Monday, September 29, 2008

Four Tips For The Holiday Retail Season From Business Weekly

From Business Weekly:

1. In whatever market they're targeting, small retailers need to court their best customers this holiday season. "During the next three months they need to maximize the one-on-one personal relationships that they have with customers," says Daniel Butler, vice-president for retail operations at the National Retail Federation. "That is the secret weapon that small independents have against big national chains. If I'm savvy and communicate with my customers well, I can draw loyal customers into my store before they go into the national chains," Butler says.

One way to do that is through affinity discounts that encourage loyal customers to spend more, rather than trying to attract new business by cutting prices across the board, says the University of San Francisco's Muscat. "They're going to their customer base, and they're mailing out to their best customers targeted discounts to get them into the store. That's a lot smarter than putting a"70% Off" sign in front of your store," he says. Through affinity programs, retailers can strengthen their relationships with their best customers and appeal to those shoppers' bargain-hunting mood at the same time.

2. Beyond customer service, retailers need to keep inventories lean to keep costs down. Butler says store owners should be especially vigilant in refusing late orders and watching for overshipments to avoid having merchandise they won't be able to sell. In addition, small retailers can take a cue from large chains that display as much merchandise as possible on the floor, rather than holding inventory in the stockroom. "National chains don't have any inventory in stockroom," he says. "They want it to be out there where the customer is."

3. Likewise, stores should watch their staffing levels to control costs. "They want to be able to staff to the peak hours as much as they can," Butler says. That means mostly in evenings and weekends, as most two-income families have little time to shop during the day. Businesses might decide to open later in the morning and extend hours at night to reach more customers without needing to staff more hours.

4. Retailers that sell both online and through physical stores should coordinate their Web and brick-and-mortar strategies, especially in anticipation of "Cyber Monday," the post-Thanksgiving shopping day that's been deemed the online equivalent of Black Friday. Many people browse in stores the weekend after Thanksgiving and then make their purchases online. "If you have a Web site and do business online, you want to make sure you're cross-promoting your Web site with your in-store traffic and vice versa," Butler says. Still, retailers may not be able to count on strong Internet sales. While TNS Retail Forward predicts Web sales will grow 9% this year, that's down from 19% in 2007 and the first single-digit growth rate since 1999.

Read the full article here.

Friday, September 26, 2008

2008/2009 Winter Finch Forecast

It's time for Ron Pittaway's winter finch forecast. Here are some highlights:

Pine Grosbeak: A mountain-ash berry specialist in winter, Pine Grosbeaks will stay north of most birders this winter because mountain-ash berries are abundant in northern Ontario. A few normally get south to Algonquin Park, but they are unlikely farther south.

Purple Finch: This finch stays in the north only when most tree species have heavy seed crops. This fall most Purple Finches will migrate south out of the province because overall tree seed crops are too low. A very few may winter in southern Ontario.

Common and Hoary Redpolls: The Common Redpoll is a white birch seed specialist in the boreal forest in winter. White birch crops are poor in the northern two-thirds of the boreal forest, but seed abundance increases southward. In central Ontario, such as Algonquin Park, crops on white and yellow birches range from fair to good. It is uncertain whether the birch crop is large enough to stop the southward movement in central Ontario about latitude 45 degrees. Some redpolls, including a few Hoarys, may get south to Lake Ontario if birch seed supplies run low.

Pine Siskin: A conifer seed specialist in winter, most siskins should leave the province this fall because the spruce cone crop is poor in the boreal forest. It is uncertain whether the huge white pine seed crop will keep some siskins in central and northern Ontario this winter.

Red-breasted Nuthatch: Movements of this nuthatch are linked to cone crop abundance, particularly spruce, white pine and balsam fir in Ontario. Good numbers of Red-breasted Nuthatches should winter in Ontario this year feeding on the bumper white pine seed crop and good spruce/fir crops in many areas such as Algonquin Park.

Blue Jay: Good numbers of jays will winter in central Ontario because the red oak acorn crop is good and beechnut crop is fair in central Ontario. Many other fruits and berries are abundant. Therefore this fall's flight should be average or smaller along the shorelines of Lakes Ontario and Erie.

Evening Grosbeak: A conifer and hardwood seed generalist in winter, Evening Grosbeaks should make a small southward movement this winter because food supplies are probably sufficient in the north. Older birders remember the 1970s when the Evening Grosbeak was a common feeder bird. Their memory is based on the greatly inflated numbers 30 years ago in Eastern Canada due to huge outbreaks of spruce budworm.

