Farming is big business. It's tech-filled. It's about caring for crops and animals for a win-win when producing food for consumers. And it's a story that's sometimes hard to tell unless you "break through" with new ideas and approaches. Just ask Land O'Lakes.
The big, diverse cooperative had a special opportunity the week before the Super Bowl to draw attention to agriculture, and the organization took it on. The result was a raucus afternoon of farmers, NFL players, excited youth and energized cooperative members all talking ag, and competing for a good cause.
"It's a party with a purpose," said Chris Policinski, president and CEO, Land O'Lakes. "We're working to tell agriculture's story."
So what was the Farm Bowl? It was an ag-focused obstacle course of events - four in all - that involve farmer-NFL-player pairs competing for recognition, and one heavy tractor-adorned trophy. Farm Progress talked to two of the farmer competitors - Amber Horn-Leiterman, Brillion, Wis.; and Dave Ribeiro, Tulare, Calif., about their participation in the event.
"I was asked to participate," says Horn-Leiterman. "We dairy with my family and we want to advocate for agriculture." She and her husband have four boys, and want them involved in the dairy as well. The family operation milks 1,200 cows near Brillion, Wis., and her husband works off the farm as an electrician.
This Wisconsin farmer was paired with Greg Jennings, retired, Green Bay Packer wide receiver, who retired in 2012. They had a good competition, but got bogged down on the one task that worried all the players - the hay bale backup. "Those are not hay bales, they're straw bales," Horn-Leiterman noted. But check out the slideshow for more information on the competition.
Dave Ribeiro, Tulare, Calif., was another farmer in the competition. He likens the work farmers do to what NFL players do as well. "Being a farmer and a player takes tenacity," he said. "This is a great way to showcase the technology we use and the challenges we face in agriculture."
Ribeiro is a third-generation farmer at Rib Arrow Dairy. "And my two sons are the fourth generation," he shared. Tyler has returned to the farm to run the dairy; Cameron is back and helps take care of the farm with Ribeiro. Daughter Gabrielle is still in college, studying ag economics at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Rib Arrow Dairy milk s1,500 cows and farms 800 acres of row crops to feed the cows. Ribeiro was paired with Jason Brown, former center of the then-St. Louis Rams, who left the NFL to farm. And the two did so well they made the finals. But bragging rights for the winner go to another farmer about 9 miles up the road from Ribeiro.
J.J. Nunes, Nunes and Sons Dairy, Tulare, Calif., was paired with Stefon Diggs, the Minnesota Viking who made the "miracle catch" to keep the Vikings in the playoffs against the New Orleans Saints. Those two made a competitive pair. One reporter asked Nunes, who wore shorts for the competition, if it helped. "I'm from California, I like shorts," he said. The weather outside, however, was not "shorts conducive" with the temperate at 4 degrees F.
Nunes milks 2,500 cows and says he's never done anything like this. Nunes and Diggs were awarded the trophy, which with its cast tractor on top was not a lightweight. Diggs said he would have a photo made to put in his trophy case at home. The trophy goes to the farmer.
Check out the slideshow from the event to learn more about some ways Land O'Lakes made sure that the event got greater attention than just in the farm community. Competitors included:
- Jerome Bettis, Hall of Fame running back and former member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Katie Dotterer, Cow Comfort Inn, Union Bridge, Md.
- Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings tight end, was paired with Darin Johnson, Johnson Farms, Wells, Minn.
- Greg Jennings, Green Bay Packers former wide receiver, and Amber Horn-Leiterman, Hornstead Dairy, Brillion, Wis.
- Jason Brown, former center for the then-St. Louis Rams, who left the NFL to farm, is teamed with Dave Ribeiro, Rib Arrow Dairy, Tulare, Calif.
- JJ Nunes, Nunes and Sons Dairy, Tulare, Calif., was teamed with Stefon Diggs, Minnesota Viking wide receiver
- Craig Roerick, Roerview Dairy, Swanville, Minn., was teamed with Luke Kuechly, linebacker, Carolina Panthers.
For fun you can watch the entire competition - hosted by Marty Smith, ESPN; and Allie LaForce, CBS - the event was sent out live over Facebook.
Note, thanks to the lighting at the event - green was a color all media dealt with.