Category Archives: marketing

Farm Shows

Well, on Friday, Mr. Farmer and I attended the NY Farm Show in Syracuse, NY. I spent my morning listening through a seminar on gas leasing and the information research gathered through three individuals across the state.

Once I was done taking my notes (which will be used for next weeks edition of a Lancaster Farming article) I got to spend some time walking around and chatting with some different people.

First stop…….the youth food booth for a cup of hot coffee! Then it was on to look at the new Jaylor Mixers! We have been thinking about getting one of these to use as our herd expands. It was nice to actually stand on one, see the size of it in person and ask some questions. We are looking at the self propelled unit, which should provide a Total Mixed Ration (TMR) in enough quantity to feed all of our upcoming herd. It is the only mini-mixer with a steel tub, not a poly tub.

The next stop was to start looking at different mixtures for seedings for our new pasture mixes. We found three that are shelf-ready and two that would have to be custom mixed. We are going to be looking through these mixes now with the nutrienist to make sure that which ever one we use for our intensive grazing during the summer months will have the proper balance for our herd of Jersey cows.

Then it was on to look at some of the corn seeds that are coming online and have been referred to us by one of our contacts at Cornell. . . I will post more on this as time comes.

I had a great conversation with Chris Fesko about what she is doing and she informed me that she has planned her first open house of the year again this year for Mother’s Day weekend. I encourage you to take time reading about what she is doing and maybe even booking some time to go spend a day on her farm.

Then it was off to talk with the great folks who farm and sell their milk through Agrimark. Agri-Mark farmers take pride in their Cabot and McCadam products and have the toughest milk quality standards in the market. Now that sounds like a group I can get involved with. Quality over quantity! Sounds good to me!

Then it was off to talk fencing….phew boy are there a ton of options out there! Time for me to put a bunch of thought into what we are going to do. Five strand high tensile is looking better everyday with some extremely high voltage around the perimeter fencing……….More on this coming soon!

We also got to see my Canadian friend Jasmin from Energrow Inc. too! She is so much fun to talk to and I love seeing her. Her and I could have a ton of fun together if we lived closer together. But all kidding aside…you all really need to go take a look at their machinery that turns soybeans and other oil based crops into oil and meal. This is a must have piece of machinery as we move forward with our expansions….AND I can’t wait to get it!

There was plenty more to see and do…but I think the funniest and most serious thing I saw was the Farm Show poll on how the attendees would vote for the current canidates for president.

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Agriculture Education

After looking through AgWeb this morning and watching a video about a wonderful lady by the name of Chris Fesko, I decided I would talk a little about what she is doing. After having someone stop to ask if they could take photos of her black and white horse, which was actually a Holstein cow, she decided to put together some farm educational videos about the day-to-day operations of a farm.

I went to her website and discovered that not only does she do videos, but she does educational speaking and farm tours at her Skaneateles, NY dairy farm.  They call it the Discover Center. Below is the information pulled directly from her website.

Discovery Center

Take an extraordinary field trip to the farm! On The Farm Discovery Center, Inc. is an educational facility located in Chris Fesko teaches young student about chickens.a restored barn. Award winning farmer, educator, video producer Chris Fesko pulled this 100-year-old barn from ruins, providing a rich atmosphere for people to reminisce.

Multi-disciplined activities (math, science and language arts), and problem based learning are captured in several curricula that Chris has developed for teachers. These activities are part of the educational field trip for visitors.

Academic subjects covered:

  • Cycle of life
  • Cycle of water
  • Clean water, clean air
  • Simple and complex machines
  • Mathematics using an ear of corn
  • Pond life
  • Responsibility of ownership
  • Mammal characteristics
  • Domesticated vs. wild animals
An unequaled view of Skaneateles Lake, a working windmill, and many animals in residence makes this a unique facility and program.

No dates are listed for 2012 yet, but I am sure they will have some dates coming up during the summer. I applaud Chris for what she is doing and working hard as an Agvocate!

I think it’s time for me to make a phone call and schedule a road trip to go meet another powerful woman with a voice for Agriculture………

Local Foods

As you all know by now, I am a huge supporter of getting to know your farmer.

After reading an article in the Huffington Post about a recent visit to Chicago by the USDA Department Secretary, I feel that something is still lacking. It is great that they had “representatives from executives, economic developers, and  businesses you may have heard of — SyscoChartwellsSuperValuGeneral ElectricFeeding AmericaWhole Foods Market and FamilyFarmed.org. There were also representatives from local, state and federal government ranging from USDA’s agencies to the Illinois Commerce Department.”

