Innovation in ag: Doornbos speaker encourages value-added marketingWritten by Natasha Wheeler
Casper – Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theorizes that people strive to meet basic needs first, followed by growth needs such as self-actualization.
“The base needs are food, water and shelter. We move our way up from there. In the United States of America, too many people think we’re still at the base level, but we are not. We are a very well off country,” argued Damian Mason on March 2, speaking in Casper at the annual Doornbos lecture series at Casper College.
“We need to stop appealing to the base level and realize that as people move their way up, they start worrying about things like purpose and cause,” he added.
In general, the American consumer wants to help the environment, end animal cruelty and make a positive difference in the world.
“We have room to sell the story in the business of ag,” Mason claimed.
To illustrate his point, Mason described the concept of Toms brand shoes. Toms promises consumers that for every pair of shoes they buy, the company will donate a pair of shoes to someone in a third world country.
“Millennials want to believe they are part of something good, more than any other generation. Millennials are great kids. They are technically competent, conscientious, money saving people but they’ve been told about this social consciousness and how they can do something good for the world,” he explained.
Mason argued that spending $35 on a box of shoes from Goodwill to send to a third world country doesn’t earn the same social credit as spending that same $35 on Toms and being recognized as someone who cares when other people notice the brand.
“Social consciousness sells,” he stated.
Chipotle and Starbucks use similar marketing techniques, promising pasture-raised animals and fair trade coffee.
“Instead of a burrito for $1.99 at Taco Bell, a burrito at Chipotle sells for $3.99. If we want to sell social consciousness, it pays very well. I think ag needs to learn from this,” he remarked.
Packaging is another evolving trend in food markets, with more clear packages on store shelves, revealing the product underneath.
“When I was a kid, manufacturers didn’t want clear packages because the consumer would see the imperfections. That’s all changed. The consumer now wants to see clear packaging because it gives the image that it is a more pristine, wholesome product. It’s all about perception,” he said.
Mason also noted that Americans will have to change how they view production to stay competitive in the marketplace.
“America has done such an innovative and amazing job of production but I don’t think the story moving forward is going to be production. The story is going to be quality,” he stated.
Cheap food in large quantities is the goal of a developing nation, he added. A developed nation like the U.S. strives more for quality and taste.
In the past, production agriculture was an appropriate response for producers who wanted to stay in business. The goal was to produce as much as possible with the least amount of expense.
“I understand production, but let’s think abut the next challenge for agriculture. Let’s bring back flavor, quality and differentiated product – a value-added product,” he suggested.
To illustrate his point, Mason discussed the labeling of a standard, grade A package of whole milk.
“On another carton, we have a woman hugging an Ayrshire cow. One of these packages is selling milk, and one of them is selling a story. One of them is 2.5 times the price of the other,” he said.
Mason explained that, just like any business, it is important to acknowledge the consumer and practice good customer service. He emphasized that the agriculture industry should rely less on presenting information in dry science and facts and concentrate more on appealing to Americans’ sense of self-worth, taking advantage of the opportunity to create feel-good stories to sell products.
“We used to think the future of agriculture economic prowess was that we were just going to keep being a factory and producing and producing and we were going to sell all over the globe,” Mason commented.
However, he argued that other countries are bettering their own production systems and embracing technology and innovation.
“The answer, in my opinion, is to turn that innovation inward. We should start thinking less like commodity producers and figure out how to get an extra dollar out of a dozen eggs or a pound of beef,” he remarked.
Mason predicted that the current generation of millennials has the ability to build on the success of previous generations to create a new, value-added marketplace.
“We have a fantastic opportunity to make more money doing stuff in new, innovative ways,” he said.
Horse racing experience offers youth opportunity to learn about the industryWritten by Gayle Smith
Youth who are interested in the horse racing industry have an opportunity to learn more about the business during a three-day clinic offered by the Wyoming Horse Racing Association.
The 2015 Wyoming Youth Racing Days will be held June 26-28 at Wyoming Downs in Evanston. All expenses for the clinic including meals and lodging are paid. The youth must provide their own transportation to Evanston. The deadline for applying for this year’s event is June 22.
