Harsh weather impacts citrus industry

The Sunshine State isn’t living up to its name.

Though variable weather is customary for most farmers, southern citrus growers are feeling the effects of Mother Nature’s cold winter.

"This is peak harvest season for many Florida crops, so damage at this time could have significant consequences stretching far outside Florida's borders," said Florida Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson.

Cold weather actually helps sweeten citrus, but temperatures below 28 degrees can be damaging. As temperatures plummet throughout the state, farmers resorted to spraying their citrus with water to create a shield layer of ice for insulation.

According to Florida Citrus Mutual spokesman Andrew Meadows, the citrus industry has a $9 billion annual economic impact, so a limited citrus harvest could potentially threaten consumers’ and growers’ pocketbooks.

Fortunately, consumers don’t have to worry about the cost of citrus and/or citrus products (juices) increasing, according to a recent CNN article. Bob Norberg, deputy executive director at the Florida Department of Citrus, said that at least 20 percent of the state’s crop would have to be damaged to impact retail prices of citrus goods.

Like other crops, citrus can be sold at contract/futures pricing to safeguard against unreliable markets, so even if prices change, it won’t be reflected until later this year. Economists are not predicting a large increase at this time.

To ease the already stressful harvest conditions, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist declared a state of emergency that permitted him to issue a temporary hold on weight, height, length and width limits on trucks transporting crops.

Citrus Facts (Wikipedia)
  • The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) is responsible for creating the seed of the majority of citrus grown in the U.S. – developing higher yielding, increased disease resistance, better color and longer shelf life varieties.
  • Florida is the nation’s top citrus producer (more than 75 percent of total U.S. yield).
  • Brazil is the world’s top citrus producer.
  • More than 90 percent of all Florida oranges are squeezed into orange juice.

In the coming days, citrus producers will frantically tend to their groves. Similar to the plight of our nation’s corn growers this past fall (harvested a record corn crop with extended heavy rainfall), farmers will do their best to save as much of the citrus harvest as possible while in the face of challenging conditions.

Let’s hope they are as successful.

Have you noticed a difference in the cost of citrus at your local grocery store or food market? Do you believe the government is doing all that it can to aid the country’s citrus growers? Will demand for other fruits increase if citrus supply is affected?

Farmers Donate During Holiday Season

During the holidays, we’re reminded that it’s better to give than to receive – a principle that is recognized by thousands of farmers nationwide.

Opportunities abound for farmers to donate portions of their harvest to food-donation programs throughout the year, but are especially welcome during times of economic difficulty. It’s also important in November, December and January when people celebrate major holidays with food, food and more food.

Tax incentives can sway farmers to be more generous with their harvest. The Good Samaritan Hunger Relief Tax Incentive Extension Act of 1996 states that only farmers and ranchers using the accrual method of accounting may benefit from incentives for charitable donations of food.

In June, Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Ind. reintroduced the act to Congress with a proposal that would allow farmers to receive tax deductions on the full market value for produce that cannot or will not be sold.

“It has been my experience that farmers generally make the donation of food out of their desire to support their communities and the less fortunate, and any enhanced deduction was not the primary motivation of such a contribution," Lugar said. "The legislation does make it easier for farmers to take such an enhanced deduction and will result in increased donations of food should the bill pass."

Many national and state food-donation programs exist throughout the country to help distribute food to needy Americans.

The Farm Bureau Young Farmers & Ranchers Program, in conjunction with Feeding America, the nation's largest hunger-relief charity, created the “Harvest for All” campaign in 2003. This nationally recognized campaign includes activities organized by state and county Farm Bureaus in connection with local Feeding America affiliates across the country. Since its inception, it has provided more than 16 million pounds of food.

U.S. Rep. Tim Bishop, D-N.Y. is another proponent of extending and increasing the scope of the original act.

“During these difficult economic times, this tax incentive would be a win-win for our farmers and for those who are struggling to find food to eat,” said Bishop. “Rather than letting excess produce go to waste, farmers can support local charities.”

For example, the 2009 harvest is one of the largest in history for corn and soybeans. As another outlet for their crops, in addition to selling or storage, farmers can consider selling grain in the name of a church or an organization. These entities then use the proceeds to purchase food items.

Donation is a win-win for farmers and producers. Not only honorable, food donations are also economically smart for members of the agriculture industry. With so many local, regional and national opportunities to choose from, farmers would be wise to consider donations now and in the future.

