Tag: agriculture (page 3 of 3)

Member Q&A: Jeff Freeman of Wilco

Jeff Freeman

1) How did Wilco, and its name, come to be?

Wilco’s name originated from Willamette Consolidated. As agricultural supply cooperatives began to merge and consolidate 50 years ago, the roll up of many individual cooperatives became the core of Wilco.

2) What defines Wilco and sets it apart from other coops?

In a word…diversity. Fundamentally, cooperatives are owned by the growers we serve. Our core business is agronomy and agronomic inputs like fertilizer, seed, crop protection products and fuel. Wilco’s leadership in past years has made some key decisions to diversify our resources into retail farm stores. The diversity of our three business units, agronomy, petroleum and farm stores, help us manage our risk and create sustainable returns for our members.

3) How does Wilco serve its local communities?

All employees at Wilco strive to practice a set of core values; integrity, quality, respect, accountability, teamwork and community. Many of our employees live in or grew up in rural communities. We try to stay connected to the issues facing the communities we serve. The list of issues can be extensive, ranging from lack of youth program funding in FFA to regulatory issues that can handicap growers. Wilco fosters community involvement by enabling and supporting our employees to be involved in areas they are passionate about.

4) Where is Wilco looking to expand to next?

That depends if you are asking about Agronomy or Farm Stores. Geographic expansion of Wilco’s farm stores has been aggressive in recent years, adding locations in areas outside the Willamette Valley like Gig Harbor, Wash. and Bend. Expansion of our agronomy business is a key strategy, but it is much more difficult to find opportunities that are fits to our business model. The businesses are quite different, but the same principles apply in that expansion must be a profitable opportunity.

5) Wilco turns 50 in a couple of years, any big celebrations in the works?

We don’t have any formal plans at this time. Wilco is a pretty conservative company so I wouldn’t expect anything too extravagant. I’m sure we’ll take the time to recognize the fact that reaching that milestone was only accomplished because of the contribution of our employees, members, leadership and community support.

6) What do you do at Wilco?

I am the marketing and supply manager for our agronomy business. In practical terms, I get the pleasure of sitting between our vendor partners and our agronomists to supply our growers with the best solutions for the farm. My overriding charge is to provide products and services that deliver the best agronomy and return on investment to the grower and economic benefit to Wilco.

7) What are the biggest challenges and rewards of what you do?

Let’s start with the easy one. The biggest rewards come in the form of the relationships that I get to develop and how a conversation or idea can turn into value for Wilco and its customers. My biggest challenge is assessing what the next trend, hurdle or game changer is for our industry. Farming had a much more positive image associated with it 30 years ago. Society in general has lost sight of the fact that farming is a very noble profession. Helping growers do things the “right way” when it comes to their crop inputs is getting more difficult. Being part of the team at Wilco that assists growers in these practices, and in turn creates a positive image for agriculture, is rewarding.

8) What inspires you to keep doing what you do?

I just like learning. I have two small kids so I’ll be working till I’m old and grey!  This industry is full of really smart people which makes it a very rewarding place to be.

9) What are some interesting facts about you?

My favorite part of work is teamwork. I think it stems from playing every sport I could growing up. Not too many things give the same emotions as a team win!

10) Is there anything else people should know about Wilco?

Wilco’s agronomy business has a tremendous amount of collective experience and knowledge. Many growers have benefitted from the business relationships they have historically had with our staff. Our current staff spans three generational segments. The baby boomers on the verge of retirement are mentoring their budding millennial replacements. As an industry this trend is a current reality. I would encourage any young, professionally-minded person to get into agriculture. If you are willing to put in the time and take the appropriate calculated career risks, the rewards are here.

Building Connections at Wigrich Farms

By Heather Burson

In just four years, the Adopt a Farmer program has seen its numbers quickly grow and expand. Three farmer/teacher pairs the first year, nine pairs the second year, 18 pairs the third year and 37 pairs in its current year. These numbers are just part of the equation. There are many components to Adopt a Farmer’s success, the most important one being the connection between farmer, or rancher, and student. This connection unites math and science lessons with real-world ag applications, and an awareness of where their food and fiber comes from. Both are key reasons why Joe Fitts of Wigrich Farms and Mara Burke of Calapooia Middle School became participants this year.

For Fitts it’s about “being able to share farming with people who may not even know they have an interest in farming.” He looks forward to seeing the genuine curiosity that comes when kids or parents get interested and he’s the one who got them interested in it. A great match for Burke, who was excited for the opportunity to bring her kids into a new environment. “It’s really important to get my students outside, especially into environments where they can see how science relates to the real world,” says Burke. From the moment Burke first visited the farm last summer, it was easy to see these connections and how they’d make a good match.

