Farm Food Facts

Highlights from 2019

December 30, 2019
Show Notes Transcript

Phil Lempert is one on one with USFRA CEO Erin Fitzgerald, where they discuss some of the most memorable moments for 2019's Farm Food Facts.

• Nancy Kavazanjian - Our Soil Our Strength
• Mickey Rubin from the Egg Nutrition Board
• John Newton from the American Farm Bureau
• Jenna Madsen from Sunderland Farms
• Ben Feldman, Executive Director at Farmers Market Coalition
• Jill Wheeler, Head of Sustainable Productivity for Syngenta in North America
• Joe Koss, Culver's CEO
• Rob Trice, Founder of The Mixing Bowl
• Marilyn Hershey, Dairy Management Inc. chair

Speaker 1:
Farm food facts where every farmer, every acre and every voice matter. Welcome to farm food facts for December 31st, 2019 I'm your host, Phil Lempert. Today's podcast takes a look back at 2019 with CEO Aaron Fitzgerald of the U S farmers and ranchers Alliance. I put her on the spot without previous warning and selected tidbits from our 50 weekly episodes this year and asked her to share her insights on each for our last podcast of the year. Let's get started. So Erin, 2019 was a huge year for us farmers and ranchers Alliance. Tell us about some of the highlights in particular. The one standout event that I attended of all the events that I go to all year was USF RAs honor of the harvest. What is it and what are next year's plans for it?
Speaker 2:
Yeah. So we were so excited to partner with the Aspen Institute, um, who's really great at convening and facilitating dialogue and we just felt that there was an urgent need to bring ag and the entire value chain together in an unprecedented fashion to really start asking the question, can we strategically plan as a sector, could we be more than just our individual parts and can we inspire contagious collaboration that agriculture is a solution to climate change, that agriculture is a solution to our communities and that perhaps we're not recognizing the hidden strengths that exist within our sector to be the solution for environment in the community. I think at the time nobody thought we could pull off even just getting all these leaders in a room
Speaker 1:
in just a couple months. Right?
Speaker 2:
Yeah, right. You know, we assembled an advisory team and everyone's doing phone trees and interviewing and you know, kind of saying, come on, you can come. And everyone's like, it's going to be actually on a farm. You know? It's like, yep, not in a 70 degree in fluorescent conference room. Let's really get our boots dirty and let's really roll up our sleeves. And we're not going to be in a conference where we're, you know, we're, maybe it's the way we do things today, but you know, we tend to have conferences where there's just a bunch of panelists and you have this amazing talent passing each other on the stage, but then we don't necessarily get the real work done. And so it was a privilege two days we kept saying for you to work with the best and focus your energy on getting something done by the time we leave.
Speaker 2:
And it's just so exciting to see the momentum. We now have a hundred volunteers that are kind of an incubation mode of a lot of these projects that have, I would call the white space that's clearly ag and food, need to tack all projects but have never done it because it seemingly was too big for one institution to solve for. And then we're seeing this amazing shared vision and mission that, you know, I have incredible hope that in 2020 we can launch a shared vision and mission for the sector. And most importantly announced a commitment and unleash a decade of leadership and action on these topics.
Speaker 1:
And what was so interesting to me being there is not only the talent in the room and the energy in the room, but the power in the room. I mean you had three secretary of agriculture's there, you had the CEOs of companies, you had farmers with big farms and small farms and you had, you know, the up and coming generation where we had some, you know, 16 year old people who are part of four H and so on. So congratulations. But probably one of the most important outcomes I think was the short film that USF RA, you know, produced called 30 harvest. Tell us about that.
Speaker 2:
Gosh, you know, 30 harvest was the opening of the conference and we wanted to make certain that it was, we wanted like this mic drop moment for the leaders to really get a sense of the gravitas of what's happening in farm country, but also the untapped potential. And we found two amazing farmers that are living this day in and day out. Jay Hill and Megan Kaiser, we found also an amazing filmmaker. I believe Jasper, I think you guys interviewed him to really tell the story, but in a compelling way, and you know what you see in 30 harvest. It's like a docu drama. But what was so motivating to me personally, and I think the audience is that that's what it took to get us all realize and pay attention. But it's a real story. Two weeks after filming Megan Kaiser was hit by the Mississippi floods. J just three weeks after filming was hit by tornadoes. This isn't some Hollywood story. This is for real.
Speaker 1:
This is the real farmer story. Yeah,
Speaker 2:
yeah, yeah. And I hope that the film, you know, it's been most impactful to watch it being played in farmer groups or NGOs or I've had, we've had,
Speaker 1:
yeah, there's over a million views of it already.
Speaker 2:
Yeah, 1.4 million views. It's taken off. And what's so cool is that you're watching, we'd never would have really guessed this, but people are having what they call, they started making up this called luncheon view. Almost like instead of a book reading, they're hosting these lunch sessions with their colleagues and employees at the office and then just sitting around and talking about it and, and like, what can we do? What should we do? What does this mean? And, and if that's what it's doing is inspiring a conversation. I mean, we couldn't have asked for anything better.
Speaker 1:
No. And that's great. That's great. So what I want to do, Aaron, I'm gonna put you on the spot now. I want to play like a little game. So what we're going to do is I'm going to take some highlights from, you know, some of, uh, some of the podcasts from farm food facts over the past year. Give you a sentence and I just want you to quickly react to it. And I've got like seven pages of stuff. So, you know, it's just a quick reaction, a one line about what you think. So I'm going to start off with an interview that we did with [inaudible], Nancy cabozan Jian. The topic was our soil, our strength, and this has stuck in my mind. I talked to her almost a year ago and she told me that soil is sexy and everybody wants to have healthy soils. What does that mean?
Speaker 2:
You know, I cannot believe that we have, we know more about the surface of Mars and the moon than we do know our soils. There's just so much untapped potential to store carbon. Marty's sequestering a hundred times more carbon in our soils, and it's currently admitted in the United States in a given year. So, and we barely know anything about it. And I watch these farmers, their love and their passion is with soils and, and yet there's still so much untapped potential. We don't know. So to me it's the new frontier.
Speaker 1:
I would agree. So Mickey Rubin was with us. Dr Mickey Rubin is the executive director of the egg nutrition board, who you know, well, he's also one of the nation's leaders on sports nutrition and the dietary effects of what we eat. And what he said to me is that not all proteins are the same. What does that mean?
Speaker 2:
You know, Mickey has really turned my eyes open. Literally, he made me do a M I test wants to check my leucine levels. Yes. But it really plain, I did well apparently I eat my eggs but he explained to me like this whole idea of [inaudible] the different amino acid scores and the bioavailability and digestability of those proteins. And you know it was interesting to think through, you know, we have a lot to learn in both looking at the environmental impact. Sometimes people always just take a pound a protein four per carbon. But when you really start looking at the digestibility and the efficacy of that protein as a consumption, I really think he's on the frontiers of really thinking about how we need to look at the protein bio, bio availability and its carbon footprint.
Speaker 1:
So as you pointed out before, the storms, the weather that we've had this year, John Newton, PhD of the American farm Bureau Federation has been with us a couple times. And talking about the weather condition, how farmers are dealing with it, what's, what's the takeaway of 2019 as it relates to climate and weather and how did farmers fare?
Speaker 2:
Boy, you know, I think, you know, coming back to the another harvest and I'm both Megan Kaiser and Jay Hill, you know, in June I think we were starting to see really tough times and of course this past spring and fall, I called it sprinter when winter moved into spring and just wouldn't let go. And you know, we were hearing really tough times from our farmers back in June when we did the filming and of course when John was on and then boy come August and into the fall. It has just been unprecedented. You're looking at the satellite imagery, you're also just hearing the stories from the farmers. It hasn't been an easy year. And I think that that's one of the things that is the backdrop to this question. Um, I don't know. The harvest and shared vision and mission that we need to create as a sector is we need to be able to prepare for unprecedented uncertainty and the ability to adapt as leaders through these changing times. It's time for us to step up. And John really helps bring those numbers to bear, I think for all of us to really kind of get our heads heads around some of these steps.
Speaker 1:
So we talk about the challenges from the weather standpoint. Uh, then we had Jenna Mapson on the show. She, she and her family were also on the American forum history channel series. Um, so it was, it was a lot of fun to talk to her. Um, talk a little bit about her celebrity being being on the, on the show, but also she gave us the real reality that they are struggling in this general form transition period. Her grandfather started the farm. Now her dad is about ready to turn the farm over to her and her husband, Brett. But they're concerned about money. They're concerned about banks. So we have that other aspect of farming, questioning the financial feasibility of farming itself.
Speaker 2:
Well, isn't Jenna such a superstar? I mean
Speaker 2:
it was so wonderful to see her on the show this year. Um, yeah, I think that you know, that it's not, again, her story is just one of many. I think she does such a great job of bringing the characterization of the decision making. I think often, you know, for those that aren't in agriculture, we don't realize that these are family businesses and this transition nature of moving from your parents to the next generation, uh, and what it takes and the financial implications of what that means to these families is, is very much real apart from all these different issues that have been hitting, uh, these last two years. So it makes those decisions in the timing of those decisions, even more scary at times and tough, tough family conversations. And I thought it was so great that she just put it all out there and really articulated well what this family is thinking through.
Speaker 1:
So Ben Feldman, who's with us, um, he's the executive director of the farmer's market coalition. How important are farmer's markets in the big picture for a farming family?
Speaker 2:
You know, CSA is, is one of the fastest growing forms of agriculture. And I do think that the consumer is, particularly the urban consumer wants some way to connect back to rural America. And I do believe that these farmer's markets are a place where curiosity abounds. Um, you have amazing primaries who can answer the question and you have someone that's really taking the time not just to get their food right. I mean, they're really coming there to almost like a field trip to learn, you know, and um, and they'll spend the whole Saturday or Sunday, you know, perusing and learning and we couldn't yeah.
Speaker 1:
And tasting, tasting different produce items that they've never tasted before. So, so you're right, it's really a lot about education. We also had Jill Wheeler, who's the head of sustainability productivity for Syngenta in North America. We were talking about feeding the world. We hear that a lot in the news where we're going to have all these extra people. We've got to [inaudible], you know, produce more food. And how realistic is it that with the agriculture system of today, that in 20 years we'll be able to feed the world's population?
Speaker 2:
Well, it is, it is our greatest challenge. I think it's the challenge of a generation that no one is talking about. You see often different numbers between 50 and sometimes I say 80% more food that we'll have to produce. And that basically means it's as much food as we produce an all mankind up to this point. Um, so the trajectory in innovation curve that's going to have to happen in the next 2030 years is unprecedented. But I think what's more, I guess is concerning is that agriculture really then only has probably up 30 chances or 30 harvest to get that right. So each year a farm all around the world has to get that much incrementally better. And in many ways, if you think about it every growing season, they're almost like in startup mode. So they're constantly learning and having to adapt very, very quickly. So again, we've got to build those, um, adaption, innovation groups and that learning curve for our sector to be able to deal with issues of climate change, changing economics. So it's a monumental task.
Speaker 1:
So back to honor the harvest. I mentioned some of the kinds of people that were there, but when I look at the community that you and USF RA have built, it includes everything from retailers to restaurants. And we interviewed Joe cos who's the CEO of Culver's restaurants. And I was so impressed not only with Joe, but what Culver's is doing. I mean they raised almost $2 million for agriculture education and they've developed a project called the thank you farmers project. How cool is that?
Speaker 2:
I have, I mean, I got a chance to go visit, uh, the Culver's team and Joe, uh, in Wisconsin and just the setting of where the corporate headquarters are is really in rural Wisconsin, um, flanked by farm fields. And you, you really got the sense that the employees live this idea of thank you farmers. Every employee cares about this topic. And I think, you know, it was interesting at Joe's one of our first leaders that stepped up and you can just, when you see the organization, you can see that they're actually living these values, that it was authentic and kind of blew me away. And especially this harvest season, they started actually planting thank you farmers into corn rows and things. So it was really neat that they partnered and then you go in Wisconsin or other places, they're painting barns and I'll tell you, farmers are going through tough times. Just a simple thank you go such a long way. And what a simple way to to connect and you know obviously they put their money and their effort with it, but just the simple act of thank you I think speaks volumes to their culture
Speaker 1:
and thinking, you know, coming up with the idea, you know, I don't see a lot of other restaurants. Thank you farmers. So, so good through good for Joe and good for coauthors. The last guest that I'd like to talk to you about is Rob Trice and you introduced me to him. He's the founder of the mixing bowl. You know his background is basically technology Telcom mobile, the intranet venture capitalists. And what he shared with me is that we were not doing enough. That yes we're collecting data, but what we do with that data is going to make all the difference for farmers. What do you think about that?
Speaker 2:
Well isn't it Rob? Just such a Maverick on the future. If you want to understand where the future ag is going, just spend some time with them. I would say those are probably some of the favorite podcasts this year. Yeah, no, I think, I do think the future of ag data is here and I think you know equally this year we launched a report on the metric state of the metrics report and you know, if we imagine that we want all these ability for things to talk to one another on the farm or talk through up the value chain, key to success is integrating these metrics and getting them to talk to one another. And I think we're really at that point in time where it requires integration and collaboration to get this to work so that we can begin to digitize ag.
Speaker 1:
And Aaron, I want to thank you and all the members of the U S farmers and ranchers Alliance team from farm to producers to your fabulous staff and we want to wish you a Merry Christmas and happy new year from the farm food facts team.
Speaker 2:
Phil, you are an amazing partner. We couldn't have done this without you. You know, we love working with you every day and I hope our listeners do too. It's certainly fun to bring all these amazing leaders onto the show and watch them shine.
Speaker 1:
I agree. Happy new year and here's to a fabulous 2020 for all of our farmers and ranchers. Thanks for listening to today's podcast episode. For more information on all things, food and agriculture, please visit also, be sure to look for us on Facebook at U S farmers and ranchers or on Twitter at USF RA. Until next time.

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