Thank you!

I know everybody has to post something about the Holidays this time of year. Well, guess what? I’m going to be talking about Thanksgiving just like thousands of other people. Is my post going to be paradigm shifting? Am I going to inspire world changing  actions? That is not necessarily my goal. Sure, I’d love it if my words changed someone’s life for the better by inspiring them to get out there and love the many, many people so desperately in need this time of year.6397845509_1f1a4e14f4_o

My main goal today is just to make people think. I want people to actually take some time and THINK about their lives and the things that have and haven’t happened. Believe me! Making people think is not an easy thing to do. Many of us, and I include myself in “US”, go through our day putting out the next fire or going through the rote activities of daily life. We take all day trying to either catch up or not get caught up. Please, sit down for just a minute and take stock.

Thanksgiving is just another day on the farm. Farmers don’t get paid days off work. Livestock don’t take the day off from needing to eat or drink.  Cows need to be milked every day. They need to be milked two or three times a day, every day. Routine farm jobs that have to be done, have to be done whether the day is a Holiday or not. Critical machinery like water lines or feed augers break down and have to be fixed, now. The job is only made harder because all the stores are closed. The job is made harder because you are supposed to be at your Mother’s house by noon. The job is made harder because the weather is cold and frozen outside. The job still has to be done because livestock don’t care that you have places to be. They only know that they are hungry and needy and you are responsible to take care of them.

Thanksgiving is, however, not just another day on the farm. Thanksgiving’s very roots are as a harvest festival celebrating the probability of actually having a chance to live throughout the coming winter. This was a big deal. The first settlements of Europeans in the Americas either starved to death or starved almost to death many times before establishing an Agricultural base that could reliably support life over winter. This is a fact. I am not talking about a harvest making the difference between eating well or eating poorly. This harvest meant the difference between life and death for many of these settlers.

“Yeah, yeah, I know all that” you say. Stop and think. Many of my neighbors (i.e. people living within several miles of my house) do not have enough to eat this winter. Hopefully, they won’t starve like the first Jamestown colony but not enough food is not enough food. Food banks are doing booming business and that business “booms” more pretty well every year. People still worry about having enough resources to last through the winter just like they did 300 to 400 years ago.

Where does that food come from? “Captain Obvious” says that the food this country eats is produced by America’s farmers. Each farmer out there is proud of her or his part in the food chain that supplies this country with a reliable supply of turkey’s, potatoes, pumpkins and cranberries. Each farmer out there is proud that the milk, lettuce, tomatoes, wheat, or pecans that they produce ends up celebrated on this most Agricultural of America’s Holidays.

I am very thankful this year. I have been blessed in my family. I have a job to go to every day. I have a roof over my head. I recently had a co-worker who was involved in a serious accident that could easily have been fatal and she walked away with a few scratches. Thank You, God!DSC01670 Eating time!

I know that many other people live hard lives. Many people around me are struggling and I realize that I can always do more to help them in this season of Holiday and throughout the year. We can all be thankful that we live in a country that produces enough food. Our economic system may struggle to get that food where it is needed most. That is not the fault of the Farmers who struggle every day, even on Thanksgiving day, to produce safe and nutritious food in reliable ways for the world to eat. Take a few minutes, or a minute, even a few seconds next Thursday and give some thanks to everybody who has labored to give you the opportunity to be Thankful in the first place. I will be including America’s Farmers.

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A Typical Wisconsin Dairy Farmer

I’m going to introduce you to someone today. A typical Wisconsin Dairy Farmer; not to be confused with an “atypical” Wisconsin Dairy Farmer. This typical farmer is “Dairy Carrie”.

Dairy Carrie is a dairy farmer on a family owned farm in Wisconsin. She didn’t start out that way. Carrie started out just like the overwhelming majority of people start out. She started as a non-farmer. Then, she became the first young woman to take an Ag class at her High School! I think that is a great part of her story. Apparently, she had a great experience because she eventually married into a multi-generational farm family. I am not going to go on at length about family working together but I will say that it is great when it works. It doesn’t always work. That is a topic for another day.