What provisions should be included in the act? How can ag members create awareness about the importance of tax incentives for food donations?

Survey reveals consumer thoughts about U.S. food system

Sustainability is a hot topic in agriculture lately, as consumers are bombarded with messaging about the price, safety and availability of food.

As food and agriculture coincide, sustainable agriculture is a movement interlocking the success of three concepts: farm profits, farm communities and eco-friendly farming practices.

The Center for Food Integrity (CFI) recently released results from its 2009 Consumer Trust Survey about sustainability. CFI is a nonprofit organization that promotes dialogue, advocates best practices, addresses consumer issues and serves as a resource for accurate, balanced information about the U.S. food system.

CFI member organizations represent each segment of the food chain, including farmers, ranchers, processors, government and companies that deliver food products under local, regional and global brand names.

The purpose of the survey was to better understand consumers’ decision-making processes in regard to food purchasing, since most consumers are largely uninformed, and to help build confidence in the American food system.

Survey respondents were asked a series of questions regarding their beliefs about the following stakeholders of the food system: farmers, restaurants, grocery stores and food companies.

Survey Highlights
  • Consumers hold farmers most accountable for sustainability in the food system.
  • Consumers hold restaurants least accountable for sustainability in the food system.
  • Men are more trusting of the information that was presented than women.
  • Consumers are willing to be educated about the food system.
  • Consumers trust food more if it is made in the U.S.
  • Food prices are not as great a concern for consumers as they were one year ago.
  • Consumers do not consider organic food as healthy as they did two years ago.
  • Consumers perceive farmers as most competent among industry groups and therefore, place the most trust and responsibility in them.

A Webinar presented by CFI about the survey, including survey questions, can be accessed at:


As the results indicate, consumers’ trust in and expectations of farmers are great responsibilities to bear. Farmers are charged with creating and supplying an affordable, dependable food supply that meets sustainability standards.

Interestingly, respondents also believe that having shared values and ethics among industry members is more important than the groups truly demonstrating sustainability competence.

What conclusions do you draw from the survey results? What kinds of questions should the next survey include? How can farmers and other members of the food industry demonstrate their commitment to sustainability? Do farmers deserve more recognition for their role in the industry?

Ohio Farmland Preservation Summit

As the largest statewide gathering about farmland preservation in the nation, the Ohio Farmland Preservation Summit celebrated its 10th anniversary Nov. 5.

“Planting the Seeds of Future Prosperity” sought to educate nearly 300 attendees about news and issues regarding farmland preservation in the Buckeye State.

Farmland preservation is a collaborative effort among government and non-government entities to keep land strictly for agricultural use.
Farmers engage in preservation to ward off commercial development, invest in future growth, enhance conservation practices and for financial security.

Ohio Agricultural Secretary Robert Boggs and Ohio State University President Gordon Gee opened the conference, while a special video address featuring USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan welcomed attendants.

OSU’s Nationwide and Ohio Farm Bureau 4-H Center hosted the one-day event.

Session topics included:
  • The value of farmland
  • 2007 Census of Agriculture
  • Gauging support for farmland protection
  • Reducing land-access barriers for new farmers
  • Food policy and Ohio farmland
  • Adapting to climate change using sustainable soil management
The summit commenced with dialogue about 2007’s Census of Agriculture.

Taken every five years, the Census of Agriculture is a complete count of U.S. farms and ranches. The summit analyzed Ohio’s results so that attendants would be aware of Ohio farmland statistics and could better gauge preservation growth.

Julia Musson, associate director of conservation funding, Western Reserve Land Conservancy, moderated a discussion about a variety of techniques farmers employ to safeguard their land from non-farm development. Testimonials were shared about farmers’ experience with using state and federal easement programs and donation tactics to acquire their land.

With data accumulated from Ohio’s agricultural easement purchase program (AEPP), Musson was able to provide information about Ohio’s participating farmers.

Attendants learned that most participants in Ohio’s AEPP are older corn and soybean farmers with at least half of their land invested in preservation. Money from AEPP is used by participating farmers to pay off debt, accumulate more land, compensate farm help and to finance equipment and buildings among others.

“The major part of this farm has been in the family since 1868, the rest was added in 1958,” said one AEPP participant. “This was a very good way of paying off debt and setting the farm up as one block so it could not be divided and sold as parcels. The possibility of this farm ground to be carried on to the fifth, sixth generation is likely.”

