Archive for the ‘farm’ Category

Connecting with Consumers

By: DeEtta Bohling, Communications Specialist

“Consumers don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Makes sense right? A salesman may be very knowledgeable about the product he is selling but unless he has a sincere interest in me and my needs or wants, I’m simply not interested in doing business with that salesperson and possibly, that company.

With that said, farmers and ranchers shouldn’t be surprised by consumers wanting to know that they care about the health of their family- someone they may not personally know. A study done by the Center for Food Integrity (CFI) showed that of early adopters, 86 percent had done an online search on food nutrition in the past six months. Seventy-nine percent had searched the safety of food, and over 40 percent searched topic including the use of technology in growing food, humane treatment of animals raised for food, and environmental sustainability in farming.

Who are these “early adopters” I speak of? Early adopters are the folks in society most capable of changing consumer attitudes. The rest of society tends to follow these early adapters, which is why CFI felt it was important to study this group and the role websites and social media play in forming their opinions on food. Knowing this information makes it possible for agricultural groups better engage these folks and determine how to better communicate with them.

Do you remember when the iPod first hit the market? Those that bought them when they first came out would be considered early adopters. By 2007, Apple sold over 100 million iPods.

So as farmers and ranchers, how can you connect with your consumers? Today it is easier than ever to communicate with people around the world. Forty-eight percent of early adopters indicated that they frequently visit Facebook and 30 percent they frequently use YouTube.

Just under half of early adopters (46%) believed that the information found on the Internet strongly helped to shape their opinions on the safety of food. Four out of 10 (41%) believed that information they found on the Internet strongly helped to shape their opinions about the nutrition of food. About one out of three (35%) believed this information strongly helped to shape their opinions about the humane treatment of animals raised for food and environmental sustainability in farming.

There’s no question that the internet and social media shape opinions. Even through social media, farmers can show that they care for the consumer. What are you doing to communicate with society about your farming practices and the food you produce? Be it a Facebook account, blog, or letter to the editor, listen to the concerns of consumers and be proactive.

View the research- 2011 Early Adopter Web Research: Targeting Early Adopters to Build Consumer Trust

Become an advocate for agriculture!


Chinese agriculture and America’s role

Kansas Corn and Grain Sorghum communications specialist, DeEtta Bohling recently returned from Northeast China as a delegate on the U.S. Grains Council’s Corn Tour. Through Twitter, she met Meghan Blythe who also just returned from China as a part of Kansas State’s Animal Science program. DeEtta got Meghan’s take on the experience and the lessons she learned agriculture in China.

DB: Meghan, tell me a little about yourself. Agriculture has always been an important part of your life, I assume it will also play a role in your future career?

MB: I grew up on an Angus Cattle Ranch in White City, Kan. Wanting to stay involved in the agriculture industry, I came to Kansas State University to major in Agriculture Economics. With this degree I hope to be a source of objective facts for the agriculture industry and government in the future.

DB: I was introduced to you by your mom on Twitter (@DebbieLB) and was interested in your trip to China, as I recently returned from China as well. You went on behalf of the Animal Science department at K-State University, correct?

The study abroad group

MB: Yes, I embarked on this trip to China along with 15 other students and 2 professors through the Animal Science department at K-State. We spent 12 days abroad visiting Chinese farms and agriculture firms in addition to touring the country.

DB: How does animal agriculture differ in China compared to the United States?

MB: After visiting many Chinese farms, I realized that the American definition of a “farm” was vastly different than the Chinese definition. A farm by U.S. standards is organized, large-scale, and uses production methods based on sound science and efficiency, but the Chinese farms are small-scale, with methods rooted in history and tradition. This mindset took some adjustment. The first beef cattle farm we visited was described as large; however, this feedlot held a total of 1,000 head.

DB: The United States has very strict regulations when it comes to food production. What safety concerns does China have when it comes to food and what precautions do they take?

A man sleeping on the meat counter

MB: The largest shock I got was not from the food or the vast crowds or the pollution, it was the wholesale meat market. The market conditions can only be described in one way… unsanitary. The building that housed the meat market was room temperature, on the verge of being hot, and in the short 5 minutes that I was there I saw vendors sleeping on the meat counters and picking up meat that had fallen in the aisles. Seeing the meat market conditions made me appreciate the safe food supply established in America.

DB: Did you tour any crop fields or have an opportunity to speak to the farmers and ranchers?

