Nation’s highways could be a pollinator-friendly habitat

A bipartisan bill introduced to establish pollinator habitats on nation’s highways

Habitat for pollinators such as monarch butterflies and bees continue to decline, but a bipartisan bill introduced in the Senate could help to reverse the decline. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) along with Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Tom Carper (D-DE), and Mike Rounds (R-SD) submitted the Monarch and Pollinator Highway (MPH) Act of 2019 would establish a federal grant program available to state departments of transportation and Indian tribes to carry out pollinator-friendly practices on roadsides and highway rights-of-way.

According to a press release by Merkley, the bill would establish grants that could be used for:
• The planting and seeding of native, locally-appropriate grasses, wildflowers, and milkweed;
• Mowing strategies that promote early successional vegetation and limit disturbance during periods of highest use by target pollinator species;
• Implementation of an integrated vegetation management approach to address weed and pest issues;
• Removing nonnative grasses from planting and seeding mixes except for use as a nurse or cover crops; or
• Any other pollinator-friendly practices the Secretary of Transportation determines will be eligible.

“With so much of our natural landscape lost, the millions of acres of roadsides across the US have become increasingly important as pollinator habitat,” said Scott Black, Executive Director of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. “The Xerces Society is excited to support the Monarch and Pollinator Highway (MPH) Act of 2019, which will provide much-needed funding for states to maximize habitat management and restoration for these vital animals.”

The Xerces Society conducted its annual survey from 97 sites, mostly along the California coast, where 77% of the monarch population overwintered and found that the population in 2018 reached “historic lows” over the previous year’s population. The Center for Biological Diversity showed in their 2018 survey for overwintering grounds in Mexico to be down as well from 2.91 hectares to 2.48. It stated that the population has been in decline from an estimated one billion in the mid-1990s to roughly 93 million. Milkweed is the primary plant that monarchs require for breeding and food, and acreage of the plant has decreased.

When we think of bees, we generally picture the European honeybee or Apis mellifera, which is responsible for the pollination of over $170 billion in crops. However, there are over 4,500 native bee species that are also responsible for the pollination of these crops, including 1,600 of them in California. In an article written for Medium entomologists stress that saving all species of bees versus the just the honeybee is equivalent to “conserving chickens because you’ve heard that North American birds are vanishing.” That is not to say there has been a decline in the numbers of European honeybees, they have also seen a dramatic decrease of 40% between 2018-2019 with one expert calling it “unsustainably high.

The bill does not specify how these grants will be funded, but anything we can do to help these populations is critical. I can distinctly remember as a child oleander and bottlebrush plants were growing in the median of Interstate 5 in the Central Valley of California and throughout the area. Sadly, they were taken out because of the drought and also the fear of them harboring invasive insects. Although oleander is considered a deceit pollinator and insect cheater by looking attractive, offering no nectar, and yet still accomplishing pollination.
Besides, wouldn’t you like something interesting and aesthetically pleasing to look at while you spend time in the driving or sitting in the passenger seat?

Plant-Based Patties not going away

Like it or not, plant-based patties are here to stay. Growth is expected to be close to $29 billion by 2025, and sales of plant-based products close to $12 billion this year, it is highly unlikely that this is a fad that will soon disappear.

According to market research firm Euromonitor, U.S. meat substitute sales in the packaged food industry, including frozen and shelf-stable meat alternatives, have risen an average of 15.4% each year between 2013 and 2018, outpacing the 1.2% average annual growth of processed meat over the same period. U.S. meat substitute sales in the packaged food industry, including frozen and shelf-stable meat alternatives, have risen an average of 15.4% each year between 2013 and 2018, outpacing the 1.2% average annual growth of processed meat over the same period.

This is evidenced by fast-food restaurants and grocery chains selling the patties and major food companies such as Cargill Incorporated and Tyson Foods investing in companies that produce these patties. Conagra said that it’s doubling down on its Gardein plant-based meat substitute brand, and its sales have quadrupled over the past four years. Kellogg owned Morningstar has expanded its offerings of products to compete with the growing marketplace.

