Tag Archives: population

Country Girls Hit Big Apple for Conversation with Consumers

Last week, this small town Minnesota gal hit the streets of New York City to talk to consumers. My trip was part of the American Farm Bureau’s Partners for Agricultural Leadership (PALs) program. I, along with nine other farmers from across the country, ventured to the Big Apple to chat with the folks that call it home.

My copilot, Hilary Maricle from Nebraska, and I set off one afternoon to better understand how New Yorkers make their food buying decisions. We chatted with four people over the course of our journey. The first conversation was with two locals at a restaurant as they waited for their food. We asked this couple how they selected the food they buy. They responded similar to what most research says, “I buy based on cost and health.” Jeff Simmons of Elanco reported in, Technology’s Role in the 21st Century: making safe, affordable and abundant food a reality that, “95 percent of consumers choose foods based on taste, cost and nutrition (in that order).”

At a small corner grocery store a retired woman confirmed these findings. She is a vegetarian that theoretically supports organic, but financially cannot afford the products. As a result, she has continued to purchase items without the organic label.

Our final conversation took us to a park near the Empire State building. We spoke with a young woman who buys from a variety of sources, including a nearby farmer’s market. Even though she can buy from many places, she doesn’t buy much. She prefers to eat most of her meals at restaurants. She feels that prices are already high enough for food that it validates her “eating out.” So, that begged the question of how she selects her eateries. She usually frequents those that buy local or those that tell customers where they buy products from. In other words, she wants to be connected to her food and the farm in which it was raised.

In his report, Simmons said, “About four percent are lifestyle buyers who purchase food based largely on lifestyle factors: ethnicity and vegetarianism, or support for organic, local and Fair Trade food suppliers, etc. For this group, money isn’t a factor in their decision.”

The New Yorkers that we spoke with were incredibly interested in their food, in where their food comes from, and in us as farmers. One had spent time reading about farming, both conventional and organic. Another had traveled the country visiting friends, many of which lived on a farm. They were actively learning about what they eat and how it’s being grown.

Every person we chatted with spoke highly of farmers and the work we do. Our last question for each person: “What comes to mind when you think of a farmer?” The replies ranged from “Dirt under the nails,” to “Getting up early and lots of hard work.”

We turned the tables and asked if they had any questions for us. Hilary and I were asked each time if we were family farmers. We used this as an opportunity to share that nearly every farm across the United States – more than 98 percent – are family farms. We spoke about how both of us work hard each day to bring them top quality food, while raising the next generation on our farms.

All in all, our afternoon of walking the streets of Manhattan was nothing short of fascinating. I took a number of good lessons from the street of New York back to the gravel roads of Minnesota. As a sheep farmer selling lamb direct to consumers, I will now work harder to share our story and engage consumers in the work we do. I will continue to raise top quality animals as efficiently as I can. I will continually ask my consumers what they want.

New Yorkers care about their food. They care about what we’re doing on our farms. They care about us as farmers. It’s up to us to engage them in a conversation. It’s a conversation that they want. And it’s now a conversation that I want too.

Water, Water, Water!

Take a look at recent headlines and many have something to do with water.   “Lingering Drought Dims Prospects of Winter Wheat Crop,” “China’s Problem is Water,” “Irene Relief Continues as Some Areas Still Under Water” and this is just a small sampling from popular press articles, take a look through your favorite magazine and I bet you’ll find something about water.  Some areas have too much water, others are in a drought, and still others have to worry about the safety of their water.  With the following thoughts, I hope to create discussion and challenge you to think about what you would propose as possible solutions!

What does water mean to you and your family?  Living on the Ogallala Aquifer, we take water for granted on our farm, this is until we have a pivot that is broken down and the crops are without water for a week or two.  Even more alarming is when we have an empty dam or broken water tank, then is time for fast action to get water to the cattle or hogs NOW!  Think about it for a minute, we use water in everything we do at home and in agriculture.  According to http://www.usgs.gov/ each person uses nearly 80-100 gallons of water a day in the U.S. and this is just for personal use.  As I think of water, I think of 2 things: weather and controversy.

When we look at raising enough food to feed a rising population (expected to be 9 billion by 2050), one of the key reasons that decision making in agriculture is different from other businesses are the biological and physical laws of nature.  If I were ranching in Texas right now, I would be considering my options to keep my cattle herd alive with no forage available because of the drought.  If I lived on the eastern seaboard, I would be hoping flood waters caused by Hurricane Irene would recede so that I could have electricity restored to be able to milk my cows without having to run off of a generator.  Our farm is irrigated, we have the option to mitigate some of the challenges thrown at us by Mother Nature, but we still dealt with some flooded acres this spring. 

Controversy continually surrounds water and its use.  Who determines exactly what reasonable use is, how would we manage water markets if we were to move water beyond being a free good, what about water rights, and the allocation of water?  I wouldn’t want to forget to mention the debates surrounding water regulations at the local, state and federal level.  Water also creates controversy and war around the world.  Water.org states that nearly 1 billion people lack access to safe water-think on that statistic for a few minutes.   Are there ways we can increase the supply of water that is available for our use?   Water is currently a free good in most settings and its use is encouraged, over time will it become subjected to the challenges of scarcity everywhere?

In our own backyard, we look at the court challenges of the Republican River Compact between Nebraska and Kansas, the restrictions on well drilling, and who could overlook the current debate over the Keystone XL pipeline proposal to cross through the Sandhills of Nebraska.  Water is a limited resource and I only wish that I had all of the answers to solve the controversy the will continue to surround the use of water, but I don’t.  I just hope that anyone who reads this thinks about our water use and appreciates that we still have access to a safe and abundant supply of water at this time in much of agriculture.  We need to realize that water is going to become more important as we move into the future.

As farmers, we are expected to feed the world, but we have to be able to raise a crop that needs a lot of water.  Who decides who gets the water; does it get diverted from food production for use in urban areas?  Who decides how water quality will be regulated, water has long been a limited resource issue and the state and local governments have had jurisdiction, but what happens when the EPA starts to regulate more through the Clean Water Act provisions?  These are all thoughts to ponder, so I will end with a statement that my students are sick of hearing; Water will be the commodity of the future in agriculture.  It may be confusing and impossible to ever be an expert, but water is an issue that we had better try to understand and start formulating how we will handle the water issues that each of us will face as we strive to feed the world!

Who is going to feed the world?

With a growing population the need for food is becoming more of a serious problem everyday. Who is going to grow all the extra food and on what acres? Time magazine had an article in the June 11th issue that was titled Want to Become Rich? Become a Farmer.

The article quotes investment guru Jim Rogers, who predicts that farm income will rise dramatically in the next few decades, faster than other industries. “The essence of his argument is this: We don’t need more bankers. What we need are more farmers. The invisible hand will do its magic,” Time declares.

What this article forgets to mention is that the costs of the seed, fertilizer, and transportation costs to mention a few of the farmer’s “inputs” are also dramatically going to increase. The farmer is not making the huge profits that this article is portraying.  The farm income might be increasing, but so are all the additional costs that it takes to raise the crop and get it to your grocery store.   

In the article, Rogers also says, “The world has got a serious food problem.”  I completely agree the world is going to need to find a new way to produce more food on the same number or even less acres. Two factors that are going to affect the farmers ability to grow enough food is going to be burdens put on the farmers by the EPA and the ability to use new technology.  You can count on it that the farmer is going to do everything that he/she can to make sure that there is enough food for this growing population!