Sep 23, 2022

Satellite-Based Carbon Tracker Helps Animal Ag Meet Climate Goals

Provides specific field emissions data to better quantify impacts of sustainable practices

PIXABAY

Jul 28, 2022

Excessive Grain Rail Service Delays Call for Policy Action

Freight Rail Shipping Fair Market Act bill drafted to address poor rail performance

Dmitriev Mikhail | BIGSTOCK

Apr 15, 2022

ISU’s Grain, Feed Complex Adds Value Across Supply Chain

Education center to offer classroom, hands-on learning and valuable insights

Feb 16, 2022

Feed & Grain Announces Safety Vest, Cash Giveaway

Donning safety vests at the grain elevator or feed mill helps your staff stand out to visitors and each other


Rido81 | Bigstock

Sep 30, 2019

Bring Your Outlook into Focus with Vision 20/20

Online registration is live for Vision 20/20: Global Markets Outlook

May 10, 2017

Top Five Reasons to Attend Feed & Grain LIVE

Why should you attend? Because of the education, trade show, prizes and more!

Mar 8, 2017

One Week Left to Add Your Facility to List of Exporters to China!

Let AFIA know by March 15 if your company exports or wishes to export to China

Sep 30, 2014

Grain Handling Challenges Ahead With Large Harvest

Rail transportation tops the concerns of farmers this year as they prepare to harvest what’s expected to be a massive corn crop.

Apr 10, 2014

Feed Industry Feels ‘Lack of Recognition’

Some of the changes proposed include new CGMPs for facility operations, equipment design and process controls, as well as mandates on Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls.

Mar 14, 2014

Five Things to Love about the New FeedandGrain.com

You may have noticed over the past several days that one of your favorite bookmarks on your web browser looks a little different. That's because Feed & Grain launched a new website earlier this week.This makeover has been months in the making, but after a few days of testing and tweaking, we're ready to announce it.

Mar 6, 2014

FSMA Compliance: You’re Closer than You Think

Perhaps the most frustrating hurdle the FSMA presents is the fact that unlike USDA’s GIPSA or APHIS inspectors, many FDA inspectors have little or no grain industry background. They’re used to inspecting food plants where you can “literally eat off of the floor,” Mosher said. “Your facility is never going to look like that, but cleanliness is an indicator of grain quality. Especially be careful to clean up pest’s droppings.”

Jul 24, 2013

A Bittersweet Summer

I recently celebrated my five-year anniversary as a full-time employee of Cygnus Business Media, Feed & Grain magazine's former parent company, and nearly simultaneously reached another milestone in my career: being named editor of Feed & Grain.

Over the past five years, I have worked for several Cygnus publications in various industries (all while serving as part-time Feed & Grain staffer), but I always felt most at home among the folks in the feed and grain sector. Through my travels as associate editor to trade shows, conferences and facilities, I've had the opportunity to meet many of the amazing professionals who help make agriculture the fine engine of prosperity that it is today. From our readers, to the trade associations that represent you and the equipment suppliers, everyone I've met has been welcoming, hospitable and eager to share their insights with me.

So, naturally I'm thrilled to be advancing my career within a group of people that I admire and genuinely enjoy being a part of. That’s why my joy can’t help but be dampered by sadness over the high rate of grain-related accidents we've had this summer.

By mid-July, an Illinois man had died from grain engulfment while working at a cooperative, two men were injured in an elevator explosion in Nebraska and a farmer died near Dayton, OH, trying to empty a grain bin. In June, two men in Indiana died from separate accidents at grain facilities, one involving grain engulfment and an explosion at another. But it started in April, when an ethanol plant worker died by grain engulfment in Milton, WI — a town halfway between my commute from home to Feed & Grain's office. In fact, through "six degrees of separation," I was acquainted with the young man who lost his life. A church in my town held a benefit for his widow and child.

Up until then, I had only read about such tragedies in the news — it never hit close to home on a personal level, but this accident highlighted how in touch I am with this industry. I'm not just an observer, or a mere reporter of your events. I live in the same type of community as you do and experience the same ups and downs that come with being entrenched in agriculture.

And while I don't know the circumstances surrounding these accidents, and I am in no way placing blame on anyone, I do want to bring attention to OSHA's new "stop sign" for the grain industry, which serves as a simple reminder to check all hazards before entering a grain bin.

Here's to a safe and happy ending to your summer!

Jul 11, 2013

Are You Emailing Correctly?

In flipping through old issues of Feed & Grain, I ran across a Manager's Notebook from 2007 that, although only six years old, had me nearly laughing at how archaic it sounded. It was about effective communication for feed and grain businesses, and had a section dedicated to email. The authors provided a definition for the term "spam" and suggested using filters to remove such unwanted content. They went on to advise creating folders to help organize and reduce clutter from the remaining messages. It even mentioned the "You've got mail!" reminder that AOL made famous in the 1990s. It's hard to imagine a time when this everyday knowledge was foreign to anyone.

Back then, email was one of the few applications feed and grain business managers used their computers for. Today, those same managers are likely receiving and replying to emails constantly via their smart phones and tablets and use computers for more complex tasks, such as running facility operations, accounting and customer service. A lot sure has changed since "Communicating in the Feed and Grain Business" was published.

