is a huge step in the right direction! Farm Aid supports the effort wholeheartedly.

Restaurants, bakeries, and grocery stores alike have been hit hard by the shortage of liquid egg, due to the largest avian flu outbreak in US history. According to egg industry analyst Brian Moscogiuri, liquid egg prices have shot up 240% since early May, when the outbreak that killed 47 million birds began spreading quickly across the Midwest. In some parts of the country, grocery stores are seeing the price of a dozen eggs triple, and one Texas chain has even resorted to rationing eggs. Unfortunately for the egg industry, the outbreak came at a particularly bad time, as egg consumption has risen to record numbers in the last few years. “Eggs were really becoming the good guy in the protein industry,” Moscogiuri says. With the number of avian flu cases slowing down in the last few weeks, people are optimistic that the end is near. It will likely take months for egg prices to go down as farms rebuild their flocks. The farms also have to sit idle for six weeks after their infected birds are gone, and their new, young hens will begin laying eggs at about five months old.

Farm Aid board artist Dave Matthews’ visit to Cincinnati this weekend will include a hearty taste of local, family-farmed produce. The city’s Green BEAN Delivery service, which has been providing local and regional produce upon the band’s arrival for the past four years, will deliver 20 heads of romaine, 80 corn cobs, and five pounds of shiitake mushrooms for them while they perform at Riverbend Music Center. The shopping list the band provided for Green BEAN will be supplied by Greater Cincinnati farmers and artisans including Hartzler Family Dairy, Mrs. Miller’s Noodles, Shamrock Farm, Feel Good Farm, Homestead Growers, Best Boy & Co, Smoking Goose Meatery, Gunthorp Farms, and LM Sugarbush. For Trisha Brand, marketing and member services supervisor for Green BEAN, the partnership with DMB is mutually beneficial; “We’ve both found that we have a lot of synergies with supporting local farmers and artisans, so it’s pretty cool to think that a musician takes the time to seek out these local products in each market.

Eliot Coleman, owner of Four Season Farm and grandfather of the organic farming movement, has been chosen to receive one of five James Beard Foundation Leadership Awards this year. Since his farming career began after purchasing 60-acres of Maine land from influential “back-to-the-landers” Helen and Scott Nearing, Coleman has written several books on organic farming and pioneered cold-weather growing techniques. Not only is the organic community in Maine growing larger since Coleman’s start, it’s also growing younger: Maine has the most farmers under 35 than any other state. “I’ve been fascinated by how rapidly the interest in local, quality food has grown,” Coleman marveled. “Back when I started this, I was talking another language. All of a sudden now, not only are there more producers, but there are more appreciators… Every time I’m out in the world, I’m just overwhelmed by how many young people there are [in organic farming].”

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