Agriculture not much different from other industries using technology to replace labor

July 09, 2012
  • Jeff Semler
Jeff Semler

Recent events in Texas have once again prompted me to take up educating folks about agriculture.

In case you did not hear, 15 steers died on a small ranch east of Austin, Texas, from prussic acid poisoning after grazing in a field of hybrid Bermudagrass known as Tifton 85.

As if losing your livestock wasn’t bad enough, misinformation caused even more problems.

The story gained widespread attention after a local CBS News affiliate reported the grass that killed the steers was a genetically modified variety, which was incorrect. 

That CBS affiliate later published a correction.

I hope people spoke out of ignorance rather than malice, but no matter, bad information is bad information.

Tifton 85 Bermudagrass is not genetically modified, but is a hybrid, or cross, between two varieties of Bermudagrass.

This is not “frankengrass.” As a matter of fact, many of the readers of this article have lawns comprised of hybrid turfgrass. Coincidently, if you have a mutt, even if it is called a labradoodle or puggle, you own a hybrid dog.

A genetically modified organism is a controversial item and one that polarizes people like political issues. I am not going to argue for or against them, but rather back up and look at agriculture and technology in a broader view.

It seems agriculture is one industry that draws criticism from all sides when technology is adopted or rejected.

The funny thing is, agriculture is not much different than any other industry using technology to replace labor.

The odd part is, unlike other industries when people are replaced by technology, there is no uproar because few people want to work in agriculture because it is viewed as demeaning or difficult.

While every industry has its bad actors and people who abuse technology, they are few and far between in agriculture.

For instance, while I believe organic agriculture is a great option for those who wish to purchase food raised in such a manner, I have no objection to food raised in a responsible conventional manner.

It is amazing to me that the same people who object to giving ill cattle an antibiotic would not hesitate taking an antibiotic if they were ill. Nor do they shy away from prednisone when they have an allergic reaction, but they do not want steroids given to livestock for any reason.

According to the National Institute of Health, prednisone is in a class of medications called corticosteroids.

I hope you see my confusion.

I do not have any objection to informed choices, but I do object to uninformed or malicious crusades.

If you want to eat organic or be a vegetarian, great, but make sure you remember you are making a choice and, I hope, an informed one.

Investigate your information sources, and remember, the Extension office is a great source. If for no other reason, it is not selling anything.

Our information is research-based and it is free.

Jeff Semler is an Extension educator, specializing in agriculture and natural resources, for the University of Maryland Extension. He is based in Washington County. He can be reached at 301-791-1404, ext. 25, or by email at

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