(A version of this article appears in theAugust 2, 2018 edition of The Farmer’s Pride)
By Ray Bowman
When Ohio County farmer Daniel Hayden met his bride-to-be Danielle Beard at Oklahoma State University just over four years ago, Danielle had some negative views of the poultry industry. Having limited exposure to the business, her perception was shaped largely by myth and misinformation. Daniel had lived around poultry operations for most of his life, so he set about the task of reversing some of those notions and bringing Danielle home to Whitesville and having her see the real thing for herself completely changed her opinion of the industry.
The young couple realized that the best way to convince someone that poultry production is safe and humane when done properly was to show them, first hand. The idea came full circle in mid-July when the ribbon was snipped, and the Poultry Education Center at Hayden Farms opened its doors to a waiting public.
A visit to the center starts at the project’s headquarters, a building containing offices and classroom/meeting room space where individuals and groups can be introduced to the techniques of modern chicken farming. The information is worthwhile, but what really brings the point across is a visit to the specially outfitted broiler house where visitors can see, up close, how well the birds are being treated.
Biosecurity has always been the limiting factor when it comes to allowing people to see things for themselves, according to Kentucky Poultry Federation Executive Director Jamie Guffey. At the Hayden’s facility, visitors enter a viewing room equipped with floor-to-ceiling windows that provide safe, controlled exposure to the birds. Personal contact is prohibited for the health and safety of the birds, but visitors can watch the birds do the four things that are necessary for a healthy chicken, according to specialists from Perdue Farms: eat, drink, rest and play. Perdue Farms contracts with the Haydens to produce the birds and partners with them in the education efforts.
“We hope to provide accurate, observable information to consumers and decision makers about how these birds are grown and the care and attention they receive,” Daniel says. He notes that, often, decisions are made that impact the industry on the state and national level, based solely on anecdotal evidence that may not provide accurate information on the attention to animal welfare that is paid by most poultry producers. “We’d like to give them the opportunity to see for themselves,” he said.
“This is a historic effort, and we’re pleased to be a part of it,” Said Warren Beeler, executive director of the Governor’s Office on Agriculture Policy, which provided some of the funding for the venture. They join the Kentucky Soybean Board and the Kentucky Corn Growers, along with several other agriculture and commodity groups in partnering with the Haydens to make their dream a reality.
“I just think it’s an amazing investment,” Beeler continued. “I hope it’s contagious and it moves over into other segments of agriculture, so the public can really understand that we’re doing it better than we’ve ever done it, we learn something every day and we’re just going to get better and better.”
(A version of this article appears in the August 2, 2018 edition of The Farmer’s Pride)
By Ray Bowman
As Congress considered legislation to moderate the Trump administration’s aggressive trade measures, the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce was holding its 13th Annual Business Summit and Annual Meeting in Louisville.
Kentucky Agriculture commissioner Ryan Quarles participated in a panel discussion entitled “Trade, Tariffs, and Kentucky’s Economy” as a part of the meeting. Quarles was joined on the panel by John Murphy senior vice president for international policy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce; Rocco Rossi, president, and CEO, Ontario Chamber of Commerce and Dave Tatman, executive director, Kentucky Auto Industry Association. Chamber senior vice president for public affairs, Ashli Watts, served as moderator.
“For every action in trade, there is a reaction,” observed John Murphy. “Tariffs have been applied to about $40 billion in steel and aluminum imports and one of the reactions is that steel prices are up about 40 percent and aluminum is up about 130 percent. If you’re in the manufacturing industry or construction and you use that, there’s a huge effect.” Beyond that, Murphy says, other governments start to retaliate with their own tariffs, as has already proven to be the case.
Concern about economic fallout from these actions have spurred the congressional interest and have increased anxiety in the agriculture community, where money is already tight.
“It’s so important to realize that, as farmers, we’re price takers, not price makers,” Commissioner Quarles said. “We’re about six weeks out from harvest. Farmers are anxious, but they are also understanding that there are unfair trade policies.” Quarles noted that foreign trading partners regularly hold the United States to higher standards than the rest of the world, creating an unfair advantage for our competitors.