The clinic is mirrored after the National American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) Challenge of Champions Youth Horse Racing Experience. This event is held each year at a different track at the end of October or the first part of November. It is an all-expense paid trip that students can apply for after they complete a state or regional experience, such as the one offered in Wyoming.
According to coordinator Judy Horton, the Wyoming experience gives students a behind-the-scenes look at the state’s horse racing industry. They will learn about the routine of a “typical” day, racing or non-racing, at the racing stable.
When the students arrive in Evanston, Horton will take them to the racing office so they can become licensed. Then, they will be go to the barn early Saturday morning where they will work with the trainer assigned to them.
“They will experience whatever that trainer exposes them to,” she said.
They will see the routine from the time the first person arrives at the barn in the morning, until the last person leaves in the evening. This includes how many people it takes to run a barn, and what their specific responsibilities are.
The students will also learn about finances, especially the expenses and revenue associated with owning or training a racehorse. They will see what costs the owner pays, and what the trainer pays.
During the event, the students will also visit the test barn and the jockey room and learn about the identifier, the starting gate and the headstarter. They will watch the horses break out of the starting gate at the start of the races, and visit the mutual windows to watch people make wagers.
They will also visit the steward area where the officials judge the race and the racing office, where contenders will go to nominate the horses they want to race.
“I try to give the kids as much of a duplicate of what they would see at the national challenge as I can,” Horton explained. “They will walk away with a huge understanding of how the industry works and that training racehorses is not easy. My hope is that they can apply some of the things they learn to their own equine interests, like the importance of feeding horses on time, and how to wrap the horse’s legs.”
Horton said she can take up to 15 students for the three-day experience, and they don’t have to be from Wyoming to apply.
“In the past, we have had kids from Nebraska, Montana, Idaho and Utah. We don’t really screen the kids about their knowledge of horses, but it is better if they have some experience,” she explained. “There have been kids at past clinics who didn’t have any horse experience, and they just didn’t get as much out of the program. If the student isn’t really comfortable around horses and is afraid, the trainer won’t let the youth hold the horse or wrap a leg. Racehorses have an energy level that is really high, so it is better if the students have some equine experience.”
Some of Horton’s previous students who have taken this clinic have gone on to become racing secretaries, writers and involved in other facets of the industry.
Liz Lauck, who is now a freelance public relations consultant and farmwife, was a student in the Wyoming Experience about 12 years ago. Horton encouraged her to apply.
“I was accepted to attend Wyoming Downs for an immersion experience in the horse racing industry,” Lauck explained. “Later, I was accepted to represent Wyoming at the MBNA Championship Challenge in Los Alamitos, Calif.”
“During both programs, I worked with trainers and learned from professionals in the horse racing industry. It was a wonderful experience and something any young equine enthusiast would benefit greatly from,” she added.
Horton said many Wyoming youth have been selected for the AQHA Challenge of Champions Youth Horseracing Experience after completing the state experience.
Students who want to attend the national event have to first qualify by completing a workbook that is similar to a test. Only a handful of these students will be selected for the national program from those who attend a state or regional program.
“It is quite an honor to be selected,” Horton said.
Those students will also be eligible for college scholarships given by the AQHA.
Saunders: Consumers seek verification when making food purchase decisionsWritten by Natasha Wheeler
Fort Collins, Colo. – “Consumers look for products that are ethically grounded, scientifically verified and economically viable, and they want the assurance of third-party verification,” stated Leann Saunders at the International Livestock Forum in Fort Collins, Colo. on Jan. 13.
Saunders is the president and co-founder of Where Our Food Comes From, Inc., a company that provides independent auditing of food production practices. Her business gives her insight into market trends and consumer demands.
“Brands compete against each other. They are looking to differentiate, and they are looking to have brand trust with consumers,” she explained.
Third-party verification provides standards that can be measured and used for continuous improvement.
“Consumers are not just trusting a company on the package,” she continued. “They want to trust it, but they want it verified.”
To understand what consumers are looking for in their products, Saunders’ company did a survey across the U.S. through different retailers and restaurants.
