From the Field: Complete Your Ag Census and Surveys; Land Use Assessment Values Depend on Them

campbell-boys-on-gatorLand Use Assessment is very important to farmers in Virginia. Most, if not all, states have some type of tax valuation system that taxes agriculture and forestry acreage at its use value instead of it highest market value. As county governments have looked for more revenue the past few years, Land Use has come up on the agenda at several county board of supervisors meetings for possible changes or elimination. In central Virginia, discussions took place in Cumberland and Fluvanna counties. Thankfully, Farm Bureau led the charge in not only defending Land Use Assessment, but proactively promoting the program as a valuable tool for county governments to balance rural and non-rural needs and finances.

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From the Field: Equipment Safety a Big Concern for Young Farmers

Safety YFsFrom the Field is an occasional column written by Mark Campbell, Farm Bureau Field Services Director for the Central District. He writes about Farm Bureau member benefits and County Farm Bureau activities.

It is one thing to be safety conscious for yourself, but when you take farm equipment on the highway, your safety zone extends to everyone else on the road. It’s hard enough to share the road when your equipment takes up more than a lane and trying not to hit mailboxes or run in the ditch. Today compared to maybe 20 years ago, or even 5 years; equipment is larger, automobile drivers are more hurried and distracted with cell phones or vehicle technology. So farmers have to look out for the safety of others, and even more so now, anticipate what drivers will do.

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From the Field: Where’s the Beef?

From the Field is a bi-monthly column written by Mark Campbell, Farm Bureau Field Services Director for the Central District. He writes about Farm Bureau member benefits and County Farm Bureau activities.

I recently received the 25th Anniversary edition of Directions. Directions is a report that the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) publishes in their magazine to members. I always look forward to reading this report and viewing the rankings.

It should come as no surprise that there were some shifts in cattle production and numbers this year. The droughts of the past two years have placed significant pressure in cattle country, which is the center of the country to include the Midwest and Plains states. Although I will say, the Southeast contributes a significant number of cows to the US herd.

We all heard and saw pictures and video of the severe drought in 3/4ths of the country this summer. Even now, the drought still persists. Let’s not forget about the severe drought that brought Texas and Oklahoma to its knees last year. These two years of droughts have forced a lot of cattle to the market that would not have normally gone there. Some ranchers completely exited the beef business. Others sold part of their cow herd.

The one shinning spot in this were the record high prices for all classes of cattle and good exports. This has been good for the cow-calf producer; but not for the cattle feeders who have lost upwards of $250/head this year. Packers have not done much better as they have been forced to pay more for a limited supply of cattle. Higher input costs and land competition have also been challenges to the beef industry the past few years. Higher input costs such as diesel fuel hovering around $4.00/gal., and high fertilizer prices have led many cattlemen to skip a year or go with reduced amounts of fertilizer on the hay and pasture land.

While we have not seen the land competition between livestock and grain farmers as much on the East Coast; it has been very competitive in the Midwest. With the higher prices for corn and soybeans, cattlemen haven’t been able to compete on land rental rates with the grain guys. Cattlemen that I know in the Midwest and Plains have all talked about this as a big challenge to long term sustainability. Even here in my travels in central Virginia; I have seen corn and beans in fields that I would have never expected. Round-up ready crops and no-till drills add a lot of flexibility these days as to what one does with agriculture land.

Here are just a few highlights from the report. As of January 1, 2012, cattle numbers are down 2 percent, with the largest decline in region 4 which includes Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. Virginia also had a decline. Lots of states had declines.

But some states actually saw an increase in their cattle numbers. Remember what I ssaid about the changing demographics? Nebraska had a huge jump this year of 250,000 cattle and calves. I heard that Nebraska experienced a large increase last year as well, where some cows were shipped from Texas and Oklahoma ranches to Nebraska where there was some grass to be found. Florida had an increase in cattle numbers. You may not think of Florida as being a large cattle state, but they are a major player. How about this? In the top 25 largest cow-calf operations in the country, 8 are in Florida with the largest having 42,000 cows and the smallest Florida ranch in the top 25 with 4,700 cows. Florida also ranks #10 in the number of beef cows per state. If you ever travel to Florida; take a drive into the central and southern parts of the state. You will see plenty of cattle and other agriculture enterprises and get a sight of what the native Floridians call the “Old Florida”.

