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Farm Progress America, December 24, 2020

Max Armstrong shares the cattle farmer's Night Before Christmas, written by Denny Bannister from Missouri. It's almost a tradition for Max to share this great story. Enjoy.

Farm Progress America is a daily look at key issues in agriculture. It is produced and presented by Max Armstrong, veteran farm broadcaster and host of This Week in Agribusiness.

Photo: Konstantin Yuganov/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Cattle feed raised indoors

Grōv Technologies The Grōv vertical farming system produces fresh cattle feed indoors
UNDER CONTROL: This unique vertical farming system produces fresh cattle feed every day. The automated system creates feed that's free of pesticides, and the company claims higher feed efficiency too.

"The momentum is undeniable now for what everyone is calling controlled environment agriculture," says Steve Lindsley, president, Grōv Technologies, a Utah-based startup. "Grōv takes the benefits of CEA and focuses it on animals."

You read that right; Grōv is focused on raising feed indoors that's high-quality, consistent and produced in an environment with no need for pesticides. The original idea was to produce that feed to be distributed around the world, but more recently, the approach has turned more local. Really local.

"We've focused on building our technology so that it could provide an autonomous, optimized level of feed every day," Lindsley says. "We're coming to market with our commercial machine that we call the Grōv Olympus Tower Farm."

Farm Progress first encountered the Grōv prototype at CES in January 2020. Since then, the commercial level system has been built and optimized. Lindsley says the company has focused on best-in-class use of robotics, lighting, Internet of Things monitoring and cloud computing to provide a predictable harvest every six days.

"So, we can go from seed to harvest in six days, and we've really been building our science protocol so that we can dial in not only the yield of the machine, but also maintain its efficiency," Lindsley says.

Depending on what you decide to grow in the system, and that can range from barley to wheat to clover to peas, a single tower system can produce the same feed as you can get from 35 to 50 acres of ground. Yet it occupies a tower that is only 875 square feet at the base and 25 feet high.

While there is a six-day harvest cycle, once the machine gets going, it produces 5,000 to 6,000 pounds of sprouted grass per day.

Quality feed, all the time

The Grōv system is showing 99% uptime with initial models, and it runs with very little labor. Trays of seed are placed into the system, then those trays make a trip rising slowly in the tower and making a serpentine course that leads to the bottom at six days when lush, green shoots can be harvested.

This is fresh, low-fiber, high-energy feed that Lindsley says has energy similar to corn, but this is a forage. Combined in a ration with fiber, this is a feed with highly digestible nutrients. In feeding trials, dairy and beef operations have seen feed efficiency gains.

"There are early indications we can achieve up to 5% to 10% feed efficiency where animals are actually eating less on a dry matter per ton basis, but producing as much or more milk," Lindsley says. He notes that those tests were with the new feed at 12.5% of the ration, yet this fresh feed could be boosted to as much as 40% of the ration. More testing is being done there.

Gains for beef averaged between about 2.9 pounds per day on a similar ration, Lindsley says. Note this is essentially a grass-fed diet, but he notes that given these gains it may be possible to raise cattle with this system, achieve grain-fed timelines but have a grass-fed finished product.

An added benefit of that six-day harvest cycle is that users can switch out forage quickly. "If you need to make a change, for whatever reason, it's relatively simple," Lindsley says. "And the speed of data for this system is great. If you're having a feed problem and need to change, it's simple. You don't have a one- or two-harvest cycle you're working with."

In a release announcing the new Olympus Tower, Brad Bateman, owner-partner of Bateman Mosida Farms, says, "It's evident that including Grōv HDN [high-density nutrient] in the cow's diet improves feed production efficiency."

Due to the success of the Grōv -Bateman collaboration, the farm has committed to feed up to 5,000 animals in 2021 using the new system.

Totally new approach

This "feed tower" uses plenty of technology from autonomous movement of trays through the system; artificial intelligence to manage the lighting, water and crop nutrients; and the capture of information about the feed raised.

"And we're impressed with the reliability of this system," Bateman adds. And using this tech, 35 to 50 acres of annual feed output can be produced with about 5% of the water normally needed.