“A high percentage of consumers would pay more for quality and say environmental sustainability is important to them,” she commented.
She listed other consumer concerns in meat, dairy and produce including the use of hormones, antibiotics and pesticides; genetic modification; local sourcing; environmental sustainability; and the humane treatment of animals.
“Collectively as industries, we have to get out and make the effort to really have a conversation with consumers,” she commented.
When Saunders married her husband, who went to school at Yale, she found it interesting that she became a focal point of conversation amongst his friends.
“I was an oddity,” Saunders explained.
Her husband’s friends wanted to know what it was like to grow up on a ranch and in the ag industry.
“There is an opportunity for reconnecting those people who have lost that hands-on experience and aren’t involved in production agriculture,” she said.
In 1950, 11.6 percent of U.S. citizens were farmers, farm managers and farm laborers. By 2010, only 0.6 percent of the U.S. population was employed in farming.
Sharing the story
“Fewer people are connected to the food system, and there is a reduced understanding and appreciation for how food is produced,” Saunders noted.
Consumers rely on media, and they have continual, easy access to information.
“There is constant confusion over what is right, healthy, safe and cost effective,” she noted.
Typical consumers want the production story told on their terms. They want to trust that story and to feel comfortable about the safety of the product. Consumers also want the freedom of choice.
“How we talk to those consumers is important,” she stated.
Consumers don’t want to feel stupid, and they want to feel more comfortable about their choices.
“If we are unwilling to be transparent, even to the point where it may be uncomfortable at times, then they think we have something to hide,” she explained.
Eight in 10 shoppers believe that food and grocery companies should know where every ingredient comes from.
“More home cooks are paying attention to how their food is sourced, especially in the meat department,” she said.
Many consumers want access to product information in the grocery store, with 71 percent saying they want to be able to read it on the label.
“Consumers care about these issues. They want more information, they want us talking to them, and they do care about it,” she noted.
In 1994, survey results showed that consumers were worried about taste, convenience, nutrition, variety and price.
“Those things are still important, but now we also have all these social causes such as environment, sustainability and animal welfare,” Saunders commented.
She added that regardless of whether it is good or bad, there is a strong discussion in today’s market around the treatment of animals.
“Animal care and wellbeing concerns are a real issue for global food brands,” she stated.
Also, today’s market is brand conscious.
“Consumers are interested in patronizing restaurants and buying brands that reflect their own values,” Saunders added.
Therefore, it is more than a public relations statement for brands supporting particular practices.
“They need to be actively engaged in trying to figure out within their industry how to meet consumer expectations,” she commented.
She believes that consumers are open to information and willing to listen. When they are involved in conversations, they have an opportunity to understand production practices.
“Verification starts at the source, and at the end of the day, it’s about us being able to transparently, honestly and authentically communicate with the consumer,” Saunders said.
American Lamb Board reports positive progress on roadmap implementationWritten by Saige Albert
“It’s no secret that the lamb industry has been faced with a major challenge,” said the American Lamb Board (ALB) in a March 27 update on the implementation of the Industry Roadmap. “An industry decision to be more intentionally proactive about this downward trend resulted in the adoption of the Lamb Industry Roadmap at the 2014 Annual Sheep Convention.”
The Roadmap, which was developed by leaders of every sector in the U.S. sheep industry, laid out the path by which the lamb industry looked to grow and improve.
“The Roadmap is much more than a set of guidelines, good ideas or wishful thinking,” ALB commented. “It’s a hands-on guide depicting a unified path toward industry growth.”
One of the major challenges facing the industry has been a decline in consumption of lamb by Americans.
Data shows that from the mid-1940s to 2012, consumption dropped from 4.87 pounds of lamb per capita each year to only 0.31 pounds.
“While many factors have contributed to consumer decline in consumption – some of those factors being outside our control – it was acknowledged that there were actions that the sheep industry could – and indeed should – take to move the bar in its favor,” ALB noted.
As a result, the lamb industry set four goals as part of its roadmap.
First, they looked to make American lamb a premier product every time. They also sought to promote lamb as a premier meat.