The questions are…..Is it working? Aren’t some of these groups big business? Where’s the benefit?

Big business super chains like Sysco do have a value. Sysco has been notoriously known as “the canned food” food service portion of the industry. Many colleges across the US have Sysco on campus providing a variety of meals and treats. Why are they important to have at the table for a local foods conversation? There are many factors to be considered. One: Local foods generated sales of fresh local farm goods. A big consumer like Sysco could benefit from networking and connecting with farms within their regions. It’s a win/win situation for the farm, Sysco and for their food consumers. Maybe the ultimate consumer won’t get to know the farmers but the buyers for Sysco will.

Businesses like Whole Foods have been out throughout many states across the country utilizing the local foods system. There is one thing that is lacking within their system….a definition of what local foods are. Is there a specific radius (miles)? Are they considerations for sustainable farming practices? Whole Foods does promote animal welfare concerns, which is part of knowing your food.

We (The Global Animal Partnership) were created after Whole Foods Market had worked for several years to establish even higher welfare standards for its own company. The natural and organic food grocer recognized that a greater global impact could be achieved by working with an independent organization, rather than alone, and donated the intellectual property developed during the creation of its own standards to our new, multi-stakeholder, nonprofit organization“—Global Animal Partnership. (We will discuss these guys again in the very near future!)

In 2009, the USDA launched the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative to coordinate the Department’s support and understanding of local food systems. Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food leverages existing USDA resources and improves our ability to execute programs and policies supporting local food businesses and developments across the country. We are proud of the investments the USDA has made in producers, processors, distributors, buyers and other important players in strengthening local food systems to date, and will continue to do so in the future. As part of the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative, we are currently preparing a summary of some of the great achievements and inspiring stories coming from these food systems across the country. We know these stories will spark a national conversation about the impact local food systems have on our economy, our farmers and ranchers, and your community. The conversation I had in Chicago is just the beginning.” says Kathleen Merrigan, Department Secretary at USDA after a meeting at the Federal Reserve Bank in Chicago to discuss the business of local food in January 2012. “The conversation focused on how USDA and other federal agencies can work together with the private sector to harness the economic potential of local food across the Midwest.”

I keep thinking…something is missing in the whole mix of everything covered in the article………

Oh wait……

I got it!!! Guess who’s missing?

Where o’ where do you see the farmer in this who’s who roll call list of attendees? It’s all a political front. One organized group after another. Followed by big business and Government run organizations.

Not one word about the farmers who do the “dirty work” but all about a marketing ploy of knowing your food, not the people behind it.

What do you think? Am I mistaken? Speak out, speak up and let your voices be heard!

Growing Demands or Smoke and Mirrors

“I would like to write something about the demand for NY dairy generated by greek yogurt. I want to talk about where the money is going, whether farmers are enjoying a premium for the milk that the make or merely getting the spot price to fill a bigger demand. I assume Fage, Chobani et al getting market price,” says Jason Foscolo a Food Law Attorney from Remsenburg, NY. 

That seems to be a big question lately. After connecting with a representative from Chobani based out of Norwich, NY, I asked how the purchased their milk and if direct marketing was a possibility.

The response was that all of their milk was purchased through Dairy Marketing Services. This milk marketing organization was established in 1999, through an agreement between Dairy Farmers of America, Inc. and Dairylea Cooperative Inc., to ensure that Northeast dairy producers have a superior market and return for their milk. Since its inception, DMS has taken on milk marketing for nearly 2,100 independent producers and 20 regional/local cooperatives from across the Northeast. (Information pulled directly from the DMS website)

DMS is a huge organization, as you can see. They work under the Federal Milk Order for the following maps area that are highlighted in Blue.

According to the Federal Milk Order Boston, Massachusetts is the main hub of activity. Anything outlying beyond Boston, Mass is hit with a price differential. Here in our region, our milk would be pooled into the Binghamton, NY location. According to the differential map, the price difference would be -.55 per hundred weight of milk. A friend located just the other side of Syracuse, NY would see a -.75 differential. To view the PDF file on differentials, please click this link.

The big question is, why the differentials? The differentials are there to ensure that the milk pooler, groups like DMS, still make a profit as milk is shipped off to the highest use or center hub location.

Now, the next questions that arise in this area: With new yogurt manufacturers coming into operation or expanding operations, will milk producers see an increase in payments or premiums?

