Manager's Corner: Focus Areas for the New Ag Economy

Manager's Corner: Focus Areas for the New Ag Economy

By Jeanne Bernick

How does North American ag feel? Cautiously optimistic, says Dave Kohl, ag economist, who spoke recently at The Executive Program for Agricultural Producers (TEPAP). 

“What we are coming off is the great commodity super cycle that hit rural areas and ag areas worldwide,” Kohl notes.  

He explains the ag economy has had four super cycles since 1910. The first happened about the time of World War I,  and the second occurred after World War II. 

The third super cycle occurred in 1970s. That kicked off commodities worldwide ahead of the debt crisis of the 1980s, Kohl explains. “The next super cycle started in 2002 and lasted a full decade.” 

Headed out of that super cycle, here are three of the most important issues producers should monitor as they create their strategic plans for the year ahead.

1. Slowing Economies. Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC) along with South Africa, South Korea, Mexico and Turkey represent 53% of world economic growth. Yet emerging nations that once grew at up to 9% now grow at 4%. 

2. Biofuels And Ethanol. These products were game changers, yet the oil price decline is worrisome. (For details, see page 12.)

3. Central Bank Stimulus. Fully 40% of farmland value has been linked to central bank stimulus. “In 2007, I could not have predicted interest rates would stay low for seven years,” Kohl notes. “It has kept land value high and ignited commodity values. Europe and Japan headed for deflation. That has strengthened dollar, and that impacts your bottom line.” 

By Nate Birt

Climate change research and education is the focus of USDA’s Climate Hubs project, in motion for the past year.  Photo: Jeanne Bernick 

Climate Hubs Yield Landowner Data

USDA says its efforts to help farmers and other land managers address climate change are yielding helpful data. The agency’s Climate Hubs initiative marks its first year this February. 

The work is intended to equip producers with the latest research and management practices while educating scientists on the tools and knowledge farmers need. 

“USDA funds foundational and applied research that examines vulnerabilities and risks to agriculture and forestry,” explains Randy Johnson, national leader, USDA Climate Hubs, in a blog post for the agency. “The purpose of this research is to understand climate-induced risks and to develop management solutions to deal with drought, flooding, pest pressures, forest fires, altered water availability, changing growing seasons and other stressors.”

For Midwest producers, recent projects include Useful to Usable (U2U), which aims to improve the profitability of Corn Belt farms with decision-making tools and training. Educational components include guidance on planning of crop mixes and minimizing environmental damage. U2U tools are available at

By Nate Birt

Innovative Leaders Share These Traits

Business leaders who are perceived as innovative possess 10 qualities that motivate team members to meet stretch goals and develop new ideas, according to a recent report in the Harvard Business Review by researchers Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman. 

The two interviewed more than 30 managers at a telecommunications firm along with numerous colleagues, and they say their findings are reflective of traits held by leaders across a variety of industries.

The most crucial talent is the ability to clearly spell out a vision for future growth. The researchers write, “As one respondent noted about his boss: ‘She excelled at painting a clear picture of the destination while we worked to figure out how to get there.’”

Second only to vision is the ability to always put the customer first. Innovative leaders network and ask many questions to learn more.

Third, innovative leaders win the trust of their employees and colleagues, encouraging risk-taking and a comfortable environment. 

By John Phipps


What It Means To Be A Chicken In The Modern Era

Andrew Lawler’s hyperbolic title does not entice (“powers civilization”—seriously?), but his exhaustive recounting of the domestication of the modern chicken and its place in modern agriculture soon stifles scorn. If there are “chicken geeks,” this is their book, verified with more footnotes than text.

As a chicken-feed grower, I was stunned by my ignorance of this unnoticed species. Lawler peppers his prose with astonishing stats such as “100 million tons of meat and 1 trillion eggs per year” that demand more respect for the unglamorous fowl. 

The painful slog of domestication from the prehistoric jungles of Southeast Asia to, well, everywhere makes dry reading. The uncomfortable but fair depiction of today’s chicken and egg production stirs already troubled waters. Yet the relentless revelations of how the animal—which outnumbers all cats, dogs, cows, pigs and rats combined—undergirds our global food culture is eye-opening. 

You won’t eat McNuggets the same way again.

More importantly, the chicken clearly is positioned as the dominant protein competitor for the future. Lawler’s work documents the peril of disregarding this species. 


Recommended App: MFA Agronomy Guide

The MFA Agronomy Guide for Apple devices is intended for producers of crops including corn, soybeans, sorghum, rice, forages and small grains. It features nutrient removal calculators for forages and crops; information on recommended herbicides, fungicides and insecticides; seed planting guides and comparisons; and insect thresholds. The app is simple to navigate using menus and other selection tools. Users may save searches, which reduces the time required to find commonly referenced information later. 


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