Celebrity Encounters in California

We’re in California, so of course there’s a chance we’ll see celebrities, maybe it will an actor or musician. I would probably walk right past goo if I saw him on the street, but put an animal ag celebrity in front of me and I might turn into a screaming schoolgirl, so I was in heaven Saturday!

I started Saturday at #AFBF15 hearing from someone I have been in awe of for a long time, Jack Hanna, at the AFBF Foundation for Agriculture’s Flapjack Fundraiser breakfast. There aren’t too many people who educate about animals better this man. Then we follow it up with Dr. Temple Grandin being awarded the Distinguished Service to Agriculture Award!

Dr. Temple Grandin, in my mind, is the ultimate educator and difference maker in animal agriculture. I have followed her work with animal welfare since I was a college freshman at the University of Nebraska studying Animal Science. This was long before she became famous in the mainstream and I was so glad that one of my professors introduced me to “Thinking in Pictures,” the book (not the movie). This was my first exposure to her writing outside of the traditional scholarly journals, which at the time I was also devouring. It was indeed a privilege to listen to her speak and a few of the best things that I took away included, “You have to expose students to interesting things to get them interested in interesting things” and “We have to open our doors. There’s a whole generation that has no idea what’s going on in ag.” There is no way that this is enough to share, so enjoy the video and I hope that you consider reading some of Dr. Grandin’s other work.

Congratulations Dr. Grandin on receiving the Distinguished Service to Agriculture Award and thank you for being an inspiration!

http://new.livestream.com/FarmBureau/events/3705834 (Dr. Temple Grandin clip begins at 43:30)

Hilary Maricle is a member of AFBF’s national Promotion & Education Committee and graduate of the Partners in Agricultural Leadership program. She hails from Nebraska, where she is a county commissioner and raises beef cattle, hogs, sheep, corn and soybeans with her family. Her Twitter name is @mariclefarm and she’s also on Facebook (Hilary Esch Maricle).

A Night at the Grand Ole Opry House

No trip to Nashville is complete without a trip to the Grand Ole Opry. Tonight we attended the Foundation’s Night Out at the Grand Ole Opry House.

The Grand Ole Opry House

The Grand Ole Opry House

The evening was hosted by GAC’s Nan Kelly. The first group to entertain was Mike and the Driven Bow. They entertained the crown with bluegrass music from artists such as Bill Monroe and Bob Wills.

Mike and the Driven Bow

Mike and the Driven Bow

Next up was the new sound of The Fiddleheads. You may have seen them last spring on the show America’s Got Talent.

The Fiddleheads

The Fiddleheads

Prizes were given away during the night. Chevrolet gave one lucky attendee a Superbowl Package including game tickets and a hotel stay for two.


Nashville is a city rich in history and back-stories. Award-winning songwriters Tim Nichols and Craig Wiseman entertained the crowd singing some of their long list of popular songs that have been recorded by artists such as Tim McGraw, Alan Jackson, JoDee Messina and Kenny Chesney, to name a few. Their energy and zeal for song was contagious and they kept the audience laughing with stories about the ideas and inspiration for their songs.

Craig Wiseman and Tim Nichols

Craig Wiseman and Tim Nichols

And then it was time for the headliner – the moment everyone was waiting for – Phil Vassar took the stage.

Phil Vassar

Phil Vassar

At the end, in Opry tradition, all the artists returned to the stage for a rendition of Will the Circle be Unbroken. The night was truly fun, energizing and lived up to the Opry’s reputation as “The Show that Made Country Music Famous.”

sarahdcarte is Sarah Carte of Florida, a wife, mother and fourth-generation farmer. She currently serves as vice-chair of the Florida Farm Bureau Women’s Leadership Committee. Her Twitter name is @sarahdcarte and she’s also on Facebook (Sarah Dasher Carte)

Closing Session Includes Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack


Secretary Tom Vilsack’s talk started with recognition that he has been asked to stay on with President Obama’s second term.

Vilsack, a card carrying member of the Iowa Farm Bureau, said the challenges of the drought and navigation on the Mississippi River may not be understood to the general public, but farmers and others get it.

He said there are efforts to improve weather forecasting, to provide more research into climate change impacts and other long-term challenges.