The two began planning a field trip that would highlight the farm and connect it with the current class curriculum. Burke’s students were going to participate in a national contest called “ExploraVision,” where they would pick a piece of technology and predict what it would look like in the future and how they could improve it. This became the lens through which all of the farm’s field trip stations would be viewed. Oregon curriculum requirements also include an engineering design project, so it was decided that all of the farm’s field trip stations would feature some type of farm machinery as a tie-in. A few months later, on a bright and warm early October day, Burke and her 31 eighth graders arrived at Wigrich Farms for an exciting field trip.

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For the first station, students joined Fitts at the edge of the farm’s 120-acre hazelnut orchard. Each student received a bag of raw hazelnuts to snack on while he shared the farm’s history and some interesting hazelnut facts. Many questions followed, and from those came a discussion about hazelnut paste, what hazelnuts are made into, how they’re formed, how they’re harvested and more. “There were a lot of ‘What’s that?’ questions, and then from that there were a lot of follow-up questions and it was great to see them connect the dots,” says Fitts. Then the students were treated to a look at the harvest in action. The sweeper had swept several straight rows of debris mixed with hazelnuts, so the real draw was seeing the harvester sort out the hazelnuts from the debris. Students were most impressed by the amount of hazelnuts Wigrich Farms harvests per acre per year, approximately two tons or about 4,000 pounds.

After that it was on to a second station for a look at an irrigation machine with Leo Yakis of Valley Fab Corp. Yakis explained the different features of the irrigation machine, from its 1,500 foot hose to the pressure pump that allows it to shoot water 200 feet in each direction. For the students, the most impressive part was hearing about the technological advances that had been made.

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“Some of their questions showed a lot of insight. I think at Leo’s station they were immediately able to draw the connection, what it takes to irrigate and how current technology makes it easier for a farmer,” says Fitts.

Students learned that an irrigation machine’s computer is equipped with a cell phone that can text a farmer its status, can text them when it comes in for the day or can text them if it has a problem. The fact that the irrigation machine could also be started and stopped via cell phone was something students found fascinating. This led into a third station, completing the day with a look at some of the farm’s machinery, including a tractor that has the capability to drive itself and is equipped with newer GPS technology.

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Out of all the moments from the field trip, it’s easy for Fitts to pick his favorite. “I get a lot of satisfaction from sharing with them and seeing that interest reciprocated,” says Fitts. Lunch time conversations provided the perfect opportunity, focusing on farm technology and leading into what we might see in the future. Students thought that hazelnut trees would be genetically manipulated to produce bigger or smaller hazelnuts. They also predicted that irrigation machines would be bigger, wouldn’t have to move or would move themselves, and would know what crops needed water. All were concepts these students took back into the classroom. “This first field trip inspired students working on ExploraVision, it was some real good bonding for them, both on the field trip and after,” says Burke.

Connections like these are just the beginning, as the rest of the school year includes classroom visits from Fitts and perhaps another field trip to Wigrich Farms. Each interaction with students will help build the next generation’s experience with agriculture, something that isn’t lost on Fitts. “I hope that they’re a lot more informed about Oregon agriculture. Whether or not they join the industry, they’ll be community leaders and voters and to some extent they will shape the environment my kids are working in,” says Fitts. Burke shares his hope, and each of them are excited for what comes next in their Adopt a Farmer partnership. “It’s something that I look forward to. It’s not like one more job, it’s fun for me,” says Fitts of the experience. Adds Burke, ““I really appreciate the opportunity and look forward to planning the next steps.”

Executive Notes: Pop Culture’s Influence on Ag’s Future

geoff horningIn the 1940s and 50s, comic books were blamed for corrupting our children. In the 90s, rap music was blamed for everything from school shootings, to violence towards women, to the promotion of gang culture. And more recently, video games have been scapegoated as the source of America’s fascination with violence.

Often, members of these scapegoated communities will argue back with similarly misguided rhetoric. Many will say something like, “I’ve been playing video games since I was 3 and I didn’t turn into some violent ghoul.”

But this statement is only half correct. Of course an entire medium cannot be trivialized into being inherently good or bad, but the statement also seems to suggest that the things that define our culture (video games, movies, TV etc.) have no effect on how we behave as a culture.

And how can that be true? How can something people engage in so closely and passionately have no influence on people and how we think?

Recently I attended the Oregon Society of Association Management annual conference and Shelly Alcorn with Alcorn Associates Management Consulting made a very compelling presentation about pop culture’s impact in telling our message.