However, tucked within this seemingly elementary email tutorial, there were a few nuggets of advice that still resonate today, including the tip to not read and answer emails all day long. Authors, John Foltz and Christine Wilson, wrote:

"For many people, email can almost become an addiction — where they feel a need to constantly check it ... but almost all emails do not need to be answered immediately. A good email management strategy is to set aside particular times each day when you will look at your email and answer it. Perhaps it is to read it three times a day (first thing in the morning, right after lunch, and right before you leave in the evening.)."

This advice is perhaps even more relevent today as we are literally tethered to devices that deliver emails instantly. Urgent messages are easy to identify, and can and should be replied to immediately, but otherwise, try to dedicate your time to managing your facility/business/firm — espeically early in the morning, the authors pointed out.

"Don't answer your email during your most productive time of day. Many people are most productive first thing in the morning, when they are wide awake and ready to face the day. Answering email is not typically a task that takes a lot of creativity, so you might consider leaving it until late in the day. This will free up time when you can be most efficient with things that need sharp mental prowess — such as management, personnel and finance decisions."

Their last tip worth noting is so simple it's easy to forget — use good ettiquette. Again, these may seem basic, but who couldn't use a brush up on their email ettiquette? Foltz and Wilson outlined eight key points:

  1. "Be concise and to the point
  2. Answer all questions so as to preempt further questions
  3. Use proper spelling, grammar and punctuation
  4. Make it personal
  5. Don't attach any unneccessary files
  6. Do not write in CAPITALS (it's considered shouting)
  7. Read your e-mail before you send it
  8. Do not overuse 'Reply to All'"

Please feel free to test your application of these e-mail tips by dropping me a message about yourself and your feed and grain operation. I am always looking for reader feedback and story ideas. Do you have any tips for better managing your time?

Mar 27, 2013

Food Fight

The 117th edition of the National Grain and Feed Association’s (NGFA) Annual Convention, held in San Francisco in mid-March, drove this sentiment home in its general sessions: While agriculture is one of the greatest growth industries, the coming years will be filled with the unique challenge of restoring the public’s trust in the food system. For those working and living agriculture, it should come as no surprise that much of the content presented by the event’s diverse set of speakers focused on the anti-biotechnology battle being waged in this country — specifically the one against genetically modified (GM) grains and food stuffs.

Largely driven by emotion and misinformation, the vitriolic arguments presented by biotech’s opponents run contrary to the extensive scientific research backing the legitimacy and safety of GM foods. Why then does this movement have such momentum? According to Chuck Policinski, Land O’ Lakes president and CEO, agriculture has failed to manage the public’s opinions on the food supply by not effectively telling its productivity story, the one only made possible through the use of biotechnology.

Let’s face it, the public has been conditioned to be suspicious of big business (often rightfully so) — and agriculture surely is not exempt from this scrutiny. Big is bad — and the consumers intrinsically question whether or not greed-driven corporations (and politicians) have their interests and well-being in mind.

California’s Proposition 37 (also known as “The California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act”) highlights this movement. The statute would have called for the mandatory labeling of genetically modified consumer food products at the grocery store. While Prop 37 was defeated during the 2012 election by a narrow margin, the push certainly didn’t end in California. In fact, many states have proposed legislation and pending ballot initiatives in motion.

Do consumers deserve to know where their food comes from and how it is sourced? Absolutely. Should the industry be more transparent? I think so; however, acknowledging that the tide has shifted, perhaps it’s time to take the initiative and address the matter on its own terms.

Earlier this month, Whole Foods became the first major retailer requiring products containing GMOs to be labeled by 2018 — and, in time, other major retailers are likely to follow suit. Not knowing where the consumer’s interest in the supply chain will end, grain handling and feed manufacturing industries should keep a keen eye on this issue because we are, after all, ultimately one industry.

Policinski urges individuals and agribusinesses to actively engage with the public in real time via social media and that they reach out to their local and state politicians to tell the story about an industry revving up to feed a growing global population.

What are you doing to tell our story?

Mar 13, 2013

Voice Your Opinion on Futures Protections

The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) is analyzing its proposed customer protections, i.e. segregated funds, after receiving a lot of criticism for its recent rulings. Customers and trade organizations have voiced concern over proposed protections they deem harmful to small to mid-sized futures commission merchants (FCM), which account for the bulk of agribusiness hedging activity.

Insurance, one form of protection for segregated funds, was excluded from the CFTC’s proposal. The Commodity Customer Coalition (CCC), a non-profit organization formed in response to the bankruptcy of MF Global, headed by co-founders John Roe, president of Roe Capital Management Inc., and James Koutoulas, CEO Typhon Capital Management LLC, is advocating creation of insurance policies for futures customers and has been working on reform initiatives such as an account insurance mechanism and testing alternative forms of collateral segregation, i.e. margining positions though bank account rather than futures broker.

The CCC’s currently pushing a captive insurance company model. To test the validity of that model, the CCC needs to determine if there is a sufficient market interest for an insurance product; what customers seeking that insurance would be willing to pay; what kind of coverage they would be looking for; and collect account-level data in order to formulate the actuarial model to make sure it’s feasible to create an insurance product.