A key point from the drought was the resilience of American farmers who adapt and adopt technology, Vilsack pointed out. The risk management efforts in place were critical and he was disappointed in the lack of a Farm Bill.

Vilsack says there was potential for reform, and the opportunity went passed. “we are disappointed that you all were not given the certainty that a five year program can do,” he said. There will be opportunities to opt-in or opt-out.

He assured the members that the Ag department continues to push for a five year bill. With the rural economy and momentum there, it was especially difficult.

His statement “We need a five year bill and we need it now” was met with applause.

Although it can be tough to articulate the needs to the broader public, we have a responsibility to do so. And the benefits to the environment, to conservation and other areas are important to all of us.

The nutrition assistance program are also important safety nets. These programs provide for American families, Vilsack says. He says the support of them is important to get support for the bill in Congress.

Rural America provides food, fuel, millions of jobs and the military – distortion steely having the 16% of America that is rural, provide 40% of the military.

Rural America needs to find a way to connect and make people see how it is relevant to the masses, Vilsack says. One way to do that is to convey agriculture’s message. There are other connections to make like Chuck Hagel of Nebraska becoming secretary of defense. Understanding the bio based economy, he could reduce our military’s dependence on foreign oil. Same matters on treasury secretary.

Vilsack says agriculture has a stake in immigration reform. He says rural America needs to embrace diversity and discover common causes.

He understands how frustrating it is to be the best at what is done and not have people join the cause. We need to get more people involved not in consumption but in production which is what rural America does best.

Vilsack finished by thanking farmers and rural America for feeding his family, providing the economic benefits that are so common, for protecting the environment and for providing so many of the men and women to the military.

Janice AKA JPLovesCotton is Janice Person, a city girl who loves cotton and biotechnology. Her work in public affairs for Monsanto includes blogging and social media outreach. A colorful adventure is her personal blog. Follow her on Twitter (@JPLovesCotton) and find her on Facebook.

A Little Slice of History

This morning, my husband and I took time out of our jam-packed schedule to stop and have a few minutes of our morning archived for future generations.

What am I talking about?

We were given the opportunity to have a 40 minute interview recorded through Story Corps, and it will be archived in the Library of Congress. Talk about an amazing opportunity.

The only issue we had? Apparently if you take a cell phone and cover it in foam, my normally talkative husband clams up. That’s right, Mr. Social seemed to have an issue with keeping a conversation going with me. But never fear, the wonderful woman assisting us jumped in at the right moments, helping him open up and tell even more wonderful stories.

The best part of all was knowing that this information will be recorded for all of posterity, allowing our children, our grandchildren and even their grandchildren the opportunity to hear our thoughts, memories and plans for the future. It’s not every day that you get an opportunity like that, and we have Farm Bureau to thank for it.

If you ever have an opportunity to tell your story, be sure to do it. Not just your plans for the future, but where you’ve been, how you made it to where you are—including the trials and tribulations.

Amazing moments in amazing places—it’s the Farm Bureau way.

wagfarms is Val Wagner, a North Dakota farmer and rancher. The Wag’n Tales blog features stories from this mom of four who loves farm life and invites readers to come along for the ride. Follow Val on Twitter (@wagfarms) and find her on Facebook. She is a member of the North Dakota Farm Bureau’s Promotion & Education Committee.

Transportation and Agriculture

This session discussed the transportation issues facing farmers today and the difficulty in interpreting the existing regulations and how they apply to farmers. Funding for infrastructure is also a major issue in most states and this problem isn’t going away.

The expert panel for the session was made up of people who address these issues for agriculture daily. The panel included Samuel Kieffer from Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, Garrett Hawkins from Missouri Farm Bureau, Michael Wright from South Carolina Farm Bureau and Kevin Rund from Illinois Farm Bureau.

The panel discussed how infrastructure associated with agriculture is disadvantaged today because earmarks in funding for rural infrastructure has disappeared. This means we need to find a different way to fund infrastructure for agriculture.

Another important issue facing agriculture transportation is barge transportation on waterways. The current drought has made barge traffic very difficult and almost nonexistent in certain areas. Due to low water levels this past year, barges have reduced their load capacity just to maintain barge traffic. One barge can transport as much as 1,050 semi tractor-trailers and 216 rail cars. A barge is more efficient in the number of miles it can travel per gallon of diesel compared to trucks and rail.

