Dairy farmers need to know about crisis communications just as much as any other business. Those attending the Alltech Global 500 Peter Kerr, KerrComm, address this topic and provide meaningful ideas for how to cope with it. Peter is a communications consultant and he presented a very positive message about turning a negative situation into an opportunity.
He discussed how the critics of agriculture who often present very misleading or inaccurate information are successful by having very well crafted messages. Farmers need to be equally prepared so they can use opportunities to teach and present truthful information. I like his idea of also being prepared to use new communications channels like social media as vehicles to deliver that positive and truthful message. He also suggests that farmer consider consulting with a communications professional. On a final note he made a point of being truthful even if the negative publicity you may be dealing with is because of a problem on your operation. Be prepared to tell your story and what you’re doing to change things. Good advice!
At the beginning of the Alltech Global 500 I participated in a presentation on social media and I’ve been overhearing farmers talking about how to use it for their farm. During a discussion dinner last night I met a dairy farmer who has been using it to drive business on his farm. He’s a great example for all farmers. He’s Carl Chaney (left in photo) and you can find his farm online at Chaney’s Dairy Barn.
Carl has a great story which I recorded this morning. Basically, his family operation decided to take control of their own destiny and diversify into processing their own milk, making their own ice cream and creating an agri-tourism component of their farm. So over the last couple years they have been using a website and now Facebook and Twitter to promote their business and Carl says they have direct evidence of how it has helped. This use of social media has helped them stay in the dairy business after they were considering getting out.
Besides driving business Carl says they are also helping educate consumers about where their food comes from. Sounds like he could be on the board of the AgChat Foundation! The farm conducts tours with a growing number of area schools. You’ll hear the pride in his voice when he sees kids marvel over a new calf or seeing a milking parlor in action.
One of the features of the Alltech Global 500 are a series of discussion dinners. Attendees can choose a topic of they are most interested in. During the dinners a moderator will stimulate conversation with everyone providing input. It’s a great opportunity to interact with other dairy and beef producers from around the world and hear their perspectives on these topics.
I attended a dinner with the topic of milk quality. I met Travis from Texas and Charles from New Zealand. We spoke after the dinner and you’ll hear them say that the ability to meet with and talk with other dairy farmers is one of the most important things they get out of the conference. They also realize how similar their challenges are regardless of what country they live in.
I’m borrowing from the Alltech blog, Innovations, here. They produced a short video to answer a question very important to dairy farmers. How would you answer the question?
What is the most important thing for a dairy farmer to consider with regard to economic sustainability?
Sustainability means many things to many people. Geoff Frank is CEO of Improcrop, an Alltech Regional Sales Manager and a dairy farmer. I asked Geoff to describe the most important issue for dairy farmers as the industry strives for economic sustainability.
I think the comment I’ve heard most often at the Alltech Global 500 is how important and rewarding the interaction with other dairy and beef producers from around the world is. We’ve got 29 countries represented here. One of our international visitors that I met today was George Strang, Scotland.
George is a dairy farmer with 250 cows and it’s a family run farm. He actually won an Alltech competition and the prize was this trip. He’s loving his first visit to the USA. He admits that he hasn’t embraced technology as much as he should so he’s planning on getting a Facebook account to help keep in touch with other farmers he’s met here. He says he has found that farmers face the same kinds of challenges regardless of what country they are from. However, he says his country is one of the few that doesn’t grow corn so he’s hoping some varieties will be created that can be grown in Scotland.
At the Alltech Global 500 feeding efficiency was the subject of a presentation by Mike Hutjens, University of Illinois. He says that to survive we’re going to have to become more feed efficient and since feed can make up half the cost of producing milk it’s very important. He says that with corn getting to $6/bushel we’re going to have to look at more forage in the diet. That means a closer look at the nutrition plan to control variation. He uses a term, “precision feeding” which he says is “everyday delivering the same ration, if it’s higher in forages it means you have to take that variation out based on variety selections and types of forages you’re feeding.”
This year’s Alltech Global 500 includes a full program for beef producers. As we’ve said many times before, if you’re in the dairy business, you’re in the beef business. So, I spoke with one of the beef farmers here, Charles Miller. He’s a Kentucky cattleman so he didn’t have as far to go as many who are here from 29 different countries.
Charles says he’s an Alltech customer and he’s glad to see the company placing a greater emphasis on beef lately and here at this conference. He sees the interaction with international farmers as a great opportunity. He says that one of the most interesting things he has seen and learned so far is the importance and perspective on social media. He said, “As we go forward as an industry, if we fail to utilize that tool to our best advantage we’re going to be left behind.”
