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.

Growing Strong

For use in local newspapers, week of September 22, 2014:

More and more women are taking on leading roles in the agriculture industry.

Some might find it surprising, but over the past 10 years the presence of women in agriculture has increased significantly, with a 21 percent rise in the number of female principal farm operators. Today, 30 percent of all farm operators are women, according to the latest Census of Agriculture.

Terry Gilbert, chair of the American Farm Bureau Women’s Leadership Committee and a Kentucky farmer, says many women gravitate toward specialty-type and value-added farming, such as vegetable and fruit production for local markets.

“Everybody wants to know their farmer, know their food and know where their food comes from, and I think a lot of women are getting into farming to answer that need,” Gilbert says.

Although more doors are open to them than ever before in history, women in agriculture still face obstacles.

There still seems to be a little bit of a prejudice or negativity against women, a sentiment that “she can’t do what a man can do,” Gilbert says. Despite the nay-sayers, “Women are extremely capable of being leaders in agriculture and in farm organizations,” Gilbert says.

She’s not interested in starting a gender war, believing that men and women bring unique strengths to agriculture. She would like to see more women become involved in agricultural leadership through Farm Bureau women’s programs.

Training women to be effective spokespersons and to be comfortable speaking in front of a group – talking about what they do on the farm or ranch and why – is an important focus of the Farm Bureau Women’s Leadership Program, with its “Growing Strong” theme for 2014-2015.

The program highlights grassroots initiatives such as the year-long Our Food Link program that advocates the importance of agriculture with consumers of all ages. Other initiatives include enhancing women’s business planning skills, strengthening social media strategies and engaging in balanced community conversations about food.

USDA's September Supply and Demand Report

For use in local newspapers, week of September 15, 2014:

It will be the largest crop on record in the U.S. if everything the USDA’s September Supply and Demand Report holds true.

The report for the 2014-2015 marketing year confirms that U.S. grain producers can expect record yields and low market returns. Yield estimates for both corn and soybeans are even higher than anticipated, with corn at 171.7 bushels per acre and soybeans coming in at 46.6 bushels per acre.

Although projected usage is also looking higher to help absorb the excess supply, prices are still expected to be the lowest since 2009-2010, Farm Bureau Deputy Chief Economist John Anderson said.

“With a price forecast mid-point of $3.50 for corn, we’re looking at the lowest marketing year average price since 2006-07,” Anderson said. “And it is unlikely these prices will improve as the season’s projected carryover is at 2.002 billion bushels, the largest carryover since the 2004-05 marketing year.”

Carryover for soybeans is also expected to increase from a record low 130 million bushels at the end of 2013-14 to 475 million bushels, the largest since 2006-07. Greg Fox, a grain marketing specialist with the Louisiana Farm Bureau said the soybean market closed lower than $10 per bushel for the first time in years following the report.

“Not a lot of good news for the farmers with these markets right now,” Fox said. “We were already expecting a big production and you can see an almost four billion bushel crop out of this soybean acreage. That's what's killing our markets right now and will continue to kill our markets for the foreseeable future.”

Global production continues to reach record highs as well—soybean production at 311.13 million metric tons and carryout at more than 90 MMT, both records. Global wheat production is also expected to reach a record level of 720 MMT.

Ag Trade Surplus

For use in local newspapers, week of September 8, 2014:

Good news came last week in the form of yet another record year for ag trade in the U.S.

This year the U.S. is set to export $154.5 billion in ag products in 2014, $43 billion worth will be surplus income when you take away the import value. Louisiana Commissioner of Ag and Forestry Dr. Mike Strain points out exports are the key number for our state, as we not only export almost everything we produce, but handle what most other states export as well.

“We're a net export state--over $9 billion of our production is exported,” Strain said. “So, when you talk about a positive balance of trade and a growth in that positive balance of trade, it's a direct benefit to our state.”

Strain said Louisiana has been keeping pace with the national trend, significantly increasing its trade value from the previous year.

“Last quarter, Louisiana exports were up another 9 percent overall for all of our commodities,” he said. “So when you look at exports, exports bring in hard dollars to Louisiana. We have a great gift in our ports systems.” 

Still, not every commodity has had a smooth year in exports. Poultry in particular has suffered under a new ban from top-importer Russia and an old one from India. In the India case, a dispute settlement panel has made their ruling, but it won’t be released publicly until it is translated into different languages. 

American Farm Bureau Federation economist Veronica Nigh says the United States alleged India banned poultry and live pigs due to an outbreak of a low pathogenic avian influenza in Virginia years earlier.

“Though India disputed that a ban was actually in place,” Nigh said. “That ban was put in place even though the U.S. hasn't had an outbreak of high pathogen avian influenza since 2004. International standards for avian influenza control do not support the imposition of import bans due to detection of low pathogenic avian influenza.”

Among the products the U.S. claimed were subject to the ban are domestic and wild birds; day-old chicks, ducks and turkey; unprocessed avian meat products; eggs and egg products and live pigs. Over the next few weeks, the ruling by the dispute panel will be translated before release.

