Category Archives: Discussion Topics

Sensitive Issues Training-Engage

Many of us have been there…we’ve been asked a question in which the answer can be deemed controversial because the topic is based on emotion and beliefs.  How do we respond?  Do we get caught up in the emotion and passion of the issue and try to force our beliefs on others?  Do we shy away or try to avoid an answer altogether by remaining silent?

Last week’s Sensitive Issues Media and Communications Training was developed to help all of us through these situations.  It was a remarkable experience working with an amazing group of ladies, all passionate about food, but looking at food from a variety of perspectives and taking an issues-based approach in developing our team.  Our team was comprised of a livestock expert, a manure expert, two food and nutrition experts, a communication’s expert, and myself from a crop production perspective.  Special thanks to Dr. Chuck Hibberd, Nebraska Extension Dean and Director, for providing us a New Audiences Innovation Grant to partially fund this training. You can catch the conversation on Twitter at #SIMCT15.

We invited the Center for Food Integrity to conduct their Engage training with us, which was sponsored by the United Soybean Board.  ThisIMAG4885-1 training uses “the power of shared values to highlight industry trends and teaches strategies for using values-based messaging in daily conversations, and public speaking and media opportunities.”  There was discussion, role playing, and mock media interviews.  The training challenged me to use something I also just learned from “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” training….Seek first to Understand, then to be Understood.

Essentially, ask questions.  Understand why a consumer believes X, Y, or Z about food and agriculture.  Universal values include:

  • Compassion
  • Responsibility
  • Respect
  • Fairness
  • Truth

Seek to understand the other person’s values by listening and asking questions.  Then share by communicating about common values telling your food and ag story.  We can’t really script this.  We can’t be so vague that we’re not credible.  For example, the following is vague and perhaps over-used:

By doing X we help the environment.

Instead, we need to be willing to talk about the hard issues with authentic transparency…to share our own individual stories.

I also desire water that is safe for my family to drink and desire for there to be enough water for future generations.  That’s why my colleagues and I work with farmers to use research-based irrigation scheduling tools.  Doing so helps reduce over-irrigation which can reduce the nitrate levels reaching our groundwater and the amount of water being pumped from the aquifer.

There were a few surprises for me.  The first being the progress in one year (based onIMAG4865-1 the Center for Food Integrity’s research) that we’ve made in consumer trust.  This slide is essentially saying that 42% of consumers feel the food system is going the right direction (up from 34% last year).  Men are more trusting of the food system at 48% believing the food system is on the right track.  32% of women feel the food system is on the wrong track.

Another surprising, yet encouraging piece of information for IMAG4868-1me to see is which people are trusted the most on sensitive topics.  On the topic of genetically modified foods, University Scientists topped the list, a Scientist that was a Mom was second, and Farmers were third.  This is different than other research I’d seen, so I was excited about this.  It was a survey of 2005 individuals conducted in 2014 and was encouraging from the standpoint that we do still have an opportunity to share our stories with those who truly desire to know more about where their food comes from.  We will never change the activists, but we can reach the middle.

Finally, I loved the following quote which is so true:

A picture is worth 1000 words; a video is a library.

They showed the following video from Similac entitled, “The Mother ‘Hood“.  Instantly, my mind went to how easy it would be for ag to do something similar.  We tend to be so divided, but division is killing us.  We are in the business of providing a safe, affordable, food supply to the world…but beyond that, our diversity provides consumer choice.  If you watch the video, consider what is the common issue that could bring all of ag together.  I have some ideas and my team members and I have discussed what a similar video with diverse agriculture groups would look like.  What are your thoughts and ideas?

Nebraska’s Advantage

This week, I’d like to share some information that came out in a white paper from the UNL nebraska advantageAgricultural Economics Department on the special relationship we have here in Nebraska between crops, livestock, and biofuel production capacity not found in other parts of the U.S. to the extent we have here.  It’s called the “Nebraska Advantage”.

I think it’s important for all of ag industry to realize we need each other as it seems we sometimes forget how inter-dependent we are.  Crop producers need the livestock and ethanol industries as they are a high percentage of our end users.  Yet many times I hear of crop producers fighting livestock expansion or livestock coming into an area.  The purpose of the white paper was to share the numbers of where Nebraska livestock, grain production, and ethanol production currently stands, and what Nebraska could gain if we worked to increase livestock production in-state where we have a wealth of resources with our crops, water, and biofuel production.

Nebraska currently ranks 1st in irrigated acres, 1st in commercial red meat production and is tied with Texas for cattle on feed, 2nd in corn-based ethanol production, 3rd in corn for grain production, 4th in soybean productions, 6th in all hogs and pigs, and 7th in commercial hog slaughter, and 9th in table egg layers.  However, in reading this white paper, one quickly realizes we’re not taking advantage of the tremendous grain production capacity here in the State.