New Jersey is responsible for introducing the concept of farmland preservation to thwart urban expansion. The state passed The Farmland Assessment Act of 1964, which helped alleviate tax burdens on farm property so that more farmers could keep and purchase land for agricultural purchases.

Another session highlighted the growing interest about how food travels from farm to plate. Eleven existing and emerging councils throughout Ohio were discussed that are devoted to raising awareness about the value of family farms to maintaining a safe, local food supply.

Participants took away valuable information about how to personally participate in preservation efforts. As more and more farmers are made aware of our state’s assistance options, and as these programs evolve to reflect farmer needs, more Ohio land will be reserved for our state’s largest industry.

Do you feel that farms are alive and well in Ohio? What should be done to ensure that family farms maintain their presence throughout the state? How can the importance of the issues discussed at the summit be introduced to general consumers?

To Store or Sell: Farmers Face Harvest Decisions

As the 2009 harvest draws to a close, farmers are tasked with the decision about how to best utilize their crops.

Addressing post-harvest plans is difficult in an industry hinged on market changes. It becomes even more challenging after experiencing a delayed harvest, as in this year’s case. Farmers weighing and playing out their options is very comparable to brokers strategizing in the stock market.

The complexities of harvesting are widely unknown to general consumers, who fail to consider the business aspect of farming.

The prices of commodity crops fluctuate throughout the year, as markets rise and fall to reflect a variety of societal and economical factors including oil prices, value of the U.S. dollar, global demand and weather conditions.

Midwest corn and soybean farmers experienced, and may still be experiencing, a belated harvest this year because of late-season rains, which affects crop quality and availability and can contribute to market prices. However, because corn supply is more than adequate, the unfavorable weather won’t influence corn prices this season. While soybean supply may be tight this year, prices won’t be significantly affected by bad weather.

The USDA's projected price ranges are $3.25 to $3.85 for corn and $8.20 to $10.20 for soybeans.

Agriculture experts are making recommendations based on their knowledge of current supply and demand, and also base advice on speculation of future demand.

Expert Suggestions (Food & Agricultural Policy Institute)
  • Soybean farmers are advised to sell rather than store this year because demand is strong, supply is tight and no storage premium exists.
  • Corn farmers are advised to store rather than sell this year because supply is strong and because a storage premium is being offered.
Storage premiums are the future prices of commodity crops. July has the best corn price at $4.65, and August has the best soybean price at $10.15, as priced by the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) Nov. 16.

Farmers look at storage premiums, as well as market forecasts, to aid them with their decision-making. From these projections, they can better decide how to allocate their grain among three basic options.

Harvest Options
  • On-farm storage: Farmers can store grain on-site to haul and sell at later dates without incurring storage costs, but must have the resources and revenue to do so. In doing so, farmers can take advantage of storage premiums.
  • Elevator storage: Farmers haul their crops to elevators for storage for contracted periods of time and pay storage fees. This option also allows for storage premiums.
  • Sell: Farmers receive upfront cash from direct sales at current market prices.
To further complicate the decision process, three basic contract options exist for farmers.

Contract Options
  • Flat-price contract: Delivery date, quantity and price are locked in with a grain elevator.
  • Basis contract: A difference between local price and the CBOT price is set and used as a factor in the selling price at a specified delivery date.
  • Hedge-to-arrive contract: The current CBOT price is honored at the delivery date.
A more comprehensive guide, compiled by Farmers Cooperative, can be located at http://www.fccoop.com/departments/grain/glossary.cfm, detailing advantages and disadvantages to several harvest options.

Farmers use their best judgment and turn to market signals and professionals when selecting how to market their crop and hope for the best. As the weeks and months roll on, they will learn if their decisions have paid off.

Ohioans Approve Livestock Care Standards Board

Sixty-four percent of Ohio voters favored Ohio’s State Issue 2 Tuesday, Election Day. The constitutional amendment will create a 13-member Livestock Care Standards Board to regulate food and farm policies in “the heart of it all.”

The majority of voters, nearly 2 million people, recognize the significance the board will have in shaping our state’s lead industry – agriculture.

The Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board will
• Assure Ohio families have a safe, locally grown food supply
• Bring the best Ohio experts in animal care and food production together
• Reinforce consumer confidence in Ohio-raised food
• Maintain the viability of Ohio agriculture
• Sustain Ohio's family farms

Executive Director of the Ohio Soybean Association and president of Ohioans for Livestock Care John Lumpe said the vote represented "Ohio taking care of Ohio.”

“Decisions about food and farming should be made in Ohio, by Ohioans,” said Lumpe.

The bipartisan board will be administered by the Ohio Department of Agriculture and comprises three farmers, two veterinarians (including the state veterinarian), a food-safety expert, a local humane-society expert, two statewide farm-organization members, an Ohio agricultural-college dean, two Ohio consumers and the director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture who will also serve as its chairperson.

“The diverse group of experts serving on this board, together with Ohio’s citizens, will work to create a fair, uniform set of standards that ensure the safe and humane treatment of the state’s livestock and poultry, therefore sustaining the viability of Ohio’s family farmers and assuring safe, affordable food for all citizens,” said Ohio Agriculture Director Robert Boggs.

“We are committed to make this work,” said Jack Fisher, executive vice president of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, referring to the amendment as the most important legislation to Ohio’s agricultural community since a proposed pesticide-labeling initiative in the 1990s.

The issue passed in all Ohio counties except Athens County.

“It is clear that all Ohioans – rural and suburban, Republican and Democrat – have come together and recognize just how important agriculture is to the state,” said Lumpe.

The amendment originated as a response to threats from the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS – an organization that advocates vegetarianism) to initiate legislation in the Ohio Constitution similar to California’s Proposition 2 last November, which banned animal confinement. HSUS seeks to outlaw poultry cages, veal crates and gestation stalls in Ohio.

Though the ballot initiative passed, HSUS has vowed to intervene in Ohio’s agricultural practices in the future.

At CantonRep.com, several bloggers weighed in about the issue’s passage:

“The efforts being 'thwarted' are those of the Humane Society of the United States. I am searching for a less loaded phrase than 'radical animal-rights lobbying organization,' and yet I really cannot find a better means of description. To give you an idea, JP Goodwin, who is in senior leadership at HSUS, has made the following statement: “My goal is the abolition of all animal agriculture.'”

Fisher is hopeful that the board will be in session by spring 2010.

Issue 2 Divides Ohioans

As Nov. 3 approaches, advocates and opponents of Ohio’s State Issue 2 are campaigning to promote their beliefs about the proposed constitutional amendment to create the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board.

The 13-member board, comprising three farmers, two veterinarians (including the state veterinarian), a food-safety expert, a local humane-society expert, two statewide farm-organization members, an Ohio agricultural-college dean, two Ohio consumers and the director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture, will create and regulate standards regarding:

  • Agricultural best management practices
  • Biosecurity
  • Disease prevention
  • Animal morbidity/mortality data
  • Food-safety practices
  • The protection of local, affordable food supplies

Gov. Ted Strickland will appoint all board members except two family farmers, who will be elected by leaders of the Ohio House of Representatives and Ohio Senate.

The amendment originated as a response to threats from the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) to initiate legislation in the Ohio Constitution similar to California’s Proposition 2 last November, which banned animal confinement.

According to the HSUS Web site, “Issue 2 is little more than a power grab by Ohio’s agribusiness lobby. The industry-dominated ‘animal care’ council proposed by Issue 2 is really intended to thwart meaningful improvements in how the millions of farm animals in Ohio are treated on large factory farms.”

Many farmers and agribusinesses throughout the state have rallied, using mass-media and grassroots efforts, for the amendment, angered by blanket statements that all farmers mistreat their livestock and by attempts from the out-of-state activist organization (HSUS) to establish laws within their industry.

Issue 2 is designed to accomplish three things, says an Ohio Farm Bureau spokesman in a You Tube video: safeguard family farms, provide good care for animals and supply safe, local food to consumers.

“The Livestock Care Standards Board will have the best interest of Ohio agriculture and consumers in mind, “ said Brenda Hastings, a Geauga County dairy farmer, “as opposed to special interest groups such as HSUS who are motivated by promoting their agendas of a vegetarian/vegan society.”

Gov. Strickland, Ohio State University President E. Gordon Gee and many agricultural groups, including Ohio Cattlemen’s Association, Ohio Corn Growers Association, Ohio Dairy Producers Association, Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, Ohio Pork Producers Council, Ohio Poultry Association, Ohio Soybean Association and Ohio Wheat Growers Association, endorse its passage.