Roe explains: “We’re talking about a small market here — very few people have a commodity trading account so we’re talking about limited exposure here. It’s not possible for an insurance company to produce such policies so we’d have to create a new company. The survey will measure demand, the actuarial ability to produce the product — and then hopefully we’ll have the data we need to roll up our sleeves and let the actuaries go to work.”

The CCC is conducting two surveys to determine the feasibility of customer account insurance. One survey is tailored to the needs of public customers of commodity firms; the other, to National Futures Association’s (NFA) member or member firms.

If the market demand is there, the CCC will develop its own captive insurance company and begin offering insurance policies to commodity customers.

To take the Commodity Insurance Survey, click here if you are the customer of a commodity firm or click here if you are an NFA member or member firm.

The deadline is March 31.

Click on the link fror more information about CCC’s Insurance/Liquidity Concept.

Feb 1, 2013

Sweeping Change Ahead?

Since I began my tenure as Feed & Grain’s editor, OSHA’s 2009 Letter of Interpretation regarding bin entry and sweep auger operation has remained a point of strife and confusion among our readers.

In the letter, a response to an insurance agent’s inquiry about the restrictions involved with employees working in a grain bin with an energized sweep auger, OSHA stated that it is in violation of the Grain Handling Standard (1910.272 (g) (1) (ii) to do so unless the employer eliminates all hazards posed by an unguarded sweep auger. Many believe the now infamous letter exposed a fundamental lack of understanding of how a sweep auger works — as well as how grain is handled — since the implications would make operation difficult, if not impossible, while remaining in compliance with the standard.

Politicians and industry leaders, like the National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA), have reached out to OSHA, but despite their efforts, the agency has failed to deliver concrete guidance for acceptable procedures or alternatives for in-bin energized sweep auger operation. However, more than three years later, as these cases are making their way to litigation, grain companies are finally getting a glimpse of what may be expected of them.

Recently, attorneys in Epstein Becker Green’s national OSHA practice group made headway when representing an Illinois grain handler, who despite having “employed a combination of administrative and engineering controls to ensure that no employee was ever within the zone of danger,” received a citation for allowing an employee to operate a sweep auger while in the grain bin.

The law firm contested the citation, and worked with an OSHA area director and regional administrator to develop a set of safety principles to satisfy the “equally effective means or methods” language of the grain standard.

Ultimately, OSHA withdrew the citation; and as part of the settlement agreement, the company will incorporate a set of “10 Sweep Auger Safety Principles,” which if satisfied, would allow an employee to work inside a grain bin with an energized sweep auger. It also developed and submitted for OSHA’s review and approval a “Sweep Auger Policy,” which outlines engineering and administrative controls used to ensure worker safety.

Attorney Eric Conn, head of OSHA practice with Epstein Becker Green, is confident this ruling may guide future policy, and commends the willingness of the agency to work with his client to find a reasonable solution.

While the outcome of this settlement is a step in the right direction, on a national level, an elevator who adheres to these principles is not guaranteed protection from a citation until this or another directive becomes final policy, warns Jess McCluer, NGFA’s director of safety and regulatory affairs.

The outcome of this case may not be the final word on the issue, but it does point to a potential resolution in the near future. To read a detailed account of the case as told by the attorneys involved, click here.

Jan 14, 2013

Top 10 Products & Services of 2012

Technology offers an infinite amount of data collection opportunities — too many, some may argue; however, the ease-of-access and accuracy of the information means nothing if you're not going to use it in a way that gives it relevance. When attempting to identify trends, programs like Google Analytics, a service that generates detailed website traffic statistics, allow the numbers — and the consumer — to speak for themselves.
Within a print edition of Feed & Grain magazine, our "Product Spotlight" features aim to provide relevant information by taking a cross-platform approach. You see, each product we run includes a unique URL directing readers to product/company information in our Online Buyer's Guide, allowing the interested party to view additional product information or contact the company directly. This practice, as well as organic searches, account for most of our Buyer's Guide traffic and gives us a solid indication of the products readers are interested in purchasing.
Meanwhile, Feed & Grain's surveys consistently reveal two timeless trends among our readership: a) product information ranks high in terms of relevance and demand; b) almost everyone is interested in reading about what their peers are up to — from a purchasing and best practices standpoint. Then it occurred to me: Why not give them both?
Using the data collected by Google Analytics from Jan. 1 until Dec. 31, 2012, here is a list of Feed & Grain's "Top 10 Products" of 2012:
  1. LevAlert Steel Bin Level Indicator by KC Supply Co. Inc.
  2. Bin Whip Series 9250 by Pneumat Systems Inc.
  3. Seedburo Grain Probes by Seedburo Equipment Co.
  4. Continous Flow and Recycling Dryers from LMM LAW-MAROT-MILPRO
  5. WL Portland Systems Inc.'s Feed Mill Design/Build Services
  6. LMM LAW-MAROT-MILPRO's Rotary Grain Cleaners
  7. Dunbar Kapple Vac-U-Vator by Christianson Systems Inc.
  8. Agridry LLC's Bullseye Grain Temperature/Moisture Controller
  9. Neogen Corp.'s Reveal for Aflatoxin SQ and Accuscan III Reader
  10. Automatic Truck Probe by Intersystems

In addition to satisfying voyeuristic tendencies, hopefully this list will offer someone, somewhere, direction with a future aquisition.

