Crowell on video junkies, ag research and county fairs

Grape research in Ohio.

Eureka!, a manufacturer of camping equipment, did a survey to find out why youth participation in outdoor activities has waned 20 percent over the last six years. The number one reason should be no surprise: Nature can’t compete with technology.

“What do you mean we’re going hiking! I can’t sit at the video game controller playing Tomb Raider for six hours?”

In 2012, $14.8 billion — billion! — was spent on video games, and that includes new, rentals, and used games, as well as digital content. And when you add in hardware and accessories, that total last year was $20.77 billion.

That pretty much blows holes in the survey’s No. 3 finding, that 16% of respondents said it’s the cost of gear that keeps youth away from outdoor recreation.

I was pretty surprised to learn it’s not just youth who are stuck indoors with game in hand. According to the Entertainment Software Association, the average game player is 30 years old, and the average age of the most frequent game purchaser is 35.

Forty-five percent of all game players are women. And here’s another stat that I didn’t expect: women over 18 represent a larger portion of the game-playing population (31%) than boys 17 or younger (19%).

If we really want to get serious about fighting obesity in this country, maybe we should worry less about food labels or calorie counts on menus, and more about generations of couch potato gamers.

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Need more ag R&D. Speaking of numbers and billions, I read an interesting list of major companies and their investments in R&D.

Google invested $3.8 billion, $5.2 billion and $6.8 billion into research and development in 2010, 2011 and 2012, respectively.

Microsoft invested $9.4 billion in R&D in 2011; Pfizer and Intel, each invested $8.4 billion; Merck: $8.3 billion; Johnson & Johnson, $7.5 billion; IBM, $6.3 billion… you get the picture. Research and development is important. Very important.

In a similar vein, the Congressional appropriations to all the agencies within the National Institutes of Health totaled nearly $31 billion in fiscal year 2012.

But how important is federal spending on agricultural research and development?

It’s not even on the radar screen.

The National Institute of Food and Agriculture within the USDA has a line item for its ag research appropriations. The Agriculture and Food Research Initiative received just $277 million (sorry, we don’t even rank a “b-billion”) in its FY13 appropriation.

As Miles Lackey, associate vice president and chief of staff at Iowa State University, put it at a meeting I was at last month: “We’re arguing over crumbs while someone else is eating the cake.”

That needs to change.

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Fair pictures. I was browsing through the 1988 issue to glean the “Read It Again” entry for this week, when I glanced at then-Editor Rick Swart’s column. I laughed and then shared a portion with others in the newsroom.

“How many times have you heard us complain about this,” I asked. “He just had the nerve to print it.”

So I decided to reprise his comments in my own words, since it’s still a pet peeve of the Farm and Dairy reporters who cover county fairs.

Don’t get me wrong: We love county fairs. We love showcasing the junior fair market livestock sales that culminate a youth’s project year, and we believe in recognizing the buyers who support these sales and these youths.

We just get frustrated when everybody and their brother tries to cram in the photo after the champion sells. I’ve kicked out cute kids holding a banner, fair royalty, parents, multiple trophy donors, and the midway carny who happened to be stumbling by. To quote Swart: “Does the sponsor of a $25 champion trophy deserve the same level of recognition as the person who shells out several thousand dollars, in some cases, for a champion steer? We tend to think not.”

So if we ask you to step out of the ring for the photo, it’s nothing personal. We just want to put the spotlight on the right people.

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By Susan Crowell


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  1. My daughter was blessed to have the Grand Champion Lamb last evening. Now I know why you asked everyone but buyer and seller to step out of the ring for the picture! It does get a bit crowded in there!


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