Archive for 2009|Yearly archive page

What is your favorite thing about Kansas?

In Uncategorized on November 14, 2009 at 2:49 am

What is your favorite thing about Kansas? I posed this question this week on Facebook, and within hours, I had 36 responses from friends from as far away as Los Angeles chiming in.

The Flint Hills was a popular answer.

Lots of people love fall and the changing of the seasons.

Several folks said they love the friendly, caring people.

A couple people are suckers for Kansas thunderstorms.

Wide open spaces.

Sunsets, KU basketball, K-State football and, yes, someone actually said wind.


There certainly is a lot to love about Kansas.


Greensburg puts a new face on what it means to be “green”

In Agribusiness, Agricultural Entrepreneurship, Innovation on October 22, 2009 at 2:03 pm

Time was, the green movement got its share of sneers and giggles from the mainstream farm movement. As time went on, more rural communities in many areas of the country began to embrace the green, “conservative” and environmentally-sensitive values which took root under their forefathers.

It’s not surprising then that a town in Kansas is building LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) buildings. What is absolutely amazing, though (in case you hadn’t heard), is that these homes, schools, offices, dealerships and, yes, art galleries are being built in the wake of a tornado that destroyed the entire town. Many of us would have walked away from the rubble of Greensburg, KS, insurance checks in hands and taken up residence someplace else. And some did. But not these inspiring people.

This week I met dozens of people, from the Greensburg city manager and the mayor, the superintendent, business owners, retired citizens and young families. The common thread that binds them together is their connection to their town, that is to say, each other. Almost all of them spoke to us about the strength of the connections they’ve made since May 4, 2007, when the tornado tore through the town. They were also extremely thankful to USDA, FEMA, New York Says Thank You, Kansas Small Business Development Center, USDA Rural Development and many others who have helped them rebuild.

But make no mistake, this is a town filled with determined people who are willing to invest in a vision for the future, not just bricks and mortar.

I think what struck me most profoundly about Greensburg was their ability and willingness to think two steps ahead. Why build something that will last 50 years when you can build it to last 150? Why not pay a little more today for something that is going to save you so much more in the long run?

Some of our new friends shared with us that they are the fourth, fifth, even sixth generation of their family to live in Greensburg and Kiowa County. The parallels between what is going on there today and how things used to be were readily apparent. After all, they’re putting green, or living, roofs on many of the buildings, not unlike the sod houses of the pioneers. They’re using alternative heating methods, including solar energy and geothermal wells. If you were on the prairie in the old days, there was no coal or wood, so you would have to use the alternative fuel source of the day–dried buffalo chips.

Determination and innovation are working hand in hand with community development in Greensburg, too. At every turn, they seem to be thinking ahead, including building a state-of-the-art eight-man football stadium and extra gym space to host regional and state games and tournaments.

And one business, the John Deere dealership, not only built a LEED Platinum building (the highest rating achievable) but also developed a second business selling wind turbines as a result of the disaster, creating additional economic development in the process.

There are a lot of great things happening here. It gives a lifelong Kansan a sense of pride.

Steve Hewitt, the city manager, put it best when he said that Greensburg wants to be a model, a proving ground for many of the technologies and styles being employed to make the town greener. That way, when travelers and city planners come to visit, they can at least take an idea or two back with them. You can’t expect every town to be Greensburg, but the town will certainly inspire greener ways in many people for years to come.

USDA Rural Development Value-Added Producer Grants Available

In Agribusiness, Agricultural Entrepreneurship, Agricultural Marketing on October 16, 2009 at 8:41 pm

Check this out:

You can go to this Web site to learn how to apply for up to $300,000 in funding for working capital or up to $100,000 in research in the form of grants from USDA. You must be a producer, producer group, producer co-op or producer-owned business to qualify. In addition, 50 percent of the raw material used in the value-added product you are selling must come from you, the owners.

If you have questions about this grant, you can contact me for assistance at 316-305-8358. I have written several of these successfully for Kansas farmers and farmer-owned businesses. The due date is November 30.

