Thursday, January 29, 2009
Brady and Melissa Smith are hoping to farm full-time
I tell you what, it’s a weird feeling sometimes to realize that you're about the same age as the average for U.S. farmers—58.
What makes me feel about 25 again is spending some time in the new social network, Farmers for the Future.
Agriculture Online started this group last fall, but the network stems from a long-standing Successful Farming magazine feature on young and beginning farmers, as well as a micro website and an e-mail newsletter.
The mix of farmers in the network demonstrates the diversity of agriculture in this country. You can find young families taking over good-sized operations from their parents. There are back-to-the-land people who are exploring new niches, like organic crops and free-range livestock. And there are aspiring aggies who are working in town and scraping together some kind of stake in the land.
If you ever wonder about the resiliency of American agriculture, just take a look at even a small selection of their photo galleries. It's fascinating to see how some folks favor their machinery, others their kids, the livestock, crops, beautiful country scenery, and, yes, just a snapshot of you takin' off on a motorcyle with your baby on the back.
Topics in the forums and blogs today give you a flavor of what’s on tap in the “electronic coffeeshop:" marketing, input costs, family matters, fixing equipment, getting started, government programs, and, of course, the future.
One of my favorite features is a new blog by Brady Smith, who writes on farm life and his work in town. His journal reminds you that the drama on the farm is not always in the big debates and issues of the day, but in the chores and routines of daily life.
Posted by John Walter at 6:47 AM
Monday, January 19, 2009
People have tomatoes in mind this winter
Jim Snyder, a Michigan farmer, may have captured an emerging trend of our times in his recent Farmers for the Future blog post, where he wrote: "Seed catalogs have been pouring in and we are busy planning this year’s gardens. Gardening has taken on a more serious nature due to the economy."
Doug Jimerson, gardening editor for our big sister site, Better Homes and Gardens , tells me that this new seriousness about gardening is real.
"Actually we do predict a big uptick in gardening, in particular, food gardening," he says. "We've been also hearing from many seed suppliers that sales of veggie seeds are on a big upswing."
Our company research indicates not only that vegetable gardening is one of the big trends this year, Jimerson says, but also that the number one appliance being sold is freezers.
In early returns from an Agriculture Online poll on the topic, half of respondents say they will be growing a bigger garden this year.
"With this economy, you can bet on more and bigger gardens," one farmer wrote in response to the poll. "We finally tilled up a spot near the house and planted our first garden here last year. Wondered why we didn't do it sooner!"
If it's a little hard to imagine Americans actually relying on their gardens in tough economic times, well, the idea takes me back to the farms and small town of my childhood, where it seemed everyone grew a big backyard garden and many folks canned and froze food. Back then, people were still mindful of war-time shortages and their rural roots.
Another example I’ve seen of hard times sending people to the garden was in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In visiting a number of Russian farms where reliable input suppliers and markets had dried up, I saw cellars full of beautiful home-grown produce, enough to feed the farms through about three long Russian winters it seemed. Nobody was looking to Moscow for help.
This January, people must already be thinking spring. The top-clicked page in Edible Gardening on our big-sister site is Tips for Starting Tomatoes.
I think tomatoes are my favorite garden vegetable. I’m going to grow more of them this year.
Posted by John Walter at 1:06 PM
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
Ted and Melissa Miller of Pennsylvania are a good news story for agriculture.
Malcolm Gladwell, in his book, Blink, says that our best thinking can arise in an instant--"the kind of thinking that happens in a blink of an eye." I thought I'd give it a try for this exercise, while dialing in the optimistic side of my mind.
So, here goes, my blink predictions for 2009:
1. The economy will get better. And it will happen faster than people now believe. Why? People are tiring of gloom and doom. Our institutions are designed to work, not to shut down, just like farmers plant crops every year no matter what.
2. The weather will be better this spring than last. How could it be any worse?
3. The commodity markets will pull off some pleasant surprises. It's all part of this new era of volatility. But if anyone really knew when the rallies would occur, they'd be at a beach now.
4. USDA will be more farmer friendly. Don't be surprised to see the big bureau offer new initiatives for helping farmers start new enterprises, generate energy, and find new markets.
5. More opportunities for young and beginning farmers. This is the year when the big generational transfer will hit full stride. At winter farm shows, you'll see more people pushing baby strollers than holding canes and leaning on walkers. Check out the Farmers for the Future social network for a sense of this direction.
6. A new communications era will take shape. Mobile devices and online social networking will continue to redefine how we communicate with each other. Your friends' friends will become your friends.
7. Farmers will get greener. New crop production technologies, such as auto guidance and RTK networks, are entering the mainstream and are helping farmers conserve inputs, reduce field operations, and improve yields.
8. Bigger niche opportunities will grow in livestock. Demand for speciality production will expand, as consumers continue to shop for, and pay more for, meats grown under specific requirements--organic, grass-fed, free-range, breed specific, etc. The Miller family story is a good example here.
9. Global understanding will improve. U.S. farmers will learn more about their counterparts in South America, Europe, and Asia, as idea exchanges grow out of new communications technologies and international exhibitions, like the new AG CONNECT Expo in Orlando.
10. The future will stay in the future. For all the agonizing that's occured over the last months about the state of the global economy, we'll all continue to live in the eternal present, and generally avoid all the nasty predictions offered up by gloomy economists and pundits.
Posted by John Walter at 5:58 AM