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A tough lesson in not keeping up with customer demands

A tough lesson in not keeping up with customer demands
The bankruptcy filing by the Des Moines-era the supermarket chain Dahl’s Foods last week provides an illustration of the pitfalls of falling behind in a fast-moving market. And it’s a cautionary lesson for people who contend that agriculture should avoid new technology and return to old farming ways.

Dahl’s fell on hard times, according to several business analysts, because it didn’t adjust to changing consumer trends. Other supermarkets chains and national retailers in Dahl’s territory continually innovated, expanded their offerings and found ways to become more efficient, but Dahl’s just didn’t keep up.

I saw that at my neighborhood Dahl’s. It’s a nice little store filled with friendly people. It gives you a nostalgic feel of a 1950s supermarket. But nostalgia aside, my local Dahl’s often doesn’t the range of products or services found at other markets, and often its prices aren’t competitive.

Some people today contend that American farmers should ditch technology, like biotech seeds or GPS-guided equipment.

They believe consumers, the environment and farmers would be better off if we returned to farming with the technology and farm structure of the 1950s, or even earlier.

It’s not true. Just like successful supermarket chains, farmers have evolved and adopted technology to respond to consumer demands.

American consumers are demanding more from agriculture than ever before. They want a range of food choices that would have been unfathomable in the 1950s. They want agriculture to reduce its environmental footprint. And they want all that at affordable prices.

American farmers have delivered on all of those demands, thanks in part, to their willingness and ability to adopt new technologies. Biotech seeds allow farmers to reduce pesticide applications and limit tillage to trim soil erosion. GPS and other technologies allow farmers to apply fertilizer and pesticides precisely, avoiding wetlands and other sensitive areas.

The result is American food supply that is unbelievably diverse, safe and more affordable than in any other industrialized country on the planet. And yes, for the segment of consumers who want to pay a little more for food raised using older farming techniques, farmers have shown they can do that too.

It’s all about keeping up with customer demand.

By Dirck Steimel. Dirck is Iowa Farm Bureau's News Services Editor.