2015 Global Farmer Roundtable

The 10th annual Global Farmer Roundtable was held in Des Moines, Iowa October 12-14.  This year certainly marked a milestone.  Since starting ten years ago in 2006, the event has grown and developed into much more than a once a year invitational meeting.  With four new countries represented for the first time – the Netherlands, Nigeria, Turkey and Ukraine – it brings the Global Farmer Network to 133 farmers from 46 countries – agricultural producers of various and diverse backgrounds passionate about their work and sharing their stories.

Dr. Nicholas Kalaitzandonakes of the University of Missouri moderated the proceedings for the third time, and it proved once again to be a fascinating dialogue. Fourteen farmers from across the world, seven women and seven men, sat down to talk about their issues and learn from one another.

2015 Global Farmer Roundtable participants and new members of the Global Farmer Network:

Argentina – Ms. Maria Beatriz Giraudo Gaviglio
Australia – Ms. Sarah Sammon
Canada – Mr. Levi Wood
China – Ms. Hong “Jenny” Cui
Ghana – Ms. Lydia Sasu
India – Mr. Balwinder Singh Kang
Kenya – Mr. Willy Kirwa
Netherlands – Ms. Annechien ten Have Mellema
Nigeria – Mr. Benjamin Olumuyiwa Adewumi
Turkey – Mr. Mesut Cetin
Ukraine – Mr. Kornelis “Kees” Huizinga
United States – Ms. Nancy Kavazanjian
Uruguay – Mr. Marcos Guigou
Vietnam – Ms. Nha Le Thi Trang

Their farms ranged in size from 30 acres to more than 138,000 acres. They grew corn and soybeans, but also a wide variety of other crops including cassava, yam, chick pea, vegetables and some tropical crops. Some of the farmers were also livestock producers. Two operate biogas plants and one has a wind energy system. These are some items they had in common: labor; financing; advocacy.

Labor

In Canada, farmers compete with the mining, oil and gas companies for employees. Unskilled labor can earn starting salaries in the $80,000 range in those industries. Some farmers bring in labor from Australia, since the farming seasons complement each other. Farmer Levi Wood says as oil prices decline, more labor has become available.

In Australia, Sarah Sammon pays $25 – $30 per hour for unskilled labor through a staffing company. She says it’s easy to lose all of your staff overnight depending on competitive opportunities.

Jenny Cui from China says when her father was farming, employees would work for $5 per day. Now unskilled labor makes in the range of $20 per day with skilled labor at $50 per day. Even with China’s population, there’s a challenge getting people to work because many young people are drawn to the city. Cui has replaced people with technology. Tractors.

Kees Huizinga, who farms in Ukraine, says there is no labor shortage where he farms, because many people live in the country. Many of the 350 employees on his farm are former collective farm employees. His labor challenges include hiring people to manage security on the farm, because of the country’s corruption. He also needs many office workers because of the incredible amount of government paperwork needed. War in Ukraine also creates employment issues.

Balwinder Singh Kang in India says working on the farm is often the last option for people. Farmers also have to compete with the government’s unemployment pay.

Financing

Here in the U.S., farmers should be talking with their bankers early as we head into another challenging financial year.

Consider the situation in Ghana, where interest rates are 30% and crop yields are low because of the climate and the inability to use biotechnology. Interest rates are also high in Ukraine. Dollar interest rates now are around 12% to 13% according to Kees Huizinga. Local interest rates in Hryvnia run from 23% to 30%.

In China credit is difficult to get because people don’t own the land. The government owns the land.

Sarah Sammon said in order to get a loan from a rural bank when she started her business, she had to submit a 65-page business plan. Her business is selling freeze dried rose petals into the wedding and romance industries.

Advocacy

All of the farmers understood the need to tell their story to consumers. Annechien ten Have Mellema, a pork producer in the Netherlands said at one point activists broke into her farm and took pictures that they shared with the media. She says there’s a political party for the animals in her country, with two elected representatives in the parliament.

Nancy Kavazanjian, a farmer from Wisconsin deals with consumers. She is chairwoman of the United States Farmers and Ranchers Alliance whose purpose is to engage with consumers.

Maria Giraudo, a farmer from Argentina, says she and others used their social media connections to tell the story of no-till farming and its importance for agriculture when consumers pushed back on no-till farming because of its connection to glyphosate use. Maria says it’s important to stick with science and be open to talking with consumers about your practices. She also notes the importance of being available to the media.

These farmers will continue telling the story of ag around the world as part of the Global Farmer Network which now includes 133 farmers from 46 countries. Follow them on Twitter at @World_Farmers.

2015 Kleckner Trade & Technology Advancement Award

A highlight of the week was the presentation of the 2015 Kleckner Award to Lydia Sasu from Ghana on October 13.  Sasu is a most worthy recipient of the award named in honor of Dean Kleckner, Chairman Emeritus of the Global Farmer Network / Truth About Trade & Technology.  Dean passed away this last June, and as Mary Boote wrote in her June 25 column shortly thereafter, “Dean devoted his life to advancing the interests of agriculture” and “sincerely wanted to know about the challenges and opportunities that farmers face everywhere.”  Sasu is not only taking on challenges, she is helping give others opportunities to advance agriculture and themselves as well.

Sasu was born into a farming family in Ghana and became passionate about helping women farmers after seeing her own mother struggle to make enough money to feed her children. Lydia received an education, studying agriculture and home economics at the University of Ghana. She co-founded the Development Action Association (DAA) in 1977.  The Association operates in 50 communities and 98% of the beneficiaries are rural women. The DAA focuses on empowering women, improving literacy and helping with business development skills like bookkeeping. She initiated World Rural Women’s Day training sessions targeting women farmers using local languages to communicate effectively with policymakers. Ms. Sasu’s support has allowed women in the community to be viewed as assets with valuable advice and a key part of the solution.

Read commentaries written by members of the Global Farmer Network  in the Guest Commentary section of the website.  If you need a speaker for a panel or event, check out the Speakers Bureau webpage.