Pop culture isn’t just for entertainment anymore. The Internet has vastly increased our media consumption habits. A recent Business News Daily report indicates that the average American spends 23 hours a week emailing, texting, and using social media. That represents 14 percent of the total time in a week. And for the record, that’s not just kids. That’s all ages.

If you think this has no impact on agriculture, you’d be wildly mistaken. It’s common knowledge in politics that the person/issue with the biggest war chest is going to win the election. Thanks to a groundswell of support via pop culture channels that is no longer true in agriculture. And, you don’t even have to leave Oregon to see the results.

During the Jackson County initiative this past spring proponents of the ban on GMOs raised $411,739, while opponents of the ban raised $928,764. Such a discrepancy should indicate that the opponents of the ban would win in a landslide. A landslide did happen. Nearly 66 percent of the voters approved the ban.

Though Measure 92 failed, a similar phenomenon occurred.

I realize that GMOs are a hotly debated issue right now, but why? It’s not like one day everybody got up and decided that they no longer liked their chocolate chip cookies. It’s more than simple coincidence that the issue started coming to the forefront as social media started to explode.

When you spend 23 hours a week taking in our latest pop culture craze you are going to start following subjects that interest you. Food is something that interests everybody in one way or another, and it’s a subject that draws people in. We have an opportunity still to be at the forefront of that conversation, and the one thing we better have learned from Measure 92 is that it’s far less expensive to be proactive than reactive.

So, I implore you to get active on social media. Help tell our story. Don’t tell people what to think. Engage them. Talk to them. Learn about their concerns and have a conversation.

If we don’t, somebody else will. And, well, you know we can believe everything we read on the Internet.

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Geoff Horning

President’s Journal: WHAT A YEAR!

anissa branchHow fast time flies when you’re having fun! The year of my presidency with the Agri-Business Council has flown by and it was more than fun! This article is my last and an opportunity for me to say “Thank You.” I am truly humbled as I think back on this year and all the help and encouragement I received, as well as the enormous strides ABC has made in this short time. THANK YOU — Our members are who make all of our programs and efforts for the Oregon ag community possible!

SAFETY: Our new small farm safety program, in connection with OSHA, started with a bang and has been extremely successful. We started with just four farms and as we head into 2015, are tripling our efforts and expanding to three areas of the state with close to 12 farms! It is so exciting to see this program grow – I know it will drop farms’ workmen’s comp rates and create safer workplaces for all of Oregon agriculture.

ABC GOLF TOURNAMENT: We raised over $14,000 for all of our programs at this year’s tournament, which was our most successful and attended tournament ever! This tournament is continuing to grow and grow – and is so much fun for all while raising a lot of money!!

DENIM & DIAMONDS: Another amazing event that was also our most successful to date. Over 500 farmers, ranchers, friends and lovers of Oregon ag attended and opened their wallets to raise over $50,000 for all of our programs. An amazing night!

ADOPT A FARMER: The touchstone of our organization, Adopt a Farmer continues to grow and grow! Working with Oregon middle school students and changing their beliefs and attitudes about agriculture for life. Not only are we affecting a future generation, we are impacting their parents and families TODAY! With over 37 classrooms around the state involved, this program is on track to be in every Oregon county in just a few short years. WOW!

I would like to thank everyone who has had any part in ABC and my journey this year. Especially Kirk Lloyd of Risk Management Resources, who has stood by and been available all year to assist ABC in implementing our safety program – It would not have been possible without him!

Geoff, Mallory, Heather, Julie and all of the staff at the Agri-Business Council office who do all the day-to-day tasks that make all of us board members look good! And the ABC Board – 28 members who volunteer their time, experience, advice and money to help this organization grow to what it is and will become – what a wonderful, caring group of people: The best in Oregon ag!

As my final word, I encourage all of our members to share what ABC is doing with another farmer or Oregon ag lover and encourage them to become a part of ABC as a new member. Only by sharing what we are doing with others will we continue to affect Oregon ag for many years to come!

Happy Spring!

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Anissa Branch

Member Q&A: Myron Miles of Miles Ranch

myron miles head shot

1) What do you do?

Everything. We have a ranch that’s right up against North Powder, and we have 1,400 acres in two separate places. At Miles Ranch we run a little over 200 cows, a cow/calf operation. We also grow corn silage and premium alfalfa hay. On the side my son and I have an artificial insemination business, and we breed 3,000 cows a year for other people. We conduct 8,000-12,000 pregnancy examinations in the fall, because you can’t keep an un-pregnant cow through the winter. Continue reading

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