President's Column

The Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation is the state’s largest general farm organization representing farmers, ranchers and rural residents. We are a private, non-profit, non-governmental agency established in 1922 to bring a voice to agricultural issues. Our weekly President's Column, started in 1975, today appears in more than 160 newspapers across Louisiana. The column provides information about farming, food prices, environmental issues and other consumer news, while addressing matters important to all of rural Louisiana.

Annual Thanksgiving Survey Shows Modest Increase For Holiday Feast

The American Farm Bureau Federation’s 29th annual informal price survey of classic items found on the Thanksgiving Day dinner table indicates the average cost of this year’s feast for 10 is $49.41, a 37-cent increase from last year’s average of $49.04.

The big ticket item – a 16-pound turkey – came in at $21.65 this year. That’s roughly $1.35 per pound, a decrease of less than 1 cent per pound, or a total of 11 cents per whole turkey, compared to 2013.

“Turkey production has been somewhat lower this year and wholesale prices are a little higher, but consumers should find an adequate supply of birds at their local grocery store,” AFBF Deputy Chief Economist John Anderson said. Some grocers may use turkeys as “loss leaders,” a common strategy deployed to entice shoppers to come through the doors and buy other popular Thanksgiving foods.

The AFBF survey shopping list includes turkey, bread stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, peas, cranberries, a relish tray of carrots and celery, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, and beverages of coffee and milk, all in quantities sufficient to serve a family of 10. There is also plenty for leftovers.

Foods showing the largest increases this year were sweet potatoes, dairy products and pumpkin pie mix. Sweet potatoes came in at $3.56 for three pounds. A half pint of whipping cream was $2.00; one gallon of whole milk, $3.76; and a 30-ounce can of pumpkin pie mix, $3.12. A one-pound relish tray of carrots and celery ($.82) and one pound of green peas ($1.55) also increased in price. A combined group of miscellaneous items, including coffee and ingredients necessary to prepare the meal (butter, evaporated milk, onions, eggs, sugar and flour) rose to $3.48.

In addition to the turkey, other items that declined modestly in price included a 14-ounce package of cubed bread stuffing, $2.54; 12 ounces of fresh cranberries, $2.34; two nine-inch pie shells, $2.42; and a dozen brown-n-serve rolls, $2.17.

The average cost of the dinner has remained around $49 since 2011.

“America’s farmers and ranchers remain committed to continuously improving the way they grow food for our tables, both for everyday meals and special occasions like Thanksgiving dinner that many of us look forward to all year,” Anderson said. “We are blessed to be able to provide a special holiday meal for 10 people for about $5.00 per serving – less than the cost of most fast food meals.”

The stable average price reported this year by Farm Bureau for a classic Thanksgiving dinner tracks closely with the government’s Consumer Price Index for food eaten at home (available online here), which indicates a 3-percent increase compared to a year ago.

A total of 179 volunteer shoppers checked prices at grocery stores in 35 states. Farm Bureau volunteer shoppers are asked to look for the best possible prices, without taking advantage of special promotional coupons or purchase deals, such as spending $50 and receiving a free turkey.

Shoppers with an eye for bargains in all areas of the country should be able to purchase individual menu items at prices comparable to the Farm Bureau survey averages. Another option for busy families without a lot of time to cook is ready-to-eat Thanksgiving meals for up to 10 people, with all the trimmings, which are available at many supermarkets and take-out restaurants for around $50 to $75.

The AFBF survey was first conducted in 1986. While Farm Bureau does not make any scientific claims about the data, it is an informal gauge of price trends around the nation. Farm Bureau’s survey menu has remained unchanged since 1986 to allow for consistent price comparisons.

Ag Coalition Addresses Farm Privacy, Security Concerns

After major concerns about the use of farm data, a coalition of agriculture groups at the National Association of Farm Broadcasters meeting in Kansas City last week agreed to usage principles they would advocate.   

