Monday, August 29, 2011

John Deere's Largest Product Launch in the Ag Division History

Readers who have ever wondered what it is like to be at a corporate product launch got the most real-time coverage ever during this week’s John Deere Product Launch. I spent a day with a group of U.S. and Canadian ag journalists, bloggers, machinery writers and self-proclaimed ‘ag nerds’ as they took in the opening show, demonstrations, and visited with factory managers and John Deere leadership. 
Learning about new John Deere combine cab controlsWhile I was required to stay mum until the products hit the internet Thursday, our media folks were invited to take photos, video, tweet and share everything they saw. Share they did! They pumped out tweets, posts and video as quick as we could cycle the loader on the new 6R’s (4 seconds)!

MachineSync (shown above) was my favourite product launched. Imagine.. combines and grain carts in a field, grain cart driver can see on his screen when the combine is full, pulls within range of the combine and the combine driver takes over control of the tractor to ensure a perfect fill on the grain cart... every time. Not a grain lost. As the Ag Management Solutions group put it, the "tractor - combine square dance becomes that easy". 10 vehicles, 3 miles, 1 integrated solution. Pure innovation.
Beyond the products, the work that goes into Intro is just as impressive for me. The ‘reveal night’ could easily be compared to a circus with 500 hp tractors and combines wheeling circles through a smoke and light show. Months of preparation and weeks of practice come together in a 2 week program, that sees over 5000 people from dealers across Canada, the U.S. and Australia attend. It’s not uncommon for me to feel overwhelmed at least once while watching the show. 
Dealers check out the new John Deere S Series combineThe undertaking is exhausting for those working, yet I believe the effort is worth it. A good Intro gets dealer sales teams excited to go home and share the new products and technology with customers. For me, it’s my favourite event of the year. The 3 day event is also a chance to get caught up with John Deere friends and dealers, often only seen once a year. I’ve been to Denver, Omaha, Cincinnati and now Indianapolis and while the cities blend together, the comradery makes each event memorable. Getting on the bus for 7 am field classes always feels like I accomplished some ‘work-hard, play-hard’ challenge. Finally, instructors feigning energy and excitement over jokes and content they've taught 36+ times is still entertaining.   
If you can't wait for your favourite ag publication to hit the mailbox this week, you can check out some of the links below (if you haven't already)!  

Friday, August 19, 2011

Food Friday: Breakfast for Five (or More!)

My Food Friday debut features a breakfast casserole that my brothers demand every time I am at the farm.
Breakfast casserole

Breakfast has become the most important meal of the day on our farm. Everyone comes into the house after milking cows to sit down together for a bite to eat and a fresh cup of coffee. It's at breakfast when we discuss business, get updates on the day's work and squabble over the latest Kijiji junk deals. <- My brothers have a borderline-unhealthy obsession with Kijiji.

I made this recipe for brunch cooking shows back when I was a Pampered Chef Consultant. Haha "back" makes it seem like it was years ago; it was last year. Anyway, I often tested my 'show recipes' on my family. They rarely complained, but this is the only recipe they continue asking for two years later.

Easy, tasty, and healthy, this breakfast casserole often feeds 6 or more people at our house.

Easy Breakfast Casserole

1 bag of hash browns
12 eggs
1 pkg cream cheese
1 medium onion, diced
1 red or green pepper, diced
* Add vegetables as desired or on hand: mushroom, broccoli, zucchini, spinach
1 cup ham, diced
Citrus basil seasoning, or similar
Chedder cheese, shredded
Salsa (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Hashbrowns packed into pan
1. Spritz or brush oil onto a large pan (stone bar pan, baking sheet with sides or 10x13 pan). Spread hash browns out on the bottom, pressing into all corners of the pan. Sprinkle with seasoning. Bake in oven until golden.

2. In a large bowl, cream the cream cheese. Add eggs and whip until smooth. Add diced vegetables and ham. Combine and pour over hash browns. Sprinkle with seasoning. Replace plan in oven for 30 minutes or until set.

Diced vegetables3. Sprinkle cheese on top while still hot.