Remember to visit Feed & Grain's Online Buyer's Guide, the industry's most comprehensive collection of the feed and grain industry's products and services, to search for all your equipment needs.

Note: Feed & Grain's FREE iPad app, 2013 Equipment & Services Guide, is available at the Apple Store.

Jan 14, 2013

Navigating the New Year

After almost a decade on the job, I can say with certainty, the last month of each year is a always a blur. Back-to-back issues, relentless deadlines, business travel, planning meetings — it all comes raining down in December. However, for me, it is also one of the most valuable times of the year because I find myself especially connected to Feed & Grain readers, who, to be honest, make it all worthwhile.

Earlier this week I attended the National Grain & Feed Association’s (NGFA) 41st Annual Country Elevator Conference and Trade Show, held in Omaha, NE. Though very topically diverse, the conference sessions mirrored my December reality with a common theme: “Let the past guide you.”

Reading my coverage of the event, you may wonder how I came to this conclusion, but to me the connection was obvious. Reading between the lines during the presentations on financial reform, historic weather patterns, and quality control systems, dealing with unfavorable conditions — drought, volatility, the stresses of risk and uncertainty — the ability to cope, strategize and persevere comes from lessons learned from past experiences, either your own or by seeking guidance from those in the agribusiness community who have been there before. It’s that sense of community, the shared experiences, that get us through.

Working the Feed & Grain booth at the trade show, I had the chance to speak to a number of our readers and took time to ask them about the information they hoped to glean from the sessions and bring back to their businesses; about the last year; the management challenges that keep them up at night; and what they would like to read about in the magazine, etc. It may seem like idle chatter, but this one-on-one time is invaluable to me, someone who sits as a spectator on the sidelines of a robust, complex and, oftentimes, nuanced industry.

Meanwhile, in my free time, I have been cold-calling subscribers at random in hopes of tracking the developing trends the magazine should cover in 2013. While this exercise is meant to gather industry insight, I am often floored by the participants’ willingness to share their knowledge and the sincerity I encounter when they elaborate on the challenges they face; to describe the decades of change that have come up around them; and to frankly discuss what they feel the future holds for their business and themselves.

To those of you who have taken the time to chat, you have my gratitude for the keen guidance you have provided; and on that note, to any of you who have considered sending in a story idea or sharing an experience you think may be helpful to one of your peers, please do not hesitate to reach out to me directly. After all, I’m here to serve you.

Here’s to the ag community! May we all learn and grow from the year to come.

Sep 25, 2012

Industry Invests in its Future

During my two-hour drive from Birmingham and Auburn to write this issue's cover story, "Auburn's New Feed Mill Comes to Roost," I tried to mentally prepare my questions for Dr. Don Conner, the head of the university's poultry science department, and Mitchell Pate, director of the poultry research unit, but my mind began to wander. I began to think about how excited the student's must be to kick off the Fall 2012 semester in an immaculate, brand-new, state-of-the-art feed mill. The purchase of school supplies was enough to get me motivated for the new school year, but imagine the message this new facility sends to these students: "The poultry industry needs you and this faciltiy represents its investment in you."

In this month's Manager's Notebook (pg. 36), "How to Recruit Tomorrow's Managers," Drs. Jay Akridge and John Foltz cite that by 2015 there will be 54,400 jobs annually for individuals in the agricultural sciences. (USDA report)

In a time when the majority of graduates in many disciplines are simply hoping to find anything in their chosen field, the kids in Auburn's gradate and undergraduate program know they are in high demand in the Southeast with the erection of the Poultry & Animal Nutrition Center. To date, the department has raised 40% of the cost of the mill with industry and stakeholder donations; it hopes to raise the addition 60% over the next four years. Within the modular feed mill, the industry's suppliers alone donated $750,000-worth of equipment. Impressive numbers by anyone's estimation.

According to Dr. Conner, the demand for skilled employees in the Southeast is high — and rising. Behind Georgia and Arkansas, Alabama ranks third in poultry production; Auburn University is located in the heart of the "Broiler Belt." The thing is, the demand Auburn seeks to meet it's just about "growing the industry's future CEOs and VPs," as it was explained to me, "at the end of the day, it's all about education," the university hope to utilize the mill for continuing education and training programs for individuals already working in the field.

In addition, the university's world-class research laboratories can provide endless opportunities for proprietary poultry-related research to aid in the stregthening the yields of poultry producers at all levels. Dr. Conner and his department urge anyone interested in feed mill stop in for a tour, stressing this isn't Auburn's feed mill, it belongs to the collective industry as they plan for a profitable future.

Jul 24, 2012

Food Defense: Is Your Company Secure?

In January, during my visit to Two Rivers Cooperative, general manager Tracy Gatham described the cooperative

Jun 23, 2012

Organic Valley: A Social Experiment

Production and animal agriculture producers may or may not be shocked to discover that its organic brethren is also frequently subjected to the wrath of critics — and, often, based on similar accusations. Agvocates of all sorts can learn a thing or two from the crisis communications strategies of Organic Valley (OV).

Two marketing representatives from the La Farge, WI-based organic farm cooperative discussed their proactive approach to social media and engagement management at a Social Media Breakfast event held in Madison, WI. While Leslie Kruempel, OV’s social media specialist, focused on the creative business-to-consumer programs it uses Facebook and Twitter to promote, the frank discussion of the cooperative’s struggle with three social-media-fueled PR crises proved especially interesting.