Kentucky and Tennessee hold the 8 and 9 spots. Actually, these state rankings on beef cows haven’t changed much. But there is a consolidation taking place towards larger ranches with larger cowherds. The cattle feeding sector ranking has not changed much at all. The top 25 feeders are the same as last year. The big shift in the feeding sector has occurred with the smaller feedyards; primarily those with 5,000 head capacity and less. Most of the large feedyards are located in the High Plains of Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Texas, and Oklahoma. With the ethanol industry, the feeding sector in the Corn Belt areas such as western Iowa have seen a thriving group of feeders. These feeders have taken advantage of the ethanol industry by utilizing more economical co-products in feed rations to give them a competitive advantage. Plus they are still close to many of the packers in eastern Nebraska and western Iowa.

With cattle numbers low and beef demand high; the prospect for high prices into the future looks good, and cattlemen are optimistic. The grain prices will continue to play a significant factor in how cattle are raised, where they are grazed, and how they are fed and marketed. Obviously weather will always be a major factor. Let’s hope that all of us across the country enjoy good weather into the future with adequate precipitation for growing lots of grass. With plenty of forage, beef cattle have a nice advantage in being able to turn sunshine and grass into a wholesome, nutritiuos, and tasty beef.

Until next time,
Mark.

From the Field: County Farm Bureaus- the Foundation of Farm Bureau

If you have been involved in Farm Bureau for any amount of time, you have probably heard someone say that Farm Bureau is a grassroots organization. Our policies all start at the county level. Our state and national leaders all started at a county Farm Bureau. This county structure has been in place for decades and is still the mainstay of Farm Bureau.

Last week, I helped with the Open House at the new Appomattox County Farm Bureau office. VFBF President, Wayne Pryor; Appomattox County Farm Bureau President, Earl Pickett; and Appomattox Young Farmer chair and incoming county Farm Bureau President, Joanne Jones kicked off the event with remarks to the audience. A great lunch with dessert was enjoyed by many. They had a steady flow of people at the office throughout the day. I enjoyed talking to all of the people that visited. Visitors included VFB staff from the home office, the largest cattleman in the county who is a young farmer, a livestock auctioneer who is also a young farmer, members just visiting and some conducting business, and some potential new members.
 
Even the kids enjoyed the open house. Some of the young farmer parents had their toddler-aged kids there, and there were balloons on hand. Balloons and kids. It’s a classic combination where you can’t go wrong. The cutest part of the day was when a little girl took two balloons. One was for her. The other one she took out to the parking lot, released it into the air, and then told her parents that it was for Jesus. This open house, like many we have had in Farm Bureau, was a great blend of county Farm Bureau volunteer leaders and Farm Bureau staff all working together in preparing for and hosting the event.
 
One thing that was really neat was a display of pictures of all of the offices that Appomattox County Farm Bureau had occupied over the years plus the current office. The first Appomattox office was in a building no bigger than a one room schoolhouse constructed of old brick, wood lathe, and plaster. I have heard several interesting stories about the old Farm Bureau offices over the years. Some offices have been located in buildings of other businesses. Some have been in less than desirable conditions. That was a long time ago for these offices. They have come a long way and are now in their own office.
This Open House was just a snapshot of what happens at county Farm Bureau offices throughout the year. Whether it’s a new office or an old one, the county Farm Bureau office is a busy place where member business is conducted, policy development takes place, agriculture education programs are developed, and women’s and young farmer programs start. Many thanks go out to the volunteer leaders, staff, and members helping our organization move forward every day.

Until next time,

Mark.

From the Field: Agriculture’s Message in a Sound Bite Culture

From the Field is a bi-monthly column written by Mark Campbell, Farm Bureau Field Services Director for the Central District. He writes about Farm Bureau member benefits and County Farm Bureau activities.

For several years the agriculture community has worked on educating the general public about the production of food and fiber. This educational effort has received an increased emphasis from agribusinesses, food retailers, commodity groups, and agriculture organizations in the past two decades, but especially the most recent decade. The Internet and social media have facilitated the ability of anyone to put out information, pictures, and videos to the world in a matter of minutes.

Through social media, the information expands to readers and viewers exponentially. Information is great, but the crux of it is how to decipher the legitimate information from rumors, myths, or just plain made-up information. I am happy to say that many people in our community have really stepped up to the challenge of being an agriculture advocate.

So how do we get our message out amongst all of the other messages out there, and how do we counter misinformation that can be easily believable to a public that has much to learn about agriculture? The good news is that I believe the public is more informed about agriculture than they used to be. We have great advocates for agriculture that are doing a great job. Being an effective advocate means reaching outside of our community, being genuine, trustworthy, and transparent, and relatable. The U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance has developed methods to help agriculturalists work on these things. I’m not saying that we are not trustworthy, genuine, or transparent; we have just had a hard time expressing it. We must remember that we are one of the steps in getting food on the plate. People want to know where their food comes from and how it was raised. So if you think of yourself as a food producer; it gives you a different perspective.