There are other benefits of the new approach, especially the sustainability of the system, which produced what the company calls high-density nutrition. And Lindsley adds an interesting note: "We also believe that the early data suggests that a highly digestible feed such as this super feed will produce less methane from cows," he says. "If you think about it, there's simple math with a beef animal. If it takes less time to produce, you have less methane emitted per animal."

This startup has taken feed production to a new level. Farmers can look at installing single or multiple tower systems. To learn more about the product, its feed test results and how it works, visit

Cattle microRNA effects on meat quality, human health

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A team of scientists at the University of Nevada-Reno are investigating how cattle microRNAs and the genes they influence affect the human body and health. MicroRNAs are small RNA molecules involved in the regulation of gene expression that convert DNA code into proteins that carry out cellular functions, such as development, differentiation, growth, and metabolism.

The interdisciplinary team of researchers is seeking to understand how feeding cattle different diets will affect the microRNA profile in beef; how microRNAs may be used as biomarkers for meat quality; and how these small molecules may affect human health, specifically chronic diseases. 

The team will identify microRNAs in cooked and digested beef that may be absorbed by the intestines and further regulate pathways associated to cancer, coronary artery disease, apoptosis of cardiac cells, repression of breast cancer, inflammatory diseases and diabetes.

“This nutritional value relationship to elements of meat has never before done in Nevada,” said Amilton de Mello, a veterinarian and assistant professor of meat science and food safety in the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology & Natural Resources. “We’re looking at grass-fed versus grain-fed – and their nutritional values. We’re not looking at vitamins and minerals, but at a molecular level, small nucleotides, part of our DNA and how much from the animal goes to our genes.”

The team, including three graduate students, will also look for biomarkers for meat tenderness when comparing grain-fed versus grass-fed cattle and map all the variables.

“We’re also looking for what modulates sensory traits like flavor and tenderness,” de Mello said. “So, we’re looking for microRNAs for tenderness and will silence the gene so it doesn’t let the meat get tough.”

The team is led by de Mello. He said the work, evaluating the interactions between genomics and nutrition, is part of a new branch of science called nutrigenomics. Nutritional values of foods are commonly related to carbohydrate, fat, protein, mineral and vitamin content. But in this approach, they are looking at how microRNAs of cattle may affect human health.

“This is the first project done here in Nevada where we’ve fed animals and analyzed growth performance, meat quality and nutritional values at a molecular level,” he said. “We’re marrying our agriculture and nutrition programs, and bringing in bioinformatics and molecular medicine, looking at the nutritional value relationship to the elements of meat.” 

As part of the project led by animal scientist and assistant professor of agriculture Mozart Fonseca, the team remodeled the Main Station Field Laboratory feedlot to meet the needs of the research, adding gates, electronic water troughs, a weather station, new fences, panels on fences to minimize wind and a shade structure for the animals. The 900-acre field lab in east Reno is part of the College’s Experiment Station. Among other things, it is home to 520 cattle, of which 24 are being used in the study. All 24 cattle were pasture fed, and then as their 110-day finishing diet, 12 were grass fed and 12 were corn fed.

“First, we want to know if feeding corn or grass will increase the expression of microRNAs that silence genes that are antagonists to tenderness and fat deposition, affecting meat quality,” de Mello said. “Second, we will identify the microRNAs from each type of beef – corn fed or grass fed – that are in high quantities after being digested. This will allow us to also then compare the beef microRNA profiles to other diets that do not contain animal protein. Our goal is to first understand what beef-derived microRNAs can promote at the small intestine level and then compare that with plant-based protein diets, for example.”

The three-pronged research – animal growth performance, meat quality and the functional role of beef microRNAs in humans – will focus on identifying microRNAs in both fresh and digested beef. The microRNA profile in fresh beef will allow the team to identify biomarkers associated with the expression of genes relevant to their research.

