Tag: Oregon Agriculture (page 2 of 2)

Labels Matter. Unless They Don’t.

geoff horning oregon aglinkMy first reaction was one of relief. Then it was the fear of the unknown and then even a little bit of depression. Of course, the depression may have been a result of the lackluster performance of the Oregon Ducks on the gridiron.

My life changed forever on September 8, 2015. During the previous two weeks I had lost nearly 20 pounds of muscle mass. I felt fine, or so I thought. But, I was shrinking and it was starting to scare me. I was convinced I was dying of cancer. At the urging of friends I decided denial was the incorrect path and went to the doctor.

Good news. It wasn’t cancer. The diagnosis, however, shocked me. I was active, ate modestly healthy and certainly wasn’t obese by any definition. Still, my blood sugar was so high my doctor suspects that if I had remained in denial, they would have found me in a coma within a couple of weeks. The diagnosis: type 2 diabetes, likely triggered by an allergic reaction I had earlier in the year to an antibiotic for a sinus infection.

Though I knew a few people with diabetes, I really didn’t know anything about the disease other than “don’t eat sweets.” Oh, how simplistic and incorrect that statement is.

I’ll be honest. I’d never paid attention to labels before. To me they were all just a marketing ploy. Now, before I purchase anything I’m looking for specific things such as carbohydrates, fiber and sodium. Is it really whole grain, or has it been processed and simply labeled as a wheat product? What’s the serving size? Does it have good fat or bad fat?

I’m lucky. In a very short amount of time I was able to get my diabetes under control through diet and exercise. Still, every single time I eat or drink something I have to pay attention and know these answers. My life literally depends upon it. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.

I’m not alone. There are hundreds of legitimate health reasons why people need to pay attention to the food they consume. The label is an important tool that helps us live healthy and productive lives.

Labels matter. Unless they don’t.

Millions upon millions of dollars are being spent throughout the United States in an effort to ensure our food is labeled if GMO technology is being used. Huh? What? I’m perplexed. Other than fear of not understanding, am I missing something?

In fact, I’m insulted. I need accurate food labels to maintain my health. Telling me it’s a Genetically Modified Organism literally tells me nothing at all. GMO is a term used for a process and not a specific product. It has multiple applications. If I wasn’t informed, I would think that it’s a specific product that I need to watch for. An unscientific study on my Facebook page indicated exactly that. Or worse.

Consumers who don’t want to eat genetically modified foods can already buy non-GMO food, which is clearly labeled and has become a thriving niche industry. Heck, on a recent trip through my local Fred Meyer garden center I stumbled across their marketing of GMO free herbs. Seriously? But a growing chorus says that’s not enough: Critics of GMOs want all food that uses genetically modified ingredients to be labeled as well, despite the lack of scientific evidence that the distinction carries any difference.

In recent weeks, in order to comply with a Vermont law that requires labeling by July 1, major food manufacturers like ConAgra Foods, General Mills and Kellogg’s amongst others announced plans to label food items that have GMOs, despite being opposed to the Vermont legislation. They argue that a federal standard, not a patchwork of state laws, should be the norm.

While I can understand their decision, I disagree wholeheartedly. As somebody who now understands the importance of knowing what’s in his food, a GMO label of any kind is not providing me with any beneficial information and is simply creating an atmosphere of fear at a time when we’re going to need science more than ever to feed the world. The epidemic of scaring people about their food may have larger consequences than the diabetes epidemic sweeping across America.

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Geoff Horning, Executive Director

Oregon Agriculture Needs to Be More Proactive

geoff horningWhen it comes to being a fan of sports, I’m a pessimist. After 44 years of second place finishes, I expect my heart to be broken. I tend to live the rest of my life, though, as an optimist. A belief that common sense will rule the day. Listening to the political debates and testimony on the 400+ bills in Salem’s “short” session, I’m starting to think that common sense is being thrown out with the baby and the bath water.

Many of the issues have no impact on your ability to produce the food and fiber that are basic needs of everybody, but so many of them have unintended consequences that I fear we’re driving the family farmer out of business.