This year, two agricultural messages on video have created quite a buzz. One is a YouTube video called “I’m Farming and I Grow It.” Check it out below. It has had over 7 million views. It’s not chocked full of statistics, but it is entertaining. It puts a personal face to people in agriculture, and it is relatable to people. We often are uncomfortable talking to a nonagricultural audience. Well, nonfarmers aren’t sure how to relate to us either. Sharing your personal story helps both groups understand each other.

The other video is done by Dr. Temple Grandin and the American Meat Institute. The video can be found at http://www.animalhandling.org under the “video” link. Temple Grandin’s video is a transparent and factual view of how cattle are humanely treated at a large beef packing plant. Temple Grandin has credibility, and her message is accepted as legitimate among nonagricultural people. I think people see her as an unbiased authority on animal welfare, and she is the world’s most prominent authority on the subject. In the video, she comments about all of the false stuff on the Internet about animal welfare, and the lack of factual and accurate information. The video may be too graphic for some. But I hope the video done by the world’s most prominent authority on animal welfare will dispel some misinformation and misconceived thoughts of people about animal welfare in meat packing plants, even those in the agriculture community. I have attended a couple of presentations of Temple Grandin and they have always been very informative. She doesn’t mince words and means what she says. Her Autism helps her think and see in pictures. This unique perspective and ability has helped the livestock community immensely. She has designed livestock handling facilities such as corrals, unloading docks, packing plant designs, etc. to create the best environment for animals and people. Several agribusinesses, ranches, and feedyards have used her services, and some have redesigned their whole operation.

One message that Grandin had two years ago still sticks in my mind as baffling, but it was true. She said that she was speaking at a college class about animal welfare and the topic of grass fed beef vs. conventional beef came up. She said that the college students actually thought that conventional fed cattle spent their entire life in a feedyard. They thought that the cow lived in the feedyard, had her calf there and the calf lived the remainder of its life in the feedyard. She quickly corrected them by saying that ultimately all cattle are grass fed. They are ruminants. Cattle that do get fed in a feedyard are typically there for only 150 days of their life. All of the other time, they were on grass. This information blew their minds. What we may take for granted as being commonly known information might surprise us that the general public may have a different idea.

If you have a specialty, share it with the world. For example, the beef industry is my main interest. I completed a Masters of Beef Advocacy curriculum two years ago. I can speak on beef cattle and beef as it relates to the environment, nutrition, feeding practices, antibiotics, or animal welfare. Feel free to contact me with questions at mark.campbell@vafb.com.

So don’t be afraid to share your messages about agriculture. You don’t have to have a big presentation or do a lot of research. Just share what you do as your part in putting safe, wholesome, and nutritious food on the plate of so many people. Your message might just be the sound bite that someone needed to hear. With today’s technology, your testimony may reach more people than you ever imagined.

Until next time,
Mark

From the Field: Farm Bureau staff and volunteers cover a lot of ground on eminent domain campaign

From the Field is a bi-monthly column written by Mark Campbell, Farm Bureau Field Services Director for the Central District. He writes about Farm Bureau member benefits and County Farm Bureau activities.

Virginia Farm Bureau’s campaign in support of a constitutional amendment on eminent domain is in full swing mode. Farm Bureau staff and volunteers have been using every opportunity available to inform members, the agriculture community, and general public about the eminent domain constitutional amendment and the importance of voting yes on question 1 on the Nov. 6 ballot. Things really picked up the first of August. The volunteers are pumped up about promoting this.

The Field Services and Governmental Relations staff have been promoting all of the available promotional and educational tools available to county Farm Bureaus, and the county Farm Bureaus have acted quickly in ordering supplies. There are a lot of events happening around the state now, and even more will be taking place going into the fall season. Farm Bureau is utilizing all of these venues to get the message out to the public.

Just to give you an idea of how many people we have reached from August 1-20; I surveyed our Field Staff about events and meetings were the campaign has been presented. The message has reached approximately 5,405 people at events such as county Farm Bureau annual meetings, county fairs, Virginia Ag Expo, field days, and meetings with county supervisors. This is only in three weeks. The message will reach even more people as we approach Election Day.

