HAYS, KS -- In the absence of bulls, cows coming into heat will allow themselves to be mounted by other cows.
A need to know when that happens and a product that meets that need, but with drawbacks, led to an imaginary product and final-four marketing proposal by a team of Fort Hays State University students at the National Agri-Marketing Association Convention's student marketing competition from April 10-13 in Denver, CO.
With their proposal, the FHSU students overcame competition from such heavy-hitting, well-funded institutions as Ohio State, Michigan State (the winner two years ago), the University of Florida (last year's winner), Mississippi State, North Dakota State and the University of Hawaii to reach the finals at the NAMA Convention.
In the end, FHSU's team placed fourth behind eventual winner New Mexico State, Auburn University and California Polytechnical-San Luis Obispo.
"It's a wonderful experience," said Brad Shank, Hanston senior and president of the FHSU student chapter of NAMA, talking about competing against heavyweight agricultural research institutions such as Michigan State, Florida, and Mississippi. The FHSU students get a lot of questions about where Fort Hays State is, he said.
But, "going in there," he said, "you really don't think of it as going as an underdog. You're just there to compete."
And, after the FHSU team's finish this year, said Shank, "They will all know who we are next year."
Dr. Neil Patrick, assistant professor of agriculture at FHSU and, with Dr. Brent Spaulding, associate professor of agriculture, co-advisor to the FHSU student NAMA chapter, said the competition is over marketing plans. NAMA is a professional association of people and companies who are in the business of marketing, processing and advertising agricultural products.
NAMA has 39 student chapters, mostly, said Patrick, at land-grant institutions such as Kansas State University, Texas A&M and other large universities with specialized programs in agricultural research.
FHSU's student chapter is 6 years old. This year was its second trip to the semifinals but first to the finals.
The competition involves presenting a plan to market a new product."We took a little bit different approach this year," said Patrick. "Our product this year was an imaginary one."
The judges -- professional agribusiness marketers, advertisers, manufacturers and processors -- act as a board of directors. The teams present their plans as if trying to sell them to the company.
"This is the sort of thing that's done every day in the real world," said Patrick.
"Chip-on-the-Hip" was the product entered this year by the six-member FHSU team: Amanda Holley, Satanta junior; Kale Graves, Healy freshman; Meghan Slagle, Sedalia, CO, senior; Monte Green, Clay Center senior; Bryan Church, South Haven senior; and Shank.
Here is where the story gets back to cows without bulls and another factor -- artificial insemination. Many cattle operations use the bull product without the bull, especially dairy farms, where reproduction is almost entirely by artificial insemination. Market economics demand that artificial insemination take place when the cow is in estrus -- in heat. Semen, in order to produce a calf, must be introduced when the cow is biologically ready to receive it.
With a bull, this is not a problem. Nature knows and, if at first you don't succeed, the bull is right there to try again. Guesswork with artificial insemination, though, can be expensive in terms of the money spent on repeated doses of semen and time spent to introduce it into the cow.
To make this process more efficient, the industry has developed a patch that is glued to the cow's hip. The patch carries a tiny sensor and transmitter. It detects when the cow wearing it is mounted by another cow and sends notification of that fact to the farmhouse computer, which notifies the rancher that cow No. 1234 is now in estrus and is ready to be impregnated.
This is a real product, but it has a real drawback: The patch often gets rubbed ragged, scraped off, stepped on or lost outright.
Enter the Chip-on-the-Hip, produced by HeatSeekers Inc. Both the product and the company are constructs of the collective imagination of FHSU's NAMA marketing team for the year 2001. The "chip" is a little smaller than a dime and is surgically implanted beneath the skin on the cow's hip. It is thus immune to being knocked off by brush, fence wire, other cows or whatever.
"The approach we took on this I thought was quite novel," said Patrick.
The marketing plan envisioned a market area of more than 8,800 dairy farms, with
more than 840,000 cows, in a target area of parts of Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New
Mexico and Colorado. By the end of the third year, according to the plan, HeatSeekers Inc. would be earning a profit of about a half-million dollars.
This was Shank's third year in the competition, and he spoke of the excitement of the competition itself.
"It's something you've worked on for two semesters," he said. "And in the preliminary round, it could be over in 20 minutes." Then comes the semi-final round and, after that, the finals.
"In the finals, you get up in front of 400 people and give your presentation," he said. "It's just a great experience."
But Shank pointed out that, though all the students are there for the marketing competition, it is a conference of the top professionals in all areas of agribusiness.
"It's also a wonderful way to meet people, especially if ag marketing is what you are interested in. It's a great place to make contacts, to talk to the up-and-comers in ag business."
Another member of the team, Meghan Slagle, is not an agriculture major -- she is a senior from Sedalia, CO, majoring in business administration. For her, it was a learning experience in many areas, especially about things agricultural, but also in others.
"There are so many," she said, "teamwork, communication, presentation. This is a very focused group. I have learned a lot."
She talked about the difficulties competing with large research institutions, some of whom have been approached by agri-business companies to develop marketing plans for their products.
"It's very competitive," she said, "but it's also very valuable."