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Fads in farming

Posted Thursday, August 23, 2012, at 11:57 AM

I can still remember my mom's laughter.

She was amused by my college roommate, Jane, who was describing a show steer her father had picked for her.

"He always picks out the old-fashioned ones," she said.

My friend was as exacerbated with her father's tastes as I was with mother's taste. After all this is the same woman who added 20-inch extensions to my bell bottoms in 7th grade and let me wear a "Save Water, Bathe with a Friend" T-shirt. (It's a mental picture I'm still trying to get out of my mind.)

After listening, though, my mom (and I) were shocked to find out there are even fads and fashions in farming.

Now that I know a little about showing cattle, I know what Jane was talking about. In her days of cattle showing, the taller the steer the better. Tall, long and lean was in style.

Today it is just the opposite, now show steers are expected to be thick and muscular, and often not too tall. Although the show industry often goes a little too far, the truth is cattle have changed since the 1980s.

Yes, Mom, even farming has fads.

Some are consumer driven, such as lean, long cattle. They came into style as people started desiring low-fat foods.

Now, when more and more studies claim low-fat a detriment rather an asset, the beef market changed. People are concerned about marbling, flavor and tenderness. High-priced grain means farmers feeding the animals are concerned with feed efficiency. So the latest fad is thicker, smaller-framed animals.

It's the same with hogs.

As consumers started clamoring for lean meat, pork producers obliged. That is one reason most hogs are raised indoors. Without the thick back fat, they can't survive a brutal Missouri or Iowa winter. So today, they are kept at a constant temperature in a climate-controlled barn -- not much different than most of us.

As we drive across the country, we also see fads.

It might be in the way the bales are stacked in a certain region or the color of tractors.

Often, different barn styles indicate fads.

When traveling we go through areas where no-till is prevalent. In other areas, tilling is still practiced heavily.

While some of the "fads" are no doubt just fads, most likely most started by a need for change. A better way to produce food for livestock and people.

Often, it is consumers who dictate such changes, such as local food and farmers' markets.

Other times, the changes come from universities that study food production. Professors and researchers are tasked with helping farmers learn to grow more with less land, fewer inputs and even fewer farmers. And still find a way to make a living.

In fact, when I think of fads in farming I realize almost all of them serve a purpose.

I'm not sure fashion fads do.

If they do, then somebody really needs to explain to me the greater purpose of bell-bottoms.

I really want to know.

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You can take 'em off with your shoes on?

Keeps the dust off the top of your shoes?

Makes your feet look smaller? (That one's for the ladies, obviously :)

Ventilation up the pant legs?

Something to wipe your hands on besides the front of your shirt or the thighs of your pants? (Bet you've never seen that on the farm, eh Marcia?)

To tell which way the wind's blowing at ground level?

You know, if you turn the bell bottom portion inside out you can pull the cuff up above your knees and make really dopey looking impromptu shorts out of the right kind of bell bottoms.

See, function trumps fashion, eh?

-- Posted by Smart Dog on Fri, Aug 24, 2012, at 4:19 PM

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