Greg Brickl, OV’s marketing communications director, explained that compared to its primary competition, a publically traded company who sources some of its organic products from factory farms (a faux pas within the organic community), OV’s dedication to organic ideology and its commitment to small family farms made the decision to enter the social sphere “a no brainer.” Today, the company has more than 15,000 Twitter followers and 206,000 Facebook “likes,” a fan base primarily comprised of the mothers of young children.

Social media damage control

According to Brickl, community engagement in its social space breaks into two factions: “98% Love vs. 2% Something Else.” His presentation focused on the later, highlighting three recent incidents that incited public outcry across its social media channels and how the cooperative managed the discourse.

The “Three Meltdown – 10 Months” break down as such:

  • Raw milk: In late 2011, OV’s board of directors decided to uphold a long-standing tenant of its membership agreement that stipulates that all milk produced on the OV member farms be delivered to the cooperative for production and sale, measure that not only addressed supply concerns, but safe-guarding the cooperative from any potential public safety issues. “Passionate” raw milk consumers, who purchased their raw milk from these dairies, turned to Facebook for four weeks, bombarding its page with hostile commentary.

    “Legit beef? Maybe. I understand that we were coming between them and their raw milk source,” Brickl said, but insisted the action was within the cooperative’s right to protect the integrity of the brand.

    During this time the cooperative could not effectively use social media as a marketing tool. Even though OV had "hid" its comment wall, anytime it posted an image or a status update — regardless of the content of the post — the Facebook comment streams would be taken over by the raw milk advocates. As a result, the marketing team spent a lot of energy responding to the negative feedback.
  • Egg/hen + PETA: After treehugger.com and PETA posted a picture purported to expose a subpar OV egg laying facility, consumers leveled an attack on OV’s social sites yet again.

    “They weren’t our chickens, it wasn’t one of our farms, but we spent another month dealing with consumer vitriol,” said Brickl, he noted that Organic Valley strictly abides by organic poultry standards.
  • Coexistence: In 2010, OV’s CEO met with Secretary Tom Vilsack and biotechnology to discuss the deregulation of genetically modified alfalfa, a staple of a dairy cow's diet. While OV advocated to keep GM alfalfa illegal, once the USDA took that option off the table, OV advocated for very strict restrictions. OV’s acceptance of coexistence and its willingness to work with biotech and the USDA led to the cooperative’s latest social media challenge as angry followers insinuated OV “was in bed with Monsanto,” a claim the cooperative vehemently denies.

    “Anybody who knows anything about us knows we’ve spent the entirety of our existence fighting for a food system that is the antithesis of what Monsanto stands for,” Brickl asserted.

    The marketing team deems the severity of this ongoing issue a 10 because they have come under attack from many angles, and incorrect Internet articles are difficult to rebut when the source is not a legit news outlet.

Social crisis communications tactics

“We learned very quickly that we needed to establish a plan,” Brickl said. He suggests that companies have a social media crisis communications plan in place prior to an incident. Here are the actions OV took to manage the various issues it has faced:

  • Stick to the plan, but be ready to change it for effect
  • Respond to every complaint quickly
  • Formulate responses not just for the one, but for many (the people reading the feed)
  • Do not use robotic PR speak
  • Do not censor posts or ban users unless they violate etiquette guidelines
  • Tell the truth!
[Source: Organic Valley's “Social Media and Food” slideshow.]

One tactful way to address individuals determined to derail productive engagement is to develop and post etiquette guidelines on the site as you “can’t ban someone unless you’ve given them the rules.” Brickl advises page administrators not block or delete the comments of its critics; however, should it need to block unruly commentators, these guidelines will support that action without reeking of censorship.

In the end, it’s the responsibility of all producers — organic or not — to educate consumers about the truths of farming and agribusiness rather than allow misinformed detractors to control perceptions. Social media offers the direct messaging opportunities and instant feedback unrivaled by traditional advertising and public relations campaigns.

Additional take-a-ways from the presentation:

  • Not everyone knows the difference between pasture butter and regular butter. Consumers and producers debate the differences here.
  • To evoke comments and engagement, don’t be afraid to post cutesy photos and light-hearted banter to add character to the brand as demonstrated with this image.
  • If there is a Social Media Breakfast in your area, it’s free so I suggest you attend. Visit the website or “like” it on Facebook for a list of events.

To view a photo gallery from the event, visit Social Media Breakfast Madison’s Facebook album.

Jun 1, 2012

GMO Labeling Gains Popularity

The 117th edition of the National Grain and Feed Association’s (NGFA) Annual Convention, held in San Francisco in mid-March, drove this sentiment home in its general sessions: While agriculture is one of the greatest growth industries, the coming years will be filled with the unique challenge of restoring the public’s trust in the food system. For those working and living agriculture, it should come as no surprise that much of the content presented by the event’s diverse set of speakers focused on the anti-biotechnology battle being waged in this country — specifically the one against genetically modified (GM) grains and food stuffs.