Some opponents consider the amendment a dangerous precedent because, in their opinion, it concedes to the influence of special interests in the Constitution. Others believe it is masking agribusinesses in the guise of impartial counsel.

The social-media realm is crammed with dialogue about Issue 2. Pro and con-Issue 2 groups have created Facebook pages, Web sites, Twitter accounts and participated in countless blog chat rooms.

At Columbus Underground.com, one citizen blogger wrote:

“One of the common objections is adding another layer of government control over our lives. This is valid, but the alternative of activist control from Washington DC seems worse. Issue 2 is real simple; do you want Local Control or Washington Control. Control seems inevitable. Pick the lesser of two evils. A vote Yes will establish welfare and food safety rules based on research and data; a vote No will be a YES vote to activist control next year with no research or data as backing.”

As the days draw near, editorial after editorial can be found within Ohio’s largest daily newspapers, with farmers, consumers and editorial boards giving their two cents about the subject.

“HSUS, PETA and MERCY have chased pork productions out of three states and have Ohio in their sights. That makes a campaign and a ballot issue “necessary” to spread good, accurate information,” said Ralph Dull in a Dayton Daily News letter to the editor.

Akron Beacon Journal and Youngstown Vindicator have confirmed their support of Issue 2 while Columbus Dispatch, Cleveland Plain Dealer and Dayton Daily News have publicly opposed it.

On Election Day, voters will have the opportunity to influence the mechanics of their food system. A “yes” vote for Issue 2 gives regulatory and oversight control of Ohio’s food supply to representatives with the education and history necessary to carry out such responsibility. A “no” vote may make Ohio’s farmers vulnerable to HSUS-invoked legislation that will significantly affect their ability to produce an abundant, affordable food supply.

Be informed before casting your ballot. Ask questions and take time to learn about what’s at stake for Ohio’s largest industry.

USDA Campaigns for Local, Regional Food Systems

Food and agriculture are at the center of national dialogue as of late, re-introduced to the masses because of the “Food, Inc.” movie release, TIME magazine commentary “America's Food Crisis and How to Fix It” and most recently, a new USDA campaign launch.

The government branch is allocating millions of dollars in its budget to spur a nationwide conversation about how food travels from farms to plates.

“Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” is Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan’s initiative that aims to educate Americans about the importance of promoting local and regional food economies in our country’s food system to:

• Create new income opportunities for farmers
• Promote sustainable agriculture
• Generate wealth that remains in rural communities
• Supply healthier food
• Decrease energy expenditure

"An American people that is more engaged with their food supply will create new income opportunities for American agriculture," said Vilsack. "Reconnecting consumers and institutions with local producers will stimulate economies in rural communities, improve access to healthy, nutritious food for our families and decrease the amount of resources to transport our food."

The USDA will “use existing USDA programs to break down structural barriers that have inhibited local food systems from thriving” and has allocated the following toward the campaign:

• Risk Management Agency – $3.4 million for collaborative outreach and assistance programs to socially disadvantaged and underserved farmers. These programs will support “Know Your Farmer” goals by helping producers adopt new and direct-marketing practices. For example, nearly $10,000 in funding for the University of Minnesota will bring together experts on food safety and regulations for a discussion of marketing to institutions like K-12 schools, colleges, universities, hospitals and other health-care facilities.
• USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service proposed regulations to implement a new voluntary cooperative program under which select state-inspected establishments will be eligible to ship meat and poultry products in interstate commerce. The new program was created in the 2008 Farm Bill and will provide new economic opportunities for small meat and poultry establishments, whose markets are currently limited.
• Rural Development – $4.4 million in grants to help 23 local business cooperatives in 19 states. The member-driven and member-owned cooperative business model has been successful for rural enterprises and brings rural communities closer to the process of moving from production-to-consumption as they work to improve products and expand appeal in the marketplace.
• USDA's Rural Development will also announce a Rural Business Opportunity Grant in the amount of $150,000 to the Northwest Food Processors Association. The grant will strengthen the relationship between local food processors and customers in parts of Idaho, Oregon and Washington and will also help the group reduce energy consumption, a major cost for food processors.

Advocates of buying locally produced foods cite safety and transportation-energy costs as primary factors in the dialogue.

