A large number of Rotary members, farmers, agribusinessmen and FFA students gathered for the annual Farmer Appreciation Luncheon Thursday, Feb. 25, in Missouri Valley College's R. Wilson Brown Room.
"This is our showing of appreciation for the farmers and agribusinesses in Saline County," said Rotary member Karl "Bub" Caldwell, who has been in charge of the luncheon for more than 30 years.
Guest speaker for the luncheon was Adam Buckallew, director of public relations for the Missouri Soybean Association and Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council, who pointed out that agriculture is the backbone of the Missouri economy, responsible for more than $12 billion of economic activity.
Buckallew started with the "good news" in the agriculture industry, telling those in attendance the Environmental Protection Agency released the final ruling for renewable fuel standards, which includes a provision that requires 1.15 billion gallons worth of biodiesel be used in the United States in 2010.
"That is very much positive news for the state's soybean farmers because biodiesel predominantly is made by soybean oil," he said.
Another great thing in the industry is that researchers and scientists have mapped the soybean genome.
"Basically what it means is scientists have mapped out the genetic DNA for soybeans," he explained.
He said the discovery will help improve soybeans and make better soybean crosses to help meet the challenges to feed a growing world population.
He also discussed some of the challenges in agriculture, pointing out recent ballot issues in several states that have outlawed certain types of livestock practices, including gestation crates, cages for laying hens and veal crates.
Because the livestock industry is a big customer of soybean and corn growers, those two groups, along with other agricultural-related groups, have come together to let consumers know about the Humane Society of the United States, the group behind the ballot initiatives.
"When most people first hear about the Humane Society of the United States, they probably think about the dog or animal shelters. That is inaccurate," he said. "The Humane Society of the United States does not operate a single shelter. They are not an umbrella group for the nation's pet shelters."
He said they have very little to do with local pet shelters.
"If you know of anyone who is trying to support local pet shelters or trying to provide for cats and dogs and they are sending money to the HSUS, their money is not being spent the way they think," he said.
He gave an overview of HSUS's more than $100 million budget, explaining that only one-half of 1 percent of that budget went to help hands-on pet shelters.
"In other words, they spend only $1 of every $200 that they receive for shelters that work with pets," he said, although their commercials often give the perception that donated money will be going toward shelters.
He said HSUS instead is an "animal rights organization," which believes that animals should have the same rights as all humans.
"Some of the people in the HSUS have been quoted as saying the rights of an ant should be the same as the rights of my child or something along those lines," he said, adding that they also promote a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle.
"You can go to their Web site, they talk about humane eating," he said. "Basically all their recipes are vegetarian, even if you are talking about a cake that obviously wouldn't have meat in it anyway, well guess what, they also don't put any eggs or milk products in it as well."
Buckallew said the HSUS is also behind a current ballot initiative drive here in Missouri concerning "puppy mills."
In response to that, many of the commodity and agricultural groups in Missouri have formed an organization called "Missourians for Animal Care."
"In Missouri there are some breeders out there who are unlicensed and that is a problem," he said, adding that they think all breeders should be licensed and inspected and have to go through the Department of Agriculture.
He said some have asked why the agriculture industry would be concerned about the initiative.
"Well HSUS has a track record of introducing ballot initiatives such as this that might talk about dogs or cats; they use it build a grassroots network in a state," he said. "They'll come back in a year, and they'll probably be targeting the livestock industry."
He also pointed out that the Missouri Veterinary and Medical Association is opposed to HSUS's ballot initiative.
"They believe the answer lies in adequate funding for more inspections and better enforcement," he said. The ballot initiative won't do anything to fix that problem.
He said the Missouri Department of Agriculture has already stepped up efforts to crack down on unlicensed kennels with "Operation Bark," encouraging people to call if they suspect an unlicensed breeder in their area.
"I should also note that Missouri already has very strict dog kennel laws and regulations on the books," he said. "We've actually been seen as one of the leaders in putting regulations in place to make sure the dog breeders in the state are doing what they should."