“For me, at the state level, I’m trying to be active and aggressive,” Quarles continued, mentioning a trip to Canada in June to meet with Kentucky native and United States Ambassador Kelly Craft and discuss the Commonwealth’s connection with its trade partners. “It’s very important for us to maintain access, but also to have clear regulatory rules.”
Reflecting on the visit in June from USDA undersecretary for trade Ted McKinney, Quarles pointed to some successes that are currently being overshadowed by more negative trade implications. “As the undersecretary noted, you can’t hit a home run every time. There’s a lot of singles and doubles that are not being mentioned in the press right now.” Quarles noted that, for the first time ever, American farmers can export rice to China and for the first time in 13 years, American beef can now be sold there.
“Another thing we need to realize is how much of a world market is left virtually untapped,” Quarles added. He noted that of the 200 recognized countries across the globe, only about 20 have trade agreements with the United States. “For me, there’s a big market out there that has yet to be accessed. I know that there is some hurt going on right now, but I’m sort of an optimist on this topic and there is a bigger pie out there that we have yet to go after.”
(A version of this article appears in the June 21, 2018 edition of The Farmer’s Pride)
by Ray Bowman
United States Department of Agriculture undersecretary for trade Ted McKinney came to Lexington to speak to the 2018 state FFA convention but managed to work in a couple of other stops in the process.
McKinney addressed a meeting of the Kentucky Agriculture Council and joined the Commonwealth’s ag commissioner Ryan Quarles for a roundtable discussion on the current tumultuous international trade situation at the Limestone Café at Keeneland’s sale pavilion.
“Agriculture is completely dependent on foreign markets,” Quarles stated as he opened the session. “The American farmer, and more importantly the Kentucky farmer is so efficient in what they do that we depend upon selling our products outside the United States to be successful.”
“I think we’re at a very fascinating time that many case studies will be written about what I call ‘right-sizing’ or making adjustments in trade,” McKinney said about the trade negotiations that are ongoing with some of the country’s largest trading partners.
“There’s a lot of anxiety out there” McKinney continued. He also noted that there are quite a few imbalances that have, for some time, needed to be addressed.
“We have our markets pretty much wide open,” McKinney said. “Tariffs are low, and if you meet the goals on food safety and equivalency and livestock and poultry, bring it on in. We are free traders, for the most part.”
“It is not that way around the world,” he continued. “It’s probably time, and long overdue, for an adjustment, and that’s what we’re going through.”
McKinney pointed to the barriers to trade created by fears our partners profess about perceived issues with the uncertainty of seed technologies and diseases in poultry and livestock and admitted that there is a lot to fix.
“It probably would have been folly for us to have thought that it would be an easy thing to say to those countries ‘would you please stop doing that’ and not have to have some sort of enforcement and not feel some pain in return. I think that’s what we’re doing.”
“Do I believe that President Trump has our back?” McKinney rhetorically asked. “Yes, I do. I do also believe the president when he said he would not let agriculture be the ‘tip of the spear’ and suffer the consequences on what we do on trade.”
McKinney says he bases that belief on what he has experienced first-hand as well as assurances from his current boss, USDA secretary Sonny Perdue and from “my former boss, a guy named Pence.” McKinney served as agriculture director in Indiana during vice president Mike Pence’s term as governor.
Foreign trade has been a hot-button issue since the beginning of the current administration. On January 23, 2017, three days after his inauguration, Donald Trump signed a presidential memorandum to withdraw the United States’ signature from the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, making its ratification virtually impossible.
In July 2017 the administration began the process of re-evaluating and renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
American farmers fear that potential changes to these and other trade policies currently under consideration by the Trump administration could adversely impact the industry.
(A version of this article appears in the June 7, 2018 edition of The Farmer’s Pride)
by Ray Bowman
After a morning of intermittent thunderstorms, dark clouds still scudded up and down the Kentucky River as preparations were being made on the state capitol lawn for the proclaiming of June Dairy Month in Kentucky. The uncertainty of the day’s weather seemed to mirror the mood of the Commonwealth’s dairy industry, as some 19 of the state’s nearly 600 dairy farm families faced the loss of their milk contracts, and for most, their lifestyle and livelihood.