We export over 1/3 of our annual corn crop, at least half of the in-state production of distiller’s grains (a co-product from ethanol production that is fed to livestock), and more than 80% of our soybean meal output.  Corn and soybean production have increased in our State by 50 and 25% respectively, which is a blessing due to our irrigation capacity.  But increasing amounts of this grain are being shipped out-state instead of benefiting rural economies in Nebraska if it was used in-state for value-added livestock production and processing instead.

In the white paper, graphs are shown comparing Nebraska to neighboring states.  These graphs show Nebraska lagging neighboring states in growth of the livestock industry.  For example, while Nebraska overall increased in hog production, the inventory increased 17.2% during the first half of the decade, but declined 11.8% in the second half.  In comparison, Iowa realized an increase of 31.5% within the decade.  What was really interesting to me is the fact that Nebraska exports 2.5 million pigs annually to neighboring states to be finished and shipped back to Nebraska for processing, showing potential for growth in the market hog sector.  The dairy sector has also declined in herd numbers in Nebraska compared to other states and Nebraska’s poultry industry (mostly egg laying hens) has declined over the past decade in spite of constant numbers across the U.S.

When one looks at Nebraska’s economy, cash receipts from all farm commodities totaled over $25.6 billion in 2012 and livestock/livestock product sales was 45% of this total ($11.6 billion).  Increased employment, local tax revenue, value-added activity, and manure for fertilizer are all economic benefits of livestock expansion.  The paper stated,

A base expansion scenario that includes a 25% increase in market hogs, a doubling of dairy cow numbers, a ten percent increase in fed cattle production and a tripling of egg production, along with the associated processing industries, has the potential to provide an additional 19,040 jobs, with labor income of almost $800 million and value-added activity of over $1.4 billion. This activity has the potential to generate over $38 million in local tax revenue. While this amounts to a fairly small percentage of Nebraska’s total economy, these impacts will occur almost entirely in non-metropolitan areas of the state and would be quite beneficial to rural economies.

Livestock development has been held back by various issues and policies including:  limitations on corporate farming activity in Nebraska, state and local permitting processes, nuisance roles and lawsuits, and issues/concerns from the general public and interest groups.  The final conclusion of the paper was that significant growth in employment and economic output throughout Nebraska is dependent upon these issues being overcome.

I would challenge all of us to keep an open mind when producers desire to diversify by including livestock in their operations or through livestock expansion.  In many cases, doing so allows another person to come back to an operation, or allows someone to get started farming, which in the long run benefits our rural economies.  It’s ok to ask questions, to become more educated.  It’s through these questions that one learns how production practices have changed to ensure the health and welfare of our livestock and in odor reduction from the facility and manure application.  You can read the entire white paper contents here.

Connecting with Extension to Enhance the Land Grant Mission

My thoughts on the importance of connecting with Teaching and Research to ensure Extension’s and the Land Grant Institution’s future success, relevancy, and existence.

Next Generation Extension

I had the opportunity to provide a seminar to the UNL Agronomy and Horticulture Agronomy seminar picDepartment last week which was truly an honor.  As I thought about what to present, I kept thinking about the future of Extension and two major challenges I see Extension facing in the next 100 years…actually now.

Challenge of losing our research base.

Challenge of sharing our unbiased, research-based information in the places where customers are receiving information.

I continue to think about Extension’s Mission:  We provide unbiased, research-based information to the people to ultimately improve their lives.  

My thoughts kept centering around the fact that in order for me to achieve Extension’s Mission, I need to be more connected with the people on campus and research stations.  I need to know about their research to share with our customers.  For us to be the best Land Grant University System we can be in…

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Nebraska On-Farm Research Network Testimonials

Listen to the value of on-farm research to these participants!  Sound interesting to you?  Learn more by checking our our On-Farm Research website or contacting any of our faculty involved!

Keeping Your Farm in the Family for the Next Generation

I would encourage any farmers, spouses, and adult children to consider attending this Farmers and Ranchers Program! Communication and fair transition plans are keys to keeping family ties and the family farm strong. I’ve watched too often where communication doesn’t occur-even most recently with my extended family-and the heartache caused as a result. Work on the communication and transition plan now before it’s too late!

Views from VanDeWalle

The final Farmers & Ranchers College program for the 2012-13 programming year will be held on March 14, 2013 starting at 6:00 p.m. with a meal and the program to follow. It will be held at Evening with Friends Restaurant in Milligan and will feature Dr. Ron Hanson, Neal E. Harlan Professor of Agribusiness, Ag Economics Dept., UNL. A description of Hanson’s program is provided below.Logo

The entire process for mapping out a succession plan to transfer the eventual ownership of a family farm from one generation (parents) to the next generation (their adult children) can be an overwhelming task for many families.  Where does this process even begin?  Who makes the final decisions?  Can you be fair to everyone involved?  What if there is not good communications within the family?  How do you keep emotions and personal jealousies from taking over and preventing good decision making?  These…

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