Beth Ford would say that instead of growing up on a farm, she found herself immersed in farming.
She is currently President and CEO of Land O’Lakes, Inc. and recently spoke at the Henry C. Gardiner Global Food Systems lecture at Kansas State University. She has been with a Fortune 200 food production and agribusiness company since her 2018.
Land O’ Lakes is best known for its dairy products, but in reality this 100-year-old cooperative is owned by farmers, producers, retailers and more, according to Ford. includes those of He organizes the company in four segments, including the dairy business, Purina, WinField United, and Truterra.
Many things have surprised Ford since he took the helm of Land O’Lakes. Admittedly, I was struck by how little she really knew about farming, even though she grew up in farm conditions in Iowa.
“Just removing corn tassels one summer doesn’t make me qualified to be an expert,” she said.
While she continues to be amazed at the kindness and giving nature of Lando Orakes owners and members, Ford, on the other hand, thinks consumers and their lack of farming knowledge are a bit disappointing.
“What surprises me is how little everyone knows about farming and food supply. In fact, it’s scary,” she said.
People not knowing where their food is coming from, combined with the challenges facing the world’s food supply, make it a difficult situation for many.
There are so many obstacles that must be overcome. Less land, less water and labor challenges. Especially the food insecurity that many Americans face, especially in rural areas.
“It’s unacceptable. We need to invest in these communities,” she said.
Successful businesses want their families to be in healthy, happy, and supportive communities. Ford recognizes this, and given all the problems facing many rural towns and cities, it would be difficult to have a successful farmer or rancher.
“More than 90 percent of the farms are family owned. They have to show up for their families, for their communities,” she said. “And we have to start by making sure they get all the opportunities we all deserve.”
Ford has learned that one of the fundamental problems facing many farmers and ranchers is technology. Broadband he access is very important and there are few communities, not just farms, that do not have the necessary access.
“Without technology, it’s hard to say that new businesses will start and jobs will be created,” she said.
In addition to the ability of broadband internet to stream movies, residents need to be able to connect to doctors for telemedicine during times like a pandemic when hospitals are overwhelmed. The same goes for kids trying to get online to complete their homework.
Ford believes that the best thinking, the best technology, and agriculture can meet the grand challenges, not just immigration reform.
“We have to have a workforce in the country. We are short of 2.5 million workers,” she said. “Last year she didn’t plant more than 6 million acres due to labor shortages, so we need to get a solution.”
She said that in California’s Central Valley, many crops—about one-third of hand-picked crops—went unharvested due to lack of available workers.
“We have to solve this problem and come up with a solution,” she said.
Then there is water. This is a state-by-state issue, which is a concern for Ford due to federal influence.
“So there’s a conflict between urban and rural areas, and most people don’t understand the rural needs for agriculture and food supply,” she said. I’m not talking about water rights or anything like that, I’m talking about investments in reservoirs and pipes, and I’m talking about desalination, to give yourself an advantage over time. , What technologies can we use to make us more resilient to this changing climate?”
Another challenge she recognizes is not only commodity prices, but also the sharp rise in input prices. They don’t seem to be flattening out, but they’re a concern for Land O’Lakes farmer members heading into her 2023. For Ford, commodity prices are high, but breakeven is more of a concern. Steel prices are rising, the labor force is rising, putting more strain on farmers’ bank accounts.
Ford is concerned about a possible rail strike because it’s not approved by maintenance workers, and it’s a big one now that the busiest season of shipping is about to begin. She felt better because the farmers were able to establish themselves.
“But they’re looking at a 23-year harvest year now. So they’re buying input and trying to figure out what the risks are that they’re going to take in this kind of volatile labor market. “Obviously, in the food value chain, farmers bear the greatest risk, because the only way to avoid that kind of risk in commodity markets is to differentiate or scale, and that Because it is very difficult to do (average size) farmer.
She was impressed with how knowledgeable they were and how they understood the market.
“They are very smart businessmen,” she said. “But we’re going to look at this other side.”
Finally, Ford expressed her belief in the importance of American farmers.
“I believe it’s amazing to me that less than 1% feed all the people in the world. What a worthwhile endeavor,” she said. . “Working for our farmers and their families has been my greatest privilege in her 36-year career.”
She hopes that farmers and agricultural stakeholders can be more vocal and vocal when it comes to how important agriculture is to the country.
“Food security is national security,” she said. “And there is already a lot of investment being made by agriculture, farmers and communities. We need to speak up or someone else will define you.”
Ultimately, “what you get, they don’t know what you’re doing,” someone else will decide.
“What kind of work do you do, what activities revolve around hard work each day?” she said.