GMOLargely driven by emotion and misinformation, the vitriolic arguments presented by biotech’s opponents run contrary to the extensive scientific research backing the legitimacy and safety of GM foods. Why then does this movement have such momentum? According to Chris Policinski, Land O’Lakes president and CEO, agriculture has failed to manage the public’s opinions on the food supply by not effectively telling its productivity story, the one only made possible through the use of biotechnology.

Let’s face it, the public has been conditioned to be suspicious of big business (often rightfully so) — and agriculture surely is not exempt from this scrutiny. Big is bad — and consumers intrinsically question whether or not greed-driven corporations (and politicians) have their interests and well-being in mind.

California’s Proposition 37 (also known as “The California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act”) highlights this movement. The statute would have called for the mandatory labeling of genetically modified consumer food products. While Prop 37 was defeated during the 2012 election by a narrow margin, the push certainly didn’t end in California. In fact, a number of U.S. states have proposed legislation and pending ballot initiatives in motion.

Do consumers deserve to know where their food comes from and how it is sourced? Absolutely. Should the industry be more transparent? I think so. The tide has shifted, perhaps it’s time the industry takes the initiative and addresses the matter on its own terms.

Earlier this month, Whole Foods became the first major retailer requiring products containing genetically modified organisms (GMO) to be labeled by 2018 — and, in time, other major retailers are likely to follow suit. Not knowing where the consumer’s interest in the supply chain will end, grain handling and feed manufacturing industries should keep a keen eye on this issue because we are, after all, ultimately one industry.

Policinski urges individuals and agribusinesses to actively engage with the public in real time via social media and that they reach out to their local and state politicians to tell the story about an industry revving up to feed a growing global population.

What are you doing to tell our story?

May 8, 2012

New Mediums Shape the Media

Last year Feed & Grain's parent company, Cygnus Business Media, adopted the tagline: “Because the world is changing very fast.” Fitting for a publishing company considering the last decade has delivered the most extraordinary changes in information consumption and delivery for print media since the advent of the printing press. OK, maybe the widespread adoption of the the PC draws a better comparison — but, regardless, everything has changed.

Game changer #1: The smart phones, for example, has not only changes the way we receive news, it’s altered the way we communicate with the world. I’m not just talking about the nonsense abbreviations (LOL, BRB, OMG), I mean texting, social media access — even the inclination to drop land lines all together. I, for one, have not had a “home phone number” in a decade. Yes, a decade.

According to Pew Research’s Internet & American Life Project, in February of 2012 nearly half (46%) of American adults are smartphone users — a statistic that falls very closely in line with the number identified in a recent Feed & Grain smart technology reader survey (56%).

Game changer #2: Tablets have seen a similar surge in the adoption rate. The iPad, for example, has earned the title of “fastest selling electronic device in history,” selling three million units in the first 80 days after its release. According to MediaBistro.com, iPads capture 50% of newspaper and magazine readers who consume the media on the tablet. (Good for advertisers too since they cite increased receptivity to advertisements.)

Of the 350 survey respondees, 1/3 said they own a tablet (either an iPad or something similar) and those who did not, well, 14% said they planned to purchase one in the next 12 months. Most of the participants with tablets use them for news consumption and magazines subscriptions — statistics that also align with MediaBistro's findings.

I must confess, though I love the tangible crispness of a new print edition, I'm a sucker for reading my magazine subscriptions on my iPad. The draw: Rich media enhancements that can't be delivered in print or displayed properly online. One example, the 360-degree image rotation. Not the best example, but imagine viewing ancient artifacts or the Titanic in 3-D — complete with zoom capabilities — it makes for a seriously interesting user experience. Thank you, National Geographic.

Anyway, as the world changes ever faster, it makes you wonder what innovations await media dissemination in the next decade. Long live print!

Mar 26, 2012

OSHA Amplifies Efforts

Popularized in by the misspeak of former president George W. Bush, we're all familiar the following idiom, though I ask that you allow me to take liberties with it for the purposes of this column:

Jan 31, 2012

Let's Talk About the Weather

Occasionally, I find myself in a conversation with a stranger or an acquaintance, cringing as I catch myself mindlessly talking about the weather. Dicussion of the weather, for me, is thoughtless go-to filler for awkward silences or a transition into friendly chit chat. This being said, sitting at my desk in Fort Atkinson, WI, today, writing my column on January 31, I am compelled to talk about the weather. Outside, the sun is shining and it is 50 degrees. Clarifying, as not to make assumptions about the reader's understanding of an upper Midwestern winter, this is highly abnormal.

Trust me, I'm not complaining — and I must mention I don’t have strong feelings on the subject one way or another — but I can see where proponents of the global warming theory are drawing convincing empirical data. The Internet was a buzz this week surrounding the Wall Street Journal article, “No Need to Panic About Global Warming,” complimented by a subhead reading, “There's no compelling scientific argument for drastic action to 'decarbonize' the world's economy.”

The opinion piece, “signed” by 16 scientists, argues the world does not need any wide-sweeping regulations, i.e. “drastic actions,” to combat global warming. Citing what is referred to as the “Climategate” email from climate scientist Kevin Trenberth: "The fact is that we can't account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can't."

The cyclical, predictable nature of climate ebbs and flows is at the core of the life’s work of Elwynn Taylor, professor of ag meteorology at Iowa State University in Ames, IA. In his presentation at NGFA’s Annual Country Elevator Conference, Taylor today’s seemingly extraordinary temperatures are nothing more than typical extremes of compared with the temperatures of other La Niña years during the 1950s and 1970s.