A forward looking panel of experts spoke to the Alltech Global 500 today. Their topic, “Forecast 2025: A vision for the future.” Now that’s not an easy task!
I spoke with one of the panelists, Mandi McLeod, Dunvegan Farms, Ltd, New Zealand. Mandi says the future is about doing what you do well and focusing on the resources you have, in fact, “use them to the absolute maximum.” She says that you have to make sure your profits and people are sustainable and that profits come before production. She was very clear that by 2025 she hopes there will be no subsidies. I asked her what sustainability means to her. She provides a very common sense definition. Too bad there are so many that aren’t! She says farmers here are curious about prices and controls and how to become more profitable.
The first dairy breakout session at the Alltech Global 500 focused on “Value Added Dairying: The Future of Sustainability.” Our presenter was Jim Ostrom, Rosendale Dairy, USA. I missed the opportunity to interview Jim but spoke with session moderator, Steve Elliott, Alltech. Steve is the global director for the company’s organic minerals division. He says that Jim addressed sustainability in his dairy of about 16,000 cows taking into account his local community. After the presentation Steve moderated a question and answer session where the questions focused on how he relates to his community and his workers since half of them are multi-cultural.
Steve says the appeal of this conference is the ability to network with people from all over the world. It’s an opportunity to find out what is similar and not similar in other parts of the world. He says there are attendees here from more than 20 countries!
Let’s just say that social media has been very, very good to ZimmComm New Media, publishers of World Dairy Diary. It is also the hottest topic in agricultural communications of the last year. At the Alltech Global 500 it was also a key topic during our morning general session.
I joined Alltech’s, Billy Frey, on stage to present what social media is and encourage and beef and dairy farmers to use these new channels of communications to help re-connect consumers with the farm and promote their own businesses. We used a series of slides and YouTube videos which I can’t show you but I did record our presentation. I said and will continue to say that dairy farmers seem to be some of the most engaged of any commodity group I know when it comes to social media.
Billy had some great quotes like the following:
Social media is the biggest revolution since the industrial revolution. It offers us new ways to stay informed and it can simplify information overload. It can fundamentally change agriculture if we use it.
We have a lot of great story tellers in our industry because we have the best story ever. Agriculture allowed civilization to develop. Before agriculture we were hunter gatherers. We have a great story to tell. We just have to tell it.
I can’t agree more. After our presentation a woman from France approached me to say that she “felt like I know you” since she is a regular visitor to World Dairy Diary. That kind of anecdotal evidence is great since it shows how truly connected we are globally thanks to social media.
Dr. Karl Dawson, Alltech, says he’s got the greatest job in the world since he heads up research for the company. That research, which now includes, nutrigenomics, is finding ways to improve animal and human health through nutrition. It’s fascinating to hear him discuss not only how the company is finding that its products improve animal health but from that work they’re now seeing applications in humans which will have an impact in the future on diseases like alzheimer’s and cancer!
During his presentation Dr. Dawson looks back on some of the accomplishments of Alltech and then takes a look forward so we get a glimpse of what the future will hold. I recorded Dr. Dawson’s Global 500 opening general session comments for you. Dr. Karl Dawson Presentation
The Alltech Global 500 is underway at the Lexington Convention Center. Welcoming us was Geoff Frank (pictured) once again.
I caught up to Geoff after our morning session. He is Managing Director for Improcrop, a division of Alltech. They have over 20 products to deal with a range of crop and foliar applications. Geoff says this is the 3rd year for the Global 500 which has been expanded this year to include beef farmers in addition to dairy. He says that it’s interesting how these farmers come from countries all over the world and then find that they share common challenges. The conference provides a good forum for them to discuss and share ideas. You can listen to my interview with Geoff here: Interview with Geoff Frank
We’ve known it as the Alltech Global Dairy 500 and this year they’ve added Beef! Now that just makes sense. So, we’ll just call it the Alltech Global 500 to make it simple.
We kicked off this fall’s conference with a Kentucky Ale reception this evening and things get into high gear tomorrow with a general session on which I’ll be participating in a presentation on social media which will include a look at World Dairy Diary. If you’re on Twitter then feel free to send us a message using the hashtag #Global500. If you don’t know what that means then post a comment and I’ll explain.
During the next several days I’ll be featuring interviews and photos from the conference. In fact, you can find my photo album here: Alltech Global 500 Photo Album.
