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Scammers elude Amazon crackdown on fake reviews with new tricks

Amazon spent the past couple of years cracking down on fake product reviews, but enterprising tricksters are exploiting a fresh loophole on its site.

Many of the same vendors who sold fake positive reviews on Amazon for $5 a pop are now selling so called “list optimization” or “list maintenance” services, in which they enlist hundreds of people to vote a product review as helpful so that it moves up to the top of a product’s page.

But the votes can also be used to sabotage a competitor, voting up negative reviews of rival products and tanking demand for goods that previously had been well-received, sources told The Post.

Read more

 

 

Could trade challenges derail surging U.S. beef exports?

Getty Images/Chung Sun-Jun U.S. beef gains ground in Korea

U.S. beef is flying off the shelves in countries across the globe. And that, says Phil Seng, CEO of the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF), is quite a milestone.

Speaking to the media during USMEF’s Spring Conference, Seng said a look at the numbers show a remarkable story. “For example, starting with Japan, our largest value market, we’re up 41% on a volume basis. Also Mexico is up 17%, Korea is up 23%, Canada is up 14% and Taiwan is up 28%.” Altogether, across the globe, U.S. beef exports are up 15% in volume and 19% in value, he said.

Part of the increase is due to pricing and the quality of U.S. grain-fed beef. But, according to Joel Haggard, senior vice president for the Asia-Pacific, it’s also due to Australia’s cyclical low in cattle numbers and the resulting decrease in beef exports. And since Australia is our major competitor in many markets, that’s significant.

“It’s no secret we’re trying to take advantage of that by trying to ship a wider range of cuts, more chilled products. Of course, Australia exports both grass-fed and grain-fed, but because of their short supply and the fact that Australia and the U.S. really dominate [beef imports in] Japan and Korea and Taiwan, we’re getting great traction.”

But Australian beef production will increase over time. So the challenge for the U.S. will be to keep the market share it has captured from Australia once the competitive situation gets a little more challenging.

That’s not the only clouds on the trade horizon. “The trade map has been a little bit unclear for us from the standpoint of some of the rhetoric in the campaign and some of that carried into the beginning of this year,” Seng said. The day after the inauguration, President Trump dumped the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

That’s concerning, Seng said, because Australia enjoys roughly a 12% advantage in tariffs on imported beef over the United States. If the U.S. is to keep the gains it has made in Japan and other Asian countries, negotiating a more competitive tariff rate is crucial. And with no hints that the U.S. will engage in such negotiations, Australia could easily come back with a vengeance in those markets.

Another concern, according to Seng, is the renegotiation of the NAFTA agreement. As time goes on, things change and renegotiating trade agreements can be beneficial, if they’re improved. And that’s vital.

“I think the thing we’re most concerned with is we don’t want to lose any gains we’ve made in trade access and in our export initiatives in all these markets. So this is very concerning,” Seng said.

What about China?

According to Haggard, there is intense buying interest from Chinese importers. “But without having the details, the protocol, it’s very difficult for our exporters to talk about prices,” he said. In some cases, such as the hundreds of 5-Star hotels in China which aren't as price-sensitive, price isn't quite as much of a deal-breaker. .

“But we’re going to be exporting a lot of cuts where price will be very important. So without knowing the details of the protocol, without knowing what type of programs ranchers and exporters are going to have to have in place to produce for the export market, it’s very difficult to gauge the opportunity there.”

Haggard isn’t worried about demand in China for U.S. beef. However, he says once trade starts, it will be tricky at first and it will be slow for a while. One bright spot is that U.S. meat exporters have enjoyed great access to China with pork, so they know the players and they know how to do business there. So long-term, things look promising.

But many countries are uncertain about how the U.S. will address trade in the future, and those are the darkest clouds in an otherwise generally bright outlook for U.S. beef exports. “A lot of countries have depended on the United States for many years from a food security standpoint,” Seng said. “Even though they are not food self-sustaining, they are able to depend on the United States and I think to some degree that has been called into question.”