Oregon Aglink has taken great strides over the past several years to tell your story. Others, such as Oregon Women for Ag, Oregon Ag Fest, Farmers Ending Hunger, to name just a few, are doing a magnificent job of telling your story as well. It’s not hard to find positive publicity for an industry that is still the very foundation of this State.

Are we making progress? Absolutely. If you sit down and have a conversation with the majority of Oregonians I think you’ll find most are very respectful, almost reverent about the lifestyle and important role of local producers.

But (there’s always a but), those same Oregonians typically shrug their shoulders at the issues and challenges facing our industry. It’s not because they are mean spirited or even ignorant. They truly do trust you to feed their family. It has much more to do with the fact that they are so consumed with their busy lives that they don’t take the time to know what’s going on outside of their small community. They don’t care about the things that impact your ability to produce their food and fiber.

What they do learn comes from sound bites and social media. And, guess who has the funding resources and the loudest megaphone to dictate that message in Oregon? It’s definitely not the natural resources community. That leads to poor legislation and a constituency that thinks good things are happening because “it feels like the right thing to do.”

Research conducted by Oregon Aglink is very clear. The general public trusts the farmer more than anybody in the food chain. If I’m out telling your story by myself, you might as well hire a used car salesman to do my job. My credibility with the general public isn’t much better. Why? Because it’s perceived that I’m a hired gun only out for a paycheck. That’s not true, but perception is reality.

The good news is that Oregon Aglink is focused on making you the face of Oregon agriculture. Throughout 2016 we’ll be running a series of television commercials in Portland, Eugene and Medford. The entire focus of the “I am Oregon Agriculture” campaign will be about making a connection with Oregonians that local agriculture is made up of 98 percent family farms. With farm families telling that story.

The Adopt a Farmer Program, now in 47 schools and reaching almost 5,000 middle school students throughout Oregon, was specifically designed with the idea of connecting those students with one particular farmer throughout the school year. An emphasis of the program is putting a focus on the people and families who make up the farm.

Will these programs have instant impact? Probably not. We’ve got to play the long game, but to do that we need all of you to become more proactive. Get involved. Tell your story through us, or through one of the other great organizations that represents you. We have to make you the face of our industry before the family farm becomes extinct.

Growing and Developing Adopt a Farmer in the Classroom

Sprouts, buds, blossoms and baby animals – it’s that time of year again for growth and development. This is also true for the Adopt a Farmer program. Looking to wrap up its fifth school year, Adopt a Farmer classroom activities are the most varied and thought-provoking ever.

While this reflects the variety of Oregon agriculture represented in Adopt a Farmer, it also is a testament to our farmers’ creativity, flexibility and excitement about participating in the program.

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Rancher Keith at Scott School in North Portland

One of the most popular activities is the Farming Simulation game where groups of students allocate wheat, perennial ryegrass, sweet corn, green beans and strawberries across 1,000 acres and then calculate their projected income. Next, students roll the dice and their farmer reads the outcomes of their crops based on their dice roll so they can calculate their actual profit or loss. Students discuss risk and reward, local and global economics, and realize the importance of diversification in farming. One of our adopted farmers modified the crops in this simulation to include hazelnuts, canola, wine grapes, while another even made a new version for nurseries. One to reflect a cow-calf operation and decision-making is in the works!

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Students work on graphing milk production at Beach School in North Portland

“What’s wrong with that cow?” exclaimed a student in Marcela Zivcovik’s sixth grade classroom at Beach School in North Portland. Chris Eggert of Mayfield Dairy in Aurora was leading a graphing activity based on milk production. Students compared their four graphs and noticed one cow’s production had declined significantly over a 7-day period. Farmer Chris then helped students brainstorm reasons why her milk production may have declined. They thought she may be a smaller animal, sick or stressed. Farmer Chris talked about how he uses technology to help keep a tab on animal health.

turf buddies in the classroom

Farmer Denver makes turf buddies with St. Paul School students

During the initial years of the program, most farm-school pairs made Turf Buddies and played the Farm Simulation. This school year alone, we have had more than 16 different activities done in more than 40 classrooms across the state! Ranging from energy, physical versus chemical change and soil health to farm-to-table webs and Oregon ag smell tests, students are connecting what they are reading about in textbooks with the real world, on the farm.

helle ruddenklau adopt a farmer

Farmer Helle visits with students at Yamhill-Carlton Intermediate School

Flexibility is one of the biggest strengths of the Adopt a Farmer program. Combining the needs of the classroom with the resources of the farm and farmer is allowing the program to grow and develop to accommodate the great diversity of Oregon agriculture with the variety of grade and achievement levels in schools across the state.