Michael Abelman, founder and executive director emeritus of the Center for Urban Agriculture at Fairview Gardens, as well as a recognized practitioner of sustainable agriculture and proponent of regional food systems, commented about the government movement:

“We (society) are part of a broad movement reclaiming food from faceless, long-distance industrial providers. We're demanding not only that it be safe, but that it taste good – and that it be grown in a way that honors the land and those doing the work. And while it's true that we could slip up and make someone sick, the results of any carelessness would be smaller, more local.

“Food safety doesn't hinge on monitoring tiny bacteria. It depends on the most fundamental aspect of a healthy food system – relationships – biological, personal, ecological and local. Those relationships are on a scale small and, so, familiar.”

Vilsack solicits the campaign in a YouTube video and encourages consumer feedback to help shape the $65 million promotion at the campaign Web site via e-mails or comments via Twitter.

“Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” poses the question, “Every family needs a farmer. Do you know yours?”

Will the campaign be successful in its goals to create awareness and change? What reforms/modifications to the food system should the USDA consider? Should any agribusinesses be concerned?

Congress initiates first female ag chair

Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) replaces Sen. Tom Harkin as our nation’s chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.

Former Ag Chairman Harkin filled the vacant Health, Labor, Education and Pension Committee chair seat, left vacant after the passing of Sen. Ted Kennedy.

This is another first for Lincoln, who became the youngest female senator at age 38 in 1998.

Since 1825, the committee has been responsible for legislative oversight of all matters relating to the nation's agriculture industry, farming programs, forestry and logging, and legislation relating to nutrition and health.

Born and raised in Arkansas, Lincoln considers herself qualified both personally and professionally for the position. Lincoln is confident that her background as a farmer’s daughter and her service in Congress have prepared her for the role.

"The American farmer and rancher could not have a better friend in Washington than Senator Blanche Lincoln,” said Mark Williams, president, Southwest Council of Agribusiness.

Lincoln’s former committee involvement:
  • Served on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry since January 1999; has served as chairwoman of the subcommittee on Rural Revitalization, Conservation, Forestry and Credit
  • Served as chairwoman of the subcommittee on Production, Income Protection and Price Support
  • Played a role in the 2008 farm bill debate
  • Served as chair of Rural Outreach since 2005
  • Founded bipartisan Senate Hunger Caucus in 2004
  • Served on the House Committee on Agriculture from 1993-1995

Several high-profile individuals from a variety of industry segments have publicly declared their support of Lincoln, including American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman:

"Senator Lincoln has represented the interests of agriculture and rural America since her election to the House of Representatives as a moderate Democrat in 1992 and her election to the Senate in 1998. She has deep ties to farming and hails from a seventh-generation Arkansas farm family. We know she will continue to be a strong voice for our industry and will continue as a consistent leader on key Farm Bureau issues such as those that relate to farm policy, the environment and estate-tax reform."

Progressive Farmer ag reporter Chris Clayton said, “Lincoln is also likely going to be more skeptical of climate legislation because it may offer little benefit for rice growers or producers of other southern crops. She was quoted in mid-August saying Congress should just focus on a renewable-energy bill and drop the cap-and-trade emissions plan.”

Some believe her strong sentiments will definitely affect policy, including journalist Phil Brasher of the Des Moines Register, “Lincoln is as vigorous a proponent for large farms and livestock interests (think Arkansas-based Tyson Foods) as there is in Congress. Pair her with the panel’s senior Republican, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, and you have a powerful one-two punch for the southern perspective on agricultural policy.”

Interestingly, Lincoln is up for re-election in 2010, causing others to consider her new position as a self-seeking political move. Will she prove herself as the authority on a number of significant issues? Only time will tell.

Do you think having a chairwoman will impact legislation? What, if any, influence will her home state have on her decision-making process? Should other congressional members have been considered?

Retrospective: The 47th Farm Science Review

Variable weather is territory for those in the ag industry, but a little rain didn’t threaten the turnout at the Farm Science Review (FSR) this week. Rain or shine, you can depend on a farmer.

In fact, the annual event welcomed nearly 139,000 visitors, 8,000 more visitors than during the previous year.

For three days, visitors checked out exhibitions, bought equipment and witnessed the most recent technology on the market to expand their agricultural know-how.

The 80-acre exhibiting lot at the Molly Caren Agricultural Career Center in London, Ohio, was filled to capacity, housing 600 displays.