We have had a clear and concise message that is resonating with people. I am sure that those that have heard about the campaign will tell their friends and neighbors to support it with a Yes vote. The campaign signs arrived in county Farm Bureau offices this month. In some counties, signs have already been distributed to members.

So plan to hear and see more about the eminent domain constitutional amendment, and don’t be shy about spreading the message to your circle of friends and family. Also, don’t hesitate to ask them to join Farm Bureau, an organization that has done a tremendous amount on protecting private property rights.

Until next time,

Mark

From the Field: Stepping Up to the Gate

From the Field is a bi-monthly column written by Mark Campbell, Farm Bureau Field Services Director for the Central District. He writes about Farm Bureau member benefits and County Farm Bureau activities.

I recently attended the Young Farmer Summer Expo in Lynchburg during the last weekend in July. The Young Farmer Expos are always filled with great learning and networking opportunities. The Expos are family oriented, and there are usually several small children in attendance.

Seeing the young farmers, ages 18-35, and the young kids, most at age 7 and under, keeps me optimistic about the future of agriculture. This scene that I snapped a picture of really got me thinking about how each generation faces different opportunities and challenges, and what kindles that passion for farming in the youngest among us.

I think all of us in agriculture will admit that there is a passion within us for agriculture. A driving force that is part of who we are. Many people develop that passion for farming early in life. Some have found that love for farming later in life. I think that passion for agriculture is contagious and is modeled to others in our work ethic on the farm and through our caretaking responsibilities over the resources that we manage during our lifetime. I think this is especially true with kids, and this is how they catch the passion for agriculture. The parents love it, so it is interwoven in their lives. Their kids see that they enjoy farming even though there are sometimes challenges and hard times. It usually involves outside activities with nature, which kids love.

Agriculture is a great family business in that all of the family members can be involved. Parents can take their kids to work. There are probably other small businesses where this occurs; but I think it is more predominant in agriculture. This passion for agriculture helps those entering into the agriculture field seek opportunities and tackle challenges.

I am not too far out of the age range of official young farmer status. However, when I give it a little more thought, some of the young farmers are 20 years younger than me. Each generation has opportunities and challenges that are different than the previous generation. Some things stay the same. Agriculture is always a blend of tried and true practices and traditions and new technologies, practices, and methods. Maybe it’s my age, but change seems to be occurring at a more rapid pace than it did several years ago.

Adaptability to change and flexibility in their enterprise are going to be key factors for young farmers’ success. From what I have seen, young farmers are up to the challenge. They can multi task with the best of them. Technology has obviously made that more possible. A big challenge will continue to be the large amount of capital involved in farming, whether you own your farm or rent. When tractors cost over $50,000 and a pot load of steers is $70,000; there is a lot of risk involved.

So what about the young farmers that were at the Expo? Will they be farming the same as my generation? As history shows; it will probably be a blend of the old mixed with the new. What about the boy in the picture? What will his agriculture industry look like? I don’t know. But I am sure that he will step up to the gate and be successful in an industry and lifestyle that he loves.

From the Field: Spreadin’ Some Farm Bureau Joy

From the Field is a bi-monthly column written by Mark Campbell, Farm Bureau Field Services Director for the Central District. He writes about Farm Bureau member benefits and County Farm Bureau activities.

Farm Bureau has a history of helping meet the needs of farmers, and this is just another example that has been very successful.
Louisa, Madison, and Fauquier County Farm Bureaus rent a poultry litter spreader to farmers in their county as a service of the county Farm Bureau and Virginia Poultry Federation. 
The Virginia Poultry Federation first offered grant money in 2003 to county Farm Bureaus in the central and northern Piedmont regions of Virginia to help facilitate the movement of poultry litter from concentrated areas such as the Shenandoah Valley to deficit areas such as central Virginia. 
The poultry litter spreader fills a real need, as it is difficult to find someone to spread litter in central Virginia.  Most times, farmers are able to get trailer loads of litter delivered to their farm. But getting someone to spread it is difficult unless large quantities are purchased. 
Louisa County Farm Bureau houses their spreader under a carport at the county Farm Bureau office and the county administrative assistants administer the applications and keep records.  The Virginia Poultry Federation grant helped fund the purchase of the spreader, but the administration, record keeping, maintenance, and insurance are the responsibility of the county Farm Bureau.  The county Farm Bureaus do charge a daily rental rate, which helps cover these things.
As part of the grant, users must use Virginia poultry litter for land application, and use is restricted to within 35 miles of the county Farm Bureau office.  Louisa County Farm Bureau developed guidelines, application, and an inspection check list to ensure proper and efficient administration of the rental of the spreader. 
The spreader in Louisa has been highly utilized over the years.  So much so that Louisa County Farm Bureau purchased their second spreader just a few months ago to replace the first one.  Their new litter spreader is a BBI brand, 16 ton pull type, hydraulically operated with a heavy duty suspension and floor chain. 
If you’re a Farm Bureau producer member in Louisa, Madison or Fauquier County and interested in renting a litter spreader, contact your county office.
Until next time,
Mark

