Friday, August 23, 2013

We're Starting a Movement - Feeding a Hungry Planet

On Monday evening, we learned how to start a movement courtesy of Derek Silvers' TED talk. It's really quite simple. You need one crazy nut with the courage to dance alone (idea) and someone brave enough to follow.

Who the nut is actually does not matter. You have the beginning of a movement when you have a follower. While it remains to be seen today what big idea will come out of this week's summit, it's clear after our breakout discussions, the ingredients for a movement are here and plenty.

The level of engagement, insight and stretch among these youth is nothing short of inspiring. There is evidence everywhere of learning and willingness to challenge the status quo and try something different. No individual, idea or norm is safe and that's ok. Complacency is our nemesis. So, stay tuned and be prepared to follow and join our movement.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Feeding a Hungry Planet - Youth Ag Summit Musings of Day 1

Stepping into the Bow Valley, there is no question what the group is here to do. The energy is palpable and the group is on the edge of their seats to tackle the hardest issues on the planet head on.

This is truly an event like no other I've been a part of.  118 smart, articulate, passionate young (& sexy) leaders from 22 countries in Calgary finding solutions to feed a hungry planet. (The sexy is a reference to Ashton Kutcher - check my Tweets from this am). 

For me, it's near impossible to share what this experience means. There is no single word, so  I captured many throughout the day.

-intelligent, articulate and willing to share
- compassion, professionalism, love, bravery, normalcy, blessed, 
- resilience, power of people, make change
- Inspire, encourage and motivate. 
- passion, enthusiasm, familiarity, differences, pride

My role as a mentor is all about facilitating conversations, so I've worked hard at keeping the lens on the delegates and enabling them to engage with each other, dignitaries and speakers. In doing so, I've been afforded many take-aways and insights.

Some day 1 highlights that made me stop & think:

  • Potatoes are very organic matter and N-intensive. In NB, farmers have started to rotate with corn, which causes a yield boost in year 1, thanks to the organic matter, but it's not sustainable. If potatoes require more specialization, N and pesticides, how are farmers balancing this to sustain their soil? 
  • We are a "now" society. Are we thinking about what's after now?
  • Canadians do not pay enough for their food (a bold statement, no doubt). If farmers were guaranteed a fair return, they could invest in better research and improving practices. Today, they are driven solely by profit. What if the price of food was raised? Then what if we re-introduced healthy food prep into the classroom?
  • Food deserts create a inadequate food system in developed countries. Do we know what it's like to live in a community where food is purchased at 7-11?
  • There are still people interested in traditional crop breeding techniques, it's not all biotech.
  • The gap between food and farming is not shrinking. We need to do a better job listening to concerned consumers and considering their perspective, not dismissing it because they didn't drive a tractor or feed a herd of livestock that morning.

Finally, we were left with some incredible stories of human care and giving from the recent floods in Calgary. Calgarians helping Calgarians they'd never met should resonate with all farmers and those in the agri-food industry. It was stated repeatedly, when asked about the people they were helping, "I've never been to this neighbourhood before, but these people are my neighbours and they needed help and here I am." 

How fitting. We may never see those who are hungry and in need of our help. But on our increasingly small planet, arn't they neighbours? They need our help and are you there?

Friday, August 16, 2013

John Deere Reveals 2014 8R Tractor Using Virtual Reality

Using a current 8R, wrapped in white cloth on a white backdrop, projection technology was used to showcase the new features, animate the tractor and the backdrop to illustrate the new engine, cab styling and more. Historically, we've not shared many details prior to the event being complete (new product info will go online August 23), but with social media, it has become pretty hard to contain. I commend the Waterloo tractor factory for embracing this fact and encouraging us to share this cool experience.

Truly, New Product Introduction may be one of the best events John Deere puts together for all of our dealers and employees. 2 1/2 action-packed days of new products, technology, catching up with old friends, networking internally and just cutting loose on the town.

For myself, the event is all about the people and 'the show'. Sure, I get excited about new products, and as I spend more time meeting customers and learning about their specific needs, I'll appreciate our product line more. This higher awareness certainly enhanced my learning this year. I am excited to see these new tractors come to market, and they will be hitting farm shows across the U.S. & Canada all fall. In Ontario, you will have the chance to see the new 7R, self-propelled sprayer and combine first hand at Canada's Outdoor Farm Show in September. In the meantime, and if you missed them on Twitter, here's a sneak-peak with a few more pictures.
All-new track system for S Series combines during reveal night.
John Deere 2014 8R Tractor
Snapshot of the 8R projection.
2014 John Deere 4 Series Sprayers
New 2014 4 Series Sprayers with 1 touch boom unfold.
2014 John Deere 7R Tractors
Row of new 7R tractors lined up waiting for us to jump in the cabs.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Feeding a Hungry Planet - One Action at a Time

In some ways, it might just be what we're best at. Whether seated round the coffee table or kitchen table, on a bar stool or milk stool, solving the world's problems, however small or mighty, might be one of our favourite past times. In fact, it seems as if leaving a group of farmers together in a room is all that's needed to spark a lively discussion. It typically focuses on what's wrong in the [insert context here] and how we would fix it. A cold beverage often seems to accompany such debates, although its not necessary. I can recall all the way back to my 4-H days where a heated discussion on farming and general lack of consumer awareness might go well into the early hours of morning.