In the production chain, the Roadmap noted that the industry should work to improve productivity to remain competitive.
The final goal laid out in the Roadmap was to work together as a whole industry.
“Words on a page only have meaning when they inspire action,” ALB commented. “We are happy to report that the Roadmap has spurred some measurable activity.”
Among the measurable goals that they have accomplished, ALB’s Implementation Committee developed a statement to encourage value-based pricing urging all packers to strive to increase grid-based pricing to 80 percent.
ALB also approved a subsidy for three electronic grading machines to be installed in the industry’s three largest packing plants.
“These will enable more accurate grading than human grading,” ALB said, “and they will provide the packers with extensive information about meat quality.”
Another committee, the Product Characteristic Committee, is also wrapping up its Lamb Quality Audit, which will be used to formulate recommendations to improve the quality and consistency of the specialty meat.
“The Product Characteristic Committee also expects to make recommendations this fall to the industry at large on a definition of ‘lamb’ that is appropriate for a premium product,” ALB added.
The National Sheep Improvement Program’s re-launch efforts have also been successful, with increased enrollment of flocks, as well as increased interest in the program by commercial producers.
As a response to the third goal – improvement of productivity – the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) committed an additional $500,000 over three years toward the effort.
“A ‘Let’s Grow’ coordinator was hired in January 2015 to lead these efforts, and Round One grant proposal applications are being solicited to assist producer groups in approving productivity,” ALB mentioned.
Because demand has been a major challenge for the industry, a committee aimed at solving demand challenges formed a Marketing Advisory Council. The council is composed of top executives in the marketing arena to provide advice to ALB on effectively promoting lamb.
ALB noted, “The Demand Creation Committee is also supporting efforts to develop desirable lamb products from mutton to increase the popularity of ewe meat and thereby improve producer profitability.”
Lastly, the Marketing Advisory Council has begun looking at providing greater collaboration between the industry regarding consumer communications.
“While this listing is impressive,” said ALB, “it only represents a few of the Roadmap-inspired actions being undertaken. Each effort is being carefully shepherded and is at its own stage of implementation.”
They continued, “As the efforts build momentum, their effectiveness will be definitely felt by producers.”
As ALB looks toward its next step, they have targeted aggressive implementation of ongoing initiatives as a top priority.
At the same time, they have also introduced a new initiative to look at actions that can be taken to reduce volatility in lamb supply and price.
“We will also be launching other innovative and inspired initiatives formulated by other Roadmap teams,” said ALB.
“We’ll keep producers informed as our work together gains momentum, as new initiatives are unveiled and as the Roadmap continues to inspire and inform our efforts,” ALB commented. “We’re headed in the right direction.”
Groose explains all food is genetically modified, looks at technology availableWritten by Saige Albert
Laramie – In the wake of the University of Wyoming’s 2014 Consumer Issues Conference, titled, “Food: Perceptions, Practices and Policies,” University of Wyoming Associate Professor Robin Groose noted that only one side of the conversation related to genetically modified foods, or GMOs, was portrayed.
“Pretty much everything we eat has been genetically modified in one way or another,” Groose said. “All different kinds of genetic modification are used to improve plants.”
During his presentation, Groose looked at a variety of methods used to genetically modify plant species, noting that there is discussion over what is “genetic modification.”
“Genetically modified refers to a range of methods used to alter the genetic composition of a plant or animal, including traditional hybridization and breeding,” Groose explained. “Genetic engineering is one type of genetic modification that involves making an intentional targeted change in a plant or animal gene sequence to affect a specific result.”
He continued that the goal of genetic modification is to improve plants and modify how they interact with their environment.
“I think our goal in sustainable agriculture is in terms of the environment and profitability for growers,” said Groose.
Further, he noted that genetic modification of plants in agriculture has enabled increased production and yields, citing improved wheat yields in developing countries.
“Populations are going up,” he said. “At the same time, it is taking fewer farmers to feed more people. Yes – many people go to bed hungry, but on the whole worldwide, people are better fed than ever before.”
“The ideas of evolution had been around a long time before Darwin, but he identified natural selection,” Groose commented.