From the Field: Introducing Mark Campbell

Welcome to the new column, “From the Field.” My name is Mark Campbell, and I am the Senior District Field Services Director for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation in the central part of the state. I will be sharing Farm Bureau activities and events throughout the state and other agricultural information and interesting stories, as well as my love for all things agriculture. “From The Field” will be posted here every other Wednesday.

I work out of and live in Nelson County—one of the most beautiful areas of the state! My wife, Dana, our two sons Hayden (9) and Daniel (7) and I live on our family farm, Deer Creek Farm, where I was raised. The rolling and sometimes mountainous terrain of Nelson County is best suited to cattle and sheep and fruit trees. While we do not have fruit trees on our farm, Nelson County is a leader in production of fresh apples and peaches. Nelson is also a high ranking county for vineyards and wineries. Another business that has really taken off in Nelson County is micro-breweries. The county also has a large wholesale nursery. There’s a lot more about Nelson County, click here http://www.nelsoncounty.com/

When I am not working for Farm Bureau, I enjoy working on our farm raising registered Simmental and SimAngus cattle. We sell bulls and replacement heifers to other cattlemen. We send the steers and cull heifers through the Virginia Retained Ownership Program, administered by Virginia Tech in coordination with Iowa State University. The cattle are fed at several participating feedyards in southwest Iowa near the Nebraska border, and are harvested in Iowa. In addition to the cattle, the only crops we raise are grass and trees. Over the years, I have installed several conservation projects with cattle water tanks and implemented a rotational grazing program.

Oh, by the way, we have a small flock of commercial sheep and one Italian Maremma guard dog. That is our new project and I am still working, and sometimes get frustrated trying to integrate them into our cattle system.

My sons are just now getting old enough to start showing cattle at some shows. They really enjoy it and are gaining knowledge about genetics, nutrition and animal care. They are also at that age where they tell everyone they know about everything they know. You know what I mean–some things you wished they didn’t share! Oh well, that makes it real and genuine. So they are doing a great job of being advocates for agriculture. They have a real passion for agriculture.

I thoroughly enjoy being involved in agriculture. It has always been a part of my life. I am an alumnus of Virginia Tech with a Bachelor of Science degree in Animal Science. I was a member of Alpha Gamma Rho, Block and Bridle, and was on the Livestock Judging Team. After college, I worked four years with USDA Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) in the Packers and Stockyards Administration division. After that, I started with Virginia Farm Bureau in the northern field district, and then transferred to my current district in central Virginia. My Farm Bureau career has presented me the opportunity to work with 21 county Farm Bureaus and lots of wonderful people over the past 14 years.

My job as District Field Services Director (DFSD) allows me the opportunity to interact with over 100 producer members and assist 10 county Farm Bureaus on a monthly basis who are involved in all facets of agriculture. In central Virginia, we have a wide assortment of agriculture products such as beef cattle, apples, peaches, corn, soybeans, wheat, barley, vegetables, nurseries, tobacco, vineyards, dairy, horses, sheep, goats, hay, timber, poultry, hogs, honey, and even rabbits. I may have missed a few, but you get the picture.

As a DFSD, I am a liaison between Virginia Farm Bureau and 10 county Farm Bureaus. DFSDs work closely with county Farm Bureaus and Virginia Farm Bureau to strengthen the Farm Bureau organization, improve the agriculture industry, promote agriculture, monitor legislation and contact our elected legislators, and help develop future agriculture leaders. In other words, we do whatever we can through Farm Bureau to make things better in the agriculture community.

I am pretty much in agriculture mode all of the time with a few exceptions. And even then, agriculture always finds a way in. The boys and I like model railroading. We are working on a new layout with grain, cattle, and corn ethanol set in Nebraska. We plan to have two trains; one with hopper cars for the grain, and one with tanker cars for the ethanol. Go figure! Agriculture. It’s a way of life.

My next post will be about a successful member benefit that Louisa County Farm Bureau offers to their producer members. Thanks for reading and doing all that you do for Farm Bureau and Virginia agriculture.

Mark