MB: While our tour was mainly animal agriculture focuses, we did tour some vegetable patches and greenhouses and drove past many crop fields. In an agriculture museum in Xian (central China), I recognized an old, wooden plow on display. It was a plow designed to be pulled behind oxen like that which I had seen in history books depicting farming methods of the 1800’s. The plaque next to this plow stated that this tool was used in China only 50 years ago in the 1960’s!

DB: In speaking with a hog producer in NE China, he mentioned that hog prices were historically high and that high corn prices were affecting profits. He also said there were concerns for a new foot and mouth disease variants. Did you hear of this in the areas you visited?

MB: In the beef cattle feedlots we visited near Jinan (east central China) the concern of foot and mouth disease was mentioned, but we didn’t really encounter any other incidents.

Meghan (right) and a friend at a beef feedlot

DB: What do you think the future of agriculture looks like for China?

MB: My first exposure to Chinese agriculture was passing a Chinaman herding sheep alongside the freeway just outside Beijing. This encounter exemplifies the dilemma faced by China. As the cities swell with population growth, the traditional agriculture methods will not be able to meet the demand. This strain will present American agriculture with a huge opportunity as China will more than likely rely on the U.S. for food imports.

DB: In the United States we have folks such as PETA and the Humane Society of the United States that promote veganism. Are their groups like this in China?

MB: When asking the manager of a Chinese feedlot about the reason for using a natural (no hormone, no implant) program, he responded that the Chinese people demanded it. He went on to explain that the Chinese people are becoming more concerned about animal welfare and handling practices. While this concern is being voiced, he made no mention of activist groups similar to PETA and HSUS. And from learning that many Chinese agriculture laborers are employed by the government in order to ensure that federal regulations are upheld, I would infer that activist groups are not tolerated in communist China.

DB: What would you like Kansas farmers and ranchers to know about Chinese agriculture?

MB: China is a force to be reckoned with in terms of economics and foreign policy. Their expanding middle class is following the model of the American middle class. They are buying more cars, eating more meat, and moving to the city. Like in America, the number of Chinese agriculture employees has decreased over the past 50 years. One difference remains completely overlooked, and that is that the Chinese agriculture production methods have not evolved (at least not enough) to sustain the growing population. The solution to this challenge will be revealed over time, but I predict it will present a huge opportunity for the American farmers and ranchers.  More than ever the world is going to look to Kansas farmers and ranchers for food.

DB: Animal agriculture is constantly being blamed by animal rights activists and environmentalist. What one thing would you recommend farmers do to improve this issue?

MB: China doesn’t have an issue with special interest groups because the communist government prohibits criticism. In America, activists have the freedom to voice their opinion, and so do you. As farmers and ranchers you have the ability, the right, and the freedom to tell your story to the public and voice your thoughts and views on government regulations. Sometimes it takes a challenge to reveal an opportunity. The challenge of animal rights activists and environmentalist groups has made the consuming public eager for your story. Take advantage of this opportunity.

Follow Meghan on Twitter: @MeghanBlythe 

Check out more of Meghan’s guest blog posts

Chinese Crop Tour

By: DeEtta Bohling, Communications Specialist

This past week I have been traveling NE China (Beijing, Harbin, Zhaodung, Zhaoyuan, Fuyu, Changchun, Changling, and Shuangliao) with the U.S. Grains Council and corn growers from Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin and Nebraska as a part of the Chinese Spring Corn Tour. The purpose of this tour is to survey the crop growing conditions including the weather, planting and germination. By participating on this tour, we better understand the corn market, Chinese government policies, marketing and demand, and the local feed and livestock situation.

I have spent the last three days touring the countryside of NE China and speaking to the farmers out working in their fields. It has to be intimidating for the farmer to see about twelve foreigners walking through their field towards them, but everyone has been willing to speak with us and allowed time for us to ask questions about what they are doing and why they are doing it. Agriculture is their livelihood, just like many of the growers I am traveling with and their love for the land shows.

The average size of land per farmer here is 2 hectors (about 5 acres) and the government owns all the land so farmers rent the area from the government. We have toured several fields (growing corn, rice, peppers, grapes, onions, and others), a grain buying facility, an ethanol plant, a feed mill operation, a fertilizer dealer, an equipment dealer and hog farmer.

We stopped and visited with two farmers that were doing some replanting of the skips on the first day. Corn is as far along here as it is in many areas of the U.S. farmers are having many of the same issues that folks in the United States are having, be it cooler temperatures, high moisture, or delayed planting. There is a vast amount of farm land in the areas we have toured and the soil quality is great. The last two days we have spent time in Jilin Provence. The area consists of 55 million hectors with a population of 27.9 million people. Fourteen million of those people are living in the country.

