3 Top Takeaways for a Changing Farming Landscape

December 3, 2015 03:34 PM
2015 Executive Women in Agriculture Pam Fretwell

Major trends affecting women in agriculture in 2015 include consumers who are communicating more actively with farmers, a continuing down cycle in commodity values and cost-control fundamentals. That’s according to three speakers interviewed Thursday during the kickoff of this year’s Executive Women in Agriculture (EWA) conference in Chicago.

“I think it’s an incredibly interesting time,” says Mary Shelman, agribusiness program director at Harvard Business School, in an interview with “AgriTalk” radio host Mike Adams.

Joining Shelman for a roundtable discussion on Thursday’s broadcast were Naomi Blohm of Stewart-Peterson and Angie Setzer of Citizens LLC. The fifth annual EWA conference runs through Friday.

Click the play button below to listen to the complete roundtable interview with Shelman, Blohm and Setzer on “AgriTalk” radio.

Here are three key takeaways these experts shared with Adams that women in agriculture need to know.

Takeaway No. 1: Consumer voices will become even more important in the future as the supply chain ramps up to feed a substantially larger population in 2050.

“I started out by talking about this general thing we always think about: What does it mean to feed the world in 2050, when we have these extra 2.6 billion people who are going to have more money, eating a different diet?” says Shelman, who took to the stage Thursday morning as EWA’s first speaker. “We talked about some consumer trends. We also talked about how technology is really changing the landscape all the way through, from the farm to the way that the supply chain works to the point how consumers eat food. [We] ended up thinking at the end about how things are actually getting much tighter with information flowing from the consumer level back down to the farm and vice versa.”

Takeaway No. 2: Farm management around agriculture’s cycles will remain paramount in light of challenges in the economy.

“It’s hard to take a bigger-picture view to know how important our industry is in the longer term, but yet in the near term we have a glut of supply globally,” Blohm says. “Prices are at major lows, below breakeven for most producers, and just trying to get through that. But knowing that in the long term agriculture is where it’s at, it is a long-term bullish industry from the standpoint of feeding people. That isn’t going to go away.”

Blohm continues: “I grew up in the ‘80s, and remembering just how the high dollar affected everything, how high interest rates affected everything, and it’s all in cycles. Just knowing how to manage the cycles when they come [is important]. It will get you through right now and get your farm in the next generation so that you can continue farming for the coming years.”

Takeaway No. 3: Future success will require producers to ignore people who claim to be able to predict where the market is headed. Instead, focus will need to be placed on controlling costs and margins.

“Supply and demand fundamentals always really work on a pendulum,” Setzer points out. “The really interesting thing about commodities is that everything could change next year at this time. We could be sitting here talking about some sort of major production loss or something like that, but when it really comes down to it, it all  goes back to not trying to predict but knowing where you’re at from a cost standpoint and knowing that when you’re profitable, you’re locking in that profit.”

Setzer adds: “There are ways to stay active in the market if you want to after that, but you really just need to protect your interest, and that is the costs that go into producing the crop and making sure that you’re contracting and reacting in an appropriate way, just like you would with any other business.

 “The biggest thing that growers need to get away from, and even market analysts I’ll go so far to say, is to stop trying to predict what’s going to happen tomorrow, six months from now, six years from now. Start giving folks the tools to basically react to what is currently going on and make sure that they’re still around so they can be there when the next cycle shifts.”

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