Back in August, DMS filed for an investigation to have changes made to the Federal Shipping Orders. It was “requested by cooperative handlers who collectively pool more than 50 percent of the milk on the Northeast Order to increase the shipping percentage, under Section 1001.7 (c) (2) of the Order, to “at least 30 percent for the months of September, October, and November of 2011.” Section 1001.7(g) of the Order allows the Market Administrator to adjust the shipping percentages if following an assessment of market conditions, it is determined that such adjustment is necessary to encourage needed shipments or to prevent uneconomic shipments.”*1

Amazingly, the responses shock many milk producers. When we keep reading in the news how the demand for milk due to these yogurt manufacturer’s is increase and their is a shortage of milk to supply to these same plants. The comments and responses are below. Make sure to follow the links for the full investigation documents.

On August 15, 2011, [Erik Rasmussen Market Administrator, for the FEDERAL MILK ORDER No. 1 in the Northeast Marketing Area located in Boston, Massachusetts] received a request from Dairy Marketing Services (DMS), a cooperative handler who pools more than 50 percent of the milk on the Northeast Order, to increase the shipping percentage, under Section 1001.7 (c) (2) of the Order, to “at least 30 percent for the months of September, October, and November of 2011.” 

The petitioners cited seasonally lower milk production, year-over-year declining farm production in the Northeast, manufacturing handlers keeping their milk for their own plants, and growing dairy production demand as factors contributing to the tightness in the milk supply. Section 1001.7(g) of the Order allows the Market Administrator to adjust the shipping percentages if, following an assessment of market conditions, it is determined that such adjustment is necessary to encourage needed shipments or to prevent uneconomic shipments. On August 16, 2011, a notification of the request was sent to pool handlers by the Market Administrator while also inviting comments, input, and data regarding the proposed increase.

Handler Comments
Pool handler HP Hood, LLC. (Hood) was supportive of the request noting that due to drought conditions the Southwestern U.S., a region that traditionally serves as source of additional milk supplies to markets in the Southeastern U.S., will not have extra milk available this fall. As a result, milk marketers in the Southeastern, U.S. will look to milk suppliers in the Northeast as a replacement region for needed milk. In addition, Hood noted slowing milk growth in the Northeast, while at the same time, demand for milk from new or expanded dairy operations within the region has grown dramatically. Hood expressed their concern that fluid plants in the region would be forced to pay “give up” premiums, in additional to the Class I differential and current voluntary premiums, in order to be able to obtain milk volumes necessary to meet school start-up and holiday demand.

Pool handler Byrne Dairy Inc. (Byrne) responded to the request for comments expressing their support for an increase in the required shipping percentages beginning in September. Byrne noted significant uncertainty with respect to both the supply and price of supplemental milk that the firm needs to fully supply their fluid milk customers. Byrne also noted a lack of transparency with respect to the current reporting associations that milk suppliers use to comply with the shipping requirements, questioning if an increase to 30 percent would in fact make more milk available to Class I handlers.

Pool handler Queensboro Farms Products, Inc. (Queensboro) submitted comments in opposition to any increase in the shipping percentages for the months of September, October, and November, 2011. Queensboro noted that in years past when milk supplies were tight, Queensboro would receive calls from Class I plants in August asking for
shipments in September to cover their needs. Queensboro stated they have not received any such calls nor were aware of anyone else receiving requests for Class I milk. Queensboro also was concerned with the extremely short notice of the request, noting that any changes in the Class I percentage would require significant work in sales,
transportation, and logistics.

Cooperative handler Agri-Mark, Inc. (Agri-Mark) responded to the request for comments by stating that they opposed any increase in the minimum shipping percentage for the months of September, October, and November of 2011 at this time. AgriMark stated that the request to increase the shipping percentages was a surprise because the current and anticipated demand for Class I milk in the Northeast does not indicate the need for such action. AgriMark noted that the cooperative’s milk sales to Class I customers were lower in total and individually to most regular customers in July 2011, compared to July 2010. AgriMark noted that the cooperative has not received any requests for spot milk at this time while stating that under a typical year (when no increases in shipping requirement occurred) some requests usually develop by now. It is their conclusion that if anything, demand appears to be less than in the past and not more, noting that they have not heard of any unusual or significant increase in milk needs expected during the September through November period from their customers. 

Cooperative handler Maryland and Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association, Inc. (Maryland and Virginia) submitted remarks opposing any increase in the minimum shipping percentages for the months of September, October, and November 2011, at this time. Maryland and Virginia cited Northeast Order statistics that indicate the volume of Class I sales dropped by 8.3 percent while the total milk pooled on the order declined by less than 5 percent. The cooperative also reported that based on their data and through discussions with other milk suppliers, Maryland and Virginia believes that needed shipments are available already, are being provided, and will continue to be provided this autumn without the need to increase the minimum shipping percentage. 