Already some of our major export destinations for beef are investigating other options for their beef imports, as any prudent business would do in times of supply uncertainty.

Should that shift occur, U.S. beef exports, and by extension U.S. beef producers, will suffer.

 

10 questions to ask at your next family business meeting

Amanda Radke Family business meeting

In recent weeks, I’ve covered several business topics as they relate to the multi-generation family ranching enterprise.

In case you missed these posts, you can check them out here:

2 habits to implement in the family ranch business
5 ways a coach could improve your family ranch business
How do you achieve balance in a family ranch business?
10 tips for young producers

To expand on these previous discussions, today let’s focus on how ranching families can have more productive business meetings.

SKM Associates, a business that focuses on building and preserving family legacies, offers some tips for defining a vision for the family ranch and which questions need to be answered in order to achieve that vision.

According to SKM Associates, “The vision is the shared image of the family’s definition of success and what the family wants the business to be. Having a vision is critical for the journey to realize the goals and dreams of the family. Understanding and following the vision of the family is critical to the ultimate success of the family, of the individuals, and of the business.

“Following the vision requires commitment. Commitment is best considered in the framework of the family, the business, and the ownership of the business. This means results are best achieved with not just a single event or item, but by working over time to develop the capability of the family to manage governance and decision-making. With commitment to a ‘visioning’ process, there is built-in accountability to keep everyone focused and on track.”

SKM Associates suggests 10 simple yet complex questions to answer in order to begin working on that shared vision for the ranch:

1. What do we desire for our family?
2. What will be the story of our family?
3. What do we desire for the next generation?
4. What is our family’s responsibility to society?
5. How will our family values influence the vision of what we want to become?
6. What will our family business not do?
7. What is our time horizon?
8. How will the business be part of the family vision?
9. Who is leading our business? How are they leading?
10. What kind of abundance is our family and our business enjoying? What does it look like, specifically?

While the answers may be unclear at first, they can provide a good launch pad to have the tough conversations needed in order to construct a shared vision for the ranch. It can also help create awareness for long-term plans, provide the framework for how to conduct business on a day-to-day basis and offer clarity for every person involved in the operation, as well as those family members who are no longer living on the ranch.

By the way, have you voted in the "For the love of land & livestock" photo contest? Check out the finalists here and vote for your favorite today!

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Penton Agriculture.

MIDDAY-MidwestDigest-05-24-17

If you're packing up the babies to get out of town and your travel will take you through a big city, be prepared for heavy traffic. Thursday night traffic is expected to be especially heavy.

Several federal agencies will take big cuts with Trump proposed budget. Few larger than agriculture department. One thing result from these cuts, the head count of USDA would drop by 5.5%. The biggest cut to EPA, slashed by 31%. Several environmental programs take a beating or be slashed all together with those cuts.

MORNING-MidwestDigest-05-24-17

They sure milked that thing last night. 2.5 hours to declare the dancing with the stars winners. No, I didn't stay up. Mrs. Armstrong broke the news to me. I wanted him to win too.

Travel expected to be heavy this weekend. Consumer confidence on the rise.

Sonny Perdue's job got more interesting. He's being asked to defend 21% cut to his agency. When times get tough, we just dig down and do more, Sonny said.

Dubuque, Iowa, looks of your city are facing. 22 acres facing south on hill described as stadium seating for solar panels.

Tiny houses coming to some of our cities. 300 square feet, costs about $2,000 each.

Farm Progress America, May 24, 2017

Max Armstrong notes that China is opening its market to U.S. beef, but a pop quiz from a marketing guess almost stumped him. While you might think it is Mexico or Canada, the No. 1 customer. You can listen to this report to find out who our best customer is.

Farm Progress America is a daily look at key issues in agriculture. It is produced and presented by Max Armstrong, veteran farm broadcaster and host of This Week in Agribusiness.