Lax exports, tight credit and softening foreign markets create innovation opportunities

In Agribusiness, Agricultural Entrepreneurship, Agricultural Marketing, Innovation on August 28, 2009 at 11:28 pm

One of the underlying and persistent themes of this blog is the observation that it is no longer business as usual in the agribusiness sector.

In the past two weeks, I’ve had the distinct privilege of attending some truly beneficial seminars conducted by Kansas State University and the industry experts they invited to speak to us.

There was a great deal of talk about the current economic crisis and the reasons for it and how long it will last. The economists were not at all hopeful for a recovery inside of a year or even two. I pointed out that economists require two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth to confirm a recession, but many of them are much quicker to declare the recession over. At least one K-State economist said we should not discount the possibility of a “double-dip” recession. That would not be good.

But what does this mean for agriculture? Well, like most other sectors, agriculture is seeing much more stringent standards for borrowing. Bottom line: you’d better have audited, solidly-performing financial statements or you might as well save yourself a trip to the bank. At the height of commodity prices last year, even the huge grain trading firms were scrambling to get credit to cover massive margin calls in the futures market.

That’s less of a problem this year, though, as the Chinese economy has cooled and there appears to be plenty of grain-for the moment. Now that’s bad news if you’re a wheat farmer and you didn’t book at least a portion of your crop before prices nosedived.

But I couldn’t help but think as I sat there listening that there are opportunities for  value-added agri-food products.

So we’re not moving as much pork and swine offal to other parts of the world? I’ve often wondered why someone doesn’t create an upscale, branded variety meats product for Hispanics and Latinos who have two cars and a boat and still want that taste of the homeland for their families.

Concerned about the soy complex and lax exports? Have you noticed all the dietary supplements people are pushing out there? Well, a lot of people are buying them. But as far as I know, there is no significant farmer-owned company selling its own line of soy, botanicals or other supplements. That could be you.

The fastest-growing segment of the beverage industry is energy drinks. How do we participate? Or are you content to supply the corn that is turned into the HFCS that is one ingredient in the high-margin product in the convenience store cooler?

Do you realize the Kaw River Valley once was-and still is in places-a immensely fertile spot for vegetable production, including potatoes, sweet potatoes and onions? In fact, the Sioux word Topeka means “a good place to grow potatoes.” We could capitalize on the health trend and create a Kansas-farmer-owned brand of sweet potato chips, fries and snacks, making us the capital of this tasty, nutritious tuber.

A great idea, solid planning, some capital infusion, belief and a heaping helping of marketing can go a long way toward managing the market risk created by economic situations like the one we face today.

K-State ag economist urges farmers to closely monitor costs

In Agribusiness on August 20, 2009 at 11:04 pm

Much of the current economic problems can be blamed on poor decision making at all levels and low interest rates, a Kansas State University agricultural economist told attendees at the Risk and Profit Conference today in Manhattan, KS.

At the same time, however, history teaches us that the state of the overall economy and the state of agriculture are not closely intertwined, said Dr. Allen Featherstone, a KSU professor. This means that the ag sector has fared relatively well compared with the rest of the economy.

Still, economic pressures in other parts of the world could dampen trade further, with the agricultural trade surplus forecast to drop to $11.5 billion this year. That, combined with potential spikes in prices for fertilizer and other petroleum-based inputs could put the squeeze on farm profits unless farmers take steps to closely manage costs.

USDA and the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute are forecasting a slight dip in farm income in the final quarter of 2009, followed by a gentle upward slope over the next couple of years.

We’ll have another update from the Risk and Profit Conference tomorrow.

These Kansas food companies know all about innovation

In Agribusiness, Innovation on August 14, 2009 at 6:49 pm

Mama Lupe’s Tortillas: Tortilla King, Moundridge, KS

Spanish Gardens

Spanish Gardens

No Web site, but here’s the Facebook page:

Original Juan

Skyview Farm

Good Farms

Genetics one key to entrepreneurship

In Agricultural Entrepreneurship, Innovation on August 3, 2009 at 9:24 pm

Economic development professionals-and small business consultants like me-are always searching for what it takes to spur entrepreneurship.  Well, it’s not very easy to imitate, but researchers have identified one important factor in creating entrpreneurs-genetics.