So, imagine a week dedicated to creating these types of discussions but instead of leaving them to be forgotten when the last Coors has been polished off, they're further nurtured and allowed to ripen. All the eureka! moments would not only be captured, but they would be vetted (sans alcohol) and further crafted into actions, designed to make a difference. It would be truly solving the world's problems, but with action instead of just talk.  
Youth Ag-Summit

That week is next week. The Global Youth Ag Summit, being hosted in conjunction with 4-H Canada's 100th Anniversary with major support from Bayer CropScience will bring together 120 youth from around the world to tackle the greatest world problem; hunger. I don't need to cite the facts. They are plentiful and compelling. The Bullvine does a great job summarizing the event's purpose. What do I think is most cool about this event? It's hard to pinpoint; this summit will be like none other in Canadian agriculture.

  • Youth are taking global hunger into their own hands with agriculture-focused solutions
  • The Summit will produce actions, not just ideas or "feel good" memories, although I'm sure there will be many of these as well
  • Youth will localize their actions, so every country, region and community from which delegates reside will benefit
  • It's Global - most of us have never truly experienced hunger or poverty, and short from seeing it with our own eyes, learning about it from those who witness it daily is probably the next most powerful
The schedule provides ample time for delegates to reflect and I intend to share my mentoring experience through this blog. It will be undoubtedly powerful and quite possibly life-changing. Let the problem-solving begin!

Friday, August 2, 2013

Head to Head: EZChicken vs PC "Free From" -

US sandwich chain, Panera Bread recently sparked controversy among farmers with their EZ Chicken campaign. The goal was to promote Panera's quality ingredients, by using the popular, yet meaningless descriptor of "natural" and  "antibiotic-free". Not really too controversial; the former has become commonplace on grocery store shelves today. It was the accompanying campaign which set off sparks. Focusing on the 'other chicken', it used some creative imagery and cheeky captions, which some go so far as to say, were fear mongering.
Panera EZ Chicken
Image from Dairy Carrie.

I've been thinking about this campaign since I saw the #pluckEZchicken reaction and Panera's response. I admire Carrie for going after Panera head-on, sticking up for farmers and challenging Panera on a campaign which is misleading. Not surprisingly, her crusade has been confused by some as an endorsement to pump meat full of drugs. I suspect those same people glazed over the farmers' explanation of how they responsibly use antibiotics only if absolutely needed. Unfortunately, as farmers we have to remember most consumers will not grant us the time to learn about all the intricacies of raising livestock for meat. There is a valid concern, which Panera (and Chipotle Grill) has so blantantly put out in the open. Remember this Marketplace? I digress, as a rant was not the objective of this post, but it begs you to question if the practices we've honed to grow livestock in fewer days should be considered acceptable in society.

Now, there was something else about this campaign that seemed all to familiar. Then I saw a President's Choice Free From pork commercial. Ah yes! The foundation of these promotional powerhouses' branded meat campaign are virtually the same. Of course, there are also key differences; specifically, Loblaws put the farmer front and centre, while Panera made colourful cartoons to degrade and even insinuate risk about the "other guys".

PC Free From pork video with farmers

Both are big corporations completely committed to talking to consumers every day, all day, about their food and where it comes from. Surely, both are aware farmers are among the most trusted information source on this very topic? Farm and Food Care Ontario's recent Ipsos study found 61% of respondents ranked farmers as a favourable source for farming and food information, equal to family and friends. This rating was 15% higher than grocery and food retailers. I'm confident this is no surprise to Loblaws.

Afterall, to be fair, as farmers we might question what additional value these products really offer as there is an element of advertising smoke and mirrors here. We have strict Canadian advertising law to thank for the Loblaws disclaimer on their advertising and on-screen commercials. "In Canada, all pork is raised without the use of hormones." Hmm.. isn't that half the campaign?

PC Free From

As mentioned, we should ask why this is even marketing fodder. There is a segment willing to pay more for these products, and I can't knock Loblaws for recognizing this. More importantly, I think this campaign is solid because it's still positive.

Panera has broken the golden rule of sales, in my opinion. Never bash the competition. Smear campaigns have no place in advertising, unless of course it's politics, and even then the public is getting tired. Before you wonder, I am all for asking questions of our meat industries and encouraging reduced antibiotic use, but I have to agree with Dairy Carrie; leveraging fear tactics for profit is not cool. From a messaging perspective, I think the EZ Chicken is an epic fail. I'll be watching to see what the public decides; will any PR good PR for the EZ Chicken and Panera Bread?