Can ransomware affect your farm office computer? Yes

siiixth/ThinkstockPhotos Virus found in magnifying glass

In May, we not only saw a lot of rain, but we also witnessed one of the largest cyberattacks in the history of the Internet – even greater than the DDoS attack in late 2016. You may have heard about it, a ransomware called WannaCry infected more than 200,000 computers in over 150 countries. The ransomware spread through computer systems because of a vulnerability in Windows operating systems – many of them out of date and unpatched.

Without a doubt, every minute of the day an unsuspecting computer user is clicking a link from an email they believe to be legitimate only to activate the originators malicious intent. In some cases, these phishing emails can result in giving someone access to your login information; in others, you have initiated a program that can do worse.

Ransomware is a software that holds your computer or files on your computer hostage and demands a ransom. In the case of WannaCry, the malware fully locked victims out of their computers and they received a demand to pay $300 in Bitcoin (a digital currency) to restore their files. The threat impacted companies, governments, hospitals, schools and even regular people. If you are lucky, you were not! Here’s how you can protect yourself:

1) Be cautious
If you receive an email or even a text message with a link or attachment from someone you do not know, or the email appear suspicious in some way, do not open it. Even in instances when a message seems to be from someone you know, there may be compromised links. Hovering over a link without clicking can show you where it goes. Malicious URLs will often include a variation or different spelling for a website.

2) Stay up-to-date
Always the latest operating system and make sure you run Windows updates. Although malware infections are less likely to impact Apple computers, it is still important to keep their operating systems updated as well.

3) Use email antivirus
Make sure your email service or software includes antivirus scanning. Services like Gmail have anti-virus scanning, but if you use Outlook, consider Office 365 Advanced Threat Protection which can block malware.

4) Ask for help
It’s okay to ask a friend or colleague to look at something if you are unsure of its legitimacy. In some cases, you may feel warranted to reach out to a business to let them know. For example, I have received emails appearing to be from my bank that I identified as phishing emails. I contacted my bank directly who confirmed it was not legitimate, and they were able to share with other members that a malicious email was circulating.

5) Use anti-virus software
Whether you choose a free antivirus like Windows Defender which is a part of Windows 10, or a paid service like Avast, McAfee or Norton, use your antivirus protection software. Update the definitions and scan your computer regularly.

6) Backup your files
The last significant protection tip is to use cloud storage or to backup your files on a regular basis should this type of event occur. That way, you will not have to give in to a ransomware request should your system be compromised.

Have you ever been affected by ransomware or phishing? Share your experience with me and others on Twitter @nerdsquawk or via email at [email protected].

The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or Penton Agriculture.

Could cattle be the solution to food waste?

Amanda Radke Cattle feed

America is the land of plenty, and we have more than enough food to go around. Unfortunately, with our ability to efficiently produce mass amounts of food, we as consumers often take this food for granted, and as a result, food waste is becoming a more prevalent issue.

To get an idea of how big the food waste problem is, Feeding America estimates that $218 billion worth of food is thrown away each year.

According to the organization, which rescued 2.8 billion pounds of food in 2016, “Food loss occurs at every stage of the food production and distribution system. Excluding consumer waste at home, 52 billion pounds of food from manufacturers, grocery stores and restaurants ends up in landfills. An additional 20 billion pounds of fruits and vegetables are discarded on farms or left in fields and plowed under.

“Approximately 72 billion pounds of perfectly good food—from every point in the food production cycle—ends up in landfills and incinerators every year. Rescuing this perfectly edible, whole food means feeding families facing hunger and taking a large step in protecting our planet and conserving our resources.”

One solution to the problem that we could perhaps explore more is to use this unwanted food for livestock feed.

