sealPurdue Ag Briefs

November 1997

Purdue forecasts food systems for the next century

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Faculty in the Purdue University School of Agriculture give a better-than-educated guess of what the future holds for American food and fiber industries with a new book and video set entitled "FoodSystem 21: Gearing Up for the New Millennium."

Purdue agricultural economist Mike Boehlje calls it "a frank and brutal look" at where farms, input suppliers, processors and consumers are heading.

"Everyone in agriculture will be able to find themselves in this book," Boehlje says. "No punches are pulled."

Boehlje says 50 Purdue professors and others in agricultural economics, animals sciences, horticulture, food science and other disciplines not only determine trends and where the industry might be headed, they also provide details on what it means for individual parts of the human food chain. Each chapter went through extensive review by industry leaders.

The idea, he says, is for each reader to evaluate the scenarios laid out by the book, anticipate what it could mean for his or her business or operation, and either try to shape the industry or the operation to "survive and thrive."

"Our hope is people will take the material and use it to plan improvements if they choose to compete in the future," Boehlje says. "For instance, a Midwest dairy producer shouldn't try so hard to get the price of milk raised. With current government policies, it's not going to happen. Also, with dairy herds of 2,000-plus head concentrating in the West, Midwest producers will need to manage their business to become a low-cost competitor."

While the authors steadfastly refused to make recommendations in the book, Boehlje says he personally has taken some lessons for his family's crop and livestock farm back in Iowa.

"On the hog side, our operation is going to have to decide if we're willing to enter into some network arrangement or grow big enough to incorporate some of the new technologies in pork production. If not, we're going to have to think about a smart exit," he says. "On the crop side, we need to decide whether we want to stay in the commodity business or move to characteristic-specific crops, which would require a new set of additional skills."

"The big lesson from the 452-page book is 'Don't be myopic,'" Boehlje says. "A grain farmer needs to know what the hog producer is going through, and they both better know what is going on with the consumer who is going to buy from here and abroad."

A few highlights:

Wally Tyner, head of Purdue's Department of Agricultural Economics, calls it the most broad-based studies of the future of agriculture to date, more comprehensive than the Ag 2000 study the department completed five years ago: "One major difference is more emphasis on interpreting consumer trends and applying them all the way back to the farm gate," he says.

Nearly a year in development, "FoodSystem 21: Gearing Up for the New Millennium" debuted at Purdue's Center for Agricultural Business' 1997 National Conference for Agribusiness Nov. 10-11. Other presentations will follow throughout 1998. The material also has been presented to senior U.S. Foreign Service administrators who work with developing countries.

The book without the video costs $29.95, from the Purdue Media Distribution Center, 301 S. Second St., Lafayette, IN, 47901-1232, (888) EXT-INFO. The videos will be offered separately through CAB. For more information on the videos, contact Sharon Wall at (765) 494-4247.

CONTACT: Boehlje, (765) 494-4222; e-mail,

Purdue to hold days of winery noses

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- A unique regional winery school -- one of the few of its kind outside California -- will be offered by Purdue University Jan. 7-9 to teach commercial vintners how to sniff out problems and produce better wines.

The Heartland Wine School is for commercial winemakers and advanced amateur winemakers. It is designed to teach practical wine science and production techniques in a hands-on format to those who wish to improve wine products and winery operations.

The program topics, presented by 13 university and industry specialists, will cover all aspects of winery operations from harvest decisions to bottling. Lab sessions will cover crushers and other processing equipment, fermentation and fining techniques, analytical methods, and bottling.

"This will be a unique opportunity to bring winery personnel up to speed with practical technical wine issues," says Ellie Harkness, a wine researcher in the Purdue Department of Food Science.

The Heartland Wine School was created in response to requests for a regional opportunity to train winery personnel in classic winemaking principles, and Harkness says she expects attendees from most of the surrounding states and the Eastern Seaboard. "This will be a rare opportunity for people to participate in a program like this east of California," says Harkness, who served as eastern section chairwoman of the American Society for Enology and Viticulture in 1995. "The instructors are all well-known wine experts who have been involved in wine programs at the university level, or are successful and knowledgeable commercial winemakers."