“It may suddenly shift again when its influence by El Nino,” Taylor says, referring to the patterns of the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), that in conjunction with El Niño or La Niña, is responsible 50% of climate variability on the Earth (source: NASA Earth Observatory).

Thanks to this presentation, I can drop a little scientific data into my weather-centric banter.

If you’re curious about the work of Elwynn Taylor and his observations about how the weather is impacting agriculture and yields, follow him on Twitter @ElwynnTaylor.

Dec 14, 2011

Uncharted Territory

After MF Global's bankruptcy and the subsequent revelation it had misused customers funds, the grain industry was left reeling from frozen accounts and the lost confidence of its customers during the last quarter of 2011. With Senate hearings underway at the moment and the near-certain uncovering of additional information on the case, who knows what will transpire in the near future, much less in the months to come.

I'm writing this column a day after the National Grain & Feed Association's 40th Annual Country Elevator Conference, and while it may no longer be timely when this issue mails, I feel it necessary to mention CME Group COO Bryan Durkin's presentation, "Meeting the Challenge of the MF Global Bankruptcy." A sympathetic Durkin addressed the crowd of nearly 700 attendees with this message: The CME Group stands with the grain industry, and is doing everything in its power to right the wrongs of MF Global’s nefarious blunder.

Naturally, as the largest futures exchange operator and former MF Global regulator, the CME Group has weathered the brunt of the fallout, but he was careful not minimize the suffering of customers “awaiting the return of funds they thought were safe.”

Account segregation system did not fail, he notes, this unprecedented event was caused by the failure of a firm that broke the rules and not of any clearinghouse.

“At CME Group, we met all of our obligations to our clearing member firms and to the customers,” Durkin explains. “MF Global’s transfer of segregated funds out of the appropriate accounts constitutes serious violations of our rules and of the Commodity Exchange Act."

As the impact of “industry-wide blow to the heart of commodities markets” became apparent, the CME Group was quick to act by offering a $550 million guaranty to the SIPA trustee to free-up frozen client funds; it also provided $50 million in capital to cover its customer’s losses.

“We offered these guaranties not because a rule says we have to, but because we are in uncharted territory here and we felt an inherent responsibility to help our customers to help them receive distributions as quickly as possible,” Durkin says.

Despite the possibility all losses may not be returned, Durkin assured the audience that the CME Group continues to lobby the trustee to release additional funds as soon as possible. To date, customers have been granted access to two-thirds of their balances, but Durkin insists the organization will not stop there: "We believe that all customers affected should have their full balances and property returned by MF Global, and, until then, we don’t feel the process is complete."

Time will tell how things pan out, but take solace in having a powerful advocate on your side.

In the February/March issue, Diana Klemme's Merchandisers' Corner article will provide a full recap of her experiences in the trenches of the MF Global scandal and its impact on agribusiness. The issue will also include a full recap of the NGFA Country Elevator conference.

Happy New Year! Cheers to a productive and profitable 2012.

Sep 26, 2011

Harvest 2011's Winners and Losers

By the time this issue hits the streets, the 2011 harvest will be in full swing. Elevators in some areas will take in record volumes; others, however, will experience the diminished returns resulting from Mother Nature's bipolar regional spring and summer weather. With the numbers from the USDA's questionably optimistic June Crop Report dramatically dropping from its original estimates, the commodity market has mirrored this uncertainty.

By today's estimate, the national average corn yield is forecast to be 148.1 bushels per acre, 16.3 bushels below the 2009/2010 crop year and the lowest since 2005/06.

While yields may not break any records, corn prices over $6/bushel, and soybean pushing past $12/bushel, the lucky producers who experienced the best conditions are looking forward to a big pay day. In Iowa, according to the Des Moines Register, producers are poised to pull in more than $20 billion — the largest cash harvest in the state's history.

In contrast, farmers in the Southwest are preparing for a weak second harvest after heat and drought diminished the wheat harvest this spring. For the crops that grew, the corn didn't produce head, and the soybeans without pods — many abandoned the fields altogether. In these cases, reliance on federal crop insurance will ease the burden, but will not replace expected profit.

U.S. exports in the coming year will also suffer. The World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) report, USDA projected wheat, corn, and soybean total exports in the coming crop year (2011/12) to be 4.09 billion bushels, 12% lower than the 2010/11 crop year. The organization's production projections for the new crop of wheat, corn, and soybeans are 17.7 billion bushels, a 2% reduction from last year.

Utlimately we will all have to wait to see the end results of what was a prosperous year for some, and a devasting year for others. Please feel free to contact me at [email protected] to report your harvest experience this year and how it has impacted your business and the business of your producer customers.

May 23, 2011

Stormy Harvest Ahead?

Tornado outbreaks and epic flooding, the spring of 2011 will be remember as one of the most destructive and deadly in recent history. Add less-than-ideal temperatures, and agriculture is sent reeling, trying to navigate the unpredictable and attempting to catch-up with delayed planting. The Northeast and central United States have endured their wettest late winter and early spring on record, according to the National Climatic Data Center. As of mid-May, 63% of the nation's corn was planted compared with a five-year average of 75%; wheat is also suffering as fields have been too wet to sow.