According to V. Fellner, J.M. Rice and M. Boersig for the Ohio State University Beef Team, “Typically, 97% of wasted food is disposed in landfills. The use of food waste as animal feed is one partial solution to this problem. Grocery stores in the U.S. generate significant amounts of food scraps from trimmings and other excess product that has deteriorated beyond saleable quality for human consumption. Using produce and bakery waste as animal feed recovers the energy in the food and potentially raises the value of the post-retail supply chain, especially if the nutritional quality and safety of the waste can be maintained through efficient handling.”

Of course, there are a few factors to consider before feeding excess produce to cattle, such as the variability of nutrients and the high moisture concentration; however, this could be a real opportunity for the beef industry to further enhance its positive environmental impact and take part in the sustainability conversation our consumers are very tuned into.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Penton Agriculture.

Customer-centered culture could eliminate reputation-ruining fiascos

customer satisfaction

What ever happened to the attitude that “the customer is always right”?

The airline industry has been taking its hits lately, thanks to several mishandled passenger interactions: pulling a doctor off an overbooked flight in Chicago, a dispute over a carried-on stroller in San Francisco, a couple booted off a flight in Maui when they put their baby in a seat purchased for his brother. But we’ve also heard call center employees go off on customers, read about store employees using racial slurs and seen deliverymen literally drop packages on front porches.

Any time an employee behaves badly, the scene is likely to be captured by at least one smart phone –- and it will go viral. And yet, it happens again and again.

Why?

It could be that company policies are unclear about priorities, said customer strategist and executive coach Robin Lawton, author of Mastering Excellence: A Leader’s Guide to Aligning, Strategy, Culture, Customer Experience & Measures of Success (www.C3Excellence.com). 

Employees are then left to decide, sometimes on the spot, if it’s OK to go against guidelines to satisfy the person in front of them, and whether that will lead to disciplinary action -– perhaps even dismissal -– later.

“Take that decision-making into the real world, with stressful deadlines, cranky consumers and other frustrations, and there’s no telling which way it could go,” according Lawton.

It’s up to company leaders to set the standard for excellence with an unambiguous customer-first goal, Lawton said. He offered these tips:

Know what your customers want. Ask a dozen people what they want from their grocery store, cable provider or airline, and you’ll probably get a dozen different answers. Those answers often are counter to what the business thinks should take precedence. “No matter what bias the organization has, the customers’ priorities are what counts,” Lawton said. “Figure it out and build a robust product that makes the most people happy.”
Don’t overlook the needs of the casual consumer. Businesses often focus on pleasing the people they think are their most valuable customers –- those with power that comes from their position, personality, purse strings or proximity, Lawton said. But those viral videos and Yelp reviews aren’t coming from the folks in first class with the warm towels and free cocktails. “These four ‘power p’s’ can inadvertently lead us to satisfy the wrong customers,” he said.
A new slogan or updated mission statement only goes so far. When management identifies issues like quality, leadership, productivity and competitiveness, training often is used to initiate the change. The problem is that only a fraction of those trained actually use what they’ve been given. “There seems to be an assumption that providing people with hammers and saws will enable them to build a house,” Lawton said. “Without changed thinking, clear purpose and sufficient support, we cannot expect knowledge or tools to create desired outcomes.”
There’s both an art and a science to creating a customer-centered culture, according to Lawton. 

“Of course, the customer isn’t always right,” he says. “But if you treat them well, in the end they won’t care about that. They’ll only care that they were heard and satisfied.”

MIDDAY-MidwestDigest-05-23-17

More people aged 18 to 34 are living with their parents than with a spouse, according to Pew Research. Even college graduates with a job are returning to the old homestead. Student loans are huge. Nearly 60% of parents are providing some kind of financial support. Some say providing too much financial support.

Crop insurers making their views known about proposed Trump administration budget cuts. They're saying budget cuts will make it tough for farmers to bounce back. Crop insurers note that farm economy already hurting.

Missouri Tigers might notice some work being done in Colombia this summer.

Retired race car driver Tony Stewart picked up another warning while driving.