Currently, there are 3.3 million hectors dedicated to corn, though that number continues to rise. The yield also continues to rise. On average, there

are 52,000 corn plants per hector of land. Recently they have been experiencing lower temperatures during the month of May, but their largest concern is drought during the summer months. The western part of Jilin Provence has been experimenting with irrigation due to drought conditions. The cost for this is 20,000 RMB (about $3,125) per hector of land. 55% of farmers in thisarea use compound fertilizers. There are currently 8,000 seed companies in China but only 100 of them have research behind them.

The group, overall, has been impressed with the corn and soil quality and the amount of work that goes into planting by hand. Needless to say, the potential for Chinese agriculture is huge along with the use of modern agricultural technology.

Check out more photos on the U.S. Grains Council’s Flickr site.

Kansas Corn Gets Firsthand Look at China Spring Crop Progress

Corn Tour Report

On Ethanol, Energy . . . and Dark Parking Lots

The Kansas Corn Car Loves Ethanol!

By Sue Schulte, Director of Communications

On Monday, I drove the Kansas Corn Car to Holcomb to speak at an FFA district banquet—what a great group of young people! After the program, I was energized and inspired, and headed to Garden City to my hotel. On my way, I stopped at the U Pump It Country Corners station in Garden City for fuel. The station features ethanol blender pumps that offer E20, E30, E50 and E85 fuels for flexible fuel vehicles. The price of regular unleaded was $3.66, but I paid just $2.99 for E85. It felt good to purchase fuel for less than $3 a gallon!

It is true that you lose some fuel mileage when using E85 in a flex fuel vehicle, but I have found that the lower price of E85 normally pays for the loss in mileage. I did the math, taking into account the lower fuel price and the decreased mileage, and I easily drove more miles per dollar on E85 than regular unleaded. It normally works out that way with the Corn Car, a Chevy Impala. What makes a bigger difference to me is that I know that at least 85 percent of my fuel dollar is staying in the U.S. and not going to the Middle East.

The Corn Car is pretty visible, and I am accustomed to answering questions about corn and ethanol while driving it. That’s what makes the Corn Car so great, right? When I pulled into the hotel in Garden City a little before 10 p.m. Monday night, a man in the rather dark parking lot hollered at me, “Flex fuel? You’ve gotta be joking!” I responded, “It’s no joke, I just filled up for $2.99.” He proceeded to tell me some myths about ethanol, and I told him were erroneous. Then he said, “I’m not into politics and I hate ethanol!” Judging from the beer cans that littered the parking lot and the slur in his voice, I quickly deduced that this man didn’t hate all ethanol, just the stuff he couldn’t drink. Believe me, I had a lot of things I wanted to say to him, but arguing with a drunk man in a dark, deserted parking lot didn’t seem like a good idea. I scooted into the safety of the hotel lobby.

Things I wanted to say to the parking lot drunk:
• “You hate ethanol? I hate sending my fuel dollars to the Middle East!”
• “Do you think there are no politics involved in importing billions of dollars worth of foreign oil into the United States? And what about the billions of consumer dollars we send out of our country to OPEC every year?”
• “I’ll get more miles per dollar with E85 than I will with regular unleaded.”
• I can’t lie, E85 smells better than regular gas, oh, and it’s less polluting too!

Later, safely tucked away in my hotel room, I thought about my brief conversation with the parking lot drunk. I have run into my fair share of people who say they hate ethanol, and it’s a real hatred. I don’t get it, or maybe they don’t get it. Ethanol does get some subsidies, but look at the billions of taxpayer dollars that go to the oil industry, directly through subsidies and indirectly through protecting foreign sources of oil. No one ever says, “If imported oil is viable, why can’t it survive without government support?”

Ethanol is mostly produced in small communities throughout the U.S., especially in the heart of the nation. When you buy ethanol, that part of your fuel dollar stays in the U.S., and possibly in your own community. It’s the only fuel that substantially offsets the amount of foreign oil we use to power our vehicles. It makes up about 10 percent of our nation’s fuel for gas-powered vehicles. The current fuel price spikes are being blamed on low oil supplies. What would happen to gas prices if ethanol production stopped and ten percent of our fuel disappeared?

Farmers rely on all kinds of energy to produce their crops—ethanol, gasoline, diesel, natural gas and more. I don’t know any farmers who are against oil or other types of energy. We need them all and we need them to be abundant and affordable. And I think a majority of people wish more of our energy was produced here, and not imported from many countries that are either unstable, hostile to the U.S. or both. In parts of Kansas, we’re proud of the oil and natural gas being pumped from deposits beneath fields where our farmers grow corn and other crops. Some of that corn or sorghum may be used to make ethanol. Now that’s an energy farm!