“Exhibitors are thrilled to be here. They love the grounds and are making contacts with the visitors," said FSR manager Chuck Gamble, during the event.

Despite the difficult economy, many farmers use the event as a one-stop shop for equipment and supply purchasing, specifically waiting to buy vital business items at FSR.

“A lot of farmers are purchasing on site, “ said Candace Pollock, FSR media coordinator. “It’s indicative of the positive atmosphere of the agriculture industry right now.”

Industry members also used the event as a networking opportunity.

"Exhibitors have been very pleased with the business contacts they've made with farmers," said Matt Sullivan, FSR assistant manager.

Event coordinators heavily utilized social media throughout the festival, continually offering status updates and informing Web users about upcoming shows and demos via Twitter, facebook and Flickr.

From health screenings, to wildflower identification analysis, to grain-bin rescue demonstrations, FSR delivered again in the interactive department. One visitor compared FSR’s assortment of activities as similar to a “carnival atmosphere.”

Many young people turned out for the region’s largest farm festival: as many as 1,700 high school and home-school students visited the first day alone, according to event coordinators, which is more than 2008’s three-day total. Pollock said event staffers had difficulty keeping educational brochures stocked in several locations.

The urgency of the passage of State Issue 2 was on full display with yard signs strategically placed at almost every booth. Even young activists that can’t even vote were urging attendees to vote for State Issue 2.

More than 30 media outlets attended to cover the event, including Brownfield Ag Network, Ohio Farmer and Successful Farming magazines; Cincinnati Public Radio, ABN and WOSU radio; Ag Day and U.S. Farm Report; and multiple daily newspapers to name a few. In the coming days, it will be interesting to read and listen to the reviews.

If you attended, what did you think about FSR? What would you have liked to see more/less of?

Rural Tour: Renewing America’s Promise

Concerts, comedians and a variety of shows regularly travel the nation to educate and entertain. Most recently, the president’s Rural Tour has been making pit stops throughout the U.S. to elicit feedback about and support for government involvement in programs to better rural America.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack is spearheading the awareness initiative that began June 30. The tour, designed to facilitate conversation via a blend of education outreach and community forum feedback, is part of the Obama Administration’s plan to “renew America’s promise.”

According to the USDA, “The variety of topics that will be addressed reflects the array of issues facing rural America, including broad-based rural health, economic development, infrastructure, education, energy, natural resources and agriculture.”

At each stop, Vilsack, alongside local elected officials, discusses how the USDA and other federal agencies are working to strengthen rural America by means of current and proposed government programs. Attendees then have an opportunity to voice opinions, suggestions and concerns in efforts to promote a dialogue between government and constituents.

“Government does not have all the answers, but it can help share innovative ideas and problem-solving techniques from communities with the rest of the country,” Vilsack said. “Building a foundation for success and prosperity for the new 21st-century economy will take a collective and collaborative effort with all of us talking, debating and solving together.”

Vilsack encourages citizens to “call, e-mail, write, videotape, photograph, you name it,” to offer input about the state of rural America.

Highlighted agricultural topics include rural broadband access, climate-change legislation and forest management, with emphasis on localized concerns.

Discussions involved ag-debt restructuring in Iowa, obstacles facing the dairy industry in California, carbon sequestration in Virginia and creating business-relationship opportunities among food industry entities in Ohio.

Scottsbluff, Neb., will welcome the tour this week to discuss production agriculture, and Las Cruces, N.M., will conclude the nine-stop circuit with a discussion aimed at rural infrastructure.

You can get more information and updates about the Rural Tour at RuralTour.gov or at Twitter or Facebook.

A summary of the tour can be viewed in a YouTube video created by the USDA.

Is the Rural Tour a success? Should other states/topics have been included for discussion? Can members of the agricultural industry model a similar tour for industry-specific topics in the future?

Farm Science Review Preview

Three days, hundreds of exhibitors, thousands of reasons.

For 47 years, Ohio has been home to the Farm Science Review, the Midwest’s three-day agriculture festival sponsored by Ohio State University, showcasing the latest and greatest in the industry.

The show, located at Molly Caren Agricultural Center in London, Ohio, provides access to industry trends and developments, which enhance the market competitiveness and consequently, the quality of life of farm-related individuals, families, businesses and communities.

