Archive for the ‘Innovation’ 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.


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.

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.

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.

Anyone can invent or innovate

In Innovation on July 10, 2009 at 8:40 pm

I was talking with my friend Karen today, and she was all: “You know what the government should do instead of giving out cash to stimulate the economy? They should issue gift cards so people can pick their favorite stores. That way, it would encourage even more spending.”

I said: “That’s a brilliant idea, Karen. You should write a letter to President Obama.”

And just like that, an idea is born. It could be an idea that changes the way the government stimulates the economy.

It takes imagination to think: “Hey, what if we gave credits at stores and service providers rather than cash, thus eliminating the possibility that cash is sewn into the mattress instead of spent.”

Who knows? It might not be an idea that gains traction. But it is definitely the kind of idea that stimulates further thought, and sometimes that is just as valuable.

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.

Five ag products to inspire you

In Agribusiness, Innovation on June 20, 2009 at 2:29 pm

When you think you don’t have anything of value aside from the crops or livestock you raise, consider these seemingly mundane products that have become prized resources:

  1. Special breeds of grasses for championship golf courses in different areas of the country (Remember when grass was grass?)
  2. Popcorn
  3. Mare’s urine for developing hormone supplements
  4. Peanut butter
  5. Insulin from hogs

These products are commonplace today, but someone had to invent and develop them. My thought is: Why not you and me? If we come up with right idea, we can arraign the resources to make it happen.

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.