January is a great time to plan for a new year! Take some time to shape your philosophy and develop a farming or gardening approach.
- Plan a garden.
- Discover community-supported agriculture.
- Learn the pros and cons of gardening in Kansas.
- Study the farming practices of the Plains Indians.
- Define sustainable agriculture.
- Preserve Kansas heritage.
- Evaluate the interstate highway system.
- Find out how compost gardening works.
- Examine your horse’s conformation.
- Read about the peopling of the plains.
October is just around the corner! Are you ready to start a business, explore nature, and live by faith?
- Start and run your own small farm business.
- Find out how livestock are upgraded.
- Explore options for super-small-scale farms.
- Identify the wildflowers and grasses of Kansas.
- Love God with all your mind.
- Save money on seeds.
- See the stars.
- Understand the importance of the 100th meridian in history.
- Ground that wayward chicken.
- Discover the key to living by faith.
Young people continue to enter agriculture, according to the last USDA census.
Most young farmers have limited capital to work with, and they frequently find outside financing difficult, if not impossible, to obtain. With land prices remaining high, they typically buy small properties when they first start out and purchase additional land as they save money. This paradigm leads naturally to the rise of intensive farming methods and profitable agripreneurship.
Many millennials find the standard commute-work-commute routine to be unfulfilling and unappealing. They are actively seeking meaningful opportunities to make their living, work that will enrich them more than just monetarily. Not surprisingly, these young farmers are also bucking the commodity system. Their goal is not just to get by financially—their goal is to make a difference. These agripreneurs are raising value-added food that they can believe in. They seek quality every step of the way, even if they do not obtain USDA organic certification. Most agripreneurs meet customer needs through direct marketing, and they actively take part in building their communities.
One common characteristic of agripreneurial businesses is a reliance on streams of income. Instead of focusing on a small handful of commodities, agripreneurs frequently raise a wide variety of plants and animals on the same farm, often including specialty crops such as vegetables and exotic livestock such as llamas. Furthermore, they often incorporate other types of businesses into their operation, dipping into agritourism or supplementing their farm income with book sales, for instance. Some agripreneurs, particularly women, augment their income with an off-farm day job. Surveys suggest, however, that most prefer to avoid taking government subsidies whenever possible.
Environmental issues have dogged agriculture ever since the advent of industrialization. Some issues have attracted the attention of the average American, not just the environmentalist watchdog.
In response to public demand, many commercial pork producers predict that more attention will be given to animal welfare over the next few years. Scientists will continue to improve the humane livestock handling facilities that they have developed so far. Steps will be taken to eliminate the buildup of odor-producing wastes. Livestock may even be slaughtered on-site to avoid the welfare issues associated with trucking live animals to distant packing plants.
In the field, integrated pest management (IPM) already has a steady following among producers of all stripes. However, its focus continues to shift with time. Growers of field crops are using IPM to reduce their pesticide inputs, resorting to chemicals only when crop damage approaches the economic injury level. More producers may start using IPM in the near future to tackle chemical-resistant pests.
Even in conventional circles there is excitement over the potential of naturally derived biologics. For example, natural bacteria can be used to protect roots from nematodes. Major chemical companies are expected to continue developing their lines of biological products for battling a host of pests, weeds, and diseases.
Meanwhile, water usage for irrigated crops continues to increase. Researchers are scrambling to find solutions that will protect the long-term viability of critical aquifers such as the Ogallala Aquifer in the Kansas High Plains. New highly efficient irrigation systems are already in the field. However, it remains to be seen if improved irrigation systems can counteract the increase in water usage due to an expansion of irrigated acres.
The last USDA census also shows that more farms are producing their own renewable energy. In fact, on-farm renewable energy production more than doubled between 2007 and 2012.
Today, many feel that the future of agriculture is starting to look brighter than it has for decades, though not without challenges. What is prompting this change in outlook? Allow us to share some answers.
Meet Your Customer
Commercial producers are starting to acknowledge the increasing public demand for improved food safety, quality, and transparency. Clear labeling is one of the top demands of our day, as is minimal processing. “Real food” is a real movement in our society. Customers are increasingly buying fresh, unprocessed fruits, vegetables, and meats on their trips to the store.
Also popular is the concept of a flexitarian diet, sometimes described as part-time vegetarianism. Vegan and vegetarian diets maintain a strong and growing following, but they do not share the popularity of flexitarian eating. Flexitarians are experimenting with using yellow peas as a major source of protein, and they are definitely excited about eating more vegetables with every meal. Sampling ancient grains, particularly quinoa, is also popular among flexitarians.
In keeping with consumer concerns about environmental issues and food safety, the organic market continues its growth, according to the last USDA census. The demand still frequently outstrips the supply.
