Tuesday, February 26, 2013

5 Ways to Prepare for a Career in Ag

Submitted by Lacey Hargrave, BCS Communications

Follow these steps to set yourself apart and stand out as a job candidate in the field of agriculture!
  1. Research—Become familiar with, and stay up-to-date on, industry trends, current events and new information in the ag community. Subscribing to weekly newsletters and blogs from relevant publications, such as Agriculture.com, FarmProgress.com and dtnProgressiveFarmer.com, will keep you current and give you a leg up.
  2. Experience—Getting hands-on experience through internships and job shadowing is invaluable. Real world experience will show your eagerness to learn and make you a desirable candidate. It will also give you a chance to learn what it’s like in the field and what specific areas you are interested in. Search websites like InternMatch for opportunities near you.
  3. Get Involved—Attend industry events such as Ag Day 2013! Get involved with your local NAMA chapter, FFA, 4-H, agriculture clubs at your college or university, and local professional ag organizations in your area. These are great résumé builders, too!

  4. Network—Form relationships with industry professionals and others with similar career interests. When you attend an industry event, make it worth your while. Gather business cards, handout your résumé and follow up with new contacts after the event. Then when you begin the job search, you’ll have individuals to help distribute your résumé and get your foot in the door.
  5. References—Develop a good list of professional references. References can be past professors, employers, internship co-workers, etc. These are people who know you well and will shed a positive light when prospective employers call on them for a reference. Also, make sure to keep your LinkedIn profile updated, as this is where professionals will go to learn more about you.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A Passion for Cattle

Submitted by Mark Perrin, McCormick Company

As a full-time agri-marketer and part-time cattle rancher, I have faced many challenges. Inevitably, when you’re gone or running short on time, stuff happens. 

For example, there was one really tough morning last winter in Kansas City—cold, snowing hard, very windy. That same morning, three of my cows decided to give birth. I thought, why today and not yesterday?  

Upon inspection, I found one calf on the wrong side of the fence from its mother. As I looked through the pickup window, movement down the fence line caught my eye … three coyotes headed directly towards the stranded calf.

Trying to think fast, I hopped out of the pickup, tromped through the snow, climbed the fence, scared the coyotes off and carried the calf back to its mother. I thought: wow, a newborn calf is really heavy, my feet are really cold, I’m running late and why did I decide to raise cattle in the first place?  

Well, the cattle business gets in your blood. Maybe you’re born with it or maybe it just comes over you at some point in life. It’s really hard to make money, unless you conveniently forget to include land costs, taxes, vet bills, etc. Like me, many people with a passion for cattle choose a career that allows them to work in some aspect of the livestock business, even though it’s likely not on the production side.

Unfortunately, over the years there’s been a noticeable decline in the number of people with a cattle background who join the agri-marketing field. One of our toughest assignments at McCormick Company is finding marketing communications people with beef cattle expertise …

There are many opportunities for young agri-marketers in the beef communications field, and a combination Animal Science and Journalism or Public Relations degree could be a hot ticket. At least I think so.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Wonderful Times in Agriculture

Submitted by Barry Nelson, John Deere

We are experiencing wonderful times in agriculture. Net farm income is at record highs, farm equity is strong, and farm debt is the lowest in recent history. Even with a record drought this past summer and the variability in some commodity prices, the ag economy has been a true American success story and a solid base for the rest of the economy, which is still barely tripping along.

Yet, we still have some significant challenges ahead. As the population continues to grow from 7 billion to 9 billion by the year 2045, farmers and ranchers are challenged with producing more food, feed, fiber, and fuel for this growing population. Also, there is a growing middle class around the world, particularly in India, China, and eastern Asia, that is demanding higher quality goods—particularly animal protein.

The U.S. producer must meet these challenges with about the same amount of land, the same or less water resources, and increased regulations from governments around the world that impede trade and efficient agricultural production methods.