During most of Monday I’ll be on the agriblogging highway to Lexington, KY for the Alltech Global Dairy 500. The theme is “Sustainability in a Changing World.” The program has been so successful that this year they’ve added a “Global Beef 500″ as well!
I’m looking forward to seeing my Alltech friends and enjoying a frosty Kentucky Ale! My coverage should be starting on Monday evening. On Thursday, I’ll share the stage with Alltech’s Billy Frey to discuss social media. I’m really looking forward to that. I’ll also be assisting David Butler who will be managing the Alltech blog, Alltech Innovations.
So follow along here or on Twitter with the hashtag #Global500.
Instead of listening to presenters from the Dairy Solutions Symposium, sponsored by Alltech, let’s hear from some of the participants. I spoke with many of them but only interviewed four. I think they give you a pretty good sense of how international this conference is.
Let’s start with Georgios Valergakis, Greece. He attended since he thinks we live in an “era of efficiency” and believed this type of gathering would be very useful. I asked him if the economic problems we hear about in Greece translate to the dairy industry but he says that it “is not that bad.”Georgios Valergakis Interview
Next up we have Johann Gasteiner from Austria. Johann was interested in nutritional disorders and the topic of SARA brought him to the symposium. He says it’s a big topic and “everywhere.” Johann Gasteiner Interview
Another participant was Christof Fry from Germany. He works at a feed mill so it was interesting to hear that he was attending to find new ideas to improve the products his company offers to their customers. He says the information he collects will be helpful in the long run for his business. Christof Fry Interview
And finally I spoke with Uldis Ositis, Latvia. He says the symposium has provided him with the information he was looking for. He found the presentations to be at a very high scientific level. Uldis Ositis Interview
One of our presenters at the Dairy Solutions Symposium, sponsored by Alltech focused on the issue of sub-acute ruminal acidosis (SARA) in grazing dairy cows. Finbar Mulligan is from University College Dublin, Ireland.
He was presenting some new research on this subject. He found that diet is important and that you shouldn’t assume that because grazing cows may be eating more forage they automatically have an adequate ruminal pH. The study found about a 10 percent incidence of SARA which is similar to other studies. He said that the symposium has brought out how much difference of opinion there is on this subject such as whether or not there are different types of SARA, that they’re only related to grain or starch diet overload or some other factor.
The Dairy Solutions Symposium, sponsored by Alltech has come to an end. It has been two days packed with presentations on a very specific topic that is of growing importance to the industry, Rumen Health: A 360 Degree Analysis. I think we did look at the subject from just about every angle possible.
I started my coverage of the conference with a preview interview with Sylvie Andrieu, European Ruminant Technical Manager, Alltech. So what better way than to wrap it up in the same way?
Sylvie says it was a wonderful symposium, especially the discussion opportunities and interaction between people from a large number of countries. She also notes how interesting it was that some of the researcher presenters questioned the SARA concept and think that it should perhaps be renamed. It was clear that what is called SARA is more diverse than was thought. I concur with Sylvie that the feedback I heard from attendees has been very positive. Hopefully this means the symposium goals were achieved.
I’ll have more interview posts after the U.S. holiday weekend so until then . . .
He is a “modeler” which means he develops mathematical models which predict how the animal responds on a diet. He says there’s a big debate on rumen acidosis here at the symposium and a lot of questions being asked. For a solutions symposium he thinks more questions have been raised than answers. His presentation focused on how well a high yielding early lactation dairy cow rumen can adapt to a big increase in feed intake. He conducted a test comparing two groups of dairy cows. One received a very quick increase in feed and the other was “steamed up” (his term) much more slowly. The main conclusion was that the rumen wall was very capable of adapting to either strategy with very little difference between the two. They compared 10 days to 20 days. So now he thinks further work should be done to see if there is a limit to how fast you can “steam up” a dairy cow.
The final day of the Dairy Solutions Symposium, sponsored by Alltech, was started by Dr. Ad van Vuuren, Wageningen UR Livestock Research. We sat together on the bus from our hotel this morning and I asked him about the session he would be moderating.
His session focused on rumen adaptation and animal health. He says “rumen fermentation in dairy cows is one of the main contributors to the feed efficiency of dairy cows so it’s very important to maintain good, healthy rumen fermentation not only from the point of view of the environment or animal welfare but especially from animal production.” He says that practical nutritionists often over simplify solutions when answers to rumen health problems are more complicated. So he sees a need for more out of the box thinking and encourages new ideas which is what the symposium is hoping to do.