Trends In Agriculture Opens on a High Note

Written by NAMA on Monday, October 18, 2010 , 10:14 am

written by Amy Beeler Herman, Amy Beeler Herman Communications

High optimism for the agricultural industry was the key take-away message from the opening session of the NAMA 2010 Trends in Agriculture conference, October 5-6. Close to 150 members attended the Minneapolis event and heard Mark Pearson, Iowa Public Television’s Market to Market host, and Jay Lehr of the Heartland Institute cite the expected doubling of the world population by 2050 as the primary reason the agriculture industry will thrive. One of agriculture’s biggest challenges, according to both speakers, is ensuring that adverse public opinion and regulation does not thwart the industry from providing food for the world.

From the standpoint of commodities, Pearson sees bullish markets for each major crop for the next couple of years including corn, soybeans, wheat and rice. “The game changer for corn is ethanol,” he says. Referencing good US oil supplies, Pearson says tax credits given to ethanol blenders may be in jeopardy during the next congressional session. While bullish grain markets benefited crop farmers in recent years, livestock growers endured high feed costs and low market prices. Pearson notes a coming change: “the current cow herd is the smallest since 1950,” he says. “With no new production, beef prices will jump dramatically.” In the hog industry high feed prices and the H1N1 health scare triggered a reduction in sow numbers and eliminated inefficient production facilities to create a more robust pork market in 2010.

In the long term, continued gains in technology add to the productivity and prosperity of the agriculture industry. “Biotechnology is how agriculture will feed the world,” Lehr says. Crop plants improved with biotechnology require fewer inputs including less land and water needed for production. Other high return technological advancements such as precision agriculture and no-till farming reduce wear and tear on machinery, use less fuel and benefit the environment by reducing erosion and improving soil tilth.

Oil and energy supplies will continue to trouble the agriculture industry and the world as populations in China, India and other countries increasingly become middle-class and energy demands grow. “Ethanol, biodiesel, wind and solar power have no future in supplying significant amounts of energy,” Lehr says. “Eventually the whole world will run on nuclear power.”

Both Lehr and Pearson encouraged NAMA members to talk about agriculture and help growers share their stories about farming to counter the influence of environmental activism on public opinion and government policy. “The biggest problem for agriculture is the public does not realize we are environmental stewards,” Lehr says. “As long as the public thinks ag hurts the environment, the industry will be regulated even more.”

Consumers Take Greater Interest in Food Production

Written by NAMA on Monday, October 18, 2010 , 10:14 am

written by Amy Beeler Herman, Amy Beeler Herman Communications

Consumers want to know where their food comes from according to the four panelists who took part in the food trends panel during the 2010 NAMA Trends in Agriculture conference in Minneapolis, October 5-6. NAMA selected some highpoints to share from each panelist’s presentation.

Dan Halstrom is the senior vice president of marketing and communication for the U.S. Meat Export Federation. He emphasized a focus on global trade is essential to the viability of US meat production. “Free trade agreements like NAFTA help farmers gain access and add revenue to the farmer and industry,” Halstrom says. “The meat export market is ours (US) for the taking,” he says. “If the US does not supply meat to the world Brazil, Australia and other countries are quite capable of producing good products.” The U.S. Meat Export Federation (www.usmef.org) is the trade association responsible for developing international markets for the U.S. meat industry. It is funded by USDA; the beef, pork, lamb, corn and soybean check off programs, as well as its members representing nine industry sectors with interests in livestock production.

Carol Bagnoli heads the consumer insights strategy group at General Mills. She says consumers are focusing on health issues and interested in a health trend toward simple, natural foods. Beyond ingredients, consumers want to understand how products are made. “The further down the chain the better,” Bagnoli says. “In the consumers’ mind that is more natural.”

Rose Mitchell is the senior vice president of governmental relations for Hy-Vee. She sees tremendous growth in organic products and says the top three produce items are each organic: grapes, bananas and baby carrots. Hy-Vee is adding dieticians to the staff of each store to help customers with diet choices. Dieticians are also featured in product displays and aisle signage to promote healthy products. The innovative grocery chain introduced a nutrition value or NuVal product score to help consumers identify the health value of each product in the grocery aisle. Not only do the scores, from 1-100 with a high score being more healthy, make the shopping trip quicker but also help “the consumer get a large mix of generally healthy food in the shopping cart at checkout,” Mitchell says. Hy-Vee advertising features a homegrown food print campaign highlighting farmers within the grocer’s eight-state trade area. “Consumers want to see a name and face and each ad tells the story about a food producer,” she says.

Jim Compart is president of Compart Family Farms and also the president of the Minnesota Pork Producers Association. With generations of experience breeding and marketing the high-value Duroc breed, Compart Family Farms developed a branded pork program. Like the certified Angus beef initiative, the Comparts select breeding stock and utilize science-based feeding programs to produce healthy, flavorful pork. The genetically branded program delivers on an expectation of quality and taste and targets foodservice outlets. “Compart pork is served in 5-star restaurants across the US,” Compart says.

Internet Invigorates Conversation Via Social Media

Written by NAMA on Monday, October 18, 2010 , 10:13 am

written by Amy Beeler Herman, Amy Beeler Herman Communications

Assigned the task of speaking to NAMA by Tim Brunelle, CEO of Hello Viking, Joseph Rueter prepared for his presentation to NAMA Trends in Agriculture attendees by tweeting his digital community for ideas. The resulting conversation centered around one of the responses he received: “the internet allowed us to start having conversations again.”

Social media provides spaces for online communities that companies can cultivate and market to. “Brands provide a shortcut to trust,” Rueter says. A successful brand web site acts as a digital front porch allowing a corporation to have conversations with online communities and market to each group according to needs and interests.

Instead of drafting a single strategy for social media, Rueter suggested that the newness of the internet (only 15-years-old!) allows for experimenting with the medium and letting the community determine brand direction. Rather than relying on one communications campaign with consistent messaging, Rueter advocated utilizing coherent messaging. “Companies don’t talk, people do,” he says. “Get the people in your organization to talk.”  Be genuine, he added, so your community remains open to your messages. He described crowd sourcing, being a content curator as opposed to a content creator and thinking about what the user wants.

In approaching social media for agriculture, Rueter encouraged the NAMA group to tell stories about making food. “You make food, I eat food, tell me some stories,” he said. “The Internet allows communities to have conversation. There are many angles for conversations about food. Be honest, authentic and engage your community.”

Washington Update from NAMA Trends in Ag Conference

Written by NAMA on Monday, October 18, 2010 , 10:13 am

written by Amy Beeler Herman, Amy Beeler Herman Communications

The outcome of the midterm general elections will play a significant role in agricultural policy according to Jim Wiesemeyer, Informa Economics, Inc. The Washington, DC, consultant and writer says that if the GOP wins the election, Republicans may be appointed to key Congressional committees which will help agriculture.

Wiesemeyer charted out the election possibilities and political aftermath to the 150 attendees at the 2010 NAMA Trends in Agriculture conference, October 5-6, in Minneapolis, MN. He shared the predictions of Charlie Cook, political analyst for the National Journal Group, who says the Republicans will “’win 40 House seats and that a takeover is more likely than not.’”

Like the opening session speakers Mark Pearson and Jay Lehr, Wiesemeyer says agriculture is in a robust growth market if the US allows agribusiness and producers to operate. “If allowed, this will be the golden era of US ag,” he says. The difference between today and what many consider a golden era in the 1970s is commodity buyers — namely China and India — are paying cash.

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