Archive for the ‘Agricultural Entrepreneurship’ Category

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.

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.

Innovation in agribusiness takes a village

In Agribusiness, Agricultural Entrepreneurship, Innovation on July 16, 2009 at 8:52 pm

I’m looking forward to stretching my legs in the coming months (after the fall harvest, especially) to get out to the countryside and meet with farmers, economic development staff and other agribusiness stakeholders to talk about ways to create wealth from the rural landscape.

You see, it takes cooperation on the part of all of us to bring forth the kinds of ideas required to innovate the next big thing. We still have so many opportunities to create wealth, and some of them lay in things that are seemingly worthless: wind, sun, soil, manure, cotton gin trash, cow ponch, whey, and more.

We’ll be in touch.

Nutrition and performance foods and beverages are HOT!

In Agribusiness, Agricultural Entrepreneurship, Innovation, Small Business on June 23, 2009 at 7:49 pm

One of the fastest-growing segments in food and beverage right now is the energy drink segment. Don’t take my word for it. Just Google it. You’ll see a history of double-digit growth with no stop to it. Or just take a look at the energy drink section (it’s the three or four full cases where one lone four-pack of Red Bull used to be) at your local Quik Trip, Kwik Shop or any other convenience store.

Now consider this: it takes herbs like guarana, gingko biloba, echinacea and ginseng to give many of those drinks their zip, zing and restorative qualities.

Further, as this trend persists (and it will), people will  begin to want all-natural and locally-made ingredients in their drinks.

Imagine putting up a small greenhouse on your property to grow hothouse herbs for small-batch energy drinks that are environmentally responsible because they don’t require clearing rainforests to grow.

It could be a nice source of winter income, too.

High unemployment, high commodity prices, weak dollar…oh, my!

In Agribusiness, Agricultural Entrepreneurship on June 15, 2009 at 9:09 pm

A weak dollar means it’s a good time for other nations to purchase US commodities, which are still near historic highs. Unfortunately, despite the need for bread and beef abroad, forecasts for wheat and beef exports were recently revised downward.

Meanwhile, US market share continues to fall as big crops in other countries have boosted global stocks.

Here at home, unemployment is soaring, leaving a lot of city folks wondering where to find a job.

High unemployment. No jobs.

More grain and livestock sellers than buyers.

Now is the time to bring the city and the country together by supporting the following types of research:

  • bio-adhesives
  • bio-pharmaceuticals
  • bio-composite building materials
  • on-farm bio-fuel production

And by support, I mean creating coalitions and cooperatives of producers, manufacturers and academic researchers with the intent of making MONEY and creating WEALTH.

Value-added products part deux: farmer-owned grocery stores

In Agribusiness, Agricultural Entrepreneurship, Agricultural Marketing, Innovation, Small Business on June 2, 2009 at 9:50 pm

You’ve heard of farmers’ markets? How about farmers’ supermarkets?

Maybe not yet, but given the continued growth in ethical food consumerism and some of the disenchantment with Whole (paycheck) Foods, there could be a gap in the market.

Imagine a co-op of farmers and ranchers owning local franchises or independent stores committed to bringing only the freshest food, locally grown when possible. And of course, proceeds would go back to farmers, another plus for many consumers.

In the old-world economy of the last century, there were all kinds of reasons this type of thing couldn’t work. But the authenticity demanded by today’s consumers makes a farmer-owned supply chain possible.

Products I’d like to see farmers produce and brand themselves

In Agribusiness, Agricultural Entrepreneurship, Agricultural Marketing, Innovation on May 29, 2009 at 10:19 pm

For years, farmers have abdicated food processing, packaging, branding and promotion to the big packers, millers and bakers.

Now, consumers are begging farmers to wrest control of a portion of the food supply from big corporations and shorten the supply chain.

Here are a few products I’d like to see brought to market by farmers:

  • Kosher and halal meats and other food products
  • BBQ pork and beef
  • Hot dogs
  • All-natural canned fruits and vegetables
  • Sweet potato chips and fries
  • Potting soil
  • Compost
  • Mexican cheese
  • Certified humanely-slaughtered leather accessories

I know some of these things are being done. But there is room for what is being done in one region of the country to be done in another.

Let’s put our heads together and make some of these happen.

So you think you can innovate?

In Agribusiness, Agricultural Entrepreneurship, Agricultural Marketing on May 17, 2009 at 7:48 pm

As you think about which business into which to expand your agricultural operation, consider this: Sometimes, imitation is the best way to innovate. One of my mentors, Vincent Amanor-Boadu, taught me two important axioms about innovation:

1. Think about creating a sub-category, not just a product.

2. You don’t always have to be the best, just good enough.

Let’s talk about how these two axioms apply to expanding your agribusiness.

Let’s start with an example. I hold up reality TV contest shows. It seems like it all started with American Idol, but even that groundbreaking show was an imitation of a similar show called Britain’s Got Talent. Now reality TV aficionadoes will tell you the imitation has never been as good as the original, but Fox executives are perfectly happy with the results of Idol, I’m sure. In the years since Idol’s debut, other shows, such as Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance? have enjoyed a great deal of success. Again, nothing terribly original, just riding the wave.

In the example above, we see both axioms lived out. Idol didn’t have to be as good as the original, just good enough to excite American audiences into a frenzy. So You Think You Can Dance? created a new sub-category that combined a dancing theme with the Idol format.

What will your innovation imitation be? Remember that old cliche: You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, just build a “good-enough” mousetrap!