In February, Dean’s Milk notified it’s Kentucky contractors, and many in other states, of the cancellation of their contracts as of the end of April. Dean’s has subsequently extended the contracts through June, but for many farmers the extension was too little, too late.
The day the extension letter came, Henry County dairyman David Taylor had just shipped several of his cows to a buyer from Indiana and was waiting on a truck to pick up another load. “It just gives us more time to get the cows moved,” Taylor said of the extension.
It was impossible to ignore the weariness and deep sadness in Taylor’s voice as he said he had hoped other companies might be willing to pick up the contracts, but no one came through. Now, it’s too late.
A third-generation dairyman, Taylor has been in the business 41 years. He had hoped his two sons, Brad and Matt, would continue in the business. They’ve now taken off-farm jobs as the family considers their options for the future.
Taylor says he’s looking into the possibility of raising replacement heifers for larger dairies. Beef cattle and feeder calves are also under consideration, as Taylor examines the current layout and infrastructure of his operation and how it might be most effectively utilized.
“We didn’t create this problem and we can’t fix it. We just have to deal with it,” observes Brad Taylor.
This isn’t the first time the Taylor’s have been forced to make a mid-course correction. Three years ago, the family also raised 20 to 30 thousand pounds of tobacco on contract. That contract was terminated as well.
Despite the clouds, the distant roll of thunder off to the south, and the threat of rain, the sun briefly shone bright on the Kentucky capitol as agriculture commissioner Ryan Quarles introduced governor Matt Bevin. Bevin tried to maintain the celebratory feel of the occasion, but he did not try to ignore the problems at hand.
“It’s not easy at this time, and I understand it,” said the former 4-H and FFA member who spent some of his formative years milking cows. “We are trying to find a solution to what is affecting so many of you in the dairy industry.”
“We were hoping we would have something to be able to announce to you today, but we don’t, which is heartbreaking” the Governor continued. “That isn’t to say that there won’t be, we just don’t have it yet. We’re turning over every stone to try and find an outlet for the product that you produce.”
Bevin indicated that commissioner Quarles and Governor’s Office of Agriculture Policy executive director Warren Beeler, along with Maury Cox of the Kentucky Dairy Development Council, are diligently working to find some answers, but the complexity of the current dairy industry structure makes it difficult.
“Some of it is far beyond our control, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be looking for some avenue through which those farmers who are still producing milk in this state can find a market at a price that justifies their continuation,” Governor Bevin said.
“It’s an amazing industry,” Beeler observed. “I have a soft spot for it because I was raised in it.”
Like the dark clouds over the Kentucky River, rumors about the future of the dairy industry continue to swirl. “There’s too many rumors floating around to know what to believe,” David Taylor admitted.
(A version of this article appears in the June 7, 2018 edition of The Farmer’s Pride)
by Ray Bowman
Doug Ackerman, CEO of The Dairy Alliance, says the average family that is food insecure only gets about a gallon of milk a year.
“The need is great,” Ackerman said. Along with the nutrition provided by drinking milk, Ackerman says it’s needed for many of the foods that are prepared at home. “One gallon of milk for a family for a year just doesn’t cut it.”
Ackerman recently joined Kentucky agriculture commissioner Ryan Quarles and dairy industry representatives in Winchester at one of the God’s Pantry distribution centers to announce steps being taken to help improve the flow of milk to needy families.
A major impediment to the provision of fluid milk in the past has been lack of storage capability for the very perishable product. The Dairy Alliance hopes to help the situation with a $30,000 grant to God’s Pantry Food Bank to provide seven milk coolers to store fresh milk for four affiliate food pantries in Winchester and Lexington-Fayette County. The grant was awarded in conjunction with The Alliance’s Milk 2 My Plate initiative and the Kentucky Department of Agriculture’s Hunger Initiative.
The Dairy Alliance is a nonprofit funded by dairy farm families of the Southeast, whose mission is, in part, to provide the public with accurate information about dairy foods. The Atlanta-based organization serves dairy farm families in nine states; Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.
In addition to assisting food insecure families, commissioner Quarles hopes the project will provide a small but much-needed boost for an industry that is currently struggling. “Our hard-working dairy farm families will get a new market for their products,” Quarles noted.