Instead of fighting between ourselves over ethanol, a domestic fuel that works, maybe we should simply support all the energy we can produce here. Domestic energy provides jobs and economic growth, something our country certainly needs today.

Aunt Velma’s Strong Hands and Warm Heart

By DeEtta Bohling, Communications Specialist

Last week I attended my great-aunt Velma’s funeral. Velma passed away at the age of 87 in my hometown in Southwest Iowa.

After graduating from high school, Velma taught in three one-room country schools, Eureka No. 1, Eureka No. 8 and Jackson No. 6 for six years. She later married a farmer and gave birth to six children.

As I sat through the service last Friday listening to Velma’s children and grandchildren speak, I caught onto something each of them mentioned. Velma was not “just a housewife” but a partner in the family farm. She worked side by side with her husband with all the outside chores and kept records of transactions.

Velma, just like many women in agriculture, was a hard worker on and off the farm. Raising children, cooking meals, cleaning the house, growing crops, caring for animals, keeping records, and tending to the garden were all in a day’s work. When time allowed, she would also squeeze in some of her personal interests such as reading, genealogy, local history and sending cards and letters to family and friends. More often than not, we don’t give credit to the women who represent family farms across the U.S.

If you are not familiar with an initiative called CommonGround, I encourage you to check it out the website. CommonGround is a collaborative effort created by the National Corn Growers Association and the United Soybean Board. It was developed to help develop strong grassroots campaigns that provide farm women with the tools and opportunities to speak directly with the public about farming.

Nebraska and Iowa both launched their CommonGround initiatives at Hy-Vee stores in the city, giving consumers an opportunity to speak one-on-one with the CommonGround spokeswomen. Through this direct, open communication, the shoppers learned the true story about agriculture without media filters while the new spokeswomen developed a better understanding of the concerns facing the 98.5 percent of the U.S. population no longer involved in agriculture.

I am certain that Velma’s passion for the land and putting healthy, bountiful food on the table will live on through many. Women like Velma are truly an asset to American agriculture.

Let’s Celebrate!

By: DeEtta Bohling, Communications Specialist

St. Patty’s Day is Thursday but I’m wearing green today. Why you ask? I’m celebrating National Ag Day!

This morning corn, wheat, soybean, and grain sorghum growers in Kansas gathered for the annual “Wake Up To Kansas” pancake feed. Growers made breakfast for the legislators in Topeka as a thank you for their continued support in agricultural issues.

I say that I’m celebrating today, but really I celebrate farmers and ranchers every day-each time I open my refrigerator, when I brush my teeth (toothpaste is made with corn), when I pull on my leather boots and all the times I fill up with ethanol on my way home from work.

If you were stopped on the street asked what you know and thought about farmers, what would you say? Here is what the folks in NYC had to say. I wasn’t surprised by the answers given. Your first thought was likely, “Silly city people. They don’t know anything about agriculture.”

I encourage you to remember that these answers don’t just come from the big cities. Many in rural communities are just as disconnected when it comes to farming and agriculture. Today, less than 2% of Americans farm. In 1910, 98% of America’s population were farmers.

The gap between the farm gate and the dinner plate keeps getting larger. With technology and social media, advocates for agriculture have the resources and the opportunity to close the gap. More than ever, people are concerned, interested, and curious about where their food comes from. Farmers and ranchers- let’s continue to show them wholesome, American, family farms- just like yours. Consumers- keep challenging us and asking questions. And don’t forget to thank a farmer for producing feed, fuel, food and fiber!

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KS Grain Sorghum Facebook

Corn Commentary: Burritos Without Integrity

Chipotle’s newest campaign to make a buck once again serves up an attack on farmers with a phony newspaper filled with self-promotion and at least one glaring error. At the risk of repeating a negative, they significantly downplay the role of family farms in an attempt to perpetuate a make-believe distinction between “family farms” and so-called “factory farms.” Their non-sourced stat provides a much lower number than reality; according to the USDA, family farms of different sizes account for 98 percent of farms and 82 percent of production.

And it really is nice they offer a column called “Ask Chipotle” but they really should provide contact information so we can send in questions.

In the end, this newspaper proves useful – for providing a placemat to soak up all the drippings of their thousand-calorie burritos.

By Ken Colombini, NCGA Director of Communications
Originally posted on Corn Commentary.