Carrie blogs about her experience as a dairy farmer at “The Adventures of Dairy Carrie…I think I Need a Drink!“. She farms with her husband and his parents on a typical Wisconsin dairy of about 300 acres and about 100 cows. She has been posting a lot of new-born calf pictures lately because it is calving season. I was raised on a dairy so I personally think calves are very appealing.Image (I’d call them cute and adorable but that is not a very manly thing to say.) She covers a lot of different topics on her blog about life in Wisconsin but she became Nationally recognized through her Agvocacy. “Agvocacy” means that when Carrie sees an issue relating to Agriculture that needs to be addressed, she takes action!

Her first big action was in response to the historic drought conditions a few years ago. She started an on-line hay drive to donate hay from farmers in Wisconsin to farmers trying to feed their cattle in the extreme dry areas of Texas and Oklahoma. She originally intended to get one semi-trailer of hay. The drive achieved “viral” status on-line and she ended up sending 7 truck loads of hay! That is making a difference!

Carrie attended an AgChat conference a couple of years ago and that just spurred her interest in Agvocacy to a higher level.  Panera Bread Company put out an Ad campaign in-accurately portraying Poultry producers using antibiotics in a lazy attempt to raise un-healthy chicken a few years ago and Carrie spoke out. Her promotion of the truth about Poultry producers caught Panera’s attention and they ended up retracting their whole Ad campaign!

Carrie speaks genuinely and from the heart. She blogs. She uses Twitter. She has a Facebook page. She was picked up by the Huffington Post when she talked about being a Farmer and not a “Farm Wife”. She tells the story of her family and her farm and her life in Wisconsin and her Agvocacy in a transparent fashion that reaches people. All kinds of people are following Carrie. That is the way to tell the story of Agriculture. A thousand farmers may read her but that is “singing to the choir”. The “overwhelming majority of people” who are just like Carrie before she took that first Ag class in High School are hearing and experiencing parts of her life. They are becoming engaged in farming and experiencing the truth about farming as told by someone living the life, not a Restaurant chain bashing modern Agriculture practices to sell burritos. People are being inspired out there right now to start something like a hay drive because they now know it can be done and it has been done. I recommend taking a look at Dairy Carrie and trying some of her brand of inspiration on for size. It might change your life!

Denial

Today’s post is a hard one. That is actually a large part of what this post is about. I am going to be talking about loss; very personal loss. I’m talking worse than your alma mater losing a football game or losing your wallet. I want to talk about death loss. This is something EVERY farmer knows personally.

I just watched an episode of “The Blacklist” on NBC. There was a scene where the main character is talking to her father on the phone. She has just found out her father is in the hospital having some tests because he has a history of cancer and is concerned about relapse. She tells her father “I know you will be OK!”. That phrase is the point. Sometimes, your loved ones will NOT be ok.

Before you get upset with me, take a deep breath and read on. I fully understand that saying “I know you will be OK!” is what everyone does. That phrase is a statement of hope and love and faith. That phrase is often the best possible encouragement in times when people are desperately in need of just ANY kind of moral and emotional boost. It can be the prayer that brings emotional support right when and where it is needed. The problem is blind, un-reasoning, and un-ending belief in that statement in total denial of facts. That only leads to a train wreck where the express train of denial runs headlong into the road block of reality.

Farmers, all farmers, have personal knowledge of loss and death. I have mentioned the biological nature of Agriculture in other posts. “Biologic” literally means LIFE science. “Life” implies death in it’s very essence. What lives, eventually dies. Crops must be harvested before they die in whatever length of growth cycle they may have. The “harvesting” of live animals eventually requires death for the most part. Live animals can be productive without dying by laying eggs or giving milk among other things. Trees and some other plants can produce fruit and nuts for years without dying. Eventually those egg layers, milk givers, and perennial crops will die out. If they can be productive by supplying meat, or leather, or lumber, that death is also productive and a part of the production cycle. But sometimes crops die out of season. Sometimes livestock die from natural disaster or disease or lightning strikes or just plain stupidity.