While Fonseca is responsible for conducting the animal feeding trials at the Main Station Field Lab and for calculations for statistical and mathematical modelling, de Mello and Bradley Ferguson, in the College’s nutrition department, will identify the microRNAs in digested beef that may be associated with human diseases and possibly absorbed by the human intestines after cooking and digestion. De Mello is also responsible for evaluating quality parameters of the meat and identifying the microRNAs and genes of interest that modulate genes affecting tenderness and intramuscular fat deposition. Tong Zhou, from the University’s School of Medicine, will develop models evaluating which microRNAs can silence specific genes.

Ultimately, their project will identify what animal diet affects the expression or suppression of desirable microRNAs from a human nutrition standpoint and hypothesize nutrigenomic effects on human health.

The work began in January 2020, will run through the end of 2021 and is funded by the College’s Experiment Station and Hatch Act funds.

New tool helps beef producers develop custom biosecurity plan for disease

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In support of cattle producers across the country dedicated to preventing disease, improving animal welfare and reducing production losses, the Beef Checkoff-funded Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program developed a Daily Biosecurity Plan for Disease Prevention template. The template, which helps cattle producers implement daily biosecurity measures on their operations, is available digitally as a PDF or can be printed for handwritten plans.

The template was specifically designed to be customizable, giving producers flexibility in determining management practices that work best for their cattle operation and covers everything from animal movement to worker training. The goal of this introductory and stepwise program is to provide beef farmers and ranchers across the country with the information needed to implement biosecurity plans. In addition to providing basic information, the tool emphasizes why biosecurity is vital on cattle operations and provides an opportunity for producers to have conversations with their herd veterinarians, extension agents, and state BQA coordinators about biosecurity preparedness.

“Biosecurity is a top priority for the beef industry,” said Kim Brackett, an Idaho cattle producer and chair of the BQA Advisory Group. “This Beef Checkoff-funded tool allows beef farmers and ranchers to develop their own biosecurity plans unique to their operations. Whether a cow-calf operation in California, a backgrounder in Mississippi or a feedyard in Kansas, being proactive and developing a written plan ahead of a crisis allows producers to implement and become familiar with biosecurity precautions. Even more importantly, producers will be prepared if a biosecurity threat were to happen.”

The Daily Biosecurity Plan for Disease Prevention template was created in collaboration withthe United States Department of Agriculture and its Secure Beef Supply plan. By intersecting these resources, producers that already have biosecurity steps in place for day-to-day operations are able to easily move to an enhanced biosecurity plan to prepare for a potential foreign animal disease outbreakFor more information about BQA and the BQA Daily Biosecurity Plan, visit


Source: National Cattlemen's Beef Association

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Meat workers are less likely to contract Covid-19

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Meat and poultry workers are less likely to get Covid-19 than the rest of the population. Yes, you read that right.

A new analysis of independent data for the full month of November show that reported new COVID-19 infection rates amongst meat and poultry workers were more than 8 times lower than rates in the general population.  

According to data from the Food and Environment Reporting Network, the meat and poultry sector was reported to have an average of 5.57 new cases per 100,000 workers per day in November. Infection rates amongst meat and poultry workers have declined steeply in the last six months, while surging across the United States.

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"This new analysis is encouraging evidence that more than $1.5 billion in comprehensive protections implemented since the spring have reversed the pandemic’s impact on the selfless men and women who have kept Americans’ refrigerators full and our farm economy working throughout this crisis,” says Meat Institute President Julie Anna Potts.

The New York Times reports that during the same period, the average new case rate for the U.S. population was 45.36 cases per 100,000 people per day.

The new data follows the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) vote December 20 (Sunday) to prioritize vaccination for frontline meat and poultry workers, joining a growing consensus that urgently vaccinating the sector’s diverse workforce is the next step for building on more than $1.5 billion in effective protection measures implemented since the spring.

This Week in Agribusiness, December 26, 2020

Part 1

Note: The video automatically plays through all show parts once you start.

Max Armstrong  is talking to farm broadcasters this week to get their take on 2020 and what’s coming in 2021. In the first chat, we hear from Ron Hays of the Radio Oklahoma Network.

Part 2

Next up, Max chats with Joe Gill of KASM Rdio in Albany, Minnesota. Agricultural Meteorologist Greg Soulje joins Max to talk about the year in weather.