Are U.S. producers up to the challenge? Let’s take a look at the past 30 years. According to the Field to Market Keystone Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, many commodity crops are being grown more sustainably than 30 years ago. Here are some broad examples for corn, wheat, soybeans, cotton, rice, and potatoes from their study:
  • Soil erosion per unit of production has decreased anywhere from 47% to 67%.
  • Energy use and greenhouse gas emissions per unit of production have decreased between 15% and more than 42% for all crops.
  • Improvements in efficiency were driven, at least in part, by improvements in yield for all crops, ranging from 25% to 64%.
This comprehensive study looks at each crop specifically, and there have been tremendous gains with innovative farming techniques to bring increased sustainability to U.S. agriculture. Farmers have always been great stewards of their land, and nearly 95% of all farms are family-owned. There is tremendous pride in how the U.S. producer manages his or her farm, and, with new precision technology, sustainability will improve even further.

I've been with John Deere for 33 years, and I’ve seen all the changes in agriculture, particularly on the equipment side of the business. But new precision farming technology is revolutionizing the overall productivity of most farm operations.

Satellite technology allows equipment to steer itself … to be more accurate with every pass in the field … to be more comfortable to operate … and to allow more precise placement of inputs. Tractors, sprayers, combines, and other self-propelled machines are wired with more computers and sensors than a space shuttle! Farmers are managing and using both machinery data and agronomic data to bring even more efficiency for every acre farmed in the U.S.

These are exciting times, and yet, production agriculture is under attack. Some environmentalists, animal rights activists, food critics, and others are attempting to sway an uninformed urban public into believing the current food production methods are unsafe and produce unhealthy food. They are trying to increase regulations to impede farmers and, in some cases, actually control what people can and cannot eat. 

It’s important that all of us in agriculture come together with a unified voice. We must articulate the importance of our modern farming practices and educate the public on how new technology has allowed for more sustainable operations. These efficient producers are using precision farming technology to reduce inputs, increase yields and meat production, and provide the necessary food, feed, fiber, and fuel for the growing world population. 

This is what Ag Day is all about! On March 18-19, we invite everyone to Washington, D.C., to help celebrate agriculture and to recognize the great work done by U.S. producers who feed the world. 

We have scheduled the most comprehensive program in our history. It will feature leading ag economists, the Smithsonian Institute and their American Enterprise exhibition spotlighting agriculture, special receptions and dinners with ag leaders and governmental officials, and Hill visits with FFA, NAMA, 4-H, and AFA students. 

This will be our opportunity to put a spotlight on the agricultural challenges facing U.S. producers and the importance of gaining even more support from Washington policy leaders. 

Even more importantly, there are 925 million hungry people throughout the world. More than 16,000 children die each day from hunger-related conditions. In 2008, nearly 9 million children died before their 5th birthday. One-third of these deaths were related to hunger and malnutrition.

Sadly, we are producing enough food to feed these children, but there are other issues to deal with, including poor food distribution systems, inept governments, food waste, and infrastructure in some areas that inhibit modern farming practices. This is our true challenge in the U.S., and production agriculture can be an influential partner in helping to provide practical solutions for feeding a hungry world in the future.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Signs of Spring: Ag Optimism

Submitted by Carl Casale, CHS Inc.

Spring, and with it Ag Day, naturally lends itself to looking ahead—to new crops and new opportunities for U.S. agriculture.

In 2012, the severe drought across much of the U.S. challenged farmers and those of us who serve them. None of us can predict the impact of inevitable challenges like weather, political decisions, global unrest, or other factors as 2013 unfolds. But whatever transpires, I’m convinced there are five good reasons to forecast bright long-term prospects for U.S. agriculture:
  1. Global population growth, particularly among the Chinese middle class, will continue to drive food demand, especially for meat-based protein.
  2.  Energy production, essential to raising crops and moving them to market, has returned home as new technologies unlock access to crude oil and natural gas supplies in North Dakota’s Bakken and other regions.
  3. Fertilizer production is heading home, too, thanks to abundant, affordable natural gas. Plans are in the works for the first nitrogen fertilizer plants to be built in the U.S., including one under consideration by CHS at Spiritwood, N.D., to provide U.S. farmers with increased dependable supply.
  4. The majority of U.S. producers and agricultural companies are economically strong and agronomic/seed advances helped many producers harvest a 2012 crop in dry conditions.
  5. New, well-educated generations are returning to the farm, armed with technical know-how and enthusiasm for the future.
New growth is clearly in the forecast, no matter what short-term challenges we face. At CHS, we look forward to helping our producer and cooperative owners—and all of agriculture—make the most of the opportunities ahead.