The coalition of major farm organizations and agriculture technology providers (ATPs) have formulated ideas on data privacy and security principles that will encourage the use and development of a full range of innovative, technology-driven tools and services to boost the productivity, efficiency and profitability of American agriculture.

The coalition supporting the principles includes: American Farm Bureau Federation, American Soybean Association, Beck’s Hybrids, Dow AgroSciences LLC, DuPont Pioneer, John Deere, National Association of Wheat Growers, National Corn Growers Association, National Farmers Union, Raven Industries, The Climate Corporation – a division of Monsanto, and USA Rice Federation.

“The principles released today provide a measure of needed certainty to farmers regarding the protection of their data,” said American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman. “Farmers using these technology-driven tools will help feed a growing world while also providing quantifiable environmental benefits. These principles are meant to be inclusive and we hope other farm organizations and ATPs join this collaborative effort in protecting farm-level data as well as educating farmers about this revolutionary technology.”

The principles promise to greatly accelerate the move to the next generation of agricultural data technology, which includes in-cab displays, mobile devices and wireless-enabled precision agriculture that has already begun to boost farm productivity across the United States.

Many analysts compare today’s big-data-driven precision ag to the “green revolution” of the 1960s and 70s, which has likely saved a billion lives or more from starvation since its inception.

Central to the effort surrounding the principles will be grower education initiatives that will include an easy-to-use transparency evaluation tool for farmers. The tool would allow farmers to compare and contrast specific issues within ATP contracts and to see how the contracts align with these agreed-upon principles, and how ATPs manage and use farmers’ data.

“The privacy and security principles that underpin these emerging technologies, whether related to how data is gathered, protected and shared, must be transparent and secure. On this matter, we all agree,” said Stallman. “Farmers are excited about this new technology front, which is why Farm Bureau asked these groups to come together and begin this collaborative dialogue.”

Using precision technology, farmers send large amounts of business and production information to ATPs regarding their planting, production and harvesting practices. Companies use that data to produce “field prescriptions” and benchmarks that provide valuable information farmers can use to make decisions on when, how and which crop varieties to plant, and optimize the application of crop protection and fertilizer inputs. “That’s good for the environment and efficient for food production, too,” Stallman said.

The principles cover a wide range of issues that must be addressed before most farmers will feel assured to share their private business information with data providers. Privacy and Security Principles for Farm Data can be found here.

Veterans In The Field; Farming a Growing Career For Former Military Personnel

As America honors and remembers those who served our nation in the armed forces this Veterans Day, they can also support veterans by buying food and farm products with the Homegrown By Heroes label.

Nearly 100 veterans from 76 different farms across the country are now participating in this Farmer Veteran Coalition initiative, which was launched earlier this year. The coalition works with and supports veterans who see an opportunity in agriculture upon returning from their military duties.

Any farmer, rancher or fisherman who has served, or is still serving, in any branch of the U.S. military is eligible to apply to use the Homegrown By Heroes label. When customers see this logo on display, they know they are purchasing products grown or raised by veterans.

Army veteran Dan Hromas served in Iraq where he was injured in combat. Today, he is selling farm-fresh eggs in Omaha markets with the Homegrown By Heroes label, and finding that customers are eager to support veterans in this way.

“My eggs are flying off the shelf alongside others priced less expensive,” Hromas said.

The Homegrown By Heroes program has a diverse range of veterans, from those just returning from military duties to others who retired after serving in Vietnam. For many of these veterans farming is a new calling. According to the latest Census of Agriculture, released by the Agriculture Department, thousands of veterans are entering the industry as a fresh start.

Others, like Desert Storm National Guard veteran Shad Dasher, return home to the family business after serving their country. Dasher has spent most of his life on his 145-acre family farm in Georgia. As a third-generation Vidalia onion farmer, he now proudly carries the Homegrown By Heroes label.

Communities not only wholeheartedly welcome these heroes home but are also eager to pitch in and help them succeed. Matthew Brady, an Army veteran, served two tours in Iraq and was awarded a Purple Heart before returning home to run his family’s 90-acre hay farm in Michigan. Upon hearing he was certified to carry the Homegrown By Heroes label, his neighbors offered him use of 160 more acres.