Speakers include Bill Moffett, publisher of Vineyard and Winery Management; vintner Chris Stamp of Lakewood Vineyards, Watkins Glen, N.Y.; enology consultant Tony Carlucci, Geneva, Ohio; and Purdue enologist Richard Vine.

Vine and Harkness oversee the Indy International, the Indiana State Fair wine competition that became the third largest in the country this summer with 1,852 entries. They are part of a team of Purdue Cooperative Extension specialists who help Indiana wineries with grape-growing, wine-making and marketing. Since the wine team's inception in 1991, the number of Indiana wineries has grown from three to 20, with five more in various stages of development.

Vine has written several books on commercial and amateur winemaking, and he is the wine consultant to American Airlines.

Classes will be held at the Purdue campus in West Lafayette, and registration costs $200. Preference will be given to commercial vintners; others will be admitted on a first-come, first-served basis, Harkness says. For information, contact Harkness, Department of Food Science, Smith Hall, Purdue University, W. Lafayette, IN 47907-1160; (765) 494-6704; fax (765) 494-7953; e-mail,

Experts: Public will accept irradiation in wake of meat recall

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Recent hamburger recalls starting with Hudson Foods may be just what it takes to convince Americans that it's time to accept irradiation as another technique to safeguard their food supply, two Purdue experts say.

Irradiation is little used and a lot misunderstood, but it can destroy the microorganisms responsible for food-borne illnesses and extend the shelf life of perishable foods. It is an FDA-regulated food preservation method using gamma radiation. It's currently used on foods such as spices, pork, poultry, and some fruits and vegetables. The FDA is considering approval for red meats.

Research shows irradiation poses no concern to consumers. "Decades of research on the safety of food irradiation show no changes to the food that are different from any other type of heat processing," says April Mason, Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service assistant director and a foods and nutrition specialist.

"It's really hard to process raw meat without getting some contamination on it, but if it's irradiated, the bacteria are killed," she says. "Irradiation is one more safety precaution. It's not in lieu of other safety precautions, such as proper cooking, but irradiation destroys the organism before it reaches the consumer."

Richard Linton, Purdue Extension specialist in food safety, says, "Cooking and irradiation are perhaps the only existing ways today to get rid of microorganisms on food."

An instance where irradiation would have been particularly helpful, Mason explains, was last spring when microbial organisms on strawberries and raspberries -- foods that often aren't cooked -- caused an outbreak of food-borne illness.

It also might have avoided the Hudson Foods recall of 25 million pounds of red meat, including hamburger patties, that may have been contaminated with E. coli , a microorganism that can cause illness and even death in those who consume it.

Linton says, "If I had a crystal ball that could predict the future, I'd say the Hudson hamburger incident may lead to consumer acceptance of irradiation in the next four or five years."

Mason agrees and adds: "Data show that consumers will accept food irradiation when they learn about it and taste irradiated food."

CONTACTS: April Mason, (765) 494-8252; e-mail, or Richard Linton, (765) 494-6481; e-mail,

Purdue alerts owners to deadly horse disease

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service is alerting horse owners throughout Indiana about a potentially fatal horse disease that is affecting animals here and in Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan and Florida.

Purdue veterinarians have seen an eight-fold increase in the number of cases of Equine Protozoal Myelitis (EPM), a debilitating disease that attacks the central nervous system of horses and can result in death if left untreated.

"Two years ago we might see one horse a month with neurological disease; now we are seeing about two a week with EPM," says Dr. Janice Sojka, Extension specialist in equine internal medicine.

People who own, board or work with horses should be on the lookout for early warning signs of EPM. Symptoms may include lack of coordination, wobbling or lameness not related to a specific cause, according to Sojka. Horses also may lose muscle mass for no apparent reason.

Horses become infected with EPM through hay, pasture, grain or water that has been contaminated by possum feces, Sojka says. Feed and water contamination also may occur indirectly through birds and insects.

Horses stabled in urban and suburban areas are at the same risk for exposure as those kept in rural areas. "The possum population is throughout the state, and hay, particularly, is shipped throughout the country," Sojka says. "There have been outbreaks of EPM throughout Indiana and at the Chicago race tracks." Outbreaks also have occurred in Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan and Florida.