Keith Nantz: For the Greater Good

The phrase “actions speak louder than words” is one that rings true for Central Oregon rancher Keith Nantz. Actively involved in several organizations, his commitment speaks volumes about who he is as a person. As does a saying Nantz looks at every day, which is posted on his wall. “There’s a quote by Zigg Ziglar that goes ‘You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want,’” says Nantz. A phrase that, for Nantz, goes hand in hand with his belief that his biggest purpose, and everyone’s purpose, should be to help other people. With this motivation, Nantz gives back in a variety of ways.

He is chairman of the National Young Cattlemen’s Conference and the National Young Beef Leaders Committee, president of the North Central Livestock Association, an executive board member for Outdoor Adventures with Military Heroes, and has participated in ABC’s Adopt a Farmer program for two years. Nantz also finished his term as the state Young Cattlemen’s Committee chairman at the end of March. In each position, he is leaving his mark and gaining a lot in return.

One of the most meaningful appointments for Nantz has been his position as chairman of the National Young Cattlemen’s Conference. Earlier this year, he spent nine days touring the nation’s beef industry with peers he had just met. “That’s the biggest thing that really struck home with me,” says Nantz, “I started that tour not knowing anybody, and by the end you become good friends.” As tradition goes, at the end of this annual conference the group selects a chairman to lead them and that person is given the Max Deets Leadership Award. For Nantz, who was selected for his outstanding leadership in the cattle industry, winning this honor was “very daunting, rewarding and humbling.”

An experience that’s similar to his involvement with Outdoor Adventures for Military Heroes, a local nonprofit that serves U.S. combat veterans. As the name suggests, the group takes these veterans on outdoor excursions within the state of Oregon. Retreats that are often therapeutic and always rewarding, especially for Nantz. “I’m a huge patriot, and giving back to veterans is hands-down the biggest reward that I’ve had,” says Nantz, “we take them fishing and hunting and seeing what it does for them is indescribable.”FullSizeRender

Impact is very important to Nantz, who has also been part of ABC’s Adopt a Farmer program over the past two years. Last year he was paired with Yamhill-Carlton Intermediate School in Yamhill, and this year he was paired with Harvey Scott School in Northeast Portland. For Nantz, engaging kids in where their food and fiber come from has been very fulfilling. “I really, really enjoy the interactions I have with the kids, especially those who have had little interaction with food production,” Nantz says. In particular he enjoys hearing their questions, because it gives him a good sense of where they’re at and how to interact with them more. It also helps Nantz prepare for field trips, especially those with his class at Harvey Scott School. “I can guarantee one or none of them have seen a cow and to see their excitement, it invigorates me and gets me excited to share with them,” says Nantz.

These, and all of his other leadership positions, are ones that he attributes to skills developed in 4H and FFA participation growing up. “I was very involved with 4H and FFA, that’s probably where I got the biggest start or passion,” says Nantz. Participation in 4H and FFA overlapped for Nantz, who started 4H in fourth grade and added FFA at the start of his freshman year of high school. After graduation, he went on to become state FFA vice president.

While 4H and FFA were big in guiding Nantz toward leadership roles, they also served as starting points for his interest in agriculture and ranching. After high school he spent two years at Eastern Oregon University, followed by four years fighting fires full time with the U.S. Forest Service. During this time, his interest in agriculture never waned. In fact, it grew. While with the U.S. Forest Service, Nantz helped friends raise cattle and run their feedlot. It was then that he began to put a plan in place for what he really wanted to do, raise cattle.

