The subject of a recent Wall Street Journal article, "U.S. farmers, who once fed the world, are overtaken by new powers," may be cause for concern for U.S. growers. The article, posted April 20, outlines the rise of new big players in international markets that recently have overtaken the U.S. in terms of sheer volume.
That includes Brazil, which has outpaced the U.S. in soybean volume, as well as Russia and the Black Sea, which have overtaken the U.S. in wheat volume. It's a little troubling, especially combined with the current cycle in the ag economy.
According to a Farm Financial Health Survey conducted last year and released earlier this winter by the Nebraska Department of Agriculture, along with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Department of Ag Economics, 54% of respondents said they were experiencing financial stress.
Tight margins, combined with a consumer population that's demanding more information about the food they're buying, is enough for some producers to rethink how they're marketing their product.
At the Governor's Ag Conference in Kearney this spring, a key topic of discussion was the potential for third-party verification programs as a way to add value to the products raised in Nebraska.
Nebraska Department of Agriculture Director Greg Ibach laid out some of the details of the recently launched Certified Beef From Nebraska program, which includes a third-party verification process to market beef born and raised in Nebraska. While the program requires cattle producers receive Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) certification, it's one way to add value to the entire beef production chain – starting with the cow-calf producer. It's a good fit for Nebraska, where every link in the chain can be found.
Of course, when considering the opportunities to producers who are willing to go through the audit process required for this program, the possibilities seem endless. One producer even brought up the idea for a kind of "Certified Nebraska No-Till" program. Provided the market is available and a verification program is put in place, a program like this would give an opportunity for producers to market their crops, both grain and food-grade, at a premium, provided they meet the necessary requirements.
The point is, we've seen more and more buzzwords pop up over the last several years in regards to agricultural products — organic, natural, antibiotic-free, grass-fed, ancient grain, sustainable. Whatever it is, it comes down to one thing: Consumers want to know more about where their food comes from.
Depending on how you look at it, this can be a challenge or a marketing opportunity. Sure, it takes more time and may be somewhat more management-intensive, depending on what your current management practices are. But for those willing to capitalize on this interest, there's an opportunity for a premium.
The U.S. may have been outcompeted in terms of sheer volume in some commodities, but in most cases, the U.S. still reigns supreme in quality — and in some cases, producers have rightfully pointed out they should be paid for that quality. Third-party verification programs may be one opportunity to do so — capitalizing on the commitment to efficiency and sustainability many farmers and ranchers already strive for, while helping tell a piece of the story of agriculture in Nebraska and around the world.