Part 3

Max takes a look at the impact of virtual meetings as opposed to in-person meetings. He chats with Dustin Hoffmann of the Iowa Agribusiness Radio Network talks about coronavirus, the derecho and others.

Part 4

Bryce Knorr joins Max for a look at very interesting look at the markets.

Part 5

Agricultural Meteorologist Greg Soulje returns to take a look at the long-range weather picture.

Part 6

Mike Pearson is at the desk with Max to review the year in agriculture news. In the FFA Chapter Tribute segment Mike Pearson is talking to Doster Harper, the National FFA President about the challenges of a virtual conference and what his future looks like.  

Part 7

Max reflects on a Dr. David Kohl column talking about investing in the next generation.

Farm Progress America, December 23, 2020

Max Armstrong shares the continued challenge of succession planning, which gives the next generation the chance to thrive in the future. Max shares insight experts who explores the roadblocks to the transition. It includes saving for retirement, and the inability to give up control, which is also a challenge.

Farm Progress America is a daily look at key issues in agriculture. It is produced and presented by Max Armstrong, veteran farm broadcaster and host of This Week in Agribusiness.

Lab meats move forward: A final analysis for 2020

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Clean meat. Slaughter-free meat. Ethical meat. Lab meat. Fake meat. Petri-dish proteins. Cell-cultured proteins.
Whatever you call it — this new age “meat” is grown in a lab and not on the hoof, and it’s coming to a grocery store near you.

I’ve long lamented about my issues with these products. It’s great that we have many options to feed a hungry planet. What I vehemently disagree with is how these fake meat companies use false marketing tactics to disparage traditionally-raised beef in order to gain consumer acceptance for their imitation products.

I understand that innovative investors are always looking for ways to disrupt a market and replace it with something new, and it’s clear that animal agriculture is the market they intend to disrupt and replace.

So I will keep pushing back and demanding that these companies, and their slick Silicon Valley investors, are held to the same standards as meat producers are.

And while I have seen an uptick of articles championing the progress of meat’s fake counterparts, I think this pandemic has also launched a new appreciation and enthusiasm for serving wholesome, nutrient-dense protein on the dinner table.

Meat shortages earlier this year launched new interest in stocking up the freezer with beef, pork and poultry. That, combined with more of us working from home and having our kids at home, has renewed the wonderful tradition of more meals together as a family around the dinner table.

As a result, we are seeing more interest in cooking with beef, preparing roasts, making kid-friendly recipes, and of course, holiday meals centered around a prime rib or tenderloin.

Considering all these factors, I am optimistic about the beef industry and firmly believe that beef demand will remain robust despite these external factors working against us.

Today’s blog offers one last roundup of fake meat headlines for 2020. If you missed the last round, I shared a disturbing new company that will use human cheek cells and expired donated human blood to grow your meat. Delightful, right?

Check out this week’s headlines and let me know what you think!

1. “Lab meat is getting closer to supermarket shelves” by Agnieska de Sousa for Bloomberg

According to the article, “Slaughter-free meat is finally starting to make the jump from the lab to the factory line. As Singapore becomes the first country to allow the sale of cultured meat, more startups around the world are preparing to test production of lab-grown meats like beef and chicken in factories. While there’s a long way to go, it’s a crucial step in getting cell-based products ready for supermarket shelves.”

2. “Squawking about lab meat” by John Carlson for the Muncie Journal

Carlson writes, “No, when I think of tasty food preparation, the only bio-reactor I want involved is a heavy iron skillet, the kind my Grandma Smith used. Through that bio-reactor, fully supplied with the bio-reactor fuel called ‘lard,’ she transformed typical chicken chunks into fried chicken worth dying for.

3. “Raising the stakes with lab-grown meat” by Suwatchai Songwanich for the Bangkok Post

An excerpt from the article reads, "Singapore recently became the first government to approve the use of lab-grown meat as an ingredient in food. Many have seen the move as a bellwether for the development of a global synthetic meat market -- an innovative sector which in the long term could significantly reduce our reliance on the slaughter of animals for food while significantly reducing carbon emissions.”