IMG_0939“I’ve wanted that since I was very young, I’ve always wanted to be a cowboy I guess,” says Nantz.

His last year of fighting fires was 2005, and then Nantz got involved with Young Farmers and Ranchers and the USDA’s FSA program. The latter allowed him to buy a few cows and lease some land, and the rest took off from there. “In 2008, John Dillon came to the ranch I was working at, and through several conversations we decided to start a partnership. He had some land and I had some cows,” says Nantz. Today, they run about a hundred cows and raise hay at Dillon Land and Cattle Co. in Dufur, Ore.

Being a first generation rancher is a unique position to be in, but it’s allowed Nantz to give even more to the industry he loves. “To start from scratch, it’s been very, very interesting and challenging at times but a blessing,” says Nantz, “I don’t have a mentor or anyone I can call and talk to. I try to be progressive.” Through these efforts, he’s helped Dillon Land & Cattle Co. start a management intensive grazing program that allows grass and forage to come back, promotes more photosynthetic activity, helps the soil and helps the calves gain better. Nantz is also working on a program that would trace beef all the way through to retail cuts, via a barcode generated from a computer chip placed into an EID tag. The goal is to have the consumer scan the barcode and be able to learn how and why they raise cattle, and then learn more.

All efforts that spring from how Nantz lives his life, driven by a genuine desire to help other people and continually inspired by his favorite Zigg Ziglar quote. For Nantz, the effects of his actions are his greatest reward. “Seeing someone accomplish their goals and be successful, and knowing I’ve been even a little part of that is very rewarding for me,” says Nantz. It’s an attitude that keeps him striving to make a positive difference in the lives of others. An attitude, and a way of life, that is forever dedicated to the greater good.

 

War of the Words

geoff horning“You should be ashamed of yourself for caring more about the cows in Asia than the hardworking people in Portland.”

That is the PG version of an anonymous voicemail I recently received from somebody who was upset with my benign quote in an NPR interview. The focus of the interview was the impact of the labor strife at West Coast ports on agriculture. My sin, verbatim: “The problem with the hay component is that the dairies or the beef producers or whoever wants that hay and straw in the Asian market – they have animals they need to feed. And if their customers are not receiving their product, they’re going to start looking for other avenues to get that product.”

I suspect that the person who took the time out of their day to look up my phone number and place the call was less concerned about agricultural practices, and more concerned with her job, or that of somebody close to her. But, that’s not always the case.

Molly McCargar, current ABC president, was asked to be a farmer’s voice in the most recent GMO labeling initiative that was voted down in November. During the campaign, her credibility was repeatedly chastised by opponents despite the fact that she is a multi-generation farmer. Late night hang ups and death threats were popular ploys as well.

Whether it’s a labor strife, GMO legislation or numerous other issues facing Oregon agriculture, the common thread with the heightened level of anxiety is the response to a reactionary discussion. Rarely does this level of vitriol come from a proactive engagement. That’s why as an industry, it’s imperative that we have ongoing conversations with our urban neighbors.

Every industry is vulnerable to crisis, but few generate the passion that agriculture does. Everybody eats and more people every day want to know where their food comes from and the measures taken by the producer to ensure that the food is safe.

The advent of the internet has made it easy for everybody to find information that fits their preconceived notions. The days of playing ostrich are gone. We are an industry in crisis. Without a proactive crisis communication plan Oregon’s producers risk more than just a damaged reputation, but urban-based legislation that will negatively impact their bottom line.

The basic steps of effective crisis communication are not difficult, but they require advance work to minimize damage. The slower the response, the more damage is incurred.

The Agri-Business Council of Oregon is trying to do its part. We communicate with our urban neighbors on several different platforms, but our most effective conversation with long-term results lies within the Adopt a Farmer program.

