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Hormel, farm bill and more at Agri-Growth meeting

By Janet Kubat Willette
jkubat@agrinews.com

Date Modified: 12/03/2013 2:49 PM

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MINNEAPOLIS — Hormel CEO Jeff Ettinger delivered the keynote address at the Nov. 5 Minnesota Agri-Growth annual meeting.

Ettinger provided an overview of Hormel, a global company with more than $8 billion in sales in the most recent year and more than 19,800 total employees. The company was founded in 1891 by George A. Hormel.

Hormel is a protein and packaged foods company, Ettinger said. It is known as a financially conservative company, and the firm prides itself on its innovative culture.

Hormel includes such well-known brands as SPAM, Dinty Moore, Jennie-O The Turkey Store and Skippy peanut butter. Skippy is the leading peanut butter brand in China, where Hormel has had a presence since 1997 and has 1,000 employees.

The company purchases about $300 million worth of corn and soybean meal annually to meet its turkey production needs on more than 200 turkey farms. Some of those farms are company-owned, others are privately held.

Ettinger talked about some of the ways in which Hormel reaches out to consumers. In additional to traditional advertising, they do product placement on the television program "The Biggest Loser." The product placement links turkey with healthy eating and healthy lifestyles.

In addition to the domestic market, Hormel has its eye on foreign markets. The company's exports have increased by $300 million in recent years. Africa has shown recent growth. China, Japan and other Asian countries are leading pork export markets.

Farm bill update

Sen. Amy Klobuchar said it's time to get a farm bill done.

Klobuchar spoke via video to the Agri-Growth audience. She said the cost of the October federal government shutdown is equal to all the savings in the most recent farm bill proposal, $24 billion.

But sometimes in chaos, there is opportunity, Klobuchar said.

She said the agricultural conference committee should be close on a general farm bill framework by Thanksgiving. She supports strengthening the crop insurance program, strengthening payment limitations, creating a new safety net for dairy producers, beginning farmer legislation and consolidating conservation programs from 23 to 13.

Klobuchar said farm and food programs need to be linked, as they have been for 40 years.

The farm bill is just the beginning, she said. Another bill that needs to be passed is the immigration bill. The bill contains $160 billion debt reduction.

In order to accomplish these tasks, courage will be needed in Washington to stand next to members who don't necessarily agree but are willing to put partisanship aside for the nation's betterment.

State of Minnesota agriculture

In what has become tradition at the Agri-Growth Council annual meetings, a state of the state of agriculture report is given.

This year, Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson gave the report, rattling off a list of statistics:

Minnesota is fifth in the nation in agricultural production and contributes $5 billion in agricultural exports each year to the state's economy. There are 340,000 jobs in the farm and food sector and a total economic activity of $75 billion. The farm and food sector is the second largest sector in the state, following manufacturing.

There are 81,000 farms in Minnesota and 1,000 agriculture and food companies. Minnesota is home to 14 of the nation's top 100 agricultural cooperatives.

Soybeans, corn, pork and wheat are the state's top agricultural exports. The state's primary export markets are China, Canada, Mexico and Japan.

U of M proposed merger

University of Minnesota president Eric Kaler updated the Agri-Growth audience on the proposal to merge the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences and the College of Biological Sciences.

A task force to study the idea was announced in early September. The task force has met three times since, Levine said.

The discussion barely has started, he said.

The impending retirement of Robert Elde, dean of the College of Biological Sciences, and the decision of Al Levine, former CFANS dean, to return to teaching were the impetus for the talks.

Kaler said there could be no change to the current college structure, some programs could be combined or the colleges could be merged into one. Wisconsin and Iowa State have combined the two colleges, he said.

Agriculture is a key part of the university's land grant mission and the U of M is the only university in the state to offer an ag teacher training program. The U of M trains most of the state's agricultural leaders, Kaler said.

He said the U of M should have a good idea where it's going with the CFANS, CBS proposal by the end of spring semester. The dean position will not be filled into he knows how many deans he has to hire. Brian Buhr will continue to serve as interim CFANS dean in the meantime.