W.Va. Professor Gives His Take on Ag Issues

1/18/2014 7:00 AM
By Marla Pisciotta West Virginia Correspondent

FORT ASHBY, W.Va. — More than 80 farmers and associates listened as West Virginia University’s Dr. Robert “Bob” Dailey talked Monday about farming in yesterday’s world, farming today and what farming may look like in the future.

Dailey, a faculty member in the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, discussed a variety of topics including whether pesticides and animal wastes are contaminating the groundwater, proper ways to deal with predators and questions regarding the safety of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

The event was held at the new “wedding barn” built at Brookedale Farm in Fort Ashby.

“Any farmer is in the food producing business,” Dailey said. But he then asked the question: “Are pesticides, fertilizers and animal wastes contaminating groundwater?”

“West Virginians are against people telling us what to do with land. If we want to be in the farming business, you have to have zoning to keep farmland protected,” Dailey said. “The intent is to protect enough farmland to produce food needed in a viable industry.”

He also discussed the issue of GMOs. Dailey said that in many ways, food benefits from scientific research. Some of the benefits of GMOs, he said, are increased crop yields.

Looking at a photo of corn or wheat from many years back, Dailey pointed out the irregular growth of plants back in those days.

“Crops now mature faster and are more tolerant to environment stress,” Dailey said, attributing that process to science.

He brought up ongoing research on the resistance to mad cow disease in the U.S., which he also credited to science.

Producing corn for more than just the joy of eating an ear or two was another topic discussed by Dailey. In the end, farmers are producing more corn than ever before.

“It doesn’t matter to farmers whether corn is used for ethanol, whiskey or gas,” he said. “We’re raising more corn now than ever before. Most of it is being used for fuel.”

He said the problem in the year 2050 will be the lack of clean, drinkable water.

“There will not be enough water. Clean, drinkable, potable water will be an issue. Where are we going to get clean water?” he said. “Food in the year 2050 may not be the same food we’re producing right now. There may be new forms of plants and animals. Modifying plants and animals improve their life processes.”

But he said everyone’s goal should be to feed the people of the world. And taking risk is part of what farmers do.

“Our country is run on risk. When you take a medicine that is supposed to heal, it could kill you. The same medicine could save a million other people. You would be the one in a million. We have to take the chance. Something bad versus something good,” he said.

On the issue of animal rights, Dailey spoke of PETA’s — People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals — input regarding animal clothing, food, experimenting on animals and using them for entertainment. It could have an impact on farmers.

“There are a lot more regulations coming down on us in the future,” he said.

Speaking briefly on the issue of terrorism, Dailey said the country’s food system is vulnerable. He used the example of beef in that 80 percent of beef goes to five feedlots in the Midwest.

“Is that safe?” he asked.

Monday’s event is one of several “dinner meetings” being put on by West Virginia University Extension this winter. Things discussed at these meetings impact people locally as well as on the farm, said farmer Trey Keyser. Keyser is also a loan officer with Farm Credit in Petersburg and Romney.

“When I attend these meetings I gain knowledge firsthand. I get a better understanding of issues on my farm and issues that occur with my customers. This is an ever changing ag environment. Much of the information provided at these meetings give us with great insights,” Keyser said.

Robert Cheves, agricultural instructor at Potomac State College, a division of West Virginia University in Keyser, W.Va., brought 35 of his students to the meeting.

“These students are in the vet science lab 251 course,” Cheves said, adding that the meeting is just one of the students’ outside lab activities.

Improving the reproductive efficiency of farm animals has been the focus of Dailey’s 30 years of research at West Virginia University.

Dailey completed his talk by saying, “Live as if you’re going to die today but farm as if you are going to live forever.”

A list of dinner events and subjects can be found on the West Virginia University Extension Service Web page under educational dinner meetings.

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