According to a study by Case Western Reserve University and others, genetics explain at least a portion of why certain people become entrepreneurs. The study examined several hundred sets of twins and found that traits such as extroverted personality and desire for education could lead some individuals down the entrepreneurship path.

Read more here.

7 guidelines for effective agribusiness innovation

In Agribusiness, Innovation on July 31, 2009 at 10:12 pm

While there is no foolproof formula for successful innovation, there are a few guidelines that can help increase your likelihood of having a successful agribusiness venture.

  1. Start with a plan. Anything worth doing is worth planning and there is a process to planning for success. Start by doing your research to discover the gap in the market you may fill with a new or better product or service. Then arraign the necessary resources.
  2. Determine your idea’s feasibility. Arrange for an independent party to help determine the technical, operational and economic feasibility of your idea before you pursue it very far and waste time and money.
  3. Make it your business to know everything about your customer. Remember, everything you do is for your customers, and they are the sole reason your product or service exists. Ask them early and often for their advice and feedback. This will increase the likelihood that your product or service enjoys a long, profitable life.
  4. Instill marketing into everything you do. Marketing shouldn’t just be at the end of the value chain. It should include your approach to buying inputs, how you make the product, how it’s delivered and, of course, how it is priced, promoted and sold.
  5. Hire the right people. Most of us are pretty good at figuring out which building to build, which equipment to buy and how much to pay for inputs. But sadly, we don’t spend enough time and effort identifying, selecting and developing the people who make the products and carry out the services that we create. Soft skills can set you apart from your competitors.
  6. Know when to say, “when.” It has been said that not all entrepreneurs are managers and vice versa. It may be that you’re an inventor and innovator but not necessarily destined to manage the product or service deep into its life cycle. And that’s OK. Just sell it off to the highest bidder and get started on your next idea.
  7. Get to know investors. It takes money to bring products and services to market. Every inventor needs to get out of the lab once in awhile and press the flesh to cultivate relationships with people who might help their business succeed.

GMO debate: part deux; COOL could expand to GMO labeling

In Agribusiness on July 21, 2009 at 10:06 pm

We have to be careful as we pursue our defense of GMO food products that we don’t completely disenfranchise the most important person in the whole arena: the consumer.

Lest we forget, it is the consumer who plunks down his or her money for the products we sell. Therefore, their opinions count.

We can talk until we’re blue in the proverbial face about “educating consumers” about where their food comes from and why GMO isn’t bad for them. But as I’m fond of saying, “educate  and consumer are two words that should never be used in the same sentence.”

It is the role of the consumer to educate us and it is our role to listen.

Now, I’m not saying we need to completely flip our position on GMO. I’m just saying we need to be prepared to come down on the side of the consumer, whichever side that turns out to be.

Most likely, we’ll continue to have a majority that don’t have a problem with GMO and a minority that want nothing to do with it.

It is, however, important for us to honor the consumer’s desire to know where his or her food comes from and how it’s produced. After all, it is the consumer who is the reason for what we do.

In any case, don’t be surprised if we see a requirement to label GMO foods in the not-too-distant future. It just seems like a natural progression from where we are. If you’re not aware of it, you should know about, a grassroots movement to get GMO foods labeled.

GMO debate kicks into high gear on Web

In Agribusiness on July 21, 2009 at 2:36 pm

This is what production agriculture is up against. What’s your opinion? It’s an e-mail that appeared in my inbox about five minutes ago. I post it for your review and comment:

Hi there!

What do you think?

By purchasing GMOs, so consumers create a future ripe with strong crops and health for all, or do we fall victim to food toxicity and corporate control?

Changemakers is proud to present our GMO Risk or Rescue Global Challenge to find projects/innovations/solutions that help consumers understand the impact of their food choices. Winners are decided by the community throughout the entry process by giving their fave idea a thumbs up.

The winner will win a one on one convo with Michael Pollan of The Omnivore’s Dilemma fame.

You can participate or share the news with your readership to participate. Share your two centswith us as well.

Thank you for helping spread the news.

Warm regards,

Tyler Ahn

Community Manager

Ashoka’s Changemakers
1700 N Moore Street, Suite 2000
Arlington, VA 22209 USA

T +1.703.600.8200 E