“We’ve had some great wins over the past two years with our Kentucky Hunger Initiative, but milk’s a little bit different,” the commissioner continued. “Milk is Kentucky’s official drink, but due to its perishability, it has always been difficult to develop a program to provide access to it.”
“Kentucky is blessed to have almost 600 dairy farms, and we’re always looking for additional markets. With this particular program, the dairy farmers and the processors that participate do get compensated for production costs, which allows them to provide milk to their neighbors who are less fortunate.”
Quarles said he hopes Kentucky continues to have the reputation of being on the cutting edge in dealing with the problem of food insecurity and he is happy to see that the dairy industry has a solid place in the effort to chip away at hunger in the Commonwealth.
The pilot project currently provides 60 gallons of milk a week to the food bank, but God’s Pantry CEO Michael Halligan is hoping to increase volume over time.
“God’s Pantry food banks serves Central and Eastern Kentucky where about a quarter of a million people are at risk of hunger,” Halligan stated. “This pilot program will help us initiate, build and sustain a consistent flow of milk to those in need.”
(A version of this article appears in the April 19, 2018 edition of The Farmer’s Pride)
By Ray Bowman
Sonny Perdue made it clear from the beginning that he was more interested in listening than talking.
The Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture recently made a two-day sweep through the northeastern and central portions of the Commonwealth as a part of his “Back to Our Roots Tour,” visiting farms, attending public listening sessions and participating in panel discussions to learn first-hand the concerns of producers, consumers and agriculture industry leaders. He was joined by Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles for stops in Mason, Rowan and Montgomery Counties before winding up at Keeneland in Lexington.
Perdue’s appearance and demeanor were less of a Washington politician and more of the folksy, down-home favorite uncle just stopping by for a visit. He was open and friendly, and his audiences responded to him in-kind, repeatedly thanking him for coming and remarking that it has been a long time since the USDA was lead by someone with his farming background and credentials.
Perdue’s staff passed out cards at each stop, providing information on how to contact the Secretary’s office by phone or through the website www.usda.gov/tellsonny.
“We’re serious about this,” Perdue told an audience at the Chenault Agriculture Center in Mt. Sterling, a 300-acre working farm operated by Montgomery County High School. “That’s why I’m out here traveling. We’re coming to the ground floor and saying ‘what are the impediments, what are the barriers, what are the regulatory issues.’”
Perdue said that dealing with onerous regulations has been a major focus of his administration, noting that “in this environment, deregulation – taking regulations off – is about as difficult as putting them on and it takes much too long, in my opinion.”
Kentucky native Rebeckah Adcock, a senior advisor at USDA and former Director of Natural Resources at Kentucky Farm Bureau Federation, has been tasked with examining regulations and expediting the changes the Department wants to make. “We’re on track to have upwards of $70 million in savings,” Adcock said, referring to the 90-plus actions already identified with possibly more to come. “We’ll be at this process, trying to systemically change how we do business and how we regulate.”
At a listening session at Hinton Mills in May’s Lick, Perdue got just what he was asking for from Kentucky Soybean Association President Larry Thomas. Thomas shared concerns about what many considered the elephant in the room, President Trump’s tariff and trade spat with China, which could potentially affect a number of American agricultural exports, among them, soybeans and pork.
“Talks with the President are ongoing, and the Secretary doesn’t want to show his hand just yet,” Thomas said in a phone interview. “Secretary Perdue said that the President has given him his word that he won’t forget agriculture in the trade talks.”
Perdue was listening. He didn’t offer any magic elixirs or silver bullets to solve the many challenges currently facing agriculture, he only wanted to know what the stakeholders considered their priorities.
The stops along the Secretary’s tour were many and varied, as were the topics that arose in the various discussions that took place. Rural broadband, struggles in the dairy industry, the future of Kentucky’s hemp projects and clean, available water were but a few of the topics broached with Perdue as he made his circuit.
Perdue’s quick wit and affable nature were on display as well. Visiting with Danny Townsend at Townsend’s Sorghum Mill in Montgomery County, the Secretary was impressed with the number of products being made from the grain. He inquired if Townsend had ever considered manufacturing any hair care products.