This session offered an in depth look into what states have been facing regarding transportation. There was a focus on the importance of barge traffic to agriculture, in addition to the importance of our port system in the United States. If our ports are not kept up to date we will lose out to more modern ports like Cuba.

The panel emphasized we need certainty in funding for long term planning for our aging infrastructure system. Farmers need to engage in these conversations and talk about the important role transportation plays in their farming operations.

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).

The Waiting is the Hardest Part…

My husband, John, and I are priviledged to be the Indiana representatives in the Young Farmers and Ranchers Excellence in Ag Award here at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s 94th Annual Meeting.


Excellence in AgThis award is for Young Farmers and Ranchers who do not make the majority of their income from production agriculture. The Excellence in Ag Award is based on involvement and leadership in agriculture, Farm Bureau and the local community.

We first competed for this award in Indiana before our annual convention in December. We submitted an application that included details about our farm (beef cattle and hay), our off-farm jobs (we are veterinarians in a rural town and I am a blogger), our involvement and leadership roles with Farm Bureau, with other agriculture groups, and with non-agriculture groups. Then we waited.

The top three competitors in Indiana were asked to give a presentation to a panel of judges in Indianapolis. Then we waited. The winners were announced at the Indiana Farm Bureau Annual Meeting early in December and the rush was on to get prepared for the national competition! We submitted another application to the AFBF Young Farmer and Rancher coordinator and then we waited.

The first part of the AFBF Annual Meeting in Nashville was the opening session. All the Excellence in Ag competitors were grouped together at the front of the ballroom. We nervously watched the parade of states, and listened to AFBF President Bob Stallman give his “State of Farm Bureau” address. We waited for the announcements of the Top 10 competitors. John and I applauded for and celebrated with the first 9 states who would be competing in the next round of competition… And then we waited…

After what seemed like an extraordinarily long pause…

Our names were called! We had made it to the Top 10 round of competition! What a relief, an honor and a new bout of nervousness to have made it to this level!

We went to our competitor orientation, drew our order for the presentation round of the competition… and learned we would be waiting some more. We would be the 9th presenters, in a group of 10.

We spent the rest of the afternoon at the conference, taking in the trade show, going to a breakout session and catching up with old friends. We got up this morning ready and just a little nervous.

We patiently waited our turn (with a little more than our fair share of pacing). We bounced around the room a little bit, psyching ourselves up for the presentation backstage-style, ramping up our energy levels. We gave our presentation to a packed house. A lot of our Indiana delegation came out to support us in this competition and we were so excited to have them there to share this experience with us. We put our hearts, our personalities, and our passions into our presentation. I know our Indiana crew enjoyed it and we can only hope that the judges did, too.

And now, we wait some more. We know we have done our best and we are certainly proud of our accomplishments. Indiana had competitors in the Top 10 for both the Excellence in Ag Award and the Achievement Award, and in the Discussion Meet Sweet 16. We are so thrilled that we all have been able to make Indiana proud.

The announcements of the winners of the Excellence in Ag Award, the Achievement Award nd the Discussion Meet will be announced this afternoon at the closing general session. If you see some young farmers wandering around looking nervous, stop to say hi and give us a few words of encouragement. We’ve worked very hard to reach this level of the competition and we’re waiting for some big announcements.

I can’t talk about these awards without mentioning our sponsors. Without the support of the state Farm Bureaus, none of the Young Farmer competitors would be here. We all owe a huge thank-you to STIHL, Case IH and GM. Thank you for your support!

The application and the presentation? While they both took a lot of work, it now seems like that was the easy part of this competiton. The waiting truly is the hardest part… But we are loving every minute of the anticipation!

alarmclockwars is Marybeth Feutz, DVM, of Indiana. She and her husband, John, have a beef cattle farm and work together in their family’s veterinary practice. She is a member of the Indiana Farm Bureau’s Women’s Leadership Committee. Check out her blogs: AgriCultured — Where People Who Eat Get Their Food Questions Answered (http://www.agricultured.org/) and Alarm Clock Wars (http://www.alarmclockwars.com/). Find her on Twitter (@AlarmClockWars).

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).