THIS IS A FACT OF FARMING! Death happens! It happens all the time. We are generally pretty much isolated from the reality of death in our culture. Funeral homes take care of the messy part of the death of loved ones. It often, though certainly not always, occurs at a ripe old age in the antiseptic environment of a hospital or other type of care facility. We can often, but certainly not always, distance ourselves from some of the harsh reality of the ugliness of death. This can allow us to use phrases like “I know you will be OK!” without having to be slapped in the face with the reality that it will not be ok. Again, I want to be VERY clear here. I am NOT comparing the death of a loved one to the death of livestock. I am just saying that farmers have a more frequent and closer relationship to death and loss than many others in our culture.

Farmers see death and loss right up close and personal. ANY farmer that raises livestock of any type will have death loss. “You can only lose ’em if you have ’em.” is a phrase that farmers have to live with. I am going to spell out what that phrase means because it is a vital point. The only way to lose assets like livestock to death is if you have that asset in the first place. Owning livestock carries an implicit understanding that death loss is possible and very probable but the only way to make a living farming is to have that asset in the first place! Farmers CANNOT be in denial of this because IT IS A FACT. Farmers can and do utilize every management technique possible to minimize that loss but it will happen. Livestock get hit by lightning all the time. Stormy WeatherThere is NO AVOIDING THIS. Animals get sick and die whether or not they have received all of the appropriate anti-biotics. My dad had a steer wedge it’s head in a fork in a tree and strangle itself. My wife’s Uncles had a BEAUTIFUL field of river bottom corn that got flooded and totally ruined. That field was a total loss and there was nothing they could do about it. Crops get ruined somewhere every year due to drought or disease or insects. Some of this can be avoided but some of it cannot! Death loss of livestock and ruined crops is a huge financial, personal, and emotional loss that farmers face as a fact of daily life. Farmers are no less prone to trying to deny this fact than anyone else but they are directly faced by it.

“I know you will be ok” is a beautiful phrase. I believe personally in God and I believe that death is not neccessarily a terrible thing. I have worked in health care for over twenty years. Death can be a blessing. Death happens.  My prayers go out to anyone out there experiencing the pain of death and loss. Denying death and the pain and loss that goes with it is pointless. Sometimes you have to be a grown-up and just Farm on. It doesn’t make the pain less. But the only way through is forward.

LOVE!

Let’s talk some business. Agri-business.

Today’s topic is Agriculture business. I am an Ag Economist by way of College Education and Ag Business is near and dear to my heart. We are not, however, going to be talking about buying and selling (well not much), or prices, or modeling the economic forecast for the next beef cycle.The topic ‘du jour” is Pinterest! I know, Pinterest sounds about as far from a guy’s Ag Business topic as I could get. Just read on and maybe I will change your mind.

First, some discussion on the Economic environment pertaining to Ag businesses. I am talking about people with a differentiated product to sell. That cuts out Farmers who raise beef cattle just like the beef cattle down the road or Dairy Farmers or Corn/ Soybean Growers. Their products are GREAT products! But, they are homogeneous to everybody images-2else’s corn, beans, milk, or steers. I am talking about companies or individuals who profit from setting their products and/ or services above others of the same type by quality or uniqueness or location. “My Blueberry farm is closer and I stay connected to you during the year.” “My horseshoeing business is high quality and timely.” “The livestock I sell for show purposes are higher quality with better genetics.” These entities profit from differentiating their “product” as being more desirable than competing products. That is where Pinterest can come in.

Pinterest is a Social Medium. It has grown very quickly from it’s start in 2010 to become a worldwide platform enjoyed by millions of people as this Wikipedia site states. Pinterest is all about images only. The platform is based on storing images of things you like on your own “board/ boards”.  These images can be of anything relating to your product; what it is, how its used, and what your customer can do with it. You can add recipes, descriptions, prices, and any other information pertinent to your audience to enrich their experience. You can come back to these boards later and see these images and follow up on the ideas they represent. Other people can also “follow” you and see your boards (only if you allow this). This makes for fast, easy, and very efficient sharing of information. I see it as a “collective” kind of media where everyone is filing and sharing information in a very visual and interactive style. I benefit from other people who have identified information I like and have already filed that information where I can easily visualize and access it.