While the focus of the program is to emphasize the critical scientific components that allow producers, regardless of production method, to feed the world, the ancillary benefits of the program are the relationships forged with an impressionable audience. It’s much easier to have a conversation with students open to learning than it is with adults who have preconceived opinions that are often inaccurate. The program is being received in such a positive light that Susan Duncan, a recently retired Beaverton science teacher of more than 30 years wrote us in a letter:

“The Adopt a Farmer Program has been the highlight of my career, both in the experience of teaching and the years I spent providing environmental education. It is a partnership between teachers and farmers who understand how important it is that students learn observation skills and economics, as well as problem solving and engineering.”

The Adopt a Farmer program is touching lives and leaving an impression. Each spring we start recruiting producers who would be interested in being “adopted.” To learn more about the program feel free to contact me, and also take a moment to watch this video: http://oregonfresh.net/videos/adopt-a-farmer/. As an industry we have to become more proactive in telling our story. We represent the most important industry to the human race and the best people in the world. It’s time that got more recognition. Please help me by speaking up and telling your story.

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Geoff Horning

President’s Journal: Oregon Agriculture is About Teaching

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGrowing up on the farm I worked every summer starting around age 12, doing things like driving combine, tractors, moving irrigation pipe, or dumping cherry buckets; growing a variety of crops and being a part of the process. I never knew anything different. To me, it was not just a way of life but common knowledge. I could tell the difference between a perennial ryegrass field and tall fescue while flying by at 65 mph on the freeway, without needing a sign to identify it. To those of us in agriculture, these kinds of things seem like obvious common knowledge. But as I’ve gotten older I’ve learned that there’s no such thing. Unless it’s a shared experience, it’s not common at all.

With less than two percent of the U.S. population farming, it’s no wonder it gets harder to have conversations about the production of these products. The more people are removed from what was once a shared experience, the larger the disconnect gets with each new generation. My first glimpse of disconnect, or the lack of common knowledge between urbanites and food production, was when I was about 21 years old. While visiting my sister in California her friends were asking about the farm. As I was telling them about what we grow, one young man asked if the broccoli grew on trees. It seemed like such an odd question, I blurted out such an obvious “Duh, no” kind of response that I felt was required. How could this guy not know how broccoli is grown? For him, it just appeared in the store with no story or explanation behind it. This was 20 years ago and if I knew then what I know now, I would have taken a much different approach to my response.

As I moved through college I bumped into this disconnect over and over again. And each time I was surprised at how little people knew about where or how their food and fiber was produced. I never took the time or opportunity to teach at each of these occurrences, oftentimes I felt myself defending false stories instead. After graduating from college with a health education degree I was ready to head off and change the world teaching and coaching. I knew how to teach about health and coach volleyball. So how was it that I didn’t do the same for the lifestyle I grew up with? Looking back I guess I always thought I didn’t need to. Someone else was there to do it for me. I never intended to end up where I am today.

After several years of coaching and teaching middle and high school age kids I decided to “retire” so I could stay at home with my (at the time) two girls. My dad asked me if I’d be interested in doing the books for the farm part time. Now, 10 years later, my part-time bookkeeping has become full-time farmer with the unique opportunity to continue teaching. Today, rather than blurt out responses making someone look stupid or getting defensive the way I used to, I teach. I share everything about the farm and all that goes into it, hiding nothing. I know that if it’s not me telling our story then it’s someone else trying to tell it for us, and a lot of good information can get lost along the way.

There are many opportunities to get involved and share your story. One of the easiest is by participating in Oregon Aglink’s Adopt a Farmer program. This program is especially important to all of our farms and their future because these kids ARE the future. The future consumer, policy maker, engineer, plant breeder, accountant, banker, truck driver, restaurant owner and the list goes on. These are just a few of the types of careers that we depend on. And we hope that what they learn about our operations, what it takes to get food to people’s plates and that it doesn’t just magically appear in the grocery store, will stay with them for a lifetime. This is why they, and this program, are critical to each farm’s future success. If we all do our part, share our story and teach at every moment provided, hopefully our stories won’t be so critical in the future because we’ve taken the time to make a difference now.

So please join Oregon Aglink and myself in continuing to promote Oregon agriculture and all that it has to offer.

Molly McCargar's Signature - Cropped

 

 

 

Molly McCargar

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.

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