Both men are bald.
(A version of this article appears in the April 19, 2018 edition of The Farmer’s Pride)
By Ray Bowman
Judging from the turnout at the 2018 Kentucky Hemp Industries Association annual meeting, interest in producing the controversial crop is continuing to grow. The meeting, held at the Fayette County extension office, drew a capacity crowd consisting of participants currently engaged in the industry and newcomers seeking to learn more about the possibilities of the historically significant yet still-experimental business.
“I get excited when I get to work with the hemp industry because you all are energized; you are literally the tip of the spear and the rest of the nation continues to look at Kentucky as the epicenter, for what’s next in industrial hemp,” Kentucky agriculture commissioner Ryan Quarles told the enthusiastic group.
The commissioner continued by offering a little historical and personal perspective.
“In the year 1900, 75 percent of the hemp grown in the United States came from the nine counties that surround Lexington,” Quarles reflected. “My great-grandfather grew industrial hemp on the banks of the Kentucky River during World War II. While my grandfather served as a Marine in the Pacific, my great-grandfather was supporting the war effort by growing hemp where the Elkhorn Creek flows into the Kentucky.”
Currently in the commonwealth, 210 growers have applied for permits to grow hemp and there are 52 registered processors in the Commonwealth, up 20 percent in just the last year according to Quarles.
One of those producers is Marion County cattleman Steve Downs.
“This will be our second year for hemp. Last year we had a permit for 14 acres, but due to problems finding plants or seed we were only able to plant 3 acres,” Downs said. “We had a good turnout on the crop.”
“The permit is for 24 acres this year,” Downs continued. “We’re still waiting to see how much we can actually put out.”
A former tobacco producer, Downs sees hemp as a viable alternative but not necessarily a replacement. “Seems like the people you talk to that are trying it are having good luck with it. There’s a market there and it shows a lot of promise.”
University of Kentucky agriculture economist and assistant professor Dr. Tyler Mark is currently conducting some research on cost of production, how the crop will fit in to Kentucky’s overall agricultural landscape and what types of consumers are currently purchasing hemp-based products. There’s little data at this point so Mark says potential producers need to be prepared to incur some risk.
“Some producers may be out on a limb trying to find that golden ticket,” Mark said. “You have to be willing to lose whatever you put into the crop, because it may or may not pan out. There’s no crop insurance, there’s no safety net to this. You’re purely at your own risk and it is self-financed.”
As Commissioner Quarles points out the greatest current barrier to the potential success of the industry is federal law. “At this point, it is appropriate to recommend to congress that we legalize this crop, open the floodgates and give it the respect that it once had, back when it was a legal crop.”
Recently Senator Mitch McConnell was at the Department of Agriculture to announce plans to introduce the Hemp Farm Act of 2018. “First and foremost, this bill will finally legalize hemp as an agricultural commodity and remove it from the list of controlled substances,” McConnel said. “We all are so optimistic that industrial hemp can become, sometime in the future, what burley tobacco was in Kentucky’s past.”
“We in agriculture are always looking for that replacement crop that we can grow profitably, because every time there’s stress on commodity prices, as there are now, we’re looking for a better way,” USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue said on his recent sweep through the Bluegrass. “We’ve seen the American spirit alive and well in farmers because they are practical innovators. I think hemp has proven to be an economically valuable industrial crop and I think you’ll see policy follow that.”
The 2014 Farm Bill allowed states to grow hemp for research purposes.
(A version of this article appears in the April 5, 2018 edition of The Farmer’s Pride)
by Ray Bowman
Kroger stores across the Commonwealth have a new feature in the meat case. Kentucky Cattlemen’s Ground Beef is now available in 85 Kentucky supermarkets.
However, Steve Doan, general counsel for the Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy, said in an announcement at Kroger’s Beaumont Center store in Lexington that this project is about more than local beef on Kroger shelves.
“For the last 18 years, the Kentucky Ag Development Board and the Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association have worked hand in hand to make Kentucky the best beef cattle state this side of the Mississippi,” Doan said. “This project represents the years of hard work it takes to raise a quality product on such a large scale.