If they don’t agree, the process will continue.

“The second option is that one of the two parties, or both, could appeal the ruling,” Nigh said. “Then that would send it back into the dispute settlement process where the case would be reheard and another report would be filed.”

Overall, ag exports have now had a positive trade balance for the U.S. for more than 50 years. The bottom line to Louisiana is that we need to keep this strong trade going for both our state and our nation.

The Rural Entrepreneurship Challenge

For use in local newspapers, week of September 1, 2014:

Innovation and entrepreneurship are two words that are more likely to be associated with Silicon Valley than rural America.

These two words, however, describe many small businesses in rural communities across the country according to Dr. Lisa Benson, the American Farm Bureau Federation’s director of rural development.

“Rural business owners have a unique comparative advantage to urban businesses with access to affordable land, passionate employees and a customer base that relies on their products,” says Benson. “It’s everything that a successful business needs to have.”

The Rural Entrepreneurship Challenge is a competition that can provide rural business owners with a jump start. The challenge is a competition for both startup businesses and existing businesses wishing to implement an innovative expansion. Not only will finalists have the chance to compete for up to $30,000, but the top four will be provided a year’s worth of business advice and feedback from leading entrepreneurial experts.

“There has been a trend of young people leaving rural communities because they feel like there is nothing there for them,” says Benson. “We want to showcase rural business owners that are activating economic development in their small towns, drawing people in to create jobs and providing local products and services.”

Following the application and interviewing rounds, finalists will pitch their business plans in front of a team of expert judges and a live audience at the 96th American Farm Bureau Annual Convention, Jan. 11-14 in San Diego. A grand prize winner will win $30,000 and the title of American Farm Bureau Rural Entrepreneur of the Year.

Three runners-up will receive $15,000 to implement their ideas. Even the live audience has a chance to vote for their favorite finalists through a social media app. The finalists with the most votes will receive the People’s Choice Award and $10,000. The grand prize and finalist awards will be announced on stage at the final session.

“Ultimately, we want this competition to build awareness among our Farm Bureau members that creating businesses can have a huge positive impact on local communities,” says Benson. “When rural businesses thrive, rural communities thrive.”

The challenge is a marquee program of the Rural Entrepreneurship Initiative, a joint program of the American Farm Bureau Federation and the Global Social Enterprise Initiative and Startup Hoyas at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. The mission of the partnership is to provide resources, tools and promotion to help entrepreneurs turn great ideas into lucrative realities, which will result in even stronger rural communities across the country.

The online application is open through Sept. 15. Learn more about the challenge and apply at StrongRuralAmerica.com.

The Cream Rises to the Top

There’s an old saying in the dairy business that “the cream rises to the top.”

For dairymen these days, this increasingly means rising in the sense of vertical integration.  Low dairy prices are forcing many producers to be ‘one-stop shops,’ where not only cows are milked, but the finished product is made right there on the farm.

For the Flowing Hills Creamery in Belmont, finding success has meant exactly that—bottling milk from the same folks who have been there for generations. Owner Carlton Salley said mixing things up is good for his farm, just like it is for the milk, which isn’t homogenized.

“We’ve got Holsteins, Jersey and Brown Swiss cows out here,” he said. “In homogenization, you break down enzymes that your body needs and by doing what we do, you don't break those enzymes down."

At Flowing Hills, the Salley’s also pasteurize their milk a little differently, again to preserve what is naturally healthy in this milk and destroy potentially harmful bacteria found in raw milk.

“We do a low-vat pasteurization,” Salley said. “We get to about 145-150 degrees for 30 minutes and then we immediately cool it back down. From the time we start our process, our pasteurization, we try to have it back cooled down and ready to bottle within two hours.”

The pasteurizer on the Salley farm isn’t new. In fact, it used to be the Smith Creamery vat, another pioneer in dairy integration in Louisiana.  After an explosion destroyed the creamery in June of 2011, it sat unused until Carton Salley bought it.

The destruction of one creamery led to the rebirth of dairy in Sabine Parish. Even though Salley has been raising dairy cows since 1979, he got out of the business in 2008. Just last year, though, the Salley’s decided the only way they could make it in the dairy business was to bottle and market their own milk. They planned to start small. This pasteurizer changed that plan.

“It was 600 gallons and we had to change the complete form of the plant and ad o to it before we even got started,” said Brenda Salley. “So, it's like God just dropped in and opened those doors and so, we just have to pasteurize more. We get it out to the public and want it more every day.”

Husband Carlton agrees.

“I never intended for it to grow like it has, but I've been well blessed,” he added.

The Salley’s got out of the dairy business six years ago for the same reason many dairymen are--it's tough to make ends meet. It's his experience at a local farmers market directly selling dairy products that changed his mind.

“I knew that it was going to be ok when you have local return people, you know, just come back with their ice chests after two or three weeks,” Salley said.  “I knew then that it was going to be ok.”