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2011 Wisconsin Corn Soy Expo

February 7, 2011 6 comments

I attended the Wisconsin Corn Soy Expo in Wisconsin Dells last Thursday and Friday, and came away very impressed with the show, and the speakers that they presented. I attended in 2009, and don’t remember being as impressed (skipped 2010); they’ve either made improvements or this was a particularly good lineup of speakers. I missed Darren Hefty talking about soils, but showed up just in time to listen to Mark Pearson moderate a couple of panel discussions on marketing (general consensus seemed to be hang on, we’re in for a wild ride), and give a good speech himself.

Both Mark and Dr. Dave Kohl, the keynote speaker Friday morning, emphasized the global nature of agriculture right now. China is a huge factor driving demand right now, both for fertilizer for their own farmers, and for grain crops from us (and others!). They both emphasized the need for farmers to pay attention to what is happening in the global marketplace, as more and more that is what is driving the price of crop inputs, as well as commodity prices.

I wish I had learned how to take decent lecture notes (don’t ask how I got through college), as Dr. Kohl made some excellent points and statements that I wish I had wrote down. A couple did stick with me…right now, local, natural, and organic branded farm products make up about 5% of the market. In the near future, Dr. Kohl suggests they will make up 20%. That’s good news for him, as he’s involved in a local (‘local and natural, not organic’ he pointed out) creamery in Virginia. 20% is not 100%, there is plenty of room in agriculture for commodity growers, as well as specialized niche market growers. That said, I would love to be able to position myself to take advantage of that 20%. I think there’s money to be made.

Another astounding statement: 70% of US farmland will change hands by 2025. He told a funny story about speaking at the University of Iowa, and having two young women come up to him and ask what they should do with the 1,000+ acres of farmland they had just inherited; they had no idea how to handle it. Absentee landlord issues are already common in the country; it’s just going to get worse. Finally, one of his takeaway points was ‘Hear, understand, and take action!’ If we can do those three things, we’d all be in pretty good shape.

Charlie Arnot from the Center for Food Integrity was the lunchtime speaker on Friday. He’s a public relations man, and I have an innate distrust of PR flacks, as I hate hate hate spin of any type. That said, he gave a good talk on the challenges of communicating about what agriculture does to the public. The main thrust of his argument is that we spend too much time talking about science, and while science is important, most people make decisions based on emotion, not scientific fact. A sad statement about our society (and people in general), but there you go. Arnot suggested that by talking more about ethics, morals, and emotions and less about production statistics, scientifically accepted production practices, and statistics that agriculture would be more effective in regaining the trust of consumers. As he put it, ‘Consumers love farmers, they’re just not sure that what you do is considered farming’.

CFI has an ongoing campaign entitled Farmers Feed US, and they showed several videos of Wisconsin farmers talking about their operations. I’m going to embed one, Allen Arndt from Janesville, WI, as I know the Arndts. I’d encourage you to go check out the rest of the Wisconsin videos, they’re quite good.

I also attended several sessions on agronomic topics, and I may use some of that in a later blog post on high yield soybean production practices. The trade show that ran concurrent with the meeting sessions was large, and I was able to catch up with a lot of the sales reps that I work with on a regular basis. I even met one of my Twitter friends, Kevin Hoyer (aka kjh_786) for lunch on Thursday. Kevin and I have been talking via Twitter for nearly a year now, so it was nice to finally meet in person. Overall, a great conference, and I’m definitely going back again, next year.

I have one more Wisconsin Dells conference to attend next week; it will be a fairly boring agronomy-focused seminar put on by Winfield Solutions, one of the distributors that we work with. Meeting fatigue has begun to set in…I just need to make it to March (I think I have a SNAP Plus seminar in March, though. Ack). On the blog front, I know things were pretty quiet here in January. I’m aiming for at least one post a week in February, perhaps two if I include more photoblog postings in with the agriculture content. Wish me luck.

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