4. “Your first lab-grown burger is coming soon — and it’ll be ‘blended’” by Niall Firth for MIT Technology Review

Firth writes, “Growing meat in a lab is still way too expensive. But mixing it with plants could help finally get it onto our plates.”

5. “The restaurant will be the first ever to serve lab-grown chicken (for $23)” by Jade Scipioni for CNBC

Scipioni says, “On Saturday, lab-grown chicken made by U.S. start-up Eat Just will make its historic debut at restaurant 1880 in Singapore, after the country’s food agency approved the sale of cultured meat. The lab-grown chicken will be the first cultured meat sold and served at a restaurant, according to Eat Just.”

6. “Meat grown from cells moves out of the lab” by Bryan Walsh for Axios

Walsh writes, “What we eat and how we make it has enormous implications for the health of humanity and the planet we live on. Meat and fish grown from cells could make for a more sustainable food supply, but they still face scientific, regulatory and consumer challenges.”

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of or Farm Progress.

The Grinch can’t steal Christmas

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This year has been a test of faith. We have watched many struggle and lose so much in 2020.

Loss of life. Loss of jobs. Loss of school. Loss of community. Loss of freedom. Loss of loved ones. Loss of normalcy. Loss of opportunities. Loss of milestone events. Loss of financial security. Loss of decency. Loss of friends in the political division.

Loss. Loss. Loss.

Yes, much has been lost in 2020 due to this ongoing pandemic. That combined with the deeply polarizing presidential election and ongoing uncertainties following the Nov. 3rd vote has resulted in some incredibly stressful, highly emotional days.

And just like the Grinch who wanted to steal Christmas, it often feels like politicians and elected officials stealing our joy and peace in 2020.

(Don’t even get me started on the measles $600 stimulus checks while special interest groups get rich from the pork-lined bill Congress just passed.)

I tune into press conferences each day, and watch politicians butt heads with citizens about mandates, lockdowns, masks, restrictions, business closures, bailouts, stimulus money and more — it’s a wakeup call that citizens must be engaged and in constant contact with  leadership to ensure our great country doesn’t get off course, even in a crisis situation.

Now back to the Grinch. We know that in the classic story, the Grinch wanted to take away the joy of Christmas and demoralize the citizens of Whoville as he stole their presents, decorations, food and other holiday traditions.

Yet, on the morning of Christmas when the Whos of Whoville woke up to discover their materialistic items for the holiday had been stolen, how did they react? Did they cry, shout or burn down the town? No. They stood tall together, holding hands in the public square, and they sang with joy as they celebrated Christmas even as darkness attempted to overshadow the town.

As Americans, we must do the same. The Grinch, whoever that is in your mind (and I realize the answer may differ depending on who you ask), is attempting to steal your joy, to take away the special moments of your holiday season and to make you feel hopeless, scared, isolated and alone.

Fear not, my friends. The Grinch did not succeed in stealing Christmas, and he won’t be successful in stealing the future of this beautiful country that we call home. We must be a light in a dark world. We must sing loudly for all to hear. We must spread Christmas cheer far and wide. We must never cower to those who benefit from our fear.

For myself and my family, we will celebrate Christmas with great gusto this year. It may look a little bit different than normal, but even if some of our favorite traditions have canceled or changed, our hearts remain completely focused on the true reason for this season.

I will close this Christmas blog post with an excerpt from the Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Merry Christmas to my fellow ranching Whos in country Whoville! May peace, joy and great blessings fill your hearts and your stockings this year!

“And he did hear a sound rising over the snow.
It started in low, then it started to grow.

“But this sound wasn't sad!
Why, this sound sounded glad!
“Every Who down in Whoville, the tall and the small,
Was singing without any presents at all!

"He hadn't stopped Christmas from coming! It came!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!

“And the Grinch, with his grinch feet ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling. ‘How could it be so?

“It came without ribbons! It came without tags!
It came without packages, boxes, or bags!’

“He puzzled and puzzled till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before.

“Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store.
Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more!”

