Wisconsin Welcomes Participants to 18th Annual National Value Added Agriculture Conference

2011_logo_7594642DD4086The Park Hotel in Madison, Wisconsin, will be the venue for the 18th yearly National Value-Added Agriculture Conference, to be held on July 21st and 22nd. The event is designed to focus on the interests of farmers, service providers, extension specialists and community leaders.

According to business development specialist Kietra Olson of the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, there will be participants from across the country as well as experts from far and wide.

“We have speakers coming from around the United States to talk about agri-tourism and rural and urban economic development, local and regional food systems, alternative-energy technology, supply-chain issues, and a lot more,” Olson said.

Wisconsin is the perfect place for a meeting of this kind. With 77,000 farms, almost all of which are family owned, Wisconsin has more farms than any other state. In addition, it is the leading state in terms of diversity of produce.

The state’s agriculture industry generates close to $60 billion each year in economic activity. This year’s conference theme is entrepreneurship and expanding rural economies through innovation and outreach to new markets. Olson pointed out that today’s farmers need to know much more about their industry than just planting and harvesting.

“Outreach programming for market expansion as it’s related to value-added processing: grant writing, entrepreneurship, aquaponics and soil-health topics, financing value-added products, things like that,” she said.

Mars Exploration Fertile Ground for Agricultural Innovation



According to Dr. Gernot Groemer, president of the Austrian Space Forum and the head of the PolAres Mars simulation program, exploration of space, and especially the possibility of Mars colonization, is likely to stimulate innovation, especially in the industry and agriculture sectors right here on Earth.

“It’s a clean sheet approach that provides reflections on what is really needed to sustain a community somewhere, anywhere,” explained Dr Groemer. “We use cutting-edge emerging technologies, and what you find with all of the controlled conditions and brain power being applied is that there are applications here on Earth.”

There is a long history of deriving new technologies and products from space programs. Even movies like “The Martian” can inspire creativity. Researchers from Wageningen University & Research Center in the Netherlands grew certain crops in media made to simulate the soil of Mars.

“The food crops were grown in soil that would otherwise be considered unplantable,” Groemer explained. Here on Earth this can translate to improving productivity on land which is marginal or even barren.

“What we know about Mars has progressed massively in the past 15 years, and I strongly believe that the first human to walk on Mars is already born,” stated Dr Gernot Groemer. “We could see permanent human settlement on the Red Planet several generations from now, and they may not be happy eating canned food,” he noted.

There are other issues space exploration forces mankind to investigate.

“The way our body processes food is different enough to matter a great deal. A person’s sense of taste changes in zero gravity. There are medical implications to different gravity effects,” remarked Dr Groemer. “In our work we’re verifying whether the ideas and designs to survive on Mars work in practice, and the gaps between theory and practice that we observe range from trivial to serious matters.”

Orangeburg County Offering Incentives to Agribusiness Development

Orangeburg, SC. Photo by JayeeDior12

Orangeburg, SC. Photo by JayeeDior12

Councilman Harry Wimberly of Orangeburg County in South Carolina announced that his county is creating development incentives to encourage new agribusiness investment.

The idea began back in December, 2015 when the S.C. Department of Agriculture asked Wimberly if his county could support such incentives.

Winberly said he always gets behind any initiative which supports agribusiness coming into and growing in Orangeburg County.

“Anytime we can bring new industry into Orangeburg County is a plus,” he said. “I am glad they entertained us first before any other county.”

At the beginning of May the county became the first in the state to say yes to a resolution backing incentives to grow agribusiness.

Any new businesses entering the county will be joining those who are already present and flourishing, such as: Cactus Farms, Dempsey Wood Products, Cox Industries, Bimbo Bakeries, Carolina Fresh Farms, Orangeburg Pecan, Mars Petcare, Lee’s Sausage and Super-Sod.

US Agribusiness Sees Potential in Cuba

Official photo of United States Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA)

Official photo of United States Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA)

With the lifting of the US embargo on trade with Cuba US agribusiness is anticipating some benefits to their own economic sector. The American Farm Bureau and other farm groups are pushing for increased trade in agricultural goods when the embargo is nullified.