Serve immediately with salsa. Makes 8-10 servings. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Some Lessons You Learn the Hard Way - Response to the $25,000 Cow

With Teresa's post about Skinny Bitch  fresh in my mind, I learned a very valuable lesson about agvocacy this week. Namely, know thy enemies.

The scenario was this. editor Andrew Coyne wrote a scathing piece on supply management. You can read it here. Well written, it raises several points against supply management. I actually agree with a few, because I do believe the system has some flaws that dairy farmers need to be attentive to fixing.  However, for the most part, the editor seems to be drawing opinions from reports produced by economists who potentially know very little about supply management.

I disclose right now, I grew up on a dairy farm. In future posts, I can go into why I feel supply management has a place in Canadian agriculture; that is not going to be my focus today.

The article made me a little angry. The comments from readers seemed to be split down the middle regarding those 'for' and those 'against' supply management. Fueled by some frustration, I was determined to have my say. I commented on a stream related to quality and hormone use.

If you removed supply management, you would be encouraging farmers to produce more milk, so that they can make up the income they've given up in lower price. BST/BGH hormone is used to increase a cow's milk production. Therefore, whether the hormone was legal or not, there would be incentive for a farmer to obtain and use it. Under the current supply management system, there is no incentive to produce excess supply, therefore there is no incentive to use BST.

I also noted the more pressing concern about the possibility of taking away consumers' access to Canadian milk by removing supply management.

Perhaps, you should consider what has happened in the rest of the non-supply managed agriculture industry in Canada. Lower-than-cost-of-production prices have driven so many pork and beef producers out of the industry, and too many regs have closed so many processors you can barely buy a Canadian product. 2 years ago when milk prices were in the basement, U.S. dairy farmers were going bankrupt. You may pay a little more (the gap is relatively small), but you are getting Canadian milk. There are minimal regulations monitoring imported food. Pay less, risk not getting what you think.

Neither paragraph is what I would call a well organized collection of points. Nor, does it necessarily say all I wanted to in response to the article. Even still, it is not writing I am proud of. But, I posted it.

I posted it, expecting a response from some of the users who had already commented and agreed with the article's points.

What I received was quite different. I was shocked to have my comment berated by other farmers. Once again, we have failed ourselves by arguing amongst ourselves in the face of the consumer. If I had been a consumer reading the comments, I would've been thoroughly confused. One user commented they are accessing world markets and being successful (why can't dairy also), while another commented that supply management is preventing them from accessing these same markets and realizing their true potential. Isn't there a contradiction here?

I was totally deflated. I wanted to respond to each comment but was unable out of fear this may turn into a real squabble over the sandbox. So, I gave up. I went to bed frustrated with my own inability to better express myself and for being blindsided by my own team. A national news magazine like Macleans gave us a forum to educate consumers, agvocate for our industry, and unfortunately, some would rather use it to point fingers and lay blame. Canada needs all farmers. Until we, as an industry recognize this and work together, we can not have any hope consumers will understand or support us.  After all, what's bacon without eggs?

Note: Returning to the article today, there have been many more users who provided insightful, considerate comments, which restored my faith in our ability to tell our story. My hat goes off to them.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Custom Work - From the Other Perspective

I recall a conversation between my parents when I was growing up after we bought a combine. They were discussing whether to take on a neighbour's harvest job. My dad commented, "We have to pay for the combine somehow."

Waxing John Deere 9400 combine
My father and youngest brother wax the combine in 1994.
Fast forward fifteen years (if not more). We now farm significantly more land. We are by no means a big operator, but at 1500 acres, we are large in the neighbourhood. We farm 650% more land than we did back when my dad owned a John Deere 9400 and custom work helped pay the bills. We have more help, with both my parents, two brothers and one employee. We are also a lot busier, because there are now four families to support, rather than one.

Ten years ago, we grew hay, corn, wheat and 1-2 fields of soybeans. We also milked 40 cows. Today my family still grows those crops, but significantly more acres spread over more area. We also milk 50+ cows, one brother runs a custom spraying business and the other, a custom baling business. We press our own soybean oil and are actively trying to erect a grain elevator, now that a brand, new shed is complete. IT'S BUSY!