While there is no vaccine or known cure for the disease, it is being treated with antibiotics. Treatment is expensive -- upwards of $200 per month -- with no guarantee of success. While most horses require treatment for at least three to four months, veterinarians agree that the sooner treatment begins, the better the chances for recovery. However, Sojka cautions that if a horse is treated for six to eight weeks without improvement, treatment probably will not be successful.

"We're seeing about a 75 percent success rate in treating horses brought to Purdue's clinic," she says. "However, not all horses return to 100 percent capacity. Once there has been nerve damage, it can't be repaired."

EPM is caused by a parasite (Sarcocystis neurona) that passes between possums and birds. Horses get it by mistake, Sojka says. "Possums acquire the disease by eating infected birds. We see a lot of this disease in Indiana because of the possum population."

Up to 76 percent of the horses in Indiana may be exposed to this parasite, according to a preliminary study of serum samples from horses throughout the state that was conducted by Dr. Michel Levy, Purdue large animal internal medicine specialist.

Levy tested serum samples drawn for Coggins tests, a test for Equine Infectious Anemia that is required for the sale, interstate transportation, and entry of a horse in shows and other competitions.

Even though a large percentage of Indiana's equine population may be exposed, the number of horses that actually develop the disease is much lower. Blood tests determine only whether or not a horse has been exposed; it is not an effective test for diagnosis. "The only way to tell for sure if a horse is infected with the parasite is through a spinal tap," Sojka says.

To reduce the chances of exposure, grain and hay storage facilities should be kept as clean as possible. Sojka recommends putting grain in tight containers and keeping hay storage areas clean.

CONTACT: Sojka, (765) 494-8548; e-mail,; Levy, (765) 494-8548; e-mail,

Ag education: It's not just for farmers anymore

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- What do landscape architects, zookeepers, food technologists and forest rangers have in common? Chances are it's a degree in agriculture.

A strong and varied job market is getting some of the credit for the increasing number of students signing up for classes in Purdue University's School of Agriculture.

"We've noted a decade-long rise in enrollment, and it corresponds directly with the number and kinds of jobs available," explains Allan Goecker, assistant dean and associate director of academic programs. "Ten years ago there were 1,655 undergraduates in the School of Agriculture, while 1997 enrollment figures show 2,539 students. And that number is up 63 from just a year ago."

Goecker says the job market for agribusiness positions, technical fields, natural resources and environmental management is particularly strong. Companies in these areas are seeking employees with a strong agricultural and science education, and they are increasingly looking at Purdue. A recent agriculture career fair drew 97 businesses to the West Lafayette campus -- 28 more than attended the same event a year ago.

"This is one of the strongest colleges of agriculture in the United States, but being a good school is just part of it," Goecker says. "You still need students to take on challenging roles after graduation. If an employer does well with one graduate, they often return to hire others."

In a professional employment survey of 1997 Purdue ag graduates, the average starting salary for all degree fields was $27,621. Agricultural and food process engineering graduates reported the highest average beginning salaries at $38,378. Food science graduates commanded starting salaries of about $33,000 and had a 96 percent placement rate.

The Department of Food Science will move into a new $26 million building next summer. Classrooms and laboratories are expected to be ready for use for the 1998 fall semester.

CONTACT: Goecker, (765) 494-8473; e-mail,

Purdue survey shows Indiana farmland values up again

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Indiana's farmland has increased in value for the 10th consecutive year, according to a survey conducted by a Purdue University agricultural economist.

"The survey indicates the value of an acre of average Indiana cropland was at about $2,000 in June 1997, representing a 13 percent hike in value from June 1996," said Jake Atkinson.

Atkinson received 350 responses to his statewide survey of professional farm managers, appraisers, brokers, bankers and others whose jobs require knowledge of agricultural land values.

Top-quality land, defined as land expected to yield 149 bushels of corn per acre, was estimated to be worth $275 more than last year, at $2,549, while average land with an expected 122-bushel corn yield was valued at $1,997, up $232. Poor land, which produces 94 bushel of corn per acre, was valued at $1,493, up $190.

Survey respondents said they expect land value increases to begin to slow down.

Eighty percent of the respondents predicted that land values would increase at a comparatively modest rate of about 2 percent per year for the next five years.

CONTACT: Atkinson, (765) 494-4266, e-mail:

Compiled by Chris Sigurdson, (765) 494-8415; E-mail,
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

* To the Purdue News and Photos Page