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Welcome to the home of the Modern Farm Business® podcast, hosted weekly by Dean Heffta. Modern Farm Business translates proven methods and best practices from the business arena to today's modern farm leadership environment. We'll be learning from forward-thinking experts and discovering how to apply time-tested techniques to make real improvements on the farm.

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Oct 11, 2018

Jay Lehr, Ph.D. is the science director at The Heartland Institute. Lehr is an internationally renowned speaker, scientist, and author who has testified before Congress on dozens of occasions on environmental issues and consulted with nearly every agency of the national government, as well as many foreign countries.

Lehr is a leading authority on groundwater hydrology. After graduating from Princeton University at the age of 20 with a degree in Geological Engineering, he went on to receive the nation’s first Ph.D. in Groundwater Hydrology from the University of Arizona. He later became executive director of the National Association of Groundwater Scientists and Engineers.

Lehr is the author of more than 1,000 magazine and journal articles and 36 books. He has spoken in front of thousands of audiences on topics ranging from global warming and biotechnology to business management and health and physical fitness. He invariably receives the highest scores for entertaining and energizing even the largest audiences.

NOTES (paraphrased):
On global trends affecting the food supply chain
Advances in ag technology have made it so that we can now grow enough food on this planet to easily feed its population of about 7.3 billion, and we will certainly be able to feed a population on 9 billion, where I expect it to top out in the next 50 years. Any starvation left in the world is actually politically motivated rather than a question of being willing or able to produce the food. World ag news is all positive, so we have to figure out how to keep American farmers in the black and happy with their career.

On long-term global competition for U.S. ag exports
Right now we are looking at competition from Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Ukraine and Russia. We have advantages over much of the world: We have 12,000 miles of contiguous rivers to move our products with ease; we have the best ag technology in the world. There will always be competition, but we will always stay ahead--if we continue to work harder to stay there.

On water supply challenges in the western U.S.
We’ve learned over the past 30-40 years how to irrigate crops ten times more efficiently, and we’re still learning. Drone scouting advances have been incredible for this business. We’ll always have to use water sparingly in the west, but we’re applying the knowledge we have and getting better at making an impact. In truth, it’s not as desperate a situation as headlines would have you believe.

On the growing chasm between what the consumer believes they want vs. what we understand from a producer viewpoint
The U.S. consumer economy dwarfs that of all other developed countries. Our ag industry could survive with a lot fewer exports because we have so many people to feed and we have the infrastructure to get it to the people. However, there are anti-ag forces working against conventional agriculture. We’ve been faced with organic food now for a couple of decades, and there is zero evidence that eating organic is any healthier than eating traditionally grown produce. Organic farming isn’t great for the environment because it requires far more land and it still uses fertilizers and pesticides, just not factory-manufactured ones. There are no advantages to organic farming. We’ve also got a spate of lies going around about genetic modification. It’s all over the grocery store: “No GM in this product,” but not a single person has ever gotten sick from eating a genetically modified food. And the manufacturers have to go through all these ridiculous hoops to get a GM grain approved between the FDA, EPA and USDA. The best thing the average person in ag can do is to spread the word and let people know the truth: There are no advantages to organic food and no downside to GM.

On the influence of Silicon Valley, venture funds and investments on opportunities in agriculture
Lots of investment in ag. On one side there’s a lot of spec trading in commodities, which constantly affects the pricing. I always advise farm audiences to have a marketing advisor because typically if someone’s really good at farming, they’re not great at marketing; why not pay someone who focuses on marketing 24/7 to advise you on navigating that vital and extremely complicated part of the business? It’s an inseparable part of making a living in agriculture.

On sharing a different perspective on government crop insurance subsidization with non-farming people
Farming is more subject to the vagaries of weather than most other occupations. Unfortunately, farmers cannot control the weather, so you never know when a 200-bushel per acre crop is going to turn into a 50-bushel per acre crop with a huge change in the weather. That’s why there are minimal subsidies that help farmers. Now, we’re talking a subsidy of something like $.60 on the dollar, so nobody wants to actually have to cash in on that, but it assures that a farmer doesn’t go out of business with the right coverage during a disaster. People who think it’s a form of welfare that isn’t necessary need to realize that’s just not true.

On getting policymakers to understand the plight of farmers: the “magic wand” question
The magic wand has already been waved. It’s happening. We’ve had a string of Secretaries of Agriculture who did not have the best interest of ag at heart. I’m excited about Sonny Perdue--he grew up in agriculture, he’s a veterinarian, and he’s done a phenomenal job so far with the Trump administration. We’ve already gotten rid of a number of regulations that were impeding agriculture in this country. I waved that wand two years ago on Election Day.

On the work of Heartland Institute
We are a free-market think tank with the goal of getting the government out of your wallet and maintaining the free market in the United States. We work in four areas: Environmental science, education, budget and tax reform, and healthcare. We put out four newspapers that go to every elected state official in the U.S. containing objective information germane to state issues and legislation currently under consideration. We are roughly 35 employees on a budget of about $6.5M per year almost completely funded by individual, private donations.

Thanks for listening! Questions or comments on this episode? Drop me a line at dean@modernfarmbusiness.com. We’d love to hear from you.

To learn more about the Heartland Institute and what they're doing in the world, visit heartland.org or follow them on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube.