Summaries from Presentations at the 2009 FDRS Conference in Broomfield, Colorado FDRS

 Monday, November 2, 2009

Welcome and Opening Remarks
Lou Swanson, Vice Provost of Outreach and Strategic Partnerships at Colorado State University (CSU), welcomed us to Colorado and alluded to the timeliness of the theme we had chosen for our conference: Value-Based Supply Chain. Swanson mentioned that he was a sociologist by training and that values were important changes that public and private universities were recognizing. He also indicated that CSU had received the 2008 Engaged University classification from the Carnegie Foundation for its outreach and partnership roles in advancing teaching at the university and community levels. His presentation highlighted some of these outreach programs and strategies being pursued by CSU with producers and consumers. The Carnegie Foundation Engaged University classification began in 2006, and is designed so that universities can highlight the effectiveness of their efforts in outreach and other community partnership endeavors. In closing, he encouraged us to try and see some of the state while we were in Colorado.

Keynote Address
Exploring New Roles and Opportunities for Universities and NGOs: Rich Pirog, Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture

The keynote address was given by Richard Pirog from the Leopold Center at Iowa State University. His presentation was titled: “Reinventing Scalable Food Value Chains: Exploring New roles and Opportunities for Universities and NGOs.” He indicated that the Center’s main funding source was from a tax on nitrogen fertilizer and pesticides approved by the state legislature 22 years ago. To date, the Center has funded over 100 projects aimed at capacity building, food and health, business planning, energy, and food systems. He also argued that the most overwhelming problems we all faced today were a shrinking economy, and related environmental health and social problems. How do we support value-based food supply chain in this climate? He regarded value–based food supply chains as incorporating farmers, ranchers, fishermen—all strategic partners. He then gave an overview of the U.S. Food System from the 1880s to the present. The historical tour went from local farmers selling to local markets in the 1880’s through larger farmers in the 1940’s to the five predominant global retailers in the 1990’s and reverting back to the local food movement in the 2000’s. He then posed the question as to who was in the game the longest. His answer included the following: farmers, nonprofits, foundations, and university and health professionals. In his view, it was necessary to build capacity across the food-value chains, and that would involve NGOs, universities, consultants, extension, state departments of agriculture, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and other farm organizations. These types of networks should be structured very carefully so as to maximize cooperation, coordination, and collaboration. In his view, failure to analyze the network very carefully could result in information junkyards or empty libraries.

He identified four core functions in some of the Center’s partnerships (regional food systems)—information hubs, catalysts for cooperation, magnets, and scouts. The Regional Food Systems Working Group included more than 50 organizations. Among its network participants were the USDA, Wellmark Foundation, and Kellogg Foundation. There were also partners across, local, state, and regional lines, including cooperatives. How has the role of universities and NGOs changed? In the past and at present that role was more of an expert who dispenses knowledge, cooperating networks predominate; there was competition for scarce resources and creation of awareness about new projects. He envisioned the future as one of co-learning and managing knowledge across groups, collaborating networks, collaboration to grow funding and keepers of values, and researchers of values.

Session I
Connecting Producers to Altruistic Consumers-The Role of Land Grants and State Ag Departments: James Barham, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Marketing Service, Moderator and Discussant

For this session, James Barham, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Marketing Service, served as moderator and discussant. It included presentations by Dar and Rich Knipe, University of Illinois Market Maker; Tom Kalchik, Associate Director Michigan State University (MSU) Product Center for Agricultural and Natural Resources; Dave Lamie of Clemson University and Wendy White of the Colorado Department of Agriculture’s Markets Division. The session highlighted the innovative work that state University, governmental and inter-state projects were doing to provide marketing infrastructure and assistance well-suited to the emerging, consumer-driven market place for food.

Dar and Rich Knipe, University of Illinois Market Maker focused their presentation on how Market Maker could be used as a promotion and marketing tool. These presenters demonstrated how the databank was used for promotion, research, and marketing purposes. Lamie outlined how he got involved with Market Maker and its potential for successful partnerships for rural and community development projects, trade, and e-commerce. Kalchik agreed with Lamie’s assessment of Market Maker and mentioned that MSU was using the tool to enhance entrepreneurship. However, because of costs, the University had had to seek outside partners such as Green Stone Farm Services, grocery stores and processors, and the MSU Extension and Experiment Station. The final speaker in this session was Wendy White from Colorado Department of Agriculture. Her presentation highlighted the state’s promotion and marketing programs; many of the promotional efforts placed strong emphasis on buying local by being “Colorado Proud”.

Session II
Partnering with Food Retailers to Understand Consumers: Cathy Durham, Oregon State University Food Innovation Center, Moderator and Discussant

For this session, presenters focused on “Store Sales and Procurement Data as a Market Research Tool” (Hikaru Peterson and Rita York Kansas State University and the Mercantile Exchange Cooperative-Kansas Food Retailer); “A National Survey of Organic Retailers” (Carolyn Dimitri, USDA-Economic Research Service); and “Experimental Designs in the Marketplace: Opportunities and Pitfalls” (Dawn Thilmany and Larry Nurse, Colorado State University and Lunds Markets of Minnesota). Tom Gillpatrick with the Portland State University Business Program added his insights into how we, as researchers, can effectively partner with independent retailers.