After the initial national launch of this program, the Illinois Farm Bureau became one of the first to work with their state’s agriculture department and the Farmer Veteran Coalition to create a state Homegrown By Heroes label and program. In addition to the use of the label for packaging, websites and social media, this program will offer farmer training and education programs, as well as provide informational resources. The Illinois state initiative will create mentorships for veterans with more experienced farmers, promote farmer training, increase farmers’ market opportunities, and foster relationships with retailers and food service organizations.

“We’re proud to help out those who have served,” said Ronnie Anderson, president of the Louisiana Farm Bureau, which has supported the program through donations. “Just like service to our nation is a way of life, so is farming. I think our veterans have a unique understanding of duty, sacrifice and hard work, which have always been core values for agriculture.” 

As these veterans serve their country a second time by providing food and farm products, the Homegrown By Heroes label offers Americans another way to support our veterans throughout the year, not just on Veterans Day.

Survey: Most Farmers Concerned About Data Security

As data becomes more and more integrated into agriculture, many farmers have concerns of how their farm-level information is being used.

A recent survey by the American Farm Bureau concludes farmers and ranchers top concerns with data are security, how it’s used, who will use it and what they will do with it. Farm Bureau economist Matthew Erickson says farmers are often unaware of how their information is used.

“Over 82 percent of farmers are unaware of all the ways a company intends to use their farm data,” Erickson said. “These issues are real in the countryside and one of the things that we’re doing when we have these conversations with these different companies, were asking the tough questions. Hopefully by using the voice of the farmer through this survey these issues get addressed.”

Erickson says farmers are concerned with protecting their data.

“Some of the top concerns were how is their data being used by each company and who’s it being shared with,” he said. “One of the other concerns too is liability. In the case of a data breach, who is liable for their farm data and can misuse of their data be used against them if not obtained legally? And the third question being: Is my data anonymous so it cannot be traced back to their site specific operation?”

However, the more than 3,000 farmers who responded to the survey indicated data can help their operations. Erickson says it’s important to remember data can help revolutionize the industry.

“For instance, farmers indicated the use of precision technologies reduced their input cost by an average of 15 percent, while on the other hand increasing their crop yields by an average of 13 percent,” Erickson said. “So those are really two big things that precision technologies do for farmers to increase their bottom line.”

Find more about the survey online at www.fb.org/newsroom.

Pork Production Set to Surpass Beef in 2015

It might be hard to believe, but pork is set to surpass beef production next year.

American Farm Bureau’s chief economist Bob Young said if so, it will be the first time since the 1950’s pork production topped beef production in the U.S.

“I do really think we’re going to talk about more pork production,” Young said. “USDA’s calling for it, a number of other groups are calling for it, and that situation looks like it’s going to continue for at least the next five, six, seven, eight years or so out in front of us so, entering into new territory here.”

With many areas of the nation now recovering from droughts that drove herd numbers down, and lower feed cost, the beef industry is expected to start growing again over the next few years. Young adds that growth will take time.

“Cattle are not like chickens,” Young said. “It just takes a long time for us to bring those additional animals back on, to bring supply back up. We've been pulling this herd down for a long, long time. It’s going to take us quite a while I think to get those supplies turned around and actually growing again.”

As for prices at the meat counter, competition from pork and chicken may help limit beef prices, but Young says beef prices are likely to remain higher.

“I think pork and chicken both are going to end up growing noticeably in 2015 and will work toward trying to keep meat prices down,” Young said. “But beef prices I think are going to continue to be maybe not quite as strong just because of this competition from the other meats but continue to be some of the strongest of all three meats.”

Young’s biggest concern is what this will do to consumer attitude about beef and meat prices in general.  Throughout the last two years, even as prices have gone higher, demand has stayed strong, but there are signs it is starting to wane as prices creep upwards.

“The real challenge is going to be what happens at the consumer level,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot more competition for that space on a consumer plate as we move forward.”