Last updated: August 14. 2014 7:16PM - 896 Views
Brian Maddy County extension agent

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It seems like a week doesn’t go by that we don’t read, see or hear something in the media that is alarming especially about agriculture.

Usually the headline picks up a crisis and runs with it for a few days. By the time someone looks into the headlines and does a little research to clarify the claims, it’s gone from the news. You don’t hear much of a rebuttal.

The mission of the land grant universities such as the University of Georgia, Fort Valley State University and Auburn is to draw conclusions from research-based evidence. This means that you come up with a question, determines methods of testing the questions, select the testing method and then test the procedure. The final outcome is then evaluated and conclusions drawn.

This is commonly known as the scientific method. Usually this research is published in what is known as “referee journals” where other experts in the field have a chance to critique the research and conclusions. This helps to ensure that “cooking the books” doesn’t occur. The research that was completed should back up the conclusions that were drawn.

I was drawn to a recent headline touting that beef animals pollute more than pigs or chickens. This is a pretty good case for taking a closer look at the research.

The first question that comes to mind is that sheep and goats were not included in Gidon Eshel’s research. Were dairy animals included in the beef numbers? Why or why not? He validated his data by saying that it all came from the United States government.

Was this actual research where the beef animal footprint was actually calculated against pigs and chickens or did he plug in statistics into a computer model? Did he measure how much methane different size cattle and different breeds produce? Does it make a difference what type of forage or what type of climate the cattle are living in? Were these all factored in?

The danger of using computer models is that all the variables may not be included or they may be excluded. The statistical procedures may be altered or changed to get the desired results. Dr. Eshel has also done much research on greenhouse gases and global warming. Is there a political agenda behind the research?

There are some things to consider. Beef, dairy, sheep and goats are all ruminants. What that means is that they have multi-compartment stomachs that can digest cellulose-based foods such as grasses and legumes.

People, pigs and chickens are monogastrics that have difficulty digesting cellulose. There are approximately 2.26 billion acres of land in the United States; 408 million acres can be row cropped.

Row crops are wheat, corn, soybeans, vegetables etc. Only 18 percent of the land in the United States can actually be used for direct food production. There are 613 million acres that are considered grassland and pasture. Grasslands and pasture comprise 27 percent of all the land in the U.S. Ruminants can convert this otherwise useless land into protein that can be utilized in our diets.

When Francis Parkman wrote the “Oregon Trail” in the 1840’s there were approximately 65 million buffalo grazing the Great Plains. Many of the countries in the world do not utilize animal based protein. Consequently many of those people are suffering not from starvation but from malnutrition.

We need 23 amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, to survive on planet earth. Much of the land cannot be utilized for row crops but can be an excellent source of protein furnished by ruminants.

On another note, the Market on Main has a special event coming up on Aug. 23. Award-winning chef Paul Norton will be preparing healthy food from produce he buys at the market that morning. He will be conducting cooking demonstrations and samples for a “Taste of the Market.” Come by for the special treat.

Brian Maddy is the ANR Agent for Troup Cooperative Extension. The Troup County Extension office is located at 114 Church St. in LaGrange and may be reached at 706-883-1675, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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