Unfortunately, as Diana Klemme, vice president of Grain Service Corporation, reports, the United States needs record corn acreage and yields to begin to rebuild depleted stocks; however, the flooding and rain-saturated soil may jepordized up to 3 million of those acres from North Dakota to Arkansas.

"Losing 3 million corn acres could mean losing 400 million bushels of much-needed corn production this year, potentially cutting ending stocks for September 2012 dangerously low again," Klemme says.

Meanwhile, the poor weather has sent futures prices surging. The Financial Times reports USDA predictions stating that farmers will enjoy record prices for corn and wheat — stoking inflation and straining poor countries — as well as projecting record production for rice, oilseeds and course grains. Corn futures rose 4.2%, but still remain below record highs set in April.

Waterway transportation has also been compromised. The Mississippi, the lifeline of agricultural commerce, moving nearly 35 million tons of major grains and soybeans south to New Orleans in 2010, more than 28% of the crop year’s total exports from all ports, Klemme notes. She reports high waters will disrupt operations of countless barge stations causing some to lose months of capacity.

Writing this the day after the Joplin, MO tornado, one wonders what Mother Nature has in store for us this summer and into the harvest. Let's hope for the best.

Make sure to read Klemme's commentary on how the flooding will effect agriculture on page 44.

Stay safe and keep dry,

Mar 23, 2011

Feed & Grain Turns 50

When Feed, Grain and Farm Equipment published its first issue in 1961, the world was a very different place. John F. Kennedy was in the thick of the Civil Rights movement. Mainframe computer systems took up entire floors of office buildings and held less memory than a common Flash Drive. Instant communication was limited to telephones and telegraphs, and the primary form of written communication was made possible by a 4 cent postage stamp. Due to advancements in technology and medicine, the global population grew to around 3 billion.

Flash forward 50 years. President Barack Obama sits in Kennedy's Oval Office. The population has more than doubled, text messages are preferred to "snail mail" and more than likely your cell phone has replaced your PC. The global propulation has more than doubled and continues to grow.

Time changes a lot, but it doesn't change everything. For example, flipping through the first edition, many of the equipment suppliers are still thriving and much of the equipment, albeit more advanced today, remains the same. And even thought Feed, Grain and Farm Equipment, changed its name, format and content, the magazine's mission has remained the same: To aid companies in improving their operations by providing leading-edge information.

In order to fulfill our mission to deliver the best in-depth industry coverage possible, Feed & Grain has launched a new website — one with more web-exclusive content, product information and enhanced multimedia features — tailored to the needs of our individual readers.

The next time you log onto FeedandGrain.com, watch the brief tutorial to better understand our dedication to giving our reader's the information they want, in the medium they like to receive it in. Please take the time to register so you can experience the new site's full potential.

A special thanks to all who have read and supported Feed & Grain for the last 50 years. Here's to another 50.

Jan 24, 2011

Attitude Impacts Efficiency

Among the many thought-provoking educational sessions at the International Feed Expo, Leland McKinney's presentation "Energy Conservation Tips for Your Feed Mill" stood out above the rest. While McKinney, an associate professor of grain science and industry at Kansas State, offered up very practical advice for maximizing energy consumption and increasing savings within a feed mill, the real message I walked away with had little to do with pipe insulation or the repair of compressed air leaks.

In McKinney's opinion, the root of inefficient operations does not lie with shoddy equipment or unskilled labor, rather these losses can be traced directly back to lackluster management. In efficient mills, he notes, the manager is always on top of things -- able to respond quickly and effectively as situations arise -- and one whose total dedication to every aspect of the operation was never in questions.

"It's all about attitude," says Leland when referring to the difference between a good manager and a bad manager. He suggested that the adoption of a continuous improvement mindset made all the difference in how efficiently a facility is operated.

For example, should a feed mill manager spot a drop of oil on the ground, his first instinct should be to seek out the source of the problem and resolve it. This thinking is in line with any preventative maintenance program, but McKinney's stance pushed it a step further.

The residual effect of poor management was the correlated poor performance of subordinates. Ultimately, the manager should lead by example, and if he has failed to motivate his employees from taking initiative, it is symptomatic of his own leadership shortcomings.

The best ways to control cost is by acknowledging that maintenance is a continuous process. Consequently, solid, two-way communication between management and employees will encourage a proactive stance toward preventing problem from escalating and will motive staff to push themselves to exceed expectations.

In closing, McKinney offered up two key points regarding maintenance: Be observant and don't procrastinate. If you lead by example wide-spread efficiency benefits should follow suit.


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Magazine

Marketwatch: Dec, 06

US Corn Price Idx: ZCPAUS.CM

open: 6.5328
high: 6.55
low: 6.4408
close: 6.4673

US Soybean Price Idx: ZSPAUS.CM

open: 14.2059
high: 14.2809
low: 14.1255
close: 14.1516

US Hard Red Winter Wheat Price Idx: KEPAUS.CM

open: 8.3708
high: 8.3933
low: 8.0459
close: 8.0561

US Soft Red Winter Wheat Price Idx: ZWPAUS.CM

open: 6.9245
high: 6.947
low: 6.6307
close: 6.6779