Three insights from my German Ag Adventures
Ever had that weird thing happen where someone talks about something (red cars, for example,) and then you start seeing red cars everywhere?
It’s called the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, and it occurs when the thing you’ve just noticed, experienced or been told about suddenly crops up constantly. It happened to me after I returned to Iowa following a week-long study trip to Germany from November 10-17.
Maybe this phenomenon was inevitable for me, since my trip was part of the Transatlantic Agricultural Dialogue on Consumer Engagement, sponsored by the German-American Chamber of Commerce. The group of 20 farmers, ag writers and social media pros I was with, including six Iowans, spent a lot of time with German ag professionals discussing ways to help the public better understand modern farming. I also have German heritage on both sides of my family, so I suspect I was also a little predisposed to delve into all things German.
As I wrote daily updates on my Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram pages during my travels abroad, a friend in Boston asked me to recap three big lessons learned from my travels in Berlin and across the former East Germany.
As I thought about his suggestion, I started spotting German-related ideas close to home as soon as I returned to Iowa. (There’s that Baader-Meinhof phenomenon at work.) Here are three big take-aways I gleaned from my German adventures:
1. Be willing to look at new opportunities. When we toured a dairy farm and a hog farm in northern Germany, we saw biogas units at work, transforming silage and manure into renewable natural gas that generated electricity for the farm and heated the buildings. As our bus rolled through northern Germany, biogas units were common throughout the countryside. I also saw many biogas manufacturers represented at EuroTier, which is held in Hanover, Germany, and is one of Europe’s largest farm shows.
That’s why I was especially interested to hear a recent Radio Iowa story headlined “German Firm Plans to Make Renewable Natural Gas (Biogas) in Iowa.” Iowa officials have awarded state tax breaks to the German company VERBIO, which plans to open a biofuels plant at the site of a closed ethanol production facility. Biogas production is slated to happen at the former Pioneer DuPont’s cellulosic ethanol facility near Nevada. VERBIO has been making biogas since the summer of 2010 in Europe. The process involves fermenting corn stalks to ultimately produce methane.
Another opportunity for Iowa involves selling U.S. soybeans to Germany, since German farmers tend to grow more small grains and some corn rather than soybeans. A sales report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) for the week of November 9-15 showed increased exports (191,700 million tons) of U.S. soybeans to Germany.
2. Tell your story. Now that I’ve had the chance to expand my network worldwide and see how my German and Dutch friends are telling ag’s story, I’m thinking about more ways to ag-vocate. I took to heart some advice from Caroline van der Plas, who coordinates the Dutch social media project @boerburgertweet, which allows farmers to share their story with consumers on Twitter. “Don’t devote too much time to people who aren’t willing to listen and only want to argue,” she said. “The longer you engage with activists, the less time you have to tell your story.”
3. Eat like a German. Much to my delight, I observed that while Germans tend to eat hearty meals with roast pork, sausage, potatoes, bread, pretzels and apple strudel with cream sauce, Germans tend to be lean. Part of their secret seems to involve how active they are, from walking to bicycling. Since I love to eat, I decided to make a German inspired potatoes au gratin for my family’s Thanksgiving feast. Then I decided to get out a dusty exercise DVD and give it a shot. I have a feeling, though, that I may have more success spotting new German-inspired recipes than new ways to work off those calories. Just chalk it up to the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon.
Darcy Dougherty-Maulsby (a.k.a) Yetter-girl grew up on a Century Farm between Lake City and Yetter and is proud to call Calhoun County home. Contact her at email@example.com and visit her online at www.darcymaulsby.com.
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