By Amelia Kent
I’ve been fortunate over the past month to travel on two very different trips, both of which provided insight to policy challenges and useful management practices I can use on our farm and in my advocacy efforts.
The first adventure was ten days in Europe with the Partners in Advocacy Leadership (PAL) program through the American Farm Bureau Federation. For my nine classmates and me, the majority of our time was devoted to an intensive case-study of Brexit, potential effects on agricultural trade, and the unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity the United Kingdom has to create new farm policy from scratch. We started our meetings at the new, beautiful U.S. Embassy in London, where we met with U.S.Department of Agriculture staff members in efforts of learning more background of the Brexit referendum and the events leading up to that fateful vote in 2016. We went on to visit with the U.K.’s Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA), which is similar to our USDA, and learned about its bureaucratic and policy development challenges.
After a broad introduction to the bureaucratic dynamics at play, we traveled to Warwickshire and met with staff members of the National Farmers Union, which is an organization structured very similarly to the American Farm Bureau Federation. While in the country, we visited a vertically-integrated family farm, on which two generations of family members work alongside each other raising crops, caring for the cattle, grinding and bagging canola straw to sell as bedding, and manufacturing farm implements. The sheer creativity and innovation this family employs to remain a viable farming business is inspiring, to say the least! We also visited a produce processing plant where, in spite of still-dormant crops across Europe, they were packaging onions and radishes sourced from their company farms in Africa.
We then traveled to Brussels, Belgium where we received briefings from policy-makers, lobbyists and researchers working within the European Union, and heard a much more critical and skeptical account of the Brexit efforts. One of the policy-makers we visited is the Irish Minister of Agriculture. Given that Ireland is already 102% self-sufficient, one of their main concerns with potential Brexit ramifications is that they become 116% self-sufficient, and in turn have to find a new market for more than 230,000 tons of agricultural products that are currently exported to the U.K..
While in Belgium, we were fortunate to visit with Bayer researchers and tour one of its Bayer ForwardFarms on which farmers and staff members work together to implement sustainable management practices and technologies to stay ahead of Europe’s ever-tightening regulations.
While my trip to Europe focused primarily on policy development, the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation Livestock Advisory Committee’s Beef Tour to Oklahoma was a great opportunity for the nearly 50 participants, including my husband and me, to study management. One of the more notable tours was of the Noble Research Institute where the staff performs research geared toward making farmers and ranchers more profitable, while focusing on soil and herd health. The work we saw at Noble was similar to work being done on the Bayer FowardFarm in Belgium. However, rather than being driven by increased social skepticism and ever-increasing regulations, the Noble Research Insitute’s work focused on continuing innovation. One of those innovations we learned about was the Integrity Beef Program. Noble works with a group of farmers and ranchers across multiple states with similar production techniques to collaborate for enhanced marketing abilities through verified sales and pooling resources on load lots.
While on the trip, we also visited Oklahoma Steel and Wire, Express Ranches, Pfeiffer Angus Ranch, and the Pjesky stocker operation. Ryan and Hope Pjesky provided vast insight for both
my husband and me, relative to our own stocker cattle and my advocacy efforts. Hope was a
member of PAL Class 3. I am currently a member of PAL Class 9, so we had lots to discuss. Ryan focuses on mitigating the risk of the cattle market through continued buying and selling of yearling cattle throughout the year. That philosophy of risk management is an approach we’re working to implement on our own farm.
Oklahoma Steel and Wire is a storybook tale of family determination and creation. It's a third generation family business. There are employees working there today who started with the business when it started in 1978. Because turning scrap iron into wire and wire panels is such a specialized task, those employees had to create some of the machines they still use today.
We also took quick tours of Oklahoma State University’s Purebred Research Farm, Feedlot Research Station and Range Cow Research Station. All were inspiring to the younger generation of cattlemen on the trip interested in careers in the beef industry at a time in which it’s difficult for those under 35 to find their path within agriculture. We did include some fun stops on this tour, including the Oklahoma City National Stockyards, the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum and the Fort Worth Stockyards.
In a time in which farmers must be innovative to continue to be viable, trips like the recent Beef Tour to Oklahoma are great resources for those striving to improve management. In a similar political environment where agrarians represent less than 2% of the democratic vote, our experience learning about Brexit, and the resulting policy and trade concerns, is proving to be insightful and helpful to our group as we develop our advocacy skills.
Trips like these can give you ideas so you can make changes on and off the farm. So, if you have the opportunity to travel and learn, take it.
Amelia Kent and her husband, Russell, raise beef cattle and hay in East Feliciana Parish. Amelia is a past chair of Louisiana’s Young Farmers and Ranchers Committee, is currently a member of the - Partners in Advocacy Leadership program with AFBF, and serves on the Cattlemen’s Beef Board. Find them on Facebook at Kent Farms; or on Instagram and Twitter @kentfarms_la.