Merry Christmas from my ranch to yours! May you find countless blessings even during a year of incredible hardships.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of or Farm Progress.

Trending Headlines: Packing plants & meat processing in the news

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It’s been a long year. Between the election and the pandemic, I think many of us are hoping for a better 2021.

A vaccine rollout has given many hope for the future, while others remain uncertain of its efficacy and safety. A contested presidential election has left the American people in limbo.

And frankly, I’m holding my breath for what’s to come next because at this point, would anything surprise you?

Meanwhile, attacks on the meat industry continue, and in upcoming blog posts, I’ll shine a light on exactly what obstacles await livestock producers in the days ahead.

For now, I’m focusing my attentions on potential meat shortages, once again, as we see packing plants shutting down or slowing down due to worker outbreaks and concerns. Will packing plants survive the ups and downs of this pandemic? Will we see temporary shortages in the meat case? What does this mean for beef producers?

I don’t think I have the answers, but I’ve rounded up the latest headlines to show you what I’ve been seeing in the news lately as it relates to COVID-19, meat processing and the challenges packers are facing in the current climate.

1. “Meat processing facilities argue for vaccine priority” by Tyler Mickelson for WEAU News

Mickelson reports, “Now that the Coronavirus vaccine is available, the next decision is who will get those shots after frontline medical personnel and senior citizens. Leaders of the food, restaurant, aviation and utility industries are all making arguments that their people should be next in line. Executives at Cargill, Smithfield foods and Perdue Farms have been busy the last few days trying to convince decision makers that workers in meat packing plants should get a high priority in order to safeguard the nation’s food supply. And in some states, like Kansas, with lots of packing plants, the message is getting through as governors are saying those workers will get some priority over other groups. The federal government says it should have enough vaccine to vaccinate 100 million people by the end of February.”

2. “Beyond the illness: how COVID-19 is negatively impacting those who are not infected” by Society for Risk Analysis

Here is an excerpt, “The COVID-19 pandemic affected workers in our nation's meat-packing plants disproportionately, especially in the early months. In April 2020, meatpacking facilities were deemed an essential business and forced to remain open, but many meatpacking workers have fallen ill from COVID-19 as a result of hours spent in high-risk facilities, leading to plant closures that have caused economic problems for livestock producers, meat processors, grocery stores, and consumers.”

3. “The bipartisan stimulus proposal leaves working people on the cutting-room floor at the darkest time of the pandemic” by Corinne Roller for The Hill

Roller writes, “As workers have struggled to stay both employed and healthy throughout this crisis, our leaders are leaving these workers on the cutting room floor. In America, where the lowest-paid working people are also least likely to have access to paid leave through their employers, it's both an ethical imperative and a vital public health measure to guarantee adequate paid leave for every working person. Congress has an obligation to do so. From a meat processing plant worker in Iowa to a front-line grocery cashier in New York City, we must ensure that when people get sick, they can stay home. Any stimulus proposal must include emergency paid leave, without it, the price we pay in human suffering and infection rates will be immeasurable.”

4. “Meatpacking plants tied to more COVID-19 cases than known before, new business outbreak data shows” by Maria Perez by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Perez writes, “The data shows that early in the pandemic only a small fraction of long-term care facilities, jails or prisons, food processing facilities and manufacturing plants had reported outbreaks. But those industries accounted for the vast majority of cases linked to outbreaks in businesses and other facilities.”

5. “Cargill temporarily idles Canadian beef plant due to COVID-19 outbreak” by Kristen Leigh Painter for the Star Tribune

An excerpt reads, “Cargill Inc. is temporarily closing an Ontario beef plant due to a new COVID-19 outbreak. Local health officials on Thursday said 82 out of the 200 people it tested since first declaring the outbreak on Dec. 4 have tested positive, with 129 others now self-isolating. Cargill said this is part of a wider community-spread event in Guelph, Ontario, the town where the plant is located about an hour west of Toronto.

“Despite efforts to prevent spread of the virus, North American meat processors in recent weeks have experienced a new series of outbreaks, including at pork plants in Colorado and poultry facilities in California.”

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of or Farm Progress.