Cooperative handler Upstate Niagara Milk Cooperative, Inc. (Upstate Niagara) submitted remarks opposing the proposed increase in the shipping requirements for the September–November 2011 period, at this time.Upstate Niagara stated that they did not have any indication that a request was going to be submitted and has serious questions as to the possible negative impact from either uneconomic movements of milk or forced depooling if the increase was approved. The cooperative also noted that they have not had any request for additional spot milk from 

Class I handlers recently that would indicate an impending shortage, while also citing order statistics that report recent declines in Class I utilization on the Northeast Order. Upstate Niagara stated the need for more time by handlers in the market to fully consider whether increased shipping requirements are truly needed. 

Non-pool plant Lactalis American Group (Lactalis) submitted comments opposing the proposed increase in the shipping requirements. While noting that Lactalis is a non-pool plant, the volume of milk going to the plant is pooled on the Order by their suppliers. Lactalis noted that any potential interruption in their ability to supply the firm’s plant is a serious concern. Lactalis also noted Order statistics indicating declining Class I sales and was concerned about the suddenness of the potential change. Such short notice could make it very difficult to readjust milk supplies if the change were to be announced one day before the start of a new month. *2

*1 Letter from Marketing Manager to Pool Handles Under the Northeast Division of the Federal Order

*2 Results and Comments of the Investigation

If after reading the direct comments of the milk poolers and handlers, you still think that we will see higher payments for milk due to yogurt manufacturing within the State of NY, I think you are sadly mistaken. If the demand has not increased, no higher payments or premiums will be established for the producer.

“As noted in the comments provided by AgriMark and others, if the shipping percentage were increased without appropriate market demand to utilize added milk supplies that administratively were required to be delivered to Class I handlers, uneconomic movements of milk could occur rather than such movements being prevented.

As it stands, the September 15th release has determined that no adjustments to the Federal Order are needed. That means everything will stay exactly as it has been for milk producers, poolers and consumers alike.

Diversity on the Farm

Diversity on the Farm: What is it?

For the last decade, I think I can safely say, that most farms have produced just one or maybe two items. Dairy farms produce milk and Ranches produce beef. Grain farms produce soy, cotton, wheat and other grains like oats. Cotton growers produce cotton and vegetable farms produce vegetables. The list goes on and on.

As times have changed and advanced machinery has become more readily available, it seems that most farms either “go big or go home”. Too bad this leaves us dependent upon markets to determine whether we will have a profitable year or not.

Is there a solid solution? I think the simple answer is YES!

Diversity comes in many different forms. It is crucial for the survival of a small farm.

As a producer, how do you get the most bang for your buck? You have to think in terms of a commodity broker, salesman and ultimately a consumer.

Maybe the combination of beef and eggs doesn’t sound good to you unless it’s on your breakfast plate…but, ultimately it may just save the farm. By raising chickens to go along with your beef farm, you create market diversity.

Profitability is always key. Knowing the when’s and why’s are also just as important. As a farmer, it is key to look at the futures market to give yourself an awareness of some potential pitfalls that can be seen. If grain prices are expected to skyrocket, maybe it isn’t profitable for your farm to raise chickens to supply eggs within the local market. If your input costs are nearly as much as what the local market says is a good price per dozen of eggs, you need to consider if having those chickens is really worth the time and effort.

Beef is different. Maybe you have been considering a rotational pasture grazing with minimal inputs of grains or no grains at all. If grain prices are expected to go up, now is the time to take a step back and make a business decision. Don’t get locked into the bubble of: “We have always feed grains, so we are going to stick with what we have always done.”

Too many farms that I have been working with or been on lately seem to have that mentality. If you are one of those farms, I think you need a little wake up call. Okay, maybe a big one in my personal opinion.

If you are operating a farm and are selling goods from your farm to a consumer, you are a business! No matter how you want to argue otherwise, you are a business.

I am now going to give you a comparison to show you how you look to someone else.

Alright, we are going to substitute milk for plain white t-shirts. They have no writing, logos or emblems. No embellishments or decals, just plain white t-shirts.

Now you are the consumer. If you are in need of plain white t-shirts, where would you go? Yup, to that store that sells just plain white t-shirts. But, what happens if you want one with a pocket? Or a design on the front? Then where do you go? I bet you don’t go to the all white, no design, no logo t-shirt store.