“If your business is agriculture, our business is you,” is the show’s tagline, which has secured more than 4,000 product lines from more than 600 commercial exhibitors for display. In addition to exhibits, presentations and demonstrations will occur throughout the event that encompass a variety of industry themes such as technology, equipment, field demonstrations, agriculture law, production and management research and farm financial management.

"Nearly whatever service or product a farmer needs can be found at Farm Science Review," says Farm Science Review manager Chuck Gamble.

The event goes beyond farming to also feature arts and crafts, as well as booths about gardening, health safety, home improvement and landowner conservation.

Highlights include:
• Energy education tent
• National AgrAbility Project Booth: assists those with disabilities who are employed in agriculture
• Animal welfare education exhibits
• GPS field demos
• Farm pesticide collection

The complete show schedule can be viewed at http://fsr.osu.edu/schedule.html.

Individuals do not need to be associated with the farming community to enjoy the show’s offerings. Educational and entertainment opportunities abound for agri-business persons and consumers alike.

The exhibit has leveraged social media to market itself using Facebook, You Tube and Twitter, and promises to attract hundreds of thousands of people. One hundred thirty thousand visitors are forecast to attend.

Tickets cost $8 at the gate. Children ages 5 and under will be admitted free of charge.

Cap-and-Trade Reforms – Climate Change Cure?

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack advocates the passage of proposed cap-and-trade legislation with Congress to combat the divisive issue of climate change.

Climate change, or global warming, refers to the variation of modern climate patterns and is said to be the result of natural geographic forces and human outputs on the environment. Such human outputs include land use, deforestation, animal agriculture and carbon discharges.

Vilsack is confident in the reality of global warming and has referenced fisheries in Alaska and forestry in Colorado as examples of its destructive effects.

The Obama administration is promoting the establishment of a revised domestic cap-and-trade system aimed to reduce energy emissions. Vilsack testified to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture in March, outlining the administration’s goals to decrease emissions 20 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050.

Legislation details can be located at http://thinkcarbon.wordpress.com/2009/06/24/the-waxman-markey-bill-at-a-glance/.

USDA believes that the agriculture and forestry sectors hold the potential to deliver substantial emissions reductions, including carbon sequestration, under a national climate change policy,” said Vilsack.

Many farmers oppose the legislation because they either don’t believe in global warming or consider the cap-and-trade system to be a financial burden, or both. Vilsack is aware of the apprehension many in the industry are experiencing, but is confident that the potential reforms “will likely outweigh the costs” and will actually bolster the national farm community.

"Over the long haul, it is potentially tens of billions of dollars of net income opportunity for farmers," Vilsack said.

Some agriculturalists are leery of prospective increased energy costs and increased input (fertilizers, pesticides, chemicals) costs. Georgia Congressman Jack Kingston has publicly declared his opposition.

“Agriculture is inherently an energy-intensive industry and this bill does nothing to mitigate that fact. From tractor fuel to fertilizer to livestock feed, farmers across America are especially vulnerable to this proposed national energy tax. Our farmers are already struggling with the high cost of fertilizer and feed and gas prices are going up. Now, in this time of economic downturn, is not the time to further drive up the cost of farming and the cost of food. American farmers can’t afford it and neither can American families.”

Vilsack has countered with this example:

“A Northern Plains wheat producer, for example, might see an increase of 80 cents per acre in costs of production by 2020 because of higher fuel prices. Based on a soil carbon sequestration rate of 0.4 tons per acre and a carbon price of $16 per ton, a producer could mitigate those expenses by adopting no-till practices and earn $6.40 per acre. So, this wheat farmer does better under the House-passed climate legislation than without it. And, it's quite possible that this wheat farmer could do even better if technologies and markets progress in such a way that allows for the sale of wheat straw to make cellulosic ethanol.”

Vilsack says the government will aid agriculturalists by assisting them in adopting new technology use and conservation practices.

“Well you know farmers, I know farmers. There's no question that they are going to be looking for alternatives. They are going to be looking for technology changes, for renewable energy sources, for biofuels, all of which could potentially benefit them in terms of lower costs," said Vilsack.

Judging from his experience with the 17 stops completed in the Rural Farm Tour, Vilsack told ag broadcasters he believes the cap-and-trade legislation should pass through Congress without resistance.

Should other industries be targeted for inclusion in cap-and-trade regulations? Are farmers being treated unfairly? Should the agriculture sector try to amend proposed legislation?