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Natural versus Unnatural in Agriculture

Posted by Edward Romero on January 30th, 2011

I just read a great blog called Feedstuffs Food Link: Connecting farm to fork, by Dr. Normand St-Pierre explaining the difference between natural selection and unnatural in agriculture. It is a great post that explains in layman’s terms, why natural is not always a good thing. Natural eggs,  natural chicken, etc. may not always be the best. I would encourage you to read his blog to better understand why.  I think he does a great job in explaining his position.  Feel free to post  your comments on his site after reading the blog.

I think you will find the post enlightening and interesting as well as educational.

You can find the blog post here.

Until next time…

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Agriculture and Wall Street

Posted by Eric Brenner on August 30th, 2010

When I was a teenager, I always thought of the stock market as a crowded place with a bunch of people screaming at each other. A place where millions were made and also where lost. I never imagined that inside all that apparent chaos there was actually a logical financial frame behind the scenes. Several business, economic, finance, and accounting college courses later, topped with constant reading of financial articles have given me enough background to understand the fundamentals of it.

I am most definitely not an expert in the matter, but I have enough understanding where I can give a watered-down explanation of how it works. In general, many people hear the term stock exchange, but don’t really understand what the stock exchange is all about. A stock exchange is an organization that brings together stockbrokers and traders by giving them facilities to trade stocks, other securities and other financial instruments. For many of you this is an obvious matter, but for those who did not know, this might sound a little bit abstract. I am not really going too deep into the subject but barely cover the surface to give you an idea how it works.

The stock exchange is very similar to a grocery store and the things you see inside. In a grocery store, you will find sections like the fresh meat and fresh fish sections, the produce section, the dry goods section, etc. People come to this place to buy and sell food items. The difference is that in a stock exchange, instead of sections, there are markets that trade non-tangible transferable goods, and the markets per se are essentially not physically present inside the building. A stock exchange is a virtual marketplace where sellers, the issuing corporations or organizations, and buyers or traders, conduct business. Even though, the stock exchange and a grocery store are somehow similar, the process behind the operation of the stock exchange is way more complex.

I don’t believe there is a single descriptor that could fairly explain a career in this type of environment. Professionals in this field describe it as dynamic, fast moving, rewarding, stressful, fulfilling, exciting, and amazing all at the same time. Generally, when we think about careers in this line of work, we are inclined to associate it with business, finance, management, and economic majors, but never or almost never with agriculture.

But how does agriculture relate to stock trading?

Agriculture is related to the stock market through commodities. Practically everything that comes out of the ground such as wheat, orange juice, gold, oil, grains, etc, can be classified as a commodity. People buy and sell commodities based on speculation which have the potential for huge returns with lower than average investment, but with a much higher risk for loss. The agriculture commodity venue requires experienced investors with solid knowledge in the agricultural field.

Agricultural specialists provide current and accurate information that can make all the difference whether buying or selling commodities. Some of the information comes from different sources of data, and some of the decisions are made by forecasting market behaviors based on criteria that could positively or negatively affect commodities. By collecting and disseminating the right information in a timely manner, commodity traders position themselves in today’s diverse agricultural markets to make decisions that can generate profit and greatly mitigate the chances for losses.

Some professionals believe that agricultural commodity trading should be classified as a stand-alone cluster within the trading management business because of the distinctive aspects found in similar businesses that trade other types of commodities. Certain factors like multiple quality characteristics, weather conditions, unexpected events – political and economical – can affect crops and can increase the level of risk and complexity that are not found in more standardized or generic products.

Commodity traders constantly need to adjust the approach to agricultural production, marketing, and distribution to be able to compete in national, regional, and international markets. Traditional commodities like bananas, coffee, and sugar are no longer assured of guaranteed prices and ready access to international markets. The decisions based on speculations and uncertainties for this market require agricultural based knowledge.

Agriculture has the potential to inject professionals beyond the traditional roles. However, the current rigid and obsolete recruiting structures in our industry are doing little to expand beyond the traditional areas. Most elementary, junior high, and high school students are unaware that Wall Street, the banking system, financial analysts, stock traders, lending institutions, financial institutions, commodity trading, investment banking, accounting firms, and many more jobs are reachable through agriculture majors like agribusiness, agriculture economics, agriculture development, and agriculture engineering, among others.

But why is it that potential agriculture students are not getting this kind of information early on in their formative years?

For starters, the industry has not actively engaged students to show them how diverse the industry really is. Second, school counselors usually are not aware of agriculture majors outside the production side, which limits students to certain areas in agriculture. Third, teachers are usually not aware about the broad spectrum of career paths students can pursue and are not encouraged to consider pathways outside of production agriculture. Even though the agriculture industry and universities are aware of this issue, there has not been a collective effort to revolutionize the way students are recruited into agriculture because of the incorrect perception, that agriculture is limited to farming of crops and raising livestock.

Changing people’s perspectives and the way they think about agriculture is not an easy task. Nevertheless, more than ever as an industry we need to creatively and innovatively find better ways to attract young talent. In order for our industry to grow, we have to break away from the status quo. AgForLife is committed to educate students, parents, teachers, and school counselors about career opportunities in the broad agricultural industry to encourage and recruit high school and college students to join food, and life sciences careers, and college majors that will provide rewarding and successful employment opportunities in the agriculture industry.