Senator Chuck Grassley, Iowa senator, is refraining from participating in the flurry of excitement the lifting of the trade embargo has been generating. Even if the end of the embargo means more agricultural products will be sold to Cuba, Grassley is still not moved to support the historic event. He believes that when it comes to the “give and take” of negotiations of the new trade arrangement, Cuba is going to get the better end of the deal.

The Senator points out that even with the embargo still in place farm sales to Cuba has been improving.

“There’s already a provisions that have even been liberalized beyond what they’ve been through maybe ten years for agricultural foods to go there along with medicine, pharmaceuticals, medicinal things. So I don’t know whether we have to be so concerned just for agriculture,” said Grassley.

Senate Taking Steps to Open Cuban Market to US Agribusiness

Official portrait of U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND).

Official portrait of U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND).

Prices for essential commodities such as wheat, corn and oil have been heading south for quite some time due to their current global surplus. One way to bring prices up would be to open new markets, which can often be elusive. However, one such new market is hovering just over the horizon: Cuba.

At the moment the US, under the initiative of US President Barak Obama, some decades-old restrictions on trade with Cuba have been, or are in the process of being lifted. Unfortunately, that trade embargo continues to disallow the crucial financing that agribusiness in the US would need to send agricultural products to the communist island just 90 miles south of Florida. Agribusiness is hoping that this status-quo will change.

There is a revisiting now in the US Senate of bi-partisan support for legislation which could help agriculture exporters sell their wares in Cuba. Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, along with 13 co-sponsors are energetically pushing the Senate to pass Heitkamp’s bill. The Agricultural Export Expansion Act of 2015 would lift the present ban on companies and private banks which supply the financing for the export of agricultural products to Cuba.

Further support for agricultural trade with Cuba is coming from US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. Vilsack has requested the funding of a US Department of Agriculture (USDA) field office in Cuba as part of the upcoming federal budget which was sent to Congress on February 9, 2016.

All good news for agribusiness in the US and in Cuba.

Canadian Agribusiness Looking for Workers

Need a job? The place to look might just be in the world of agribusiness, especially in Canada. One industry researcher has discovered that although more people have been applying for jobs in Canada’s agribusiness sector in recent months, there is still a critical labor shortage in some sectors of agribusiness.

“People have said that they have received more resumes this year than in previous years,” said Debra Hauer, project manager at the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council (CAHRC).

The majority of the jobs available are in the business end of agriculture, such as input suppliers, truck drivers, and marketing, sales and finance.

Job losses in the oil industry could be contributing to the increase in job applications in agribusiness, but Hauer did not want to speculate on what this trend means for agribusiness on a long-term basis.

The collapse of crude oil prices led to the loss of about 30,000 jobs during 2015 in Alberta, Canada’s natural resource industry, says Statistics Canada.

“There may be some people who are running out of EI (employment insurance) at this point in time, and may be running out of other options — that’s just starting out,” Hauer said.

Michael LaPlant to Become VP for Agribusiness of UMB

UMB Bank announced that it was elevating Michael LaPlant to the position of vice president of its agribusiness division.

As vice president LaPlant will be responsible creating new agribusiness relationships while simultaneously guiding clients to a focused strategy. LaPlant was previously a commercial lender with UMB.

LaPlant has a double degree in finance and real estate from the University of Missouri. He also spends time volunteering with Young Friends of the Zoo, Young Friends Marian Middle School, and United States Junior Chamber of Commerce.

Texas Farmers Unhappy with Rainfall Swings

Rain clouds approaching cattle. Photo by Dirk Ingo Franke

Rain clouds approaching cattle. Photo by Dirk Ingo Franke

According to Texas A&M AgriLife extension agent for Gregg County Randy Reeves, the weather has swung from the two extremes of “heavy rain to drought and back to rains again.”

He continued: “It has delayed just about everything. Hay harvest, spraying for weeds, fertilizing. Going from almost one extreme to the other has made it difficult for producers to adjust.”

Hay farmer Dwight Berryhill from Kilgore said that the lack of summer rain and the overabundance of rain in the autumn, made it difficult just to bring in the hay for harvest.

