Tuesday, March 25, 2014

An Excuse for Not Meeting Customers' Demands?

I am a connoisseur of ag related blogs. Lots of my friends and colleagues write, read and comment on these blogs and I like to stay up-to-date on what's happening in my beloved industry.

There's plenty of blogs to choose from ...
But lately ... I haven't been able to digest anything I've read. 

I am tired of hearing this phrase - "we feed the world" as an excuse for why I should stop eating at Chipotle. I've also read it in blogs talking about conventional vs. organic/naturally grown foods and in the GMO debate.

To me - a lover of Chipotle's food, a proponent of GMOs and someone in favor of cashing in on niche marketing - "We feed the world" is the "my dog ate my homework" of the ag industry.

Why do we insist on making excuses? Yes, farmers in America are working hard every single day to raise crops with higher yields than last year, raise livestock humanely and preserve the land for the next generation. I get that. And yes, it's something to be proud of ... but it's our job to do it better and to give the people what they want.

If the automobile industry didn't keep improving their product, we'd all be driving 1966 Ford Mustangs ... because they are about the coolest looking car in the world. Instead, we now have vehicles equipped with things like cupholders, airbags and anti-lock brakes to name a few. Heck, I've even got a fancy back-up camera in my truck and a sunroof. Ford could have just stopped after the 1966 Mustang, and our sodas would have flown all over the place when we take corners at 35 mph. [Then again, not everyone drives like I do...]

I would look so cool in this!
We in agriculture keep working to better our products, just like the automotive industry. We want to use less resources (like water, pesticides, herbicides, etc.), improve our bottom line and ultimately produce more corn, wheat, alfalfa, beef, chicken, apples, berries, cucumbers, etc., because the population is growing. Why did Henry Ford perfect the assembly line? To streamline the process. To make it easier for Americans to own a car. Again, similar to the car makers, we couldn't stay in 1966 because ultimately our CONSUMERS wanted more and they want options while grocery shopping like low fat yogurt, Certified Angus Beef, wasabi flavored crackers or blood oranges.

That's right, the consumers (those who buy our products and feed them to their families), demand more from those that grow their food.

  • They demand safety. Luckily for them, we have the safest food supply in the world ... but there's always room for improvement.
  • They want choices. Think about it people, we're not all driving Toyota Prius or Ford F-250s. Similarly we can't expect everyone to enjoy Filet Mignon, twinkies or gluten free sustainably grown kale chips equally --- there has to be something for everyone.
     
  • They want to know the people who grow the food. Why do you think there's lots of car commercials showing the people who work in the factory smiling and doing their jobs? Because the people want to know and trust those that are growing (making) our products. By providing an open dialogue and explaining what happens on our farms and ranches, we are making strides here folks.
People like my brother and the rest of my family are working hard on the farm.
Now, you can hate on Monsanto and other biotechnology companies all you want. But their innovations and research create jobs, and a few years down the road farmers plant these products and they make their way to your table. It takes all kind of kinds. Without companies investing in biotechnology research, we would all be attempting to crossbreed tomatoes in our backyard. I don't think it's feasible for every family to grow their own food. Because boyfriend and I would starve ... I have tried to grow a garden, and turns out my thumb isn't green. But I do trust vegetable farmers to grow something healthy and delicious to serve alongside my home raised beef at supper time.

Feeding the world is a group effort. If the consumers demand more from their food, it's our job as agriculturists to give it to them. If they want GMO-free, grass fed pork and hand-picked wild rice ... it's our job to figure out how to grow these products and get them to the customer. But, those that demand these products will more than likely be willing to pay a premium. To those of us in marketing, it's our job to capitalize here.

It's a vicious cycle! But, I think our industry is up to the challenge. We have buckets of smart people graduating with agriculture degrees across the country very soon and I hope they're up to the challenge of meeting the consumers' demands.

We'll need to work together to raise the organic, natural, non-GMO, hormone-free, gluten free, etc., products that the public wants and figure out how to .... you guessed it .... feed the world.

This growing population will still need to be fed. Just because there are still a few 1966 Ford Mustangs left, doesn't mean I'm driving one. Instead I have a late model Ford F150, because I enjoy anti-lock breaks and cupholders. Plus, I will trust the automotive industry to provide me with a newer vehicle when the time comes. I just bet it'll be safer, be better for the environment and maybe even a few colors to choose from --- similar to the produce, grains, meat and poultry that my fellow agriculturists will be growing to fill the grocery stores at that time.

Until Next Time,
Robin

P.S. - I've thought about writing this blog for a while. I opted not to quote any of the "annoying" blogs, and instead make it more of an opinion piece. Please respect others in the comments below.

10 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Thanks Karli! I got nervous writing this post at first, but it's been well received so far.

      I checked out your blog as well -- love your home! I may be turning to you for inspiration with our current renovation process.

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  2. I really like this post and the one on Chipotle. There's a place for everyone in agriculture:) I think that if you can find your niche in the market and can make a profit then go for it!

    And I really like Chipotle's burritos:)

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    1. Thanks Laurel! Sometimes I worry that we're too busy defending our industry instead of focusing on what our job is ... to provide a product (safe & healthy, product) for the residents of Earth to dine on 3x/day!

      P.S. - I am a huge Chipotle burrito fan ... It was a favorite while in MHK!

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  3. AGREE!!!! Over the same old rhetoric over and over again! Farmers will do what the market demands----consumers are one of the many aspects that decides how much that grain, calf, ect. is worth. If the market demands my family's conventional feed lot needs to change, to be profitable, we will definitely make the change!

    Those bloggers need to realize that although agriculture is warm, fuzzy, family affair, generational blah blah blah, ultimately IT IS A BUSINESS, and with any business, profits will always be most important. using, 'we feed the world' as an excuse to battle competition from a niche market isn't doing anything but annoying everyone.

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    1. Beth -

      You and I visit about this often. Do you think we are some of the few that are tired of reading the same blog over and over and over again?

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  4. I think misinformation is the cause for defense and is the larger issue. I'm not sure it is a demand problem. If people want organic, free range, grass fed or whatever then that is fine. As you said, someone will cater to that service. However, denouncing conventional practices as cruel, environmentally hazardous, linking GMOs to autism, cancer, bee deaths, ect., all without scientific support...that is going to cause a splinter. There is a place for everyone in agriculture, but not if that means by spreading unfounded beliefs, and it becomes a whole new ballgame when the niche market screams and pushes for limiting regulations on their counterparts; all because of unfounded beliefs.

    So, in regard to Chipotle, I don't blame anyone in agriculture for boycotting them. They present a false image for their personal gain. Still want a burrito from there? That's fine with me too. We can have our choices, but it shouldn't happen at the cost of advancement and innovation.

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  5. Also, thank you for sharing and discussing this openly! It should happen everywhere more often.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for the response Colby. I like to hear what others in ag think about this topic.

      As a whole, we have all kinds of training and a desire to share the knowledge about WHY we do things. But, I think because those that farm/ranch for a living automatically go on the defensive when companies "attack" their livelihood. I can't think of another occupation that people have such PRIDE in ...

      I agree there's lots of misinformation, but eventually to (excuse me for using this) "feed the world," we're going to have to embrace technology and innovation.

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  6. I'm a bit confused... haha. I thought conventional farmers/ranchers were already quite embracive of new tech and methods. And every profession has their pride (sorry but on the topic of always reading the same thing, that one gets worn out as well).

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