Concern about ingredients and “Highly Processed.”

Despite the growth, there has been some backlash regarding the patties. Specifically against the Impossible burger with Consumer Reports

questioning the long-term safety of the ingredient, leghemoglobin, which gives the patty its meaty look and feel. Consumer Reports points out that the ingredient is derived from soybean roots and nodules that “have never been part of the human food supply,” and its effects on human health are not known. Impossible Foods contends that the 28-day study conducted by Consumer Reports was insufficient despite it showing changes in the blood chemistries that could indicate kidney problems.

In addition to the ingredient leghemoglobin, Consumer Reports has expressed concern about heme iron. According to the article responding to Rachel Konrad – Impossible Foods’ PR chief, “heme iron may contribute to the increased risk of colon cancer and other health problems that have been associated with red meat.” Konrad contends that heme iron is essential for the body that carries oxygen in your blood.

Consumer Reports is not the only company expressing concern regarding these patties. Both the CEOs of Whole Foods and Chipotle have stated the patties are highly-processed. Kelsey Piper in her article for Vox argues that the term “processed” is vague in context stating, “the term can refer to any food that’s been modified — to preserve it, to enhance its flavor, to add nutrients, or to make plant proteins taste like a hamburger.” Piper defends the plant-based patties by comparing them to the fact that foods that add vitamins or are pasteurized, such as yogurt are highly processed. Therefore, processed foods can also be healthy.

Critics state the patties are highly processed in the fact they contain 21 or 22 ingredients. University of California/Davis professor Frank Mitloehner when speaking to AgriTalk host Chip Flory stated, “that you are hard-pressed in identifying the difference between those items, versus let’s say, pet food.” To illustrate his point, he posted the following on his Twitter account:

patty and dog food

(FYI – the middle is the dog food)

To counteract this claim, Konrad made this point on Twitter:

beef retort


I will counter that the ingredients listed in Konrad’s tweet are naturally occurring vitamins, minerals, lipids, and steroids. Here is a comparison of the Impossible Burger with a beef burger for nutrition:


(image courtesy of

Each has its own benefits, but it should be noted that while the Impossible Burger has more vitamins and minerals, they are added to the product versus a beef burger. Also, the Impossible Burger has a high amount of salt, with 16% of the daily value and carbohydrates.

Update: The Center for Consumer Freedom has launched a campaign calling plant-based patties “ultra-processed imitations”, and comparing them to dog food. Rick Berman, the center’s executive director wrote an op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal stating that it was no healthier than meat. The piece can be found here.

Are they good for the planet?

According to Impossible Foods, the company’s burger uses 87% less water, uses 96% less land, and produces 89% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than ground beef from cows. Beyond Meat, meanwhile, reports its meat uses 99% less water, uses 93% less land and generates 90% fewer greenhouse gas emissions. In 2018, Impossible and Beyond Meat received the United Nations Environment Planetary Health Champion of the Earth Award.

If these studies are true, then it appears to be a boon for the environment. The University of Michigan’s Center for Sustainable Systems was commissioned by the makers of Beyond Meat to study the environmental impact of the patty to a comparably sized beef patty. They conducted a “cradle to distribution” study with the information provided by its suppliers and a study commissioned by the National Cattleman’s Beef Association (Thoma et. Al., 2017). The study found:

Based on a comparative assessment of the current Beyond Burger production system with the 2017 beef LCA by Thoma et al., the Beyond Burger generates 90% less greenhouse gas emissions, requires 46% less energy, has >99% less impact on water scarcity and 93% less impact on land use than a ¼ pound of U.S. beef.

However, these facts have come into question. Dr. Mitloehner told CNET

“that we also have to think about the impact on air and water quality when evaluating whether plant-based or animal meat is better for the environment,” Mitloehner says there is not a simple way to determine objectively, which is better. He also notes that U.S. ranchers raise cattle that have the least impact on greenhouse gases compared to other countries, so that could have an impact on the study.