“You have to wait so long before you can get at it, and that affects the quality as well as when you’re able to get a return from it,” he said. “It’s not the only crop that pays my bills, but if it was I’d been in a heck of a state right now.”

Delays in hay production in turn effects cattlemen and ranchers who are forced to supplement their feed sooner than what is normal, and the rain prevented them from planting clover and rye grasses for the winter pasture, Reeves added.

Beef and forage producer from Longview, Edward Mansinger said he did not even bother to plant a winter pasture due to the summer drought. “I figured it wouldn’t even be able to come up,” he said.

The overly rain-filled soil is also a challenge for the health of the cattle.

“In weather like this, it takes a lot more nutrition to keep them going,” Mansinger said. “There are spots with standing water that, no sooner does it start to dry up that you’ve got another rainfall making things wet and muddy again. It can be hard on your cattle.”

There is some good news among all the bad: groundwater reserves are being replenished.

“The rain has certainly filled our ponds and waterways up, in some cases to overflowing,” Reeves said.

Ekiss to Head BARS for Berkley Corp

Insurance giant WR Berkley Corporation announced its appointment of Michael Ekiss to be president of Berkley’s Agribusiness Risk Specialists division, (BARS.) The appointment of the 30-year veteran of the insurance business is effective immediately.

Ekiss has focused on agribusiness insurance through the years, with his most recent appointment in leadership roles in the Midwest region of a large US insurance company.
He has a BA in economics from the University of Nebraska. He is also designated as a Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter (CPCU®) and is an Associate in Commercial Underwriting (AU™).
The chairman and CEO of WR Berkley Corporation, William R Berkley, had this to say about the Ekiss appointment:

“Mike brings a wealth of knowledge and practical experience in all aspects of agribusiness insurance. Since its inception in 2009, the exceptional team at BARS has generated strong growth and profitability. We are confident that Mike’s leadership will enable the unit to further expand nationally while developing their strong differentiation from competitors.”

Lisa Johnson Appointed as Interim Director of Agribusiness Division of the Wyoming Business Council

In the wake of the resignation of Director Cindy Garretson-Weibel of the Agribusiness Division of the Wyoming Business Council, the CEO of the Council has appointed an interim director, Lisa Johnson.

Garretson-Wiebel resigned from the position as of October 9, 2015. She left so she could dedicate herself to launching her own small business. Starting on October 12 Johnson will take over as interim Agribusiness Division director. She was previously the Regional Director of the Southesat Region of the Business Council.

Johnson was appointed to her new position by Shawn Reese, the CEO of the Wyoming Business Council.

“Lisa comes to this position with a strong agricultural background. She has worked closely with producers and is one herself,” Reese said. “She has helped develop rural agricultural economies for much of her professional life.”

Agriculture Secretary Statement

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has recently made a statement as a result of the release of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s fourth quarter Outlook for U.S. Agricultural Trade. Here is what he had to say:

“The strong pace of American agricultural exports continues. Fiscal years 2015 and 2016 exports are forecast to be the third- and fourth-highest on record, respectively. Bulk export volumes are expected to rise in fiscal year 2016 and reach near record levels, and horticultural and livestock product exports are also expected to be higher. Today’s forecast provides a snapshot of a rural America that continues to remain stable in the face of the worst animal disease outbreak in our nation’s history and while the western U.S. remains gripped by drought. Thanks to the resilience of our farmers and ranchers, fiscal years 2009 to 2015 represent the strongest seven years in history for U.S. agricultural trade, with U.S. agricultural product exports totaling more than $911 billion.”

“We expect that new trade agreements, made possible thanks to Trade Promotion Authority, will allow American farmers and ranchers to better reach the 95 percent of consumers who live outside of our borders and drive the continued strength of American agricultural exports. USDA will continue to fight to get the best trade deals for farmers and ranchers that open new markets and new customers to them. Expanded trade strengthens the agricultural economy, supports more than one million good paying American jobs, and helps to preserve the rural way of life.”

Shane McIntyre Grabbed by Colliers

Australian rural outback

Australian rural outback

In what many analysts are considering a hiring coup, Colliers International brought veteran Shane McIntyre, rural property expert, away from his position at Elders. He will run the national agribusiness and rural division at Colliers.