Presenters in this session described how organic products moved through the food chain, and other concerns such as follows: low survey response rates; the role of slotting allowances; stakeholder input; appropriate research questions; how to enhance profitability; how to deal with the issue of confidentiality; ways to seek research partners; partnerships between universities and the private sectors regarding student internships and employment; U.S. import and export of organic food products; accessing scanner data, through Nielson, and IRI, Wal-Mart in-store network. Larry mentioned that retailers had rich data bases but often times, lacked the expertise to analyze these data Therefore, having a good relationship with universities can be mutually beneficial to both parties because the research would help retailers to better respond to consumer demand.

Session III
Connecting Farmers with Institutional and Restaurant Markets: Experiences in Local Food Procurement: Kynda Curtis, University of Nevada, Reno, Moderator and Discussant

This session included presentations by Gail Feenstra, University of California, UC SAREP/ASI: “Overview of Institutional Buyer Issues”; David Conner, Michigan State University: “School Food FOCUS, A National Farm to School Program”; Karen McManus, Wolf Moon Farms: “A Producer’s Perspective”; Douglas Taylor, Executive Pastry Chef, Molto Vegas: “A Chef’s Perspective”; and Tom Stoner of Spoons Restaurant.

Gail highlighted the rising sustainability movement and some of the lessons learned from her involvement with selected farm-to-school and farm-to-institution programs. To her, the key to success were creative leadership, acknowledging costs, and forming strategic community partnerships. She also thought that there was no substitute for time investment and persistence when navigating these partnerships. Collaboration between producers and buyers was vital, education could not be underestimated, and producers must seek to maintain their identity. The latter was enormously challenging, but was vitally important for coordination, tracking, and outreach.

Conner outlined the past successes and challenges faced by the Food Options for Children in Urban School (FOCUS) program, and offered prescriptions for the future. Karen McManus of Wolf Moon Farms discussed her experiences with the farm-to-school, farm-to-restaurant, and farm-to-institution programs. The overriding theme in her presentation was the need to maintain passion and composure in the face of marketing and production challenges. Taylor’s presentation included the seasonality of local products, barriers faced by local producers, distance to market, and the education of consumers and producers. Some of the locally produced products bought by Molto Vegas included grass-fed beef, cherries, squash, honey, and pistachios. Tom’s restaurant specialized in soups and had a strong commitment to buying local-organically produced food products.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Keynote Address
The 30-Year Challenge: Agriculture’s Strategic Role in Feeding and Fueling a Growing World: Neil Conklin, Farm Foundation

Tuesday’s keynote address featured Neil Conklin from the Farm Foundation. He discussed agriculture’s strategic role in feeding and fueling a growing world. He argued that 75 years ago production agriculture accounted for seven percent of gross domestic product, but today that total was less than two percent. Although great strides had been made on food safety and environmental issues, the growing world population will be a monumental challenge going forward. In 1850 the economy for the most part was powered by biomass; today less than seven percent of our energy comes from biomass. The increased demand for energy is being fuelled by rising income levels in developing countries. And by 2030, agricultural output will need to rise by 50 percent to keep pace with the rising population levels. Unfortunately, 40 percent of the earth’s surface is too dry; 21 percent is too wet; 21 percent is too cold; six percent is too rough; two percent is unsuitable.

Water challenges will also escalate because farmers now use 70 percent of the planet’s fresh water, but growing urban areas are outbidding agriculture for this scarce resource. Global climate change will pose another challenge for agriculture; however, the costs for mitigating climate changes are still uncertain. He argued that in the past the bulk of our policies were shaped by abundance. However, the global financial crisis, the recession, food security, energy, climate change, and competition for natural resources would shape policy going forward. Consequently, we will need alternative visions for the future that dovetail large-scale commercial farmers, driven by science and technology and connected to consumers through global supply chains, with small-scale sustainable farms connected to consumers through local food networks.

Session IV
Values Based Supply Chains: Collective Action to Provide Consumer Assurances Organized and Moderated by Ag of the Middle Research Committee, George Stevenson, Chair

This session featured presenters from Shepard’s Grain (Karl Kupers) and Natural Country Beef (Doc and Connie Hatfield). Shepard’s Grain has been in operation for 10 years and is a cooperative where all member farmers produce organic wheat. Karl discussed some of the challenges they faced in the early years and some of their successes. He also suggested that it was important to have a core set of business values, to build face-to-face relationships, and to invest the time and effort to make these relationships work. Doc and Connie agreed with Karl’s assessments, but also outlined how they made the decision to produce natural beef, some of their earlier marketing challenges, and the importance of honesty and integrity in business. They also advanced that it was very important for producers to have a good knowledge of production costs, to protect their firm’s identity, to keep abreast of issues dealing with food safety, nutrition, diet, and health, and being adoptive and nimble in the marketplace.

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