The phone also seems to ring more now with neighbours looking for someone to bale or combine, than it ever did ten years ago. Yesterday alone, one neighbour was here before anyone had even set foot in the barn for morning milking, another had stopped by after breakfast and yet another, called at lunch time.

We are all about helping neighbours. We have some great neighbours, and we work together to get everyone's crops in the ground and hay off the field before it rains. They will drive tractor for us or help unload straw bales, and we'll in turn bale or combine for them. The thing with custom work, there is only one combine or one baler and everyone's crop is ready at the same time. I enjoyed reading's post about haying for the first time, and they realized this exact same thing. They decided to buy their own baler and haybine off Kijiji. My brother would tell them they're brilliant.

Why don't more people do this? According to my brother, you can get anything off Kijiji for a deal, and wouldn't it be better to have the freedom to at least do your hay when it's ready? I was amazed this weekend by the number of people in our area that don't own any equipment. High commodity prices have encouraged "less-than-full-time" farmers to grow wheat and corn, without owning a single piece of equipment to plant or harvest it. Combines are expensive, I get it. What about dairy farmers that don't own a baler though? Is it worth begging your neighbours to the point of irritation, to come help? Good used balers do not cost that much.

John Deere square and round balers
Keeping track of how many bales are made on square baler
 Maybe they also do not want to spend the time to run it or maintain the equipment? Maybe they don't think they can fix it when it breaks? Whatever the reason, it seems to be more popular in our neighbourhood just to call my dad.

This morning, we easily said no when we got a call. Two balers broke yesterday in two, separate, neighbours' fields. Nobody's baling can be done today. It's too humid to bale today anyway. It's also Sunday and the beach is a far better thing to do on Sunday, than fix equipment!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Food Inc. - Time to Weigh In

I just caught the tail end of Food Inc. tonight on PBS. This is probably only the third or fourth time I have seen the 2008 documentary detailing 'corporate farming' and the agri-food industry in the U.S.

The first time I watched it was on a plane, and I was compelled to comment but had no forum do so. I suppose, had I been a good 'agvocate' and didn't have a policy against small talk on airplanes, I would have turned to the person next to me and starting discussing the film's themes and got their feedback. I didn't.

Rather than give an opinion on the film overall, I want to share the feelings and emotions it brings forth each time I've seen it. Bear in mind, I'm of farming background.

Anger - Anger at an industry so focused on profit and money, they've overlooked health. I don't mean farmers, I mean the huge processors who drive this industry. Anger that companies I respect would sue and put their own customers, farmers, out of business.

Disgust - Disgust at what goes on in a meat-packing plant.

Embarrassed - Embarrassed to be disgusted. I know what goes on in a meat packing plant, and feel like it should never be shown publicly. There is no way that can look good. People should be educated, but large plants will never look good. If a meat-packing plant was all rainbows and butterflies, how sadistic would we be as people?

Fear - Fear of meat-packing plants. I always have been from the time I was a little girl, and I accompanied my mom to the butcher shop and saw carcasses hanging in the cooler. I still eat meat. Fear we've fed ourselves into obliteration. Literally. As a university student, I recall reading a study on starch and its high glucose level and (primarily negative) impacts on our body. I am mildly educated, and I believe high fructose corn syrup is one of the worst things you can put in your body. It's in everything and that scares me.

Frustration - Frustration at the blatant one-sidedness that most viewers, who know only which aisle to find the corn pops versus what corn is, will never question. Frustration the agribusinesses weren't permitted to tell their story in a fair manner.

Pride - Pride over the farmer that states: "As long as you want $2 milk, you're going to have a feedlot in your backyard. You have the control. I guarantee farmers will produce what you want."

Hope - Hope that consumers will choose healthier food options with their wallets. It happened in the tobacco industry. Hope that consumers will continue asking more questions about their food. Hope we as an industry will be open to listen, provide answers and calm and internalize their concerns.

Happy - Happy I can watch the film and feel all these things. Happy that concerns like traceability, which our Canadian industry is working hard (and spending money) to implement are highlighted as gaps. If we're going to go to the effort to implement this high system of accountability, then there better be a spotlight pressuring our largest trading partner to do the same.

That's all from me, for now. I'm dying for your feedback on Food Inc. Have you blogged about it? What's your opinion?