Can a farmer transition from the commodity market into a full-scale direct-to-consumer brand?
The answer is “yes”, and David Newman is proof.
But this isn’t a story of an overnight success. The transition for Newman Farm has been in the works since the 1990s. Over the past 20 years he has learned many lessons, and he was kind enough to share some of them on this episode.
This is a special episode of the “Future of Agriculture” Podcast because for the first time, the interview did not include our usual host, Tim Hammerich. Guest co-host Janette Barnard sourced the story and interviewed David.
*Be sure to subscribe to Janette’s weekly newsletter about innovation in the animal agriculture value chain: primefuture.substack.com.
David and Janette discuss:
*As a bonus, this episode includes a “Startup Spotlight” segment at the end, which features Janelle Maiocco, Founder and CEO of Barn2Door, which is a software that David Newman has used to grow his business.
We've seen the rise of alternative energy and alternative protein, could alternative plastic be next?
Mark Remmert is the CEO of Green Dot Bioplastics. This fascinating company manufactures low-cost, biodegradable materials for a variety of uses.
There is an obvious sustainability story here, but it's also a peek into what can be a rapidly growing company and industry segment in the coming decades.
Green Dot is a portfolio company of Fulcrum Global Capital, who partnered with us on this episode. Duane Cantrell, Kevin Lockett, and John Peryam join Tim to introduce the episode and provide their perspective on why they invested in Green Dot.
What are your thoughts on the future of bioplastics?
Daren Williams joins the show to help us better understand the role of producer-led commodity groups. Daren is the Senior Director of Global Communications at the Almond Board of California. He has worked in agricultural communications for over 30 years, much of that with producer-led commodity groups like almonds, beef, apple, dairy and pork.
The Almond Board of California supports all 7,600 almond growers, as well as many others in the almond growing community from suppliers and beekeepers to farmers and buyers. Almonds are one of the fastest growing crops in California, and the Almond Board has cast a vision for the industry that includes goals to improve by 2025 in water use efficiency, dust reduction, zero waste, and pest management.
“We fund research and production techniques. We validate techniques at work and if it's beneficial and cost effective and can help improve the return on investment for the grower, we roll it out to the industry and make sure everybody knows about it.” Daren Williams
While the Almond Board of California is a federal marketing order program, we also discuss checkoff programs in this episode. Operating under a slightly different framework, the purpose of these groups also relates to the research and promotion of the commodity. In Daren’s previous position, he worked with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, which is a contractor to the beef checkoff.
“If (consumers) see us working together and trying to solve the issues and things that they’re concerned about, they develop trust in them, the industries, and I think trust is a critical issue for farmers and ranchers. In many cases, we’ve lost it and we need to regain it with consumers and let them know we really do have their best interests at heart when we make decisions about how we’re going to grow their food because we’re also going to be putting it on our dinner tables.” - Daren Williams
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Founder Spotlight: Peter Schott of Genesis Feed Technologies
“We make soybeans look really good. On the more technical side, we bring nutritional value out for feed ingredients and show the economics of that so people can make better buying decisions.”
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Today’s episode is the deepest dive I’ve done to date into the world of regenerative agriculture. You’ll probably be able to hear it in my voice in the interview, but this one had me on the edge of my seat the entire time. In fact I think the conversation just gets more and more interesting the deeper we get into it.
My viewpoint on regenerative agriculture since I first was introduced to the concept a few years ago is somewhere in between “cautious optimism” and maybe skepticism.
I’m certainly not skeptical about the importance of soil health. I think you’ve heard that from me a lot on this show, and certainly you have if you listen to Soil Sense, one of the other podcasts that I host.
But some of the - what I’ll call hype associated with regenerative ag have left me asking a lot of questions. Many of those, we get into on today’s episode. Questions like:
I couldn’t be more impressed with our guest we have on the show today to talk about these issues. Paige Stanley is a finishing PhD candidate at UC Berkeley, who works at the intersection of rangeland ecology and soil science.
Born in Detroit, she grew up in rural Georgia. While as an undergraduate at a liberal arts college, she took a course on the ethics of food production, which drove her to want to talk to more farmers and ranchers and ultimately pursue a master’s in animal science. She did so at Michigan State University studying under Jason Roundtree.
This master’s program furthered her interest in soil carbon sequestration in grazing lands; how it might reduce greenhouse gas emissions, provide ecosystem services, improving animal welfare, and improving rural livelihoods. That led her to her work today at UC Berkeley. I’m going to let her describe it to you, but first a quick definition: you’ll hear regenerative grazing called AMP grazing in this episode. That stands for adaptive multi-paddock grazing, you may have heard of it as mob grazing. Essentially this is controlled and intensive grazing that is rotated across sections or paddocks of a field. For more on that go way back to episodes 44 or 64.
“Quinoa is very unique. One, it is gluten free but it also contains high amounts of protein and a greater balance of essential amino acids than cereals.” - Angela Ichwan
This week we are exploring the emerging market of American grown quinoa. The financial, environmental and supply chain consequences of a few farmers from the San Luis Valley in Colorado that started developing this product are shared today. Paul New is a 3rd generation farmer that was initially introduced to quinoa production by a graduate student that rented some ground from his operation. Sheldon Rockey farms in Center, Colorado and joined Paul in the quinoa venture. The two have expanded from an initial 500 acres of quinoa production to 3000. And finally, Angela Ichwan, who leads the technical team of the specialty crop business unit of Ardent Mills joins us to explain the quinoa market and how Ardent Mills has contributed to its success.
“We were watching him grow the quinoa and it was kind of an exciting plant because it didn’t seem to use very much water, grew pretty well here in the San Luis Valley and as we learned more about the nutritional value and the versatility of it, we got pretty excited about it.... We thought it was going to be a crop of the future.” - Paul New
That excitement led to adding quinoa to their potato rotation. The product was “fairly easy to market” and initially the main obstacle was ironing out the production. They have now developed a new seed and adjusted their crop management system to overcome some of these challenges. The quinoa reduced the amount of inputs needed for their potato crop as there is less overlap between disease and pests. They also saw a significant reduction in water consumption needed for the quinoa crop in comparison to the common barley and alfalfa crops.
“We were still working on the production and Ardent (Mills) was positioned to really be able to step in and help us with the marketing and giving us the volume so that we could go out and really work with the neighbors and the other producers in the valley.” - Paul New
Ardent Mills also brings expertise and support in progressive genetics and to further develop EPA labels for inputs. Quinoa saw a surge in global acceptance when it was named the grain of the year in 2013 and also with increased consumer demands due to widespread gluten-free trends. Ardent Mills had an interest in producing ancient grains and was attracted by the nutritional profile and water conservation opportunities for quinoa. This led to an exclusive relationship and successful collaboration with quinoa producers in the San Luis Valley.
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