However, millennial customers continue to voice skepticism about the certification process and its reliability. Keywords the new generation of shoppers tend to seek include local and grass-fed. Responding to the new demands of customers, retailers large and small are actively purchasing and promoting local foods.
But this does not mean that the millennial shopper is looking for the bare basics. According to surveys, a sizable portion of the generation claims that food should be fun, and it should unquestionably taste good. Mealtime is an experience—the bolder the better. Hence the willingness of millennials to experiment. Anything ethnic? Exciting. Artisan bread? Trendy. Powerful chili peppers of rare or unique varieties? Hot.
However, surveys suggest that millennials also appreciate value and convenience. They are not afraid to grab a packaged breakfast when they’re on the go, and price has a lot to do with making purchasing decisions.
Shoppers of all types are increasingly looking beyond the traditional supermarket to fill their pantries, often mixing and matching sources to get the best deal. Smaller retail chains, particularly those of the dollar-store variety, are experiencing a boom. Online grocery shopping is also increasing in popularity.
USDA Releases Final 2012 Census Results
Statistics that display some of the trends in agriculture.
Even when the afternoons are too hot for outdoor work, you can still make the most of the time with research and planning. Spend some time studying business, marketing, nutrition, animal health, and more.
- Consider new ways to direct market your beef.
- Find out how reproduction and animal health are related.
- Discover 96 horse breeds of North America.
- Build a sustainable business.
- Learn what kobe beef is.
- Ponder the relationship between the railroads and the homesteaders.
- Enjoy the wonderful art of drawing horses.
- Practice body condition scoring.
- Read about the Kansas climate.
- Study the roles and natural sources of vitamins.
Get ready for spring! It’s time to plan new projects, start a garden, and get outside to enjoy nature.
- Start a new garden or orchard.
- Plan your farm water system.
- Take on the 5-minute brainstorming challenge.
- Learn more about growing your favorite vegetables.
- Learn about the breeding birds of Kansas.
- Start a farm journal.
- Find creative uses for all those extra eggs.
- Discover the power of humus.
- Become a weather wizard.
- Revisit your favorite gardening resources.
Many direct marketers like to have a distinctive edge, something that sets their products apart from the rest. In the home-raised beef realm, distinctiveness can take many forms. As pointed out in How to Direct Market Your Beef by Jan Holder, direct marketers can stand out by selling beef that is anything from gourmet grassfed to lean and healthy to premium Black Angus to just good old-fashioned flavorful.
Every once in a while, an adventurous agripreneur looking for a really unique image asks a question about Kobe beef, a distinctive and rather controversial food hailing from Japan. And then some of us just want to know how a piece of meat could possibly be so expensive.
So what is Kobe beef—and what is it not?
Real Kobe Beef
The starting point for authentic Kobe beef is genetics. Kobe, pronounced Ko-bay, is a large city on the southern part of the main island of Japan. The region surrounding the city is home to a broad category of cattle known as Wagyu (which literally means “Japanese beef animal”). Wagyu breeds are genetically predisposed to some unique meat characteristics. For one thing, they have far more fat marbled throughout their meat than Americans are used to seeing. For another thing, their meat has a relatively high ratio of unsaturated to saturated fat. The specific breed of Wagyu used to produce authentic Kobe beef is the Tajima.
Not all Tajima cattle are candidates for becoming Kobe beef, however. They must be born and raised in the vicinity of Kobe to be eligible for Kobe status. Only steers and virgin heifers are accepted. They also must be processed at one of a handful of slaughterhouses to be true Kobe animals.
Farmers take great pains with their cattle to make them suitable for Kobe beef. Contrary to popular belief, most of the cattle do not consume alcoholic beverages for appetite enhancement, but enjoy a combination of grain, grass, and fodder, all grown in the Kobe area without chemicals (exact rations vary and are typically regarded as trade secrets). No antibiotics or growth hormones are allowed. The cattle receive frequent health examinations. Unlike the average American beef steer, slaughtered at around 18 months of age, Kobe cattle are fed for long periods of time, being butchered as late as 32 months of age.
At the time of slaughter, the beef is carefully inspected for proper quality and marbling. The end result is startlingly fatty, but unbelievably tender, partly due to the unique low melting temperature of the fat. Kobe beef is renown for juiciness and excellent flavor. However, because so few cattle can qualify, supplies are limited and prices are steep.
Real Kobe beef is typically eaten as sukiyaki or steak. It must be seared quickly and cooked only to medium rare because the unusual properties of the fat would cause the meat to melt if overcooked. It is eaten in small quantities because it is so rich.