As an example, Groose used maize, which started out as a species called teosinte, which has a hard outer shell surrounding each kernel. Mutations over time resulted in maize that was soft on the outside and easier to eat. It was hunter-gatherer populations who selected for the favorable plants.
“Darwin referred to the selection that agriculturalists were dong as artificial selection,” he said. “Darwin wasn’t implying the stuff we do is fake, he meant ‘artificial’ in terms of producing an artifact.”
In looking at cultivated plants, Groose also noted that artificial selection takes place, as well as traditional plant breeding techniques and modern genetic modification.
“Breeding and biotechnology really compliment one another,” he said. “On the breeding side, we have hybridization and selection, and that is the core of modern plant breeding.”
Biotechnology can be broken into three areas – cell culture, micro-propagation and in vitro technologies.
“The goals of all of these modification techniques are the same, as far as I’m concerned,” Groose said. “We are looking for genetically superior plants.”
Many tools exist for modern plant breeders to utilize, many of which fall under the spectrum of conventional plant breeding technology.
“We manipulate chromosomes, bits of chromosomes and whole genomes,” Groose explained. “There are 25,000 loci on a plant genome. Genetic engineering generally deals with one or very few genes at a time, whereas plant breeders mess with the whole genome.”
“In my opinion, I can imagine unwanted, unintended consequences from traditional plant breeding being more likely than from genetic engineering,” he added.
Groose highlighted eight examples of genetic modification techniques to demonstrate both plant breeding and biotechnology – emasculation,
“Emasculation is a technique to hybridize normally self-pollinated plants to create new inbred pure lines,” he explained. “We remove the anthers from a female plant and, using a camel’s hair brush, we transfer the pollen to the stigma.”
The process is achieved by removing the sepals and petals of the flower before it opens.
“Emasculation doesn’t occur in nature,” Groose continued. “We have made lots of crosses between pea lines and advanced using this technique.”
Backcrossing is another traditional technique that involves crossing two plants and growing a plant from the resulting seeds. The technique ultimately incorporates the desirable gene from the recurrent parent to the offspring.
“Then, we backcross it over and over again to our recurrent parent, selecting for resistance throughout,” he explained. “Along the way, we dilute the genes that come from the donor to approach the genotype of the recurrent parent.”
Groose added, however, “We aren’t just transferring the desired gene. We are also transferring anything that is tightly linked to our resistant gene.”
F1 hybrid cultivars are used in American agriculture to provide hybrid vigor in species.
“It is possible to find pairs of inbred lines that, when combined, exhibit hybrid vigor,” he said, noting that varieties of corn in the Midwest yielding 300 bushels and more per acre are hybrid varieties.
Next allopolyploidization is a genetic evolution mechanism that often occurs naturally.
Allopolyploid plants have multiple sets of chromosomes. For example, wheat used for bread has six chromosomes.
However, Groose mentioned, “Not long ago in Northern Europe and Scandinavia, people were interested in growing small grains with more winter hardiness than bread wheat exhibited.”
The wheat was crossbred with rye, creating an interspecific hybrid species with four sets of chromosomes. While the plants are sterile, the plants yielded are larger and more robust.
“It is from the seed that we get a new allopolyploid,” Groose says. “In this case, we got triticale.”
“We are messing with a lot of genes in classical plant breeding,” he continues. “We are dealing with whole sets of chromosomes, each with 25,000 genes.”
UW Associate Professor Robin Groose noted that many cultivars are genetically improved, including a number of Wyoming’s top crops.
“Breeders break plants into four fundamental populations,” he explained. “We have inbred pure lines, open pollinated populations, hybrids and clones.”
Groose identified many wheat, barley and dry bean lines as inbred pure lines. Open pollinated populations include alfalfa. Sugarbeets and corn are hybrid, and potatoes are clones.
Specifically in Wyoming, 100 percent of the sugarbeet crop is a genetically modified variety, and most of the corn in the state is also a genetically modified variety. He also cited that some alfalfa is modified to be Roundup-resistant.
Look for more information from Groose on more technologically advanced methods of genetically modifying plants in an upcoming edition of the Roundup.