We have been getting a lot of positive feedback and are so pleased to know that so many people share our vision. We would be interested in hearing your story. What did you major in school? Was it in an agricultural related field? What job are you doing now or hope to do so in the future?  Share your message in the comment section and let us know or drop us a note on Facebook.

I wish you a great week. Until my next post, have a good one.

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Coffeelicious

Posted by Eric Brenner on July 12th, 2010

It has been a week and half since I last posted the article “Stepping out of your comfort zone.” Our blog is slowly but surely gaining some followers which is pretty exciting. I have been pretty busy visiting many wonderful parts of Costa Rica and meeting a lot of wonderful people.

Last week, I went to a coffee region called Tarrazu. The coffee produced in this area is rated among the best in the World. I had the opportunity to visit two “Microbenficios” or small coffee mills in Tarrazu along with other people from the ministry and some really nice extension service agents and professors from the University of Nebraska. These really friendly guys from UNL were visiting the country to research the extension services that are implemented in Costa Rica by the Ministry of Agriculture.

Friends from the University of Nebraska, and the Ministry of Agriculture.

So far, this has been one of my favorite experiences from the whole trip because I had the opportunity to interact with the farmers and small producers. It was a very humbling experience to listen to the nice fellows from Nebraska interact and exchange information with these small farmers. In my opinion, this kind of interaction is the true essence in agriculture development because it creates an opportunity to work closely together with farmers and to truly listen to what they have to say.

University of Nebraska Entomologist with Farmer and Ministry Agent

The trips to these areas gave me an opportunity to learn how coffee is produced. More importantly, I discovered that there is a wide array of employment opportunities between all the links of the agriculture chain that begin with the producers and end with the consumers.

I am definitely not an expert, but after visiting a couple of coffee plantations I learned enough to determine what makes a good coffee. There is something about the aroma that I just love. Unlike my wife, who needs coffee to function properly throughout the day, I seldom have a cup of joe. I don’t really enjoy bitter flavors, so coffee is something I rarely drink. But like many things, coffee is an acquired flavor. And Like wine, which I truly enjoy, the art of coffee tasting could be as complex and delightful as wine tasting.

Even though I’m not an avid coffee drinker, the process that takes the bright red coffee cherry all the way to the freshly brewed cup is something all coffee drinkers should understand. Not only because it is very interesting, but it will also help you discern between a good and a bad cup of java.

Where did it all begin?

According to the story, around the year 800 A.D an Ethiopian goat herder named Kaldi noticed his goats acting pretty strange after they were grazing on the red berries from a coffee shrub. Perplexed by this discovery, he took the berries to a local monastery, where monks brewed a concoction that kept them alert throughout the night.

Coffee later made its way across the Red Sea to the Arabian Peninsula Around A.D 1000. Based on the legend, Muslims were the first to roast and brew the coffee beans into the drink that is known today. Coffee later migrated to North Africa, Mediterranean, and India. It eventually reached Venice and the expanded to Europe around 1615. During the 18th century, a young French naval officer took some clippings from the coffee trees in the Botanical Gardens in Paris and took them to Martinique, a French Colony in the Caribbean. From Martinique, coffee later expanded to the American continent -South and Central America mostly – where it became one of the most important crops for the Latin American Colonies.

From the bean to the cup.

It takes around four years – from planting to harvesting – for a coffee plant to produce good quality berries. Coffee plants or shrubs depend on many factors to produce high quality beans that will result in great tasting coffee. These factors include the type of soil, elevation, plant variety, water, etc.

There are two main species of coffee that are cultivated for commercial consumption: Arabica and Robusta. In Costa Rica, 100% of the coffee cultivated is Arabica. According to the ICAFE, the Coffee Institute from Costa Rica, the Arabica specie produces a better bean with higher quality and aroma. The shrubs are cultivated in fertile soils of volcanic origins with low acidity; ideal conditions for the coffee plant. More than 80% of the coffee in Costa Rica is located in areas between 2700 ft to 5300 ft above sea level with temperatures ranging from 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and 78 and 118 inches of annual precipitation.

Harvesting time in Costa Rica depends on the region, but usually it takes place from October through March. Costa Rican coffee is rated among the best coffees in the World. This is a result of carefully choosing the best bean by only selecting ripened cherries, which is done by hand throughout thousands and thousands of hectares of cafetales (coffee plantations).

Green Coffee Cherries

Inside a Coffee Plantation

After harvesting, the cherries are then moved through a machine that depulps the coffee beans from the cherries. The beans then are washed and move to outside beds where they are then sun dried. It takes around five days to fully dry the coffee beans. The beans are usually turned every thirty minutes to allow for a uniform dry to avoid fermentation. After the beans are dried, they are bagged and sent to an oven for roasting and final processing.

Coffee Bean After Depulping

Depulper Machine

If you want to know more about how coffee is produced, there are many websites on the Internet where you can find tons of information. This link is a great way to get started. As my internship approaches to the end, I will try to keep you updated every week with my progress. I have a lot of info I want to share and pictures to show you. Also, keep the comments coming, they really help us out. If you have suggestions, please let us know.

Until then, have a great a week.

About the Author: Eric Brenner is a graduate student at Texas A&M University and currently on a study-abroad trip to Costa Rica, his home-country.

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