American Kobe-Style Beef
Ranchers in the United States have replicated Kobe beef in a meatier form more palatable to most Americans. Most cattle used for this purpose are of crossbred Wagyu/Angus lineage. This blend of breeds still has an unusually high level of unsaturated fat, but offers a heavier, meatier Angus-type carcass. A small percentage of producers use purebred Wagyu.
The diet of the average animal destined to become American Kobe-style beef consists of various proportions of grass, grain, and fodder, similar to the rations fed to Japanese cattle; a few ranchers take pride in raising 100% grassfed Wagyu, however. Antibiotics and hormones are typically foregone, but that is up to the discretion of the individual producer. Like their Japanese counterparts, nearly all American-raised Wagyu cattle are fed longer and slaughtered later than average beef steers.
While the quality of Kobe-style beef is not standardized and regulated to the degree that real Japanese Kobe beef is, American producers take pride in creating a top-notch piece of beef. Most of the cattle grade Prime—the highest USDA designation—although many feel they could easily reach higher grades if there were any.
American Kobe-style beef is very different than true Kobe beef. While well marbled, it contains more meat and less fat, giving it an appearance, texture, and taste closer to a Prime Angus steak. It is not as rich as real Kobe, which means that a person can comfortably eat more at one sitting. It costs less, too, although still well within the gourmet price range.
A Tough Sell
Kobe beef has become controversial because of the way that American Kobe-style beef is often marketed. Simply put, it is not always easy to determine whether or not you are buying real Kobe beef. Authentic Kobe beef can only come from one place—Japan. However, in the United States, anyone who orders a Kobe steak at a restaurant may very well end up with an American Kobe-style steak. Many feel that the practice of selling Kobe-style beef as Kobe beef is misleading.
Because of the geographic distinction involved, direct marketers in the United States can in reality only produce Kobe-style beef. The question is, can they sell it? Riding on the Kobe image and being a gourmet product in its own right, American Kobe-style beef commands a hefty price. Upscale restaurants would be the most likely buyer for this product. A well-heeled customer base, something that not everyone has access to, is necessary to sustain a Kobe-style beef business.
Are you considering direct marketing grassfed meat and dairy products? Before you begin, perhaps you could benefit from a little food for thought on the subject. Try Farm Fresh: Direct Marketing Meats & Milk by Allan Nation.
You may or may not agree with all of the philosophies contained in Farm Fresh, but you are sure to be challenged to new levels of creativity. Nation starts by encouraging readers to honestly assess if direct marketing is the best option in their case. He then explores many of the topics and issues that direct marketers will have to address:
- Working within the law.
- Finding a niche.
- Preparing a business plan.
- Naming a product.
- Setting prices.
- Choosing venues.
- Spreading the word.
Also of interest are the examinations of marketing ideas such as “loading the wagon” and agritainment.
To illustrate the principles and inspire creative thinking, Nation has packed this book with case study after case study. Finally, there’s a unique but very effective summary chapter—”Lessons from a Locomotive,” using the analogy of a train to condense the main points of the book into memorable nuggets.
Farm Fresh is not a step-by-step instruction manual to direct marketing, but it probably wasn’t intended to be one. Instead, it is a resource to inspire you to create a personalized business that will cater to the needs of your customers in a one-of-a-kind way.
Are you ready to think outside of the box?
One of the main features of the recent local foods movement is a desire to connect farmers and consumers. On the one hand, many farmers want to share their practices with their customers, keeping them informed about agriculture. On the other hand, consumers want to learn more about how their food is produced.
Among the different ideas that have caught on is the CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture). CSA was introduced to the United States in the 1980s, but has become increasingly popular in more recent years.
There are many variations on this idea, but the basics are as follows:
- The farmer decides how many shares of produce he will offer to the public.
- A subscriber buys a share, paying for all the produce that he will receive throughout the growing season at one time.
- At specified intervals, the subscriber picks up his box of food.
Although homegrown fruits and vegetables are the usual candidates to go into the subscription box, many small-scale farmers use this venue as an outlet for eggs, meat, cheese, baked goods, and cut flowers.
One of the outstanding characteristics of the CSA model is the rapport that develops between farmer and customer. Both often come to look forward to their scheduled meetings, and they frequently take a mutual interest in the farm. It has been noted that customers often view a CSA project as “their farm,” rooting for the success of the crops and sharing in the ups and downs of the season. When the customers are allowed to aid in caring for the produce, as is the case in some CSAs, this interest grows even stronger.
And, of course, for those who seek to eat local, a CSA provides food seasonally and at the very peak of freshness.
Community Supported Agriculture
Press “Find a Local CSA” for information about a farm near you.
The Changing Face of American Agriculture
Learn about more trends in both farming practices and customer preferences.