Anything you Pin maintains it’s link back to the website it has been Pinned from.  The Pinners I have talked to mostly Pin directly from the Pinterest site. HERE IS A HUGE FACT FOR BUSINESS PINTEREST SITES!  The people I have talked to are HUGELY turned off by self promotion and commercialism. Make your site interesting by pinning more than just your product itself. Think beyond selling your “stuff”. Add Value! Solve Problems! Be an Information Source, not a sales brochure! You can add a “Pin it button” to your website to make it extremely easy for site users to Pin your content. The more others Re-Pin your stuff, the more your stuff gets shared around the web! For businesses, there is a new and different kind of Pin called a “Rich Pin” that businesses can particularly use. Rich Pins update their contained information in real time. Article Pins include story information to entice people to become more engaged in your product. Product Pins include Real Time pricing and availability information that changes on their home board when you update it on your website. Recipe Pins include all the information to  prepare the beautiful food you showcase with your product. There are even more Rich Pins that may pertain to your business site depending on what you do. You can find out this information on the Pinterest site just like I did. These can do wonders for creating interest and engagement with your customers.

How does this relate to Ag Business? Pinterest has Business accounts.These are different from personal accounts. One way they are different is that business accounts have access to analytics. Your business can track how many people Pin from your website, see your own Pins, and click on your content. You can set a particular time frame and graph all of these numbers for easy visual interpretation. You can also find out which Pins people like the most, who else interacts with these Pinners and what these Pinners Pin alongside your images. All of this can be used to tailor your website to appeal more to what your users like on both your business website and your business Pinterest boards.

“Boards” are the basic way information is stored and organized on your Pinterest site. Evaluate what your customers want and who your customers are and create multiple boards that appeal to these categories. It is very easy to add boards. There is literally a panel that says “Create New Board”! My Pinterest site has Boards for Rural Beauty, images-3Home Gardening, Farm Equipment, and Farming. The more ways you can appeal directly to different tastes, the more ways you will attract and engage more customers. Be specific and direct to multiple people at the same time with multiple boards. This is the Great benefit of the internet. You can multi-task with one site that directly appeals to multiple people.

This multi-tasking is hugely increased by linking your Business Pinterest site to your OTHER Social Media and Internet sites. Link your website, your Pinterest site, your Facebook page, and your Twitter feed together! When you post to any one of these sites, make that become an item of interest on all of these other sites! Create more news! This gets all of your sites out there more often and gives that many more opportunities for your customers to see your information and get into your information stream! A huge bonus is that more traffic and more links makes your information appear higher on Search Engine results. The higher you show up on these search engines, the more likely customers are to find your product!

Business Pinterest sites have “Best Practices” just like any other business tool. 25 Mistakes businesses make on Pinterest is a great article about the right and wrong things your business should do on your website. Danielle Cormier has done a fantastic job of putting together basic things like including your business information (i.e. name and clear logo in your Profile) to following other businesses (a rising tide lifts all ships, shared links leads to shared customers) to advanced ideas (allowing collaborators to Pin to my boards again spreads the wealth). Anyone with a business Pinterest site should immediately check out this link and save it. This is priceless information gathered together in one place.

Some of the things great Pinners do is laid out here. Be picky about who you follow on your Pinterest site, “drill down” on the things you Pin to find out more about who you are Pinning and what they like, and add more information to your Pins. This will make your site more useful both to you and to your followers. Quality control is always a good thing. Make your business site the best it can be and keep it that way every day! Finding out more information by drilling down on your Pins and using the available Business Analytics will allow you to find out what your customers like best and how to change your website and Pinterest Boards to become more appealing.

The bottom line is that Pinterest can be a great tool to market your product. Your product has to be something that benefits from marketing by being differentiated and unique in some way. Create great content and customers will do the job of spreading the word for you. Make the Internet work for you and your business. Hey, even if you don’t have a business, Pinterest is great fun! It is not “just for girls” either! Anyone who has an interest or hobby can benefit from the collaboration and collective organization Pinterest offers. Get out there and give it a try. I think you’ll love it.