LINCOLN, NE--Nebraska farmers must adapt to changes in global agriculture if they hope to be competitive and profitable, industry experts said.
Three Nebraska agricultural leaders discussed the effects of worldwide change on Nebraska agriculture at an International Eye Opener session at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Tuesday (June 19). The session was sponsored by the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources' International Programs Division.
"The days of making money at bulk commodity production are over in the United States," said Bryce Neidig, a Nebraska farmer and president of Nebraska Farm Bureau. "Producers must find new ways to make money if they want to keep farming."
Neidig, who has traveled the globe extensively to study agriculture, noted that Nebraska's farmers soon will face stiffer competition from other countries producing corn and soybeans.
"Brazil has doubled its soybean production in the last 10 years through improved genetics alone," he said. "They have the capability to easily double their production again in six weeks time just by putting additional acres into use. It's hard to compete with that."
Brazil also is developing infrastructure to better support a growing agriculture industry. These factors, combined with lower input costs and cheaper labor, may soon make Nebraska's commodities seem expensive in global markets.
The U.S. response to low prices--shutting down production--is not a viable solution in the changing global marketplace, Neidig said.
"When we shut down production to raise prices, we are leaving the door wide open for others to fill the market," he said. "I'm not a doom and gloomer. If I was, I wouldn't have gotten out my soybean drill this year. There are ways to make money out there and we need to figure out what they are."
Brazil also is working to improve beef genetics and lower the cost of cattle production.
"It's very possible that Brazil could overtake Australia as the largest beef exporter in the future," said Steve Cady, executive director of the Nebraska Pork Producers Association. "These countries are very aggressive and they are coming after us. There's plenty of discussion over industrialization versus niche markets. I think there is room for both in Nebraska."
Many producers like the idea of selling products to niche markets, but are unsure of where to find them or what to produce, Cady said.
"Maybe these producers should look within the state of Nebraska first," he said. "Certain groups, such as Nebraska's Hispanic population, may want different products. Find out what they need and try to produce it for them."
Marketing and product branding also will become more important as Nebraska's producers struggle to compete for business.
"Producers need to learn to market meat, not hogs and cattle," Cady said. "Consumers don't know what good meat is or even where their meat is coming from."
Marketing pure U.S. beef or Nebraska beef could be an important step in educating consumers, he said.
"People assume that because the package says USDA, they are buying U.S. beef," Cady said. "If we could put a label that says Nebraska beef on the package and meet the price of outside producers, consumers likely would choose to support their state producers. Consumers would be willing to buy Nebraska beef."
Convincing Nebraska public schools and universities to serve Nebraska beef would also open the market for producers, he said.
The United States also should consider changing the way it gives aid to other countries, said Larry Hudkins, area farmer and Lancaster County commissioner.
"France sells as much of their crop as they can at home, then discounts commodities for poorer countries as foreign aid," he said. "Foreign aid doesn't have to be cash. If you send those countries commodities and other consumable items, they will be used up."
In many instances, the cash sent to other countries as aid ends up competing with American producers when those countries use it to build infrastructure to support growing agriculture industries, Hudkins said.
"U.S. farmers have changed in the past, but usually not until they had to," Neidig said. "Maybe that's what it will take this time, too. There is hope for Nebraska's agriculture industry, but farmers have to stop wishing for the good old days. The good old days have never really existed. We need to focus on the future."