McIntyre has at least 40 years of experience in this sector, spending many of those years as national rural real estate manager at Elders.

“Shane is one of Australia’s most recognized faces in major rural property transactions and will bring unparalleled skills, experience and leadership to our existing team as we continue to expand our business in this sector,” said Will Doherty, national executive responsible for rural and  agribusiness at Colliers International.

“Shane has acted for many of the country’s most prominent individuals, families, corporate entities and state and federal governments during his 40-year career and has been associated with the transaction of many of the most significant properties within Victoria and New South Wales,” Mr. Doherty added.

His appointment comes at a time when real estate businesses are positioning themselves to grab market share as demand from offshore groups rise, sovereign wealth funds expand, and local institutions undertake large-scale agricultural projects such as beef, dairy, wheat and nut production on large rural parcels of land.

“Trade in agricultural commodities is set to boom, assisted by the lower Australian dollar and new free trade agreements,” Mr McIntyre said.

Eastern Ohio Launching Agri Bachelor’s Program

Commonly-displayed artist's rendering of the 1996 Great Seal of Ohio.

Commonly-displayed artist’s rendering of the 1996 Great Seal of Ohio.

Until now residents of the eastern part of Ohio could not pursue a career in agriculture if they wanted to attend school close to home. Their only options for degree programs were in schools like Wilmington College and ATI at Ohio State.

The situation will be remedied this coming fall when students will be able to enroll in an agriculture program at Kent State University Tuscarawas offering a bachelor’s degree.

The senior business manager at KSU Tuscarawas, Waliah Poto, said that the university will be the single school in the entire eastern region of Ohio to offer the discipline of agribusiness. Ohio has a two year technical school in Wooster, the Agricultural Technical Institute of OSU.

“People who are time-bound and place-bound can’t leave the area to attend OSU,” Poto said. “Now we are in their own backyard.”

Tunisia Hosts Olive Oil Fair

Tunisia, the second largest olive oil producer in the world, will hold their third annual “Med Mag Olivia 2015” in Sousse, Tunisia, from June 11 to June 14.
The fair will take place at the Sousse International Center, and will focus on trade promotion, new technologies, and promotion of partnerships between producers of the beloved oil.

This year’s theme is “Science and Technology at the Service of Olive Growth.” The fair will feature a taste contest betrween exhibitors, symposia, workshops and other events all dedicated to organoleptic examinations, tastings, quality guarantees, and certification.

The amount of olives harvested this year in Tunisia hit an all-time high, coming out four times greater than last year’s production. The total of 300,000 tons makes Tunisia the second larges olive oil producer in the world. Only Spain produces more.

Most of Tunisia’s olive oil is exported- up to 70 percent, to EU countries, mostly to Spain and Italy. Tunisian olive oil is also exported to the Americas, Canada, France, Russia and China. Olive oil exports make up about 40 percent of the country’s agricultural product and close to 10 percnet of the country’s total amount of export.

Proposal to Repeal Waters of the US Rule Introduced

Legislation has been introduced which, if passed, will repeal the EPA’s proposed Waters of the US law. The latest move comes with bipartisan support. If passed the EPA and the Army Corps will have to withdraw their rule and re-write it. They will have to follow the definitions that are included in the bill which are there to limit how far any new rules may go.

Philip Ellis, president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association said that the fact that the rule was finalized only six months after receiving over 1 million comments shows that the EPA was not interested in listening to the variety of stakeholders and simply pushed forward with the problematic rule.

Several farm groups were against the Interpretive Rule which had 56 exemptions for “normal farming and ranching” under the Natural Resources Conservation Service regulations. These groups said that the utilization of these practices as CWA exemptions would change farmer-NRCS interaction and interfere and discourage environmental best practices. In the past these practices have been voluntary, and the farming practices were exempt from the permit process.

“Our concern with the initial proposal from last year is that it could have altered the long-standing and productive relationship between farmers and the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, in a way that would have made it harder for farmers to implement water conservation measures,” said Jamie Jonker, vice president for sustainability and scientific affairs for the National Milk Producers Federation.

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