Doan also recognized The Chop Shop in Wolfe County, which processes the beef for the project, and Creation Gardens, a regional distributor that packages and distributes the products.
“We now have the knowledge of what it takes to get a Kentucky-grown product from the farm to the grocery store, then to the dinner plate,” Doan stated.
Spencer County cattleman Nathan Lawson is a manager for Beef Solutions, LLC, the company owned by the Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association which was developed to provide a method for Kentucky’s cattle producers to enter the market for locally produced and marketed ground beef.
“Many families, like mine, are proud to have the opportunity to work for their friends and their neighbors to provide a product that can be purchased just down the street,” Lawson beamed.
“Kentucky is the largest beef cattle state east of the Mississippi,” Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles reiterated. “For us to keep that food local and help demonstrate that we can not only breed it here, feed it here, process it but also serve it, that’s going to open the flood gates for opportunities for other Kentucky farmers.”
“We’re excited that Kroger has taken the first big step,” Quarles continued. “We hope that when consumers vote with their taste buds, opportunities will open up for larger plants and more processing in Kentucky so that this product can be served across the board in restaurants and other grocery stores. It’s all about demonstrating that we can disrupt the business model and keep that beef local.”
The official unveiling of Kentucky Cattlemen’s Ground Beef took place in Lexington and in the Eastgate store in Middletown on March 20, National Agriculture Day, and Quarles remarked “I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate it.”
For now, the beef is available in one-pound packages and in two-pound packages with four patties each. Competitive pricing is designed to fall between store label ground beef and currently available specialty products.
Kroger spokesperson Erin Grant said the chain takes great pride in Kentucky farm families.
“We are thrilled to see the project come to fruition and to offer our customers this completely local product,” Grant said.
The Bluegrass State boast more than 38,000 producers and more than 1 million head of beef cattle.
For more information about Kentucky Cattlemen’s Ground Beef, go to kentuckycattlemensbeef.com.
(A version of this article appears in the March 1, 2018 edition of The Farmer’s Pride)
By Ray Bowman
The Beef Education Center at Lexington’s Bluegrass Regional Marketplace is a first-of-its-kind facility that is attempting to bring agriculture education opportunities to a wide range of audiences without neglecting its principle focus, continuing education for producers who grow the cattle that daily pass through Bluegrass Stockyards.
To that end, the Y.A.R.D.S (Youth Advocacy Research Demonstration Sustainability) recently inaugurated a monthly “Lunch and Learn” series, open to anyone interested, but primarily geared to stockyard visitors who want to take a break, have some food and get some insight into various areas of the cattle industry.
Niki Ellis, Kentucky Beef Council Director of Education coordinates programming at the facility and says the composition of the audience for the first session came as a bit of a surprise to her, with most of them coming specifically to attend the event.
“We thought it would just be people wandering down from the sale ring, but everyone here today came specifically because they heard about the event,” Ellis said. “It’s nice to know that there is interest and people are making plans to attend.”
Plans are for the monthly sessions to follow seasonal topics that provide information and opportunities for interaction with ag professionals on a timely basis.
“We’re planning to theme them out throughout the months to go along with what’s going on at the farm, whether it’s bull buying season, hay production or whatever,” according to Ellis.
The first Lunch and Learn offering featured Dr. Les Anderson, Beef Cattle Extension and Reproductive Physiology professor from the University of Kentucky along with UK’s Dr. Jeff Lehmkuhler, Associate Extension Professor and Extension Beef Cattle Specialist. The duo fielded questions and made some observations on what producers might be doing to prepare for spring.
Cattlemen aren’t the only ones benefitting from the YARDS. Ellis says the classroom hosts a variety of visitors, ranging from elementary school classes to consumer groups and senior citizens tours.
“It’s really neat to see folks, especially from non-agricultural backgrounds come out and interact with the farmers and the people who have businesses here,” Ellis observes. “It’s great to see people realize how we all impact our community.”
Ellis says diversity is the key to the facility’s success. Plans are currently underway to organize agricultural financial planning seminars and Beef Quality Assurance training.
May is Beef Month in Kentucky, so plans are in the works for a number of activities including a grilling season kick-off series for general audiences and beef marketing seminars for the industry to discuss new and emerging export markets.
