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Thursday, August 2, 2012

Is the customer always right? part II

{Part I of this conversation can be found HERE}

I do a lot of reading of both conventional and organic/sustainable farm publications.  I like seeing how others farmers are doing stuff.  One of my favorite things to read is the Producer Profiles in the Farm and Ranch Guide.  I have a dream to one-day be a producer that is profiled.  I know it's not O or Forbes, but here in the northern plains it's pretty darn close.

In the most recent series of reports, one of the producers, Vanessa Kummer, serves on the United Soybean Board and she reported on her trip to Great Britian and other European nations.  You may or may not know that genetically modified crops are banned in the European Union.  Her mission was to try to open these closed doors.  (You can read the full report here.)

One of her quotes caught my attention:
"Visits like these keep the pressure on places like the EU, where market access is being strained due to lack of understanding," she said. "USB directors will keep putting the pressure on these places, and any others that may pop up like them, to ensure U.S. soybean farmers maintain their access to customers worldwide."

I've visited with three grain exporters in our state within the past year about this very issue:  the demand for GMO grain, specifically soybeans.  And their answer was the same, "We don't contract for it.  Our customers don't want it.  And they'll pay a premium to guarantee no GMO contamination."  These are all international businesses, working with countries in Europe and the Pacific Rim.  

So my question again is this:  Is the customer always right?

If the entire European Union has said they do not want GMO crops, what is the lack of understanding? Is it on our part for not listening to their concerns, wants and desires?  I think the last sentence gives me the answer.  This trip does not appear to be about listening to customers, this trip was about "maintaining their access to customers worldwide".  

What if the world doesn't want what you grow?

There is a ballot initiative in California to require labeling of foods that contain GMO ingredients.  While we were in Minneapolis, we visiting with leadership from both Cargill and CHS and a member of our group (not me) asked both companies the same question.  "What do you think of this initiative and what do you think will happen?"

Although their answers were not exactly the same, they were close.  "GMO seed accounts for 96% of the soybeans and 90% of the corn.  It's in everything.  They're just going to have to get used to it."

I, for one, will be watching California Ballot Initiative #37 results on November 6th more than I will be watching the presidential results.  This initiative will provide a loud, clear voice from our customers.

Will we listen?


  1. I have never believed that the customer is always right. Customers sometimes want things they shouldn't have - and I don't mean that in a big brother way - I mean things like drugs, booze, cigarettes, things they know are bad for them, but they're choosing to consume anyway.
    It is widely known in North America, taught in schools, civic clubs, and womens magazines that junk food is bad for your health, yet sales of soda and potato chips are soaring. North Americans know there is GMO in their food, and not enough of them care. That's the bottom line. If more did, they would be voting with their dollars, but instead they're buying the stuff in bulk and caselot sales. And as you say, it's hidden in so many processed foods, we have no idea if we're eating it or not. As long as their is high fructose corn syrup and the things it goes into, people are going to turn a blind eye to what they know is possibly not a good thing, and just buy it anyway. Fossil fuel is bad for the environment, it's a non-renewable resource, we all know that. And how many of us restrict our consumption of it? I sincerely hope the EU holds out against the relentlessness of the American marketing machine, and that they are joined by other non-North American countries. I don't care if other people are happy to have GMO in their food, but I would personally prefer to have a choice.

  2. Hi Annie, Thanks always for your blog. I live in CA and am concerned about the ballot initiative. I imagine that Cargill and Monsanto will be spending tons of money on this one. I worry that their ads will be misleading and perhaps straight out dishonest, and that voters might not be educated enough about the issue to see through the corporate ads. I REALLY hope that we can be successful with this initiative! People should have, at least, the right to know what is in their food.


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