Now let’s compare again. Now you have a dairy and beef operation. You only sell milk and whole animals. Converting that into the t-shirts again, now you sell plain white boring t-shirts and colored one’s in bulk groups of 25 only. Can you see how this expands your market but also creates just two niche markets? What happens if a consumer only wants one red t-shirt and one white. The white one is easy to do, but you would be left with a bundle of just 24 red shirts that you would have to find another way to sell.

As a small farm, let’s compare again. We are still operating with a t-shirt comparison. Milk will be plain white, beef will be plain red, and poultry will be yellow. Eggs will be yellow with a logo on the front. Beef halves will be burgundy with a logo on the back. Beef quarters will be pink with a frilly collar. Hay will be green. Custom harvesting will be brown with a cool logo on the front.

I think you can easily see where this is headed. By providing a variety of “goods” you offer the consumer a wider variety and you a little bit more flexibility. And if you really look at all the comparisons above, I didn’t even get into value added products either. Not one mention of cheese, actual butchering and packages of meat or the differences in custom harvesting like wrapping. I didn’t even mention gardening either!

I also hope that you can see how your farm is represented to the public/consumer too. Yes, I know that it is difficult to keep up with the demands of a milking/dairy farm. You just need to sit back and consider the implications of what could happen if milk prices plummet again like they did in 2009. We are a business and some of the farms out there just need a friendly reminder of that fact.

I am fully aware of the passions that drive us into agriculture, it’s just how we choose to live and make an income. Diversity on the farm just eliminates some of the risks for loss. No matter how much we love to farm, we cannot continue to keep fighting what the consumers want. You have to bend a little and be able to provide different products and/or services.

We have such great opportunities as farmers and ranchers to start generating additional income. Now that it is February, let’s put on our thinking caps and see what types of additional items we can add to our “store front” without adding additional equipment or too much in the way of high expenses and let’s get this farms and ranches making some money!

The closing question is:

What is one step that you could do to generate additional income of your farm?

 

Big Media and Agriculture

There has been a considerable amount of talk lately about media and agriculture. I started doing some digging and I have to say, I am not remotely satisfied with any of the results.

Since one of the bigger media corportations is NBC, I went onto their website and did a search for just the information listed with agriculture. Here is the top result:

NBC top results for Agriculture

The caption next to the photo reads: “Jones moved his Temple to San Francisco in 1975 to invigorate his political career. Media scrutiny prompted the move to his “Agricultural Project” in Guyana, aka Jonestown.” The photo title and heading reads like this:
Criminal Cults
When charismatic maniacs lead their flock afoul of the law...

From my understanding, this was the basis of a Law and Order, LA show. The only other listing is for Bobble heads for the show the Office.

NO JOKE FOLKS. These are the only listing on NBC for agriculture. Don’t believe me, check for yourself. I even decided to do a check for the key word farming. The hot stories are all skits from Comedy Shows like the Office and Saturday Night Live. Not one of them directly related to farming or agriculture.

So, I head off to the CBS website. I did find some videos that cover Agriculture. Cute short little clips about how Meat prices are expected to rise 8%, an interview or two with Tom Vilsak on food security, black farmer discrimination and you got it animal abuse at a slaughterhouse. There were a few videos up about the Texans dealing with the drought too.

An overall rating, I would say that CBS does a better job than NBC hands down on sharing some of the Ag-world news but it’s all a tactical message at throwing farmers and ranchers under the bus. Concern over prices, food safety, descrimination and yes, even the hot topic of child labor. Some of the videos are worth taking the time to just hear the opinions and concerns of these reporters on.

Fox News wasn’t great either but they had at least been hitting some hot topics that should be covered. There were topics covered like the farmers affected by the flood waters in 2011, the anti-cheese billboards in NY, prices of food and also how families can save money in the grocery store as food prices rise. They even covered topics like crops for energy.

Based on these review of each of the three biggest channels for news, the only one that I think covers topics that matter from the agriculture standpoint to the general consumer is Fox. Like I stated above, if you don’t believe me, check the sites for yourself.

Not one of them really covers the real world of farm or ranch production. I couldn’t find a single article or video that showed a farm to plate image. I think this all leads to why we have such a disconnect between Agriculture and the consumer.

Maybe we could get a couple of these big time reporters to pay attention to something good we have going. I dream of the day when I can turn on any tv news channel and watch something about my fellow friends who work the land in various parts of the country. Guess this is a goal for the future for me!

Know Your Food

I stumbled upon this video documentary this morning about the importance of knowing your food. Is Organic better? Is buying Local Sustainably produced better?

If you are asking yourself these questions, please take the time to view and watch this video.

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/32845880″>LOCAL – A Short Documentary</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/christianremde”>Christian Remde</a> on <a href=”http://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>