The next Lunch and Learn session will be March 20 and if you can’t make it to Lexington, you can watch on Facebook live.
“We’ve been interested in doing something with Facebook live but there just hadn’t been that right event so far,” Ellis explains. “We thought this would be a great one to try it out. It’s one of those great tools to take learning out of the classroom and share it anywhere.”
You can find the video from the February session and watch for future events on The Yards Facebook page.
(A version of this article first appeared in The Farmer’s Pride, February 14 issue)
By Ray Bowman
In 2012, Greg Peterson was finishing up a degree in Agriculture Communications at Kansas State University. While entertaining some friends with agriculture-related parody lyrics to popular songs, Peterson decided to employ his knack for video editing and appreciation of pop culture to make a music video with his then high school-aged brothers. The rest, as they say, is viral internet history.
The Peterson Farm Brothers have, to date, racked up over 10 million views on their initial offering “I’m Farming and I Grow It” and have produced eight other music videos as well as a number of informational videos about life on their fifth-generation family farm, located near Assaria, KS.
The 27-year-old internet sensation recently spoke in Louisville at the American Forage and Grassland Council annual meeting, encouraging his fellow farmers to engage a waiting audience and tell their story.
“Growing up in rural Kansas, you would think that all our friends would have known what it means to be a farm kid,” Peterson reflected. “Most of our friends in public school didn’t know much about farming and would almost look down on us for being farm kids.”
Rather than be embarrassed about who they were and where they came from, Peterson says he and his brothers, and one sister began advocating for agriculture in elementary school, trying to convince their classmates that farming was “cool.”
The young Petersons’ efforts continued through high school and on into college.
While in class at Kansas State one day, Peterson’s instructor showed a professionally-produced ag advocacy video.
“I remember thinking the video was really well done and communicated a great message, but I don’t know if my friends from Kansas City would sit down and watch it,” said Peterson. “I thought, surely there’s a much more entertaining way to get this message across.”
Peterson was also working on a minor in Music Performance, which he admits is a rather odd pairing but one that would soon reap substantial dividends. The talented young agri-artist enjoys singing and playing the piano, guitar, and trumpet.
“Growing up as a musician as well as a farmer, I always knew the power that music had to get people to pay attention to something they might otherwise ignore,” Peterson notes. “I thought, why not use music to advocate for agriculture.”
The next step was to find a tune that might grab the attention of an urban audience, similar to his former classmates, that might have some incorrect information about agriculture and use it to counter those misperceptions.
“One evening I was sitting in a restaurant with some of my friends and the song ‘I’m Sexy and I Know It’ was playing,” Peterson recalls. “Ironically, I didn’t like that song, so I started changing the lyrics to make my friends laugh, and that’s when the light came on that I could make a parody music video about farming.”
Many of the videos the Peterson Farm Brothers produce are based on popular contemporary tunes that an urban audience might quickly recognize.
When Greg pitched the concept to brothers Nathan and Kendall, they weren’t exactly enthusiastic about the idea.
“They looked at me like I was crazy,” he mused. “They didn’t want to create something and put it online that might get made fun of.”
“When we made this video, we were aiming it at our friends,” he continues. “We never thought it would go viral and attract millions of views.”
The brothers shot the video while they were working and produced it when they could find some downtime from their farming responsibilities. The production of the three-and-a-half-minute video took about a month.
“We talked about how many views we thought this video would get, and the highest number we threw out there was maybe 50-thousand views in a couple of years if it was really successful,” Peterson said.
Within four days of posting the YouTube video, it had been viewed over half a million times and the brothers were receiving national media attention. By the end on that week, the video had been watched more than five million times.
The success of “I’m Farming and I Grow It” spawned more efforts by the brothers, also featuring younger sister Laura.
“If you want to advocate for agriculture, the first step is to take the initiative,” Peterson says. “Maybe it’s making a video or making a Facebook post or maybe just talking to someone, you have to take the initiative. It’s not going to happen by itself.”
You can see the Peterson Farm Brothers’ videos on their YouTube channel and follow their advocacy efforts on Facebook.