Regardless, if it is better for the environment or there is a question of the safety of the ingredients, these plant-based patties will continue to grow in sales. Despite the NCBA petitioning state legislatures to change the labeling not to read “burger,” these plant-based patties are not going away. The patties are not marketed solely for vegetarians, but also towards meat consumers as an alternative. There is the expression, “if you can’t beat them, join them.” Perhaps farmers should consider contracting with some of the processors of the ingredients in these patties by planting more peas, canola and sunflowers for oil.

Update: The Wall Street Journal just published this article regarding the meat industry fighting back against plant-based patties





Changes in Latitude, Changes in Attitude: How the Social Judgement Theory may help with communicating about agriculture

No, this isn’t a column about the Jimmy Buffett song.

You may be thinking, “great, some hotshot guy who is in college is going to preach to us about things they learned in class.” I will not preach, but I will suggest this theory will assist when it comes to talking about agriculture and the issues you hear every day.

In a previous post, I asked the question of how can agriculture communicators, bloggers, and others involved with talking about agriculture, craft a persuasive message that conveys what the industry is doing today.

People will stay within their echo chamber because they do not want to create any dissonance. Part of the problem of creating dissonance can be attributed to people’s attitudes and beliefs and their original position, or anchor point, on an issue.

The Social Judgement Theory states that people hold an anchor point or their preferred position on an issue. When the public is presented with a message, they have different latitudes by which they judge the message depending on how important the topic is to them or ego-involvement. They can be three different categories of latitude: acceptance, rejection, and non-commitment. The higher the level of ego-involvement, the importance of an issue is to our self-identity, the smaller the latitude of acceptance. The most effective alignment occurs when a message falls within a healthy range of our latitudes, i.e., not too close and not too far from our anchor position.

Social Judgment theory also discusses two different perceptual processes, called assimilation and contrast. These two effects occur when a message is very close to the listener’s own attitude (assimilation) or disagrees with the audience (contrast). The most effective alignment occurs when a message falls within a healthy range of our latitudes, i.e., not too close and not too far from our anchor position. The theory also states that if the message is beyond the latitude of acceptance, it requires repeated exposure.




How many times have we seen or heard that one annoying commercial for a business and yet can sing the jingle or recite their tagline? With the Social Judgement theory, some of the messages that fall in other parts of the latitude of rejection might be persuasive if the messages are strong. We just need to craft information within these guidelines to change the attitudes and beliefs of how consumers feel about issues in agriculture.

Let me use an example to explain how this theory works.

Organic Screenshot


The attached photo, while it is true, is a degree of latitude opposite of what a person who buys organic feels or believes regarding the use of chemicals in a product. People who buy organic products have a high-level of ego involvement; therefore, being receptive to this message is very small. They will reject the argument that these chemicals naturally occur in conventional and organic foods. The same reason they also associate chemicals as something man-made even though everything is composed of chemicals. If someone says “water” it sounds fine to a person, but if you say “dihydrogen monoxide,” it has an ominous sound to it. An argument could explain where these chemicals are derived and how they occur naturally in the environment.

The use of the “USDA Pesticide Data Program” also creates dissonance. Even though organic production uses pesticides that are derived from natural sources, people who buy organic do not want to hear that they are used in the production of food.

Perhaps, the use of the words “substances” rather than chemicals, and not mentioning pesticides might be closer to a person’s anchor point. From there, you can craft a message explaining how the ad from Stonyfield is deceptive rather than say it is false.

Yes, this has been tried before, but it requires reinforcing a unified message from those in the industry, trade groups, and bloggers related to agriculture.

Like the picture, you can argue whether it is duck season or rabbit season, just like it is wrong or right. Unless you craft a message that says something close to the position a person holds and still is the message you are trying to convey, then it will result in Elmer Fudd shooting both of you regardless if it is rabbit or duck season.