Livestock Economist Says 2013 Hinges on Drought

Back home, we know a few things about drought. Living in Texas, we experienced an epic drought in 2011 and continue to feel the effects today. I’ve seen painfully dry pastures and cattle ranches that go back generations sell off the last of their herds. It’s just too expensive to feed their cattle.

Unfortunately, our neighbors to the north experienced the same last year. Feed prices reached $8 per bushel, and grass just didn’t grow. Feeding cattle, pigs, chickens and turkeys was just too expensive. The drought took a toll on all of agriculture – especially livestock.

So, what can American farmers and ranchers expect in 2013? Will conditions improve? According to Dr. David Anderson, a professor and economist in Livestock and Food Products Marketing from the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, the answer is, “It depends.”

Dr Anderson

The fate of cattle, pork and poultry producers really depends on drought conditions across the country and resulting feed costs. If the drought subsides and feed costs come down, producers’ costs could decrease, making operations a little easier.

Demand also plays an important role. High retail prices for all meat have driven domestic demand down in the past few years. But Americans still want their steaks, chops and chicken – and they’re willing to continue buying at the grocery store.

Export markets are a promising outlet, as well. Demand for U.S. meat is strong as the global economy is improving and consumers around the world seek to improve their diets by including beef, pork and poultry.

In short, Dr. Anderson was cautiously optimistic about the outlook of meat production and sales this year. While we still are feeling the devastating effects of drought, U.S. meat and dairy products continue to be in demand and will persevere through this difficult time.

I know that in Texas, we’ll keep watching the skies and praying for rain.

amandalewishill is Amanda Hill, associate editor at Texas Farm Bureau. Amanda writes for Texas Table Top, a blog engaging in conversations about food, nutrition and farming in the Lone Star State. She also helps manage Texas Farm Bureau’s social media efforts, including FacebookTwitter, Pinterest and more. Find her on Twitter (@amandalhill).

Ag Social Media ‘Rock Stars’ Encourage Farmers, Ranchers

A quartet of agricultural social media “rock stars” offered tips and encouragement to farmers and ranchers at a strategic engagement conference during the American Farm Bureau Federation’s 94th Annual Meeting.

“Social media allows us to be part of the conversation,” said Ryan Goodman, a cattle rancher from Arkansas who created the AgricultureProud.com blog and is a guest contributor to CNN’s Eatocracy blog.

“Consumers are already talking about what we’re doing on the farm and ranch. Through social media we can have direct access to people with questions,” Goodman said.

Ryan Goodman and Janice Person

Ryan Goodman and Janice Person

Zach Hunnicutt, a Nebraska farmer who was recently elected chairman of AFBF’s national Young Farmers & Ranchers Committee, explained that he is able to advocate for agriculture by “giving a tour of my farm every day using Facebook and Instagram“Be positive all the time, and be passionate when advocating for agriculture on social media,” advised Hunnicutt. “It draws people in,” he said.

Setting up a business page on Facebook for your farm is a strategy Janice Person of Monsanto recommends. Having a business page means your farm can be found on Internet search engines. And it addresses privacy concerns many people have—you can share family photos and stories only on your personal page, for example.

Zach Hunnicutt

Zach Hunnicutt

“Interacting on Facebook with people in your community, at church and with college friends is a great way to get started,” Person said. From there, interest in a farmer’s Facebook page often grows dramatically in concentric circles, Person has found. A Colorful Adventure is her personal blog.

“Be consistent with social media and you will build community,” said Katie Pinke, author of the Pinke Post blog. “Especially if you’re just starting out, concentrate on doing just one or two things well,” she added.

Pinke, who started her blog several years ago as a “lonely pregnant woman on the prairie trying to find friends,” offered encouragement to those in agriculture who may be hesitant to get started in social media. “What you do does not necessarily have to be fancy or flashy,” she said.

Katie Pinke

Katie Pinke

 All of the panelists have found that engaging in conversations on social media about non-farming subjects at least part of the time helps increase outreach. Cooking, recipes, kids, sports, music, travel and photography are among the topics they have successfully used for this.

All four of the panelists are guest bloggers at 94th AFBF’s Annual Meeting. 

Social Agriculture – What Is It?

I attended a great session about social media in agriculture today which explained what social media really is and how agriculture uses it. Katie Pinke shares her family farm story because she wants people to know how their food is raised. For Janice Person it’s important for her to know the people answering questions about agriculture are truly involved in agriculture. Ryan Goodman started blogging just so his family knew what he was doing during a summer work experience on a farm in another state. Zach Hunnicutt loves auto-steer on his tractor because it allows him time to keep his social media followers updated on the happenings on his farming operation.

Katie Pinke also used social media to reach out to other moms across the United States about the new changes to the school lunch programs. This created a movement from moms inside and outside of agriculture and parents everywhere contacted their elected officials and schools about their concerns and to have input on these changes. Social media allowed these farm moms and non-farm moms to unite and make a difference.

Zach Hunnicutt likes giving people a tour of his farm every day through social media and pictures he take on his smartphone. This allows him to explain what is really happening and why he makes the decisions he makes on his farm. This allows Zach to form relationships with others outside of agriculture so that when they have questions they will turn to him.

Another great reason he uses social media is to keep up with the weather and markets. For example, during a dangerous storm path Twitter was the only way Zach coould keep updated on a tornado due to not having electricity on the farm.

Janice Person stressed that social media is more about transparency for agriculture and forming real relationships rather than how many people follow you or what important job title those followers may have.

Consistent use of blogs, Twitter and Facebook is the key to being effective, Consistent social activity will spread the agriculture story the fastest. Thanks to being consistent in social media, Hunnicutt has formed good relationships with media outlets. Ryan Goodman has done the same thing and has guest blogged for CNN’s Eatocracy blog. This connection also opened doors for the local media to use Ryan as a valuable resource for agriculture stories during the recent drought.

This session offered many great ideas about how agriculture can better utilize social media to tell our story. Attendees left this session energized and armed with great ideas to help share the agriculture story.

Chris Chinn is a Farm Bureau member in Missouri, serves  on the Missouri Farm Bureau board of directors and will represent her state at the delegate session in Nashville. She is a hog producer, 5th-generation family farmer and former chair of the national AFBF Young Farmers & Ranchers Committee. Find her on Facebook and Twitter (@ChrisChinn).