The last Algonquin Christmas Bird Count to have high numbers of Evening Grosbeaks was in 1984 with 1474 individuals, which was the North American CBC record that year. A significant decline in grosbeak numbers began in the mid-1980s because the size of annual budworm outbreaks decreased. Ontario's breeding population is currently probably stable, subject to periodic fluctuations in spruce budworm (Hoar 2007 in Atlas of Breeding Birds of Ontario).

White-winged Crossbill: This crossbill wandered widely this past summer searching for extensive spruce cone crops. Reports came from Alaska, Yukon, Hudson Bay Lowlands, Ontario, Quebec and many northern states such as Michigan and New York. Most kept moving but some
stopped and their singing suggested nesting but spruce cone crops are generally not large enough in most areas to support major nestings. The White-winged Crossbill specializes on the small soft cones of black and white spruces and hemlock when bumper in Ontario. This winter they should be widespread in small numbers in traditional areas such as Algonquin Park. However, spruce cone crops are generally low in most of Canada and as seed supplies ar exhausted this fall and winter so a moderate southward irruption is probable, perhaps extending south into the central United States. Watch for them on ornamental spruces and European larch.

Read the full report here and read past Winter Finch Forecasts here.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Urban Bird Resources

Have you checked out the Celebrate Urban Birds site at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology? You can learn about city birds, watch birds for science, get involved in projects to “green” up your community, and increase conservation awareness. The website itself offers resources for identifying birds, lessons plans, resources, and suggestions for attracting birds to urban areas.

One of the resources offered on the site is the Celebrate Urban Birds Kit which includes an introductory letter with 16 drawings of focal urban birds, an urban birds poster with lots of interesting information, a silhouette poster with cool facts, a simple data form for recording your observations, return envelope, and a packet of sunflower seeds to plant in pots and gardens. This s a great resource for home school customers or for your store if you offer bird programs through your store.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Sunflower Prices Easing

From the Farm & Ranch Guide:

It was the best of times, and although it's not the worst of times, the sunflower market has seen better days than those of August and September.

Sunflower prices that were soaring earlier this year, have come back down to earth in recent weeks.

Larry Kleingartner, executive director for the National Sunflower Association, said that, according to “Oil World,” world prices of sunflower seed as well as oil and meal have come under considerable price pressure since early July.

Kleingartner stated that warm temperatures and dry conditions in most areas of the region helped the final development of this year's sunflower crop. He also added that much of the sunflower production areas in North and South Dakota and also Minnesota benefitted from a general rain early last week which helped alleviate concerns over dry conditions. However, dryness does persist over a large area of the region.

“Most areas continue to have reasonable levels of soil moisture for this time of year,” he said.

Crop conditions in the region show that 100 percent of the sunflower crop in North Dakota has bloomed, 70 percent has dried ray petals, 19 percent has bracts yellow and 2 percent has bracts brown. In South Dakota, 98 percent of the crop has bloomed, while 45 percent has dried ray petals and 13 percent has bracts yellow.

Kansas' sunflower crop is 85 percent bloomed, 29 percent dried ray petals, and 8 percent has bracts yellow.

The combined good to excellent rating category increased to 58 percent from the previous week's 56 percent rating. The biggest increase occurred in North and South Dakota, while Colorado, Kansas and Minnesota had a slight decrease in crop ratings.

Last year's combined good to excellent rating for the same period was 69 percent.

As of Aug. 31, USDA rated North Dakota's crop at 58 percent good to excellent, 34 percent fair and 8 percent poor to very poor. Minnesota's crop was rated 79 percent good to excellent, 18 percent fair and 3 percent poor to very poor. South Dakota's sunflower crop was 75 percent good to excellent, 22 percent fair and 3 percent poor to very poor.

“At some locations sunflower oil prices have fallen below those of soy oil and rape oil due to increasing selling pressure and sharply higher new crop supplies from the Black Sea region and elsewhere,” Kleingartner said.

One of the most important market factors in the U.S. continues to be Mother Nature and the weather. As a result of the late start this spring, coupled with less than ideal growing conditions this summer, most row crops are behind in development and maturity.

“At the moment there are no frost warnings anticipated in the next two weeks and this has reduced the risk premium that is normally built into oilseed prices at this time of year,” Kleingartner said. “Market forces outside normal supply and demand fundamentals for crops such as crude petroleum prices and the U.S. dollar in foreign currency exchange markets have continued to influence price direction as well.”

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Things At birdJam Are Hoppin'

Ready to add some frog and toad sounds to your life? You can now add it to your iPod with birdJam Maker for Frogs and Toads. Based upon Lang Elliott's "The Calls of Frogs and Toads" book and CD, birdJam Maker for Frogs & Toads formats and organizes the 42 species found east of the Great Plains. Keeping with what makes their product so popular, they removed that narration and added photos to go along with the sounds. There's a variety of sounds for each species, including advertisement, aggressive, release, rain, distress, warning and hybrid, along with counter singing and mixed species choruses. birdJam Maker for Frogs and Toads retails for $9.99 and Lang's "The Calls of Frogs and Toads" is $19.95.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Sunflower Problems In Kansas

From The Pratt Tribune:

Wild sunflowers have done well this year but their crop counterpart in Pratt County has taken a hard hit from stem borers.

Unlike the state flower that grows wild just about everywhere in the county, crop sunflowers are in just a handful of fields and one farmer, Gary Watson, is getting ready to bring in a harvest that was badly stunted by stem borers.

These pests migrate from soybeans and it’s easy to see which plants have been affected. The plants have turned completely brown and are drying out fast while the healthy plants still have color in their stems. The brown plants will produce few if any seeds and substantially reduce the potential yield.

With harvest just a couple of weeks away Watson is considering not planting sunflowers in 2009. The 180 acres he has this year have not fared well and he is looking at a poor harvest.
“They’re not going to yield too good this year,” Watson said.

Some spots in the field were not hit as hard as others and will still produce a big head of sunflower seeds. The affected heads look good for a while but a lot of effected heads are blank.

Sunflowers are marketed by the hundredweight. In a good year dry land sunflowers can yield from 1,200 to 1,500 pounds per acre while irrigated land can produce from 2,500 to 3,000 pounds per hundredweight. The Tuesday market for sunflowers ranged from $21.90 to $22.60 per hundredweight while the Farm Service Agency PCP price for Tuesday was $22.09 per hundredweight.

Sunflowers provide a good bridge for double cropping and farmers don’t have to summer fallow the ground. They are planted from late April up to early July. Harvest is mid September on the early planting and the crop can go back to wheat if there is enough moisture, Watson said.

Watson plants no-till. Sunflowers have a broadleaf that makes them difficult to cultivate so the plants are sprayed to control pests, diseases and weeds. Weeds have to be sprayed pre emergence while pests are sprayed from an airplane.

One field is particularly weedy because Watson was unable to get it planted soon enough after it was sprayed.

The head moth is a common pest but has done little this year because Watson got a good kill on them. Watson has his own spraying equipment but hires out a plane for head moth.

The big problem has been stem borers that enter the stem, devour the pith and kill the plant.

Sunflowers are planted with a corn planter on 30-inch rows. They are harvested with the same row head used for soybeans or milo. A wheat header can be used with the addition of pans on the platform.

Sunflowers are susceptible to a mosaic disease and insurance companies won’t insure a field that has been planted to sunflowers two years in a row because of mosaic that takes seven to eight years to eliminate once it is established in a field.

“Sunflowers have to be rotated,” Watson said.

Two types of sunflowers are grown as crops. The oil variety that Watson grows is used for cooking oil. Sunflower oil is lower in saturated fats than other vegetable oils and is highly sought, Watson said.

The other commercial type is a confection sunflower that are used for the popular sunflower seeds that are packaged and ready to eat.

Watson has grown sunflowers off and on for 10 of the last 15 years. He takes the seeds to the Kanza Co-op for shipping to a sunflower processing plant in Goodland or the co-op will sell them to birdseed manufacturers.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Sunflower News From North Dakota

From KFYR:

Across the state, sunflowers are about a week behind their normal growing schedule.

That`s because it`s been too dry for the crop to grow well. Now, sunflowers need some warm days so they can start growing again.

And the days and weeks ahead until the end of the season are what will really determine the outcome for farmers.

"We really need to hold that frost off until that crop becomes mature, because obviously if we`d have an early frost, that would result in a lower test weight, it would cut back on the oil content, things like that. It would be pretty damaging to the crop," says John Sandbakken, of the National Sunflower Association. "We`d like to see that hold back until the crop is mature."

He says a steady, heavy rain all at once